Sometimes the when and the where are just as important as the what. I first heard King Of The Slums on a Walkman as I wandered along a canalbank in Wigan through the teeth of a winter evening downpour. What I heard slotted into the moment perfectly. . . though I'd heard nothing remotely like it before.
Sour, twisted guitars framing austere power-riffs, a lone violin sobbing to itself on the outskirts of melody, and that voice; cold and desperate as an Ancoates drizzle, informing me that he would disappear up his own backside or end up breeding whippets.
'The Pennine Spitter', along with 11 other excellent reasons why KOTS are one of the most compelling bands on the planet, is here on this summation of the band's career to date. 'Barbarous English Fayre' is a rasping litany of tattoos, gasworks, shaving cuts and squeaking prams. A haunting, savage voyage into the underbelly of English life.
For England, and specifically the North, is the love / hate object they return to constantly. It's this obsession, and subsequent use of images like Britannia, The Union Jack and Enoch Powell, that has seen them occasionally smeared as fascists. This is a dim and insulting slur. KOTS sing of this country entirely without gloss and sentiment, without political hectoring but with an ironic and trenchant realism.
In 'Bombs Away On Harpurhey' they explode the myth of Thatcher's 'go for it' culture (as if it needed exploding) with a sparking, snarling grace. In 'Venerate Me Utterly' the shabby dreams of the luckless are evoked brilliantly. Love, ambition, failure, all are viewed with the same pitiless, sardonic eye.
The absence of a lyric sheet may prevent you from realising that Charlie Keigher is the best unknown lyricist in Britain. Ordinary phrases ('Mere slip of a lad', 'You're not much to look at') are invested with a new and menacing meaning while the music has an alien beauty all its own.
The new stuff is stunning. 'Up To The Fells' is as wild and sombre as its title. 'Full Speed Ahead' is their most powerful and direct statement yet. It might even be a hit. Ha!
Forget the Euro art-bores and the pimply Yank college boys, outside of the mainstream King Of The Slums are practically peerless. In five years' time you'll be claiming you loved them. So do it now.
Stuart Maconie, 1989 NME Review
Barbarous English Fayre
KOTS on myspace