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Level 42 + Will Stapleton @ Symphony Hall, Birmingham – 7 October 2014

Okay so Birmingham City Centre is busy this evening. Kylie may be tripping the light fantastic at the NIA, but we’re off to the delectable Symphony Hall to see stalwarts of 80’s funk pop. With endless hits, word wide success and a recent EP full of newbies, we’ll be funking out with Level 42.

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Taking their name from A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Level 42 formed way back in 1980 on the Isle of Wight. Lead singer and bass player, Mark King, became one of the stand-out musicians of the day, especially for popularising the 70’s ‘slap style’ of playing his instrument. King’s vocals along with keyboard player Mike Lindup’s falsetto vocals gave L42 hit after hit after hit. It was their fourth and more commercial album ‘Standing in the Light’ that gave the band the first UK Top 10 ‘The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up)’; 87’s ‘Running the Family’ album gave them worldwide success, making Top 10 in numerous countries. But by ’94 they decided to call it a day permanently. Or maybe not. King carried on solo, increasingly playing L42 hits live and in the early nougties came to an agreement to continue with the name Level 42, before Mike Lindup re- joined the band once again a few years later. In 2013 Level 42 released a six track live studio EP ‘Sirens’ and tonight is part of a series of dates promoting it.•Level 42-12
Support tonight comes from singer songwriter Will Stapleton, solo with guitar, inspired by Level 42. He’s played around London for the past few years; a soulful sound with poetic lyrics. He has a single out ‘I Understand’; he’s engaging and goes down well – check out his website for further info.
Bang on 8.45, L42 take to a darkened stage – King slapping his bass like crazy – the neck of which is glowing in the dark, emblazoned with lights. And as the lights come up, the band are dressed retro, retro – in spangly, sequinned black shirts. Full band on stage tonight, with a trio on brass and rhythm cranking up the sound.
First part of the set tonight is lesser known – one for the fans: ‘Love Games’, ‘Are You Hearing (What I Hear?)’ – as the songs funk out and roll into each other, as the band groove down in true L42 style.
“Hello! How are you? Fantastic!” say King, as he quips that sequins are coming of his spangly shirt. And they’re on on their musical journey again – track from ‘Sirens’ – ‘Mind on You’ before an old one, ‘Kansas City Milkman.’ The ‘Sirens’ EP is well played tonight – all tracks get featured over the set, keeping up with the L42 trademark sound. The crowd are taking it all in, mostly seated bar a few boogying on down on the balconies. A hit – ‘Leaving me Now from 85’, then to ‘Tracie’ from ’87.
“W.T.F?” King is still having issues with his sequins. And the audience get to their feet, dancing and clapping away to ‘Living It Up (Sun Goes Down)’. And take to their seats as we’re back with a track from ‘Sirens’. “Any stars kids out there?” and they deliver us ‘Starchild’, before UK #6 hit from ’85 ‘Something About You.’ and we’re into a hit medley and dancing one again, with ‘Lessons in Love’ – go back in time to 12” vinyl inch record, mega mega remixes, which go on and on…. and you’d be on the money. ‘Sirens’ track ‘Build Myself a Rocket’, prog-funk-rock rolls on as one band member after another leaves the stage.
Encore – features ‘Hot Water’ and ‘Chinese Way’ where all individual band members get the chance to fun out under an individual spotlight of music, and the encore rolls on and on.
Level 42 are going strong on their funk-pop vibe – tonight’s gig was one for the fans – the bands hits being the clear stand outs as the crowd danced the night away. Level 42 may have been going for 30 odd years – but they’re certainly to out of sight or out of mind.
Meanwhile (and as a footnote to this review) as tunes continue roll through our little brains – we succumb to the traffic nightmare of Birmingham City Centre. As much as we like Brindley Square, over an hour and a half stuck in the car park after the gig really wasn’t our cup of tea. Methinks someone should be in ‘Hot Water’ over it!
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Listening:
Running in the Family [1987]
Staring at the Sun [1988]
Guaranteed [1991]

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Photos Courtesy of Ken Harrison. Review for Gig Junkies and 102.5 The Bridge.