Guitarist Leon King talks playing undercover gigs in North Korea, and what’s on his pedalboard

Guitarist Leon King talks playing undercover gigs in North Korea, and what’s on his pedalboard

Meet guitarist, songwriter and educator Leon King; among his many accomplishments he toured with Joss Stone on ‘that’ world tour that sought to visit every country - regardless of the political situation. He’s also got quite a few interesting things to say about his rig...

[MPS]
You’ve played alongside a pretty impressive range of artists, who are you working with at the moment?

[LK]
In short? Joss Stone, Natty, Hempolics, Akala and my own bands The Drop and Vegetable Collective amongst other odd things and teaching.

Since 2016 I have been doing Joss Stone’s Total World Tour where the aim was to play shows and collaborate with local musicians and visit charities in every country in the world…. So that's been quite a huge part of what’s been going for me the last few years. We finished that mission (almost) in summer 2019. But still doing bits of bobs with Joss live and on other creative pathways that occur.

I have been touring and recording with Natty and the Rebelship band also all over the place. We recorded new material last September so watch this space. There is also a regular London residency coming too.

Currently I'm working really hard with the boys from my band The Drop on finishing our second album, which i'm really excited about, and very keen to get out there.

The most recent notable thing was an inspired session in the studio with Akala, and a full band. We made music out of nowhere and came up with music we didn't know existed. Was a super refreshing experience with great people and musicians.

Hempolics second album is due anytime and we are massively looking forward to a big gig announcement coming soon.

[MPS]
As well as being a performing musician, you’ve done session work, production, guitar tuition and more; what kind of work do you get the most satisfaction out of?

[LK]
Well they all seem to have their own pros and cons tbh. I couldn't give a black and white straight answer to that. Perfoming live you get that unbeatable rush from the energy between the musicians and the audience that's unmatchable. But the cons are the extensive travelling, pressure, waiting around and the comedown and general exhaustiveness of it all. Teaching is warming and rewarding, I've always loved teaching, I think it’s super important to do; but that comes with its own stresses too. Making a tune or record, going through that creative process and hearing something you've done back is a beautiful feeling, but that comes at the price of zero Vitamin D and attempts at getting spot cream endorsements to save money and fight spots!!..well it used to anyway!

[MPS]
Can you tell us a little bit about the artistic community you live and work with in North London?

[LK]
Well the reason I moved in really, was so I could make as much noise whenever I wanted to. And I can still and I'm very lucky to be living in London to have the freedom and space to do my thing whenever I want, without paying sky-high London prices. Things have changed a lot in the warehouses since I first moved in, but you can't replace that community feel you get here, which is gold living in london trust me! I've jammed with musicians late on Saturday night, put on events in the local area.. you couldn't do that in a £900pm box room terraced house split into flats.

[MPS]
You have traveled quite extensively as a gigging guitarist; do you find audiences vary from place to place?

[LK]
Hmmm, they do but I wouldn't necessarily put it all down to place and location. One of the biggest contrasts I've noticed on travels is that privilege plays a big part. We’ve done shows to VIPs and Politicians and they have been dead and vibeless. We’ve played free gigs in football fields in Sudan to the locals and it's been absolutely nuts! It can also be down to situation. We’ve played in war torn areas in countries, some illegally, some under dictatorships; where the audience are covering their faces and hiding their joy, so as not to be seen so they don't get in trouble with the authorities. Back at home, you take the average Brit out of the city, put them in a field with Sun and Beer, the reaction will be totally different.

[MPS]
Can you pick out a favourite gig?

[LK]
A notable gig on the Total World Tour was a show we played in Caracas, Venezuela, the crowd were so passionate and crazy, we couldn’t even hear ourselves on stage! Or an Illegal undercover gig in North Korea or Syria. Or there's the one with my own bands where there's a wavey festival crowd singing back your words and melodies in the sunset...

[MPS]
Who do you count among your musical influences?

[LK]
Hendrix, Frusciante, Peter Tosh, BB King to start of with. Recently I’ve been getting really into African and Middle Eastern musicians, some of whom I met on tour. Other than that I’m pretty sponge like. Guitarist wise I’m enjoying the guy from a band called Low Chimes, don't know his name. I love his decorative stye. Loving Chris Buck and Eric Gales too. Non-guitar wise, I’m loving Sudan Archives and Greetea Peng these days.

[MPS]
If you could go back to any musical era what would it be?

[LK]
A Hard One. 60’s probably.

[MPS]
What was your first guitar?

[LK]
Apart from Half size nylon at the age of 5. An Encore Strat with a Peavey Rage

[MPS]
What guitars are you playing at the moment?

[LK]
Electrics: Fender Highway 1 Strat. Fender Tele Custom 72 A series MIJ reissue from 85, which I’ve modded quite a bit on the hardware front. I’m loving my D’angelico’s. I have an EX-DX 335 style thing as well as an acoustic. I also have a great Tanglewood heritage series OM style acoustic. Currently putting together my own frankenstein partcaster. A hollow body Tele, which will have Coil split seymour duncan 59s I think? 70’s Strat neck and wilkinson modern tremelo with gotoh locking tuners. I also have a Fender Tele elite.

[MPS]
Tell us about your Iridium, what made you choose it?

[LK]
The Iridium was mainly for gigs where we want to be quiet on stage and use In-Ears and get that warm valve break up without being super loud. I wasn't really too drawn to any of the other modelling style units available until this one. It’s simple, small, usable and sounds lush. I love the room knob! The break up is unbelievable for a modeller. Great for practising and recording quietly on the road or at home too.

[MPS]
What else do you have on your pedalboard?

[LK]
Strymon wise I have the OB1, Blue Sky and El Capistan. A Callisto Chorus by Catalinbread. Xotic BB Pre Amp, Hotone WAH/Vol and the best of all, MuTron 70’s Phasor. That's my current set up. Trying to keep it simple.

[MPS]
Is there anything you have parted with that you really miss?

[LK]
I've not parted with anything deliberately. I recently misplaced my E-Bow, which I could really do with atm.

[MPS]
Can you think of anything that really changed things for you?

[LK]
My 1st Valve amp. LAney VC 110. Loved the break up on it and that EL84 sound. Made me actually want to play the guitar at that point. That is now a HiWATT Studio/Stage MK3. I also have a Fender Pro Junior which is a great useful small loud little thing. It was sold to me by Joss’s old Tour Manager, who also did Jeff Beck. Apparently the amp was a gift to him from Jeff. I’m honoured haha.

Delay pedals. Very useful in the reggae Dub world, but also for sculpting soundscapes. The Boss DD6 on warp function still has nothing come close. I've been through about 4 of them I used them so much. It literally became my sound at one point. Though I use the El Capistan instead these days as I do various different gigs needing a warmer sound. The EHX Deluxe Memory Man with high gain is a lovely tone too and a dark sounding delay I love.

Phasers. Love sweeping stuff, great for fuzzy solos and reggae chops... but yet to find one that beats the Mutron!

[MPS]
Is there any advice you can offer to people starting out on their musical journeys?

[LK]
Believe in it. Be open. Be nice. Do not limit yourself. Trust your judgement and yourself on your instrument.

 

Find out what Leon’s up to at the moment at www.leonmichaelking.com

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