Regular readers to this site will know that I have something of a penchant for the Swedish band Kungens Män. This started with the release of their Stockholm Maraton album, which I found to be superbly played, refreshing and bang on the way my musical taste was going. This was further sealed with the release of their epic meditation on ‘a day in the life’ Dag & Natt, the addition of saxophone to the band’s palette really taking things to the next level for me.
I’m not going to go through the rest of the Kungens Män catalogue at this stage, but a special mention also needs to go out to ‘Tesen’ from the ‘Fuzz på svenska’ album which is one of my favourite tracks of recent years.
What was missing from my experience was seeing the Stockholm collective live, something that I was sure would be an absolute blast. So it was with some trepidation that I found myself walking into the legendary (ask anyone who has played there) Golden Lion in Todmorden (between Leeds and Manchester in the beautiful valley of Calderdale) to find the band already in there. Overcoming my shyness I enjoyed chatting to the band for an hour or so before it was time for them to play.
Perhaps a little bit of context about the Golden Lion is necessary here before continuing. This was a free gig that was put on in the bar of the pub. Just imagine for a minute walking down to your local bar to find there is a band playing… but actually the way the stage is set up it’s more like someone’s front room with bookshelves, a fireplace and a mirror… if the band had been sitting in armchairs they wouldn’t have looked out of place.
Kungens Män immediately launched into a set with great vigour and professionalism… they immediately seemed to click and be very happy to play there. Over the course of the next 90 minutes of so they treated us to a range of styles and pace which will live long in the memory. I was struck in particular with how the audience, most of whom had probably never heard of the band before, were well into the music and were quiet and respectful throughout.
This all combined to make it a very special evening indeed, and a great way to finally experience one of my ‘must see’ bands. It was special because here were musicians who individually bring so much to the group but together seem to be more than the sum of their parts… musicians who clearly know each other and each others’ styles… where everyone can express themselves.
The journey home was quite tough… the next 90 minutes going considerably slower than the set… the motorik of the motorway far more soporific than the motorik of the third track played that night, but I made it home without succumbing to sleep… just about.
The next day I had the unique feeling of being able to look forward to seeing the band I saw last night. I’ve never seen a band two days running before and I wondered how this would be, the fact that this would likely be a very different vibe was something that I was looking forward to, and the fact that this group improvised meant it was likely to be a different experience… you’ll not be hearing ‘this one’s from our new album’ with Kungens Män.
After a day in Manchester I found myself in contemplative mood as I made the hour’s walk to the venue from my lodgings. Although the situation where I live in Sheffield is getting worse too, I am always struck by how many homeless people there are in Manchester and this leads me to reflect on the wider nature of society and how the outcome of the upcoming General Election is unlikely to change this.
To compound this I was listening to one of my albums of the year ‘Whities 023 (The Act of Falling From The 8th Floor)’ by Abdullah Miniawy and Carl Gari, which is a haunting meditation on the political situation in Egypt… the night… the streets… the people all adding up to a heady mix in my brain… perhaps not the best introduction to a gig… but maybe…
Arriving at the venue there was an opportunity to have a chat with some old friends before assembling in front of the band and… bam!… they went straight into a more powerful high-tempo set from the get go. I felt my body moving straight way, and indeed there is social media evidence of my unique style of ‘Uncle at a wedding’ shapes on social media… but hey the time to stop dancing is when you’re dead, right? And even then…
What particularly struck me was how different this set was from the one the previous night… Kungens Män adapting to the different vibe of the scuzzy Manchester cellar with aplomb. This was music that was more punchy… less reflective… more guitar… less saxophone, although when it came in on the last stupendous track it really took me to another level.
Briefly speaking to members of the group after both gigs they seems more relaxed about the first one, and perhaps it was a more relaxed set… maybe there was more freedom and less at stake… but for me both were good in their own ways… both made it worthwhile coming… because while it was clearly the same band… within those parameters were different performances matching the context.
As I walked back to my B&B I was still in reflective mood, but it was a different, less melancholy, reflection. I put Jan Johansson’s ‘Jazz på svenska’ on… the album that was something of a inspiration for Kungens Män ‘Fuzz på svenska’ (and which inspired me to do my Spotify playlist ‘Psych på Svenska, see below). Listening to that beautiful piano music and essential double bass accompaniment it stuck me how beautiful and important music is to my world… how, walking the night streets of Manchester, it acted as a sonic augmented reality. Johansson’s album was perfect for processing the gig and the city as it unfolded in front of me… nothing had changed but I slept a bit easier knowing that that there are people who can make it better.
I saw Kungens Män:
On 3/12/19 at the Golden Lion in Todmorden
On 4/12/19 at the Peer Hat in Manchester.
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