Level 42
1980
United Kingdom
Music group
Level 42 is a British pop and funk band. The group had a number of worldwide and UK hits during the 1980s. The band gained fame for its high caliber musicianship, especially that of Mark King, whose percussive slap bass technique provided the driving groove of many of the band's hits.

The founding band members were Mark King (Vocals/Bass Guitar), Mike Lindup (Keyboards/Vocals), Boon Gould (Guitar) and Phil Gould (Drums). Studio keyboardist Wally Badarou contributed to many of the band's early hits, and is considered by many to be the fifth member of the group, although he never officially joined. Other full time band members over the years have included Alan Murphy, Gary Husband, Jakko Jakszyk, Nathan King, Lyndon Connah, and Sean Freeman.

The band still performs live shows (featuring Mark King and variations on the original line-up), and a new album, Retroglide, is scheduled for release on 18 September 2006.

Level 42 was formed in 1979 as a jazz-funk fusion band. The Gould brothers, drummer Phil and guitarist Boon, together with then drummer Mark King all came from the Isle of Wight and had played together in various bands during their teenage years. In late 1979 Phil introduced King to keyboard player Mike Lindup, who Phil had met while studying at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Lindup was studying piano but had taken a course in percussion and he and Phil found that they shared musical heroes - Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Keith Jarrett and Jan Hammer. Boon then returned from the United States in early 1980, after he had given up later on an ill-fated attempt to be "overnight successes" with King. The band needed a bassist, so King volunteered to learn. Lindup was working in London, but would play regularly with the band in loose rehearsal sessions

Initially the band was signed to a small independent record label, Elite Records, after being seen jamming together. Shortly after they released the single "Love Meeting Love", they came to the attention of Polydor Records and signed to them. One of the performers on that track, keyboardist Wally Badarou, would later become Level 42's longtime co-producer and what King calls the band's "fifth member," though his other commitments prevented him from touring.

In 1981 they released "Love Games", a top-40 hit. They then cut their critically acclaimed, self-titled debut album. This became an immediate success throughout Europe.

The following year, a second album The Pursuit of Accidents was made, and singles from the album, first "Weave Your Spell" and then "The Chinese Way" were released, both charting, the latter in particular rising high in the charts and gaining the band a much wider audience than hitherto. Their album went on to become a huge seller. In between, Polydor released The Early Tapes, recorded in the early days of the band when they were signed to the Elite label. A fourth album Standing in the Light generated their first top ten hit in the UK in 1983, "The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up)". Recorded with members of Earth, Wind and Fire, this album debuted a new era for the band, less experimental and jazzy than previous releases. There were no instrumental tracks on this album whatsoever, nor or any of their following albums until "Staring at the Sun" in 1988.

The quartet followed that with the album True Colours in 1984, which veered between funk, power pop, midtempo rock and moody ballads. It yielded the singles "The Chant Has Begun" and "Hot Water." That same year, Mark King pursued a solo project Influences. By this time, Level 42 had also gained acclaim for its power as a live band (as showcased on the Physical Presence album.)

The next studio album, World Machine, was released in 1985. Singles from this, "Something About You", and "Leaving Me Now" were also top ten hits, followed by another, "Lessons in Love" in early 1986. By this time, the band was heading further away from its original jazz-funk sound and towards a much more mainstream pop sound. Elements of Level 42's roots can still be found in the funky "Coup d'Etat" and "Dream Crazy" on the UK version of the album, as well as a long instrumental track named "Hell", which was also recorded during the World Machine sessions. This last track did not see the light of day until the early 2000s as an MP3 download on the original Napster.

The band's 1987 album Running in the Family became their biggest seller, and cemented this poppy musical direction, with King's bass and Lindup and Badarou's chugging keyboards serving as templates for smart pop songs like "Lessons in Love," the ballad "It's Over" and the title track.

Both Phil and Boon left the group: Phil suffered from nervous exhaustion and reportedly was not satisfied with the band's direction in terms of its newer "pop" sound. Boon likewise suffered from stomach problems and decided to retire in order to settle down with his wife and children. As a result, King recruited Gary Husband and Steve Topping to replace them. Husband recommended Topping, but he did not work out due to personality differences with King. Rated session guitarist Alan Murphy joined, formerly of Go West. He had also been Kate Bush's studio guitarist and continued in this capacity. A new Level 42 album Staring at the Sun, was released in 1988. The following year, Alan died from an AIDS-related illness, and the band took some time off. At this time Level Best, a greatest hits compilation, was released. In December 1990, the band played a record run at Hammersmith Odeon, London which had been booked almost two years before. These concerts featured Lyndon Connah on keyboards and vocals, and Allan Holdsworth on guitar. In this year, Mike Lindup also released his debut solo album, Changes.

