Mark King (musician)

Mark King (musician)
Mark King

Mark King of Level 42 in San Francisco, California - 1986
Background information
Born 20 October 1958 (1958-10-20) (age 53)
Origin Cowes, Isle of Wight, England
Genres Pop/funk
Occupations Singer, bassist
Instruments Vocals, bass guitar, drums
Years active 1979–present
Labels Polydor, RCA, Virgin
Associated acts Level 42, Re-Flex, Jakko Jakszyk
Notable instruments
Thumb Jaydee Mark King Signature
Alembic Mark King Signature
Status Graphite "The KingBass" Mark King Signature

Mark King (born 20 October 1958, Cowes, Isle of Wight) is an English musician. He is most famous for being the lead singer and bassist of the band, Level 42. In the early 1980s King popularized the 1970s-era slap and pop style for playing the bass guitar by incorporating it into pop music.


Early life

King was brought up on the Isle of Wight, an island off the south coast of England. His father, Raymond King, was a dairyman, and the family lived in a tithed dairy house. King recalled in a 2006 newspaper interview,[1] "it was post-war, with one brass tap, an outside toilet and a zinc bath in front of the fire." He later lived on the Camp Hill and Albany prison estates on the outskirts of Newport. He attended Kitbridge Middle School where he met his childhood sweetheart Tracey Wilson, later writing a song about her. He then went to Cowes High School.

Originally, King pursued a career as a drummer. He even played drums for the band Re-Flex in their early years, before starting his career as a bass player. His father bought him his first kit for £10, while he received encouragement to pursue a career in music from his music teacher at middle school.[1]

King was asked to leave Cowes High School at the age of 17, when he turned up at school wearing denim jeans. King recalls in a magazine interview "It didn't go down very well, and I was told my schooling had run its course." King then left home and stayed at a friend's house for two weeks, sleeping on the floor, before getting a job on a production line. After quitting this job, King became a milkman, but he was still determined to "prove he was not a failure". So, at the age of 19, King moved to London, along with his milk van, in hope of finding a career in music.[2]

Level 42

King moved to London at the age of nineteen, subsequently forming Level 42 in 1979 with Mike Lindup and fellow Islanders, brothers Phil and Rowland Charles Gould. Although a drummer, King had two reasons for gravitating towards bass guitar. Firstly he felt Phil was a good drummer and, significantly, already had a kit when the band started; King didn't have one. Secondly Macari's music shop, where King was working, didn't sell drums, so there was less opportunity to get some practice. Nevertheless King's natural rhythmic intuition probably contributed to his distinctive bass playing style, along with the popularity of jazz funk in Britain at the time.[3]

At one of their first gigs, at the La Babalu club in Ryde, Level 42 were spotted by Andy Sojka, the head of small independent record label Elite and signed. The next year they were signed to Polydor and King spent the next nine years recording and touring with the band. The first Top 40 single, "Love Games", was released in 1981, heralding the band's first appearance on Top of the Pops. The big breakthrough came with the release of "The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up)" in 1983.

While in Level 42, King found his bass-playing services in some demand. He was invited by Nik Kershaw to play on his second album The Riddle (1984) and by Midge Ure to play on his albums The Gift (1985) and Answers to Nothing (1988).

Level 42 supported The Police in 1981, followed by tours with Steve Winwood in 1986 and Madonna in 1987. In 1986, King and Lindup performed alongside Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Mark Knopfler and Elton John at a Prince's Trust charity concert.

They released the album Retroglide in 2006 and a European tour followed.

Mark playing Batman in Santa Clara, California - 1987

Level 42 (line up: M.King, M.Lindup, G.Husband, N.King, S.Freaman) toured in autumn of 2008.

Solo work

In 1984, he released his first solo album, Influences (at the time he needed a deposit to put down on a house - this album gave him that opportunity), followed by One Man in 1998.

In 1999, he issued a collection of unused songs in the form of the album 'Trash'; the name hinted at the rough, unpolished nature of the recordings (which were rejected by Virgin Records in favour of the tracks which would ultimately appear on the 'One Man' album).

'Trash' was a historic release as it was issued without a record company and initially offered to hardcore fans via a low-key guestbook entry, made by King, on Using an Apple Mac, CD burner and inkjet printer, King manufactured the CD himself and posted it directly to fans, charging £17 plus postage. He hand signed and numbered early copies. Clearly not anticipating the popularity of the album, the initial CDs were numbered as part of a series of 100. Word soon spread of the CD and King eventually shifted in excess of 1,000 copies.

