James King and the Lonewolves: Lost Songs Of the Confederacy (Stereogram)
CD / DL / LP
Thirty five years in the making, the debut album from Glasgow’s most notorious band finally arrives. Joe Whyte approves despite the wait.
James King is something of a legend around these parts. As a teenage member (then known as Jimmy Loser) of Glasgow’s first proper punk band, The Backstabbers, he infamously informed Sounds (or maybe NME, it was waaaaaay back then) that he felt The Sex Pistols “weren’t outrageous enough” or words to that effect. As guitarist in The Fun Four (which also included future Orange Juice drummer Steven Daly) he managed to shock the local 1970s press with the lyrical content of adult annoying single “Singing In The Showers” which had more to do with Zyklon B than Imperial Leather. Incidentally, if you’ve got that single, it’s worth a small mint on a well known online auction site.
James King and the Lonewolves then existed in various line ups in the mid to late eighties and seemed to always almost be on the cusp of breaking big. At the tail end of the Postcard A&R frenzy, Allan Horne mooted them as the final signing and did eventually grab them with next venture Swampland Records. An expletive featuring appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test seemed to herald impeding greatness but the group again seemed to run out of steam at the crucial moment. An album was demoed and tracked with John Cale at the helm but never saw the light of day for a variety of reasons.
And herein lies the tale. If one was keen to find a guide on how to royally fuck up a promising career in the music business, James King and band mates would be the perfect place to start. The tales in this city are countless. Some are apocryphal, some are true, some are fantasy but suffice to say, James King is heartily sick of hearing them. They drank, drugged and fought their way round the UK and despite the literary lyricism and classic garage guitar band sound, they’re remembered more for carnage and bad behaviour than for a live set that oozed class, menace and heartbreak in equal measure. If you want to read the aforementioned stories, a quick Google search will see you right, but for now, let’s stick to the music.
Reforming a couple of years back for a memorial gig for the band’s old booking agent, it seemed that the formerly warring factions in the band had mellowed and buried the hatchet; hopes were high for more shows and a possible record. Well, it’s here, and believe me, it’s been worth the wait.
Some of the songs are from the Lonewolves earlier incarnation, some are new songs and it’s all good.
No. It’s all great.
There have been few albums this year that have really done much for me (bar The Sea Kings debut) but this is something quite special. The Lonewolves speciality is Velvets tinged, country haunted rock and roll and Lost Songs rarely deviates from that template but it does it with style, panache and a rare energy that belies the age of these guys.
Opening song Fun Patrol has been around for years (it was a single release from a post Swampland incarnation also called Fun Patrol) and served as something of a manifesto for a generation of amphetamine fueled lunacy around the city in the late eighties. “Turn up the heat cos I’m feelin’ low, been out all night on the fun patrol” summed up the party scene around Glasgow’s (pre-house music) Sub Club, Fury Murray’s and Rock Garden rather too well for most. It starts with a gorgeous vibrato guitar before scything into the songs pummeling rhythm. It’s not without it’s fragility, however, and King’s voice is part crooner, part deranged preacher man. Much of The Lonewolves material, then and now, has a real clawing paranoia to it and Fun Patrol has it oozing out of its grooves.
Fly Away is another oldie and it has a lightness to it that again is at odds with the bitterness of King’s vocal. The chord sequence owes more than a little to Gene Clark but we’ll let them off with that minor indiscretion as it’s a beautiful, soaring Byrd of a tune. See what I did, there…..?
The album, as a whole, seems slightly bass heavy at times but I’m assured that this is how the band wanted it to sound. At one point in the distant past, they actually had a two bass line up that I reckon was more James King being irascible than any attempt to “find the groove” or anything equally as nasty. It does, however, tend to overpower some of the more delicate guitar, vocal and other instrumental parts and I wonder if the band will regret not remastering at some point. It’s merely a minor quibble, though, in a record that has more than enough in the songwriting (and the groups musical prowess) to endure beyond any tiny imperfections.
Even Beatles Die has some sweet backing vocal exchanges (with large nods in the direction of the Fab Four) and an excoriating guitar break that reminded me more of Johnny Thunders than John, Paul George and Ringo. There are hints of The Stooges, The Dolls, The MC5 throughout the album, as well as the more obvious Gram Parsons/Lou Reed/Americana sounding songs and it’s clear that King has absorbed everything good that has crossed his musical path over the decades.
Texas Lullaby is perhaps the central track on Lost Songs and is classic Lonewolves. Chiming, ringing guitars, tightly wound bass and King’s verging on psychotic vocal delivery frame a song that references the JFK assassination but is perhaps more about lost innocence and longing than a history lesson. It’s quite simply irresistible.
Against all the odds, James King and the Lonewolves have delivered an album three and a bit decades after the fact that actually does capture the rawness, the classicism and the sheer verve of a band who should have been massive.
Maybe this time.
All words by Joe Whyte. More writing by Joe on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.