During the early 1990s, the group tried to blend more of their earlier influences, such as Mahavishnu Orchestra, into their sound by asking master musician Allan Holdsworth to provide some stunning guitar work for the album Guaranteed (notably on "A Kinder Eye") . Though well-received, especially by US music critics who appreciated the group's musicianship, many of their jazz-funk fans did not like the set's mostly rock-oriented style, and the pop music scene in the UK had moved in a different direction. The album did not sell well despite being regarded by some as Level 42's most musically sophisticated work to date.

Through it all, the band continued to be a potent live draw, with the studio members joined on stage by singer Annie McCaig, who also did backup vocals on the Guaranteed album; and the brass duo of sax player Gary Barnacle and trumpeter John Thirkell, aka The Hen Pecked Horns. Barnacle played on several Level 42 studio albums, dating back to the self-titled 1981 debut. Barnacle had been preceded as L42 tour saxophonist by Krys Mach, who also recorded with Level 42 and toured with the group from 1984 to 1988.

After the recording of Guaranteed, and a week long promotional tour, Holdsworth, apparently unwilling to play rhythm guitar, left the band, replaced by Jakko Jakszyk. Although not on the record, Jakszyk features on the album's cover photo; he also took part in promotional duties and the tour for the album. He does play to great effect on two b-sides from this era: "At the Great Distance" and "As Years Go by". Jakszyk's other studio input with Level 42 came in the form of two unreleased tracks (Fire and Free Your Soul) between the Guaranteed and Forever now albums.

1994's Forever Now album, marked the return of Phil Gould as studio drummer and principal lyricist. The album saw the group move closer to its R&B-jazz roots, especially in the lush ballad "Romance", the acid-jazz-influenced "Sunbed Song" and the dance-pop "Learn to Say No."

With one further album required as part of the band's three album deal with RCA, fans saw a bright future for the band, especially with Phil Gould back in the fold and the critical success of Forever Now, however, the fruitful (part) reunion was short-lived. Phil Gould, dismayed at what he felt was the record company's ineptitude, did not go on the road with the band on their Forever Now tour, and it was announced halfway through the tour (on the day of their Manchester Apollo gig) that Level 42 would be disbanding permanently.

In 1998, Mark King released his second solo album One Man with lyrics by Boon Gould. In 1999, King went back on the road playing his own new compositions and some Level 42 favorites. In late 2001 he came to a business agreement with Mike Lindup and therafter re-named his solo band 'Level 42'. Generally, this new lineup consisted of King, drummer Gary Husband, Nathan King on guitars and vocals, Lyndon Connah on keyboards and vocals and Sean Freeman on saxophone and vocals. News on Level42.com (May 2006) suggests that Mike Lindup has replaced Lyndon Connah on keyboards.

In August of 2000, three quarters of the original Level 42 line-up reunited for a private show. Phil Gould invited some musician friends to play at a party, including his brother Boon and Mike Lindup. Two years later, King, Lindup and Phil Gould played together (at Lindup's wedding) for the first time in ten years. This led to a tentative get together of the classic line-up along with Badarou. However, the reformation was short-lived, and old tensions began to resurface - the catalyst being King's now total control over the band.

Although the group decided not to reform, Boon Gould and Mike Lindup have both contributed to a new album, chiefly recorded by King, but with contributions by many players from the original and new line-ups. The new album, Retroglide was announced in February 2006 with a supporting tour throughout the UK, Netherlands, Germany and some other European countries in October/November 2006 with Mike Lindup replacing Lyndon Connah on keyboards.

The origin of the band's name has been variously described as being inspired by a sign in a lift in a very tall building in the US; the top level of the biggest car-park in the world, in Japan; the floor on which Jonathan Pryce's character resides in the film Brazil (which was released long after the band gained international recognition); or after Tower 42 (also known as NatWest Tower) a tall building in the City of London.

King and Boon Gould decided the band should be called simply by a number, and they both favoured '88' - the number of the bus they used to catch to the recording studio. However, Lindup and Phil Gould saw a poster for a band called 'Rocket 88' so their idea was abandoned (although '88' was later used as a song title). King and Gould both claim to have been reading Douglas Adams' comical science fiction novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy wherein the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, is '42'. Therefore '42' was suggested as a name for the band. It should be noted that their then producer, Andy Sojka (now deceased), similarly claimed to have been reading the book, and claimed to have put forward the number as a suggested band name. It is known therefore, that the use of the number '42' in the band name came from either King, Boon Gould, or Sojka. The appendange of the word 'Level' is claimed to have been from either Sojka's lawyer, or John Gould's (the third brother and band manager) lawyer.

Other names considered for the band were 'Powerline' and 'Kick in the head'. 'Powerline' was rejected and given to another of Sojka's groups, and it was on a white label promotional record numbered 'DAZZ 4' that the words 'Level 42' first appeared. The band providing the B-side - a track called 'Sandstorm' (a track which they also wanted to call 'Kick in the head'). The A side was provided by 'Powerline'.

'Kick In The Head' was finally used by the band as a working title for the song 'A Floating Life' on their 'True Colours' album. The lyric features in the song.

Three further songs (both instrumentals) were 'numbered' by the band: '43', '88' and the B-side 'Forty-two'.
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