In the years following Trash, King repeated the successful 'home-made' formula releasing a string of live recordings including 'Live At The Jazz Cafe', 'Live On The Isle of Wight' and 'Live At Reading Concert Hall' (which despite being performed as a Mark King solo show, was released under the name of Level 42 as King retained the rights to the name shortly before releasing the CD). Despite being contracted to Universal Music imprint W14, King continues to release live shows on his own Summerhouse Record label, of which 2007's 'Retroglide Live' DVD was the first.

Since coming back into the limelight in 1998 with 'One Man' and the supporting UK tour, King has toured consistently around Europe and as far east as Indonesia. With the exception of 'Trash' he has only issued one new professionally-released studio album in the 8 year period, September 2006's 'Retroglide' under the Level 42 banner.

As of 2008, King is still the Level 42 front man and plays a number of festival dates with co-founder, former band member, and keyboard player, Mike Lindup.

Playing style

Mark King helped to develop and popularize the slap and pop style of playing the bass guitar in the 1980s. The slapping and popping style was developed in the 1970s by funk bassists such as Larry Graham and further developed by jazz fusion bassists such as Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller. King developed a rapid playing speed using this technique, and introduced technical elements that enabled him to produce a mix of percussive effects while still playing a bass line.

One of King's greatest influences was the musician Tom Taylor, who gave King guitar lessons at the age of 12.

King's bass playing style is largely based on continuous 16th notes (aka semiquavers), sometimes described as "machine-gun" style. This "machine-gun" style consists of playing rapidly using a combination of thumb slaps, pops, hammer-ons, and fretting hand slaps.

King and Level 42 are considered highly influential artists of the Brit funk movement of the 1970s and 1980s.

King also took part in a comedy skit titled "The Easy Guitar Book Sketch" with comedian Rowland Rivron and fellow British musicians Mark Knopfler, Lemmy from Motorhead, David Gilmour, and Gary Moore.


King has used various models of bass guitar through the years, the two most commonly used brands have been JayDees (as exemplified by "Love Games") and the Status Graphite (evident on his solo works). The JayDees were built by John Diggins, a former employee of John Birch. JayDee is phonetic for his initials, J.D.

Mark King has used Status Graphite basses since the 1980s including the Series-2000 and Empathy models. In November 2000, Rob Green and Mark King developed the Status KingBass, a headless, double cut-away bass with a woven graphite through-neck, Status Hyperactive pickups and active electronics. Status LEDs are a custom option on all Status models. Status Graphite basses are handmade in England by Rob Green.

Other known basses he has used are Alembics (specifically custom Series II models), of which there is a Signature Mark King model, Pangborn basses, a Zon bass (on the album "World Machine" for the song "Lying Still"). King's first fretless bass was a Japanese-made "Moon" Jazz-style bass. King also owned two Music Man Stingray basses, a Wal bass, which was fitted with an MB4 MIDI interface (used on the album "Guaranteed", on the track "Lasso The Moon").

In 1996, King briefly used Fender basses. A limited run of 42 "Mark King" Jazz basses were made, based on the American Deluxe series, built and set up to King's specifications. They all came fitted with SIM's LED lights, flat-radiused fingerboards and a custom neck plate engraved with his signature. Also in 1999, King used two GB Spitfire basses, handmade in England by Bernie Goodfellow.

Home life

Just prior to his divorce from his Dutch wife, Pia, King moved back to his native Isle of Wight in 1988. During the 1990s, he bought a pub in Ryde, Isle of Wight. The pub was called Joe Daflo's, a contraction of the names of his (then) three children, Jolie King (born 1988), D'arcy King (born 1985) and Florrie King (born 1982). King sold the pub in 2000 and it has since become a pub franchise[4] operating in the coastal towns of southern England. King now lives with his wife, Ria King, and his youngest daughter, Marlee King, born in 1996.


For a Level 42 discography, see Level 42 discography.


  • Influences (1984)
  • One Man (1998)
  • Trash (1999)
  • Live at the Jazz Cafe (1999) (live)
  • Live on the Isle of Wight (2000) (live)


  • "I Feel Free" (1984)
  • "Bitter Moon" (1998)


  • Mark King - Ohne filter (1996) (live)
  • Mark King Group - Live at the Jazz Cafe (1999) (live)
  • Grupo Mark King - Live at the Isle of Wight (2000) (live)


External links

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