Dazzling musicianship, riveting stage performances, more than 50 TV appearances (including, somewhat bizarrely, five episodes of Teletubbies) and 75 radio broadcasts have established them as the Kings of Swing.
What does the title ‘King Pleasure’ evoke? In this context it suggests eating, drinking, spending money, chasing chicks, having a good time, overdoing it more than somewhat and explaining the events of the night before to the judge on the morning after. All apt topics for song and celebration, especially in these grim times. So much pop music nowadays is full of anger and violence on the one hand, and slack-jawed stupidity on the other, and so much contemporary jazz is excessively earnest and glum, that we are in urgent need of music that comes with a cheer-up guarantee. That is exactly what King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys unfailingly deliver.
Sounds easy when put like that, but it isn’t - not to do it properly at any rate. Any bunch of fools can don zoot suits and pointy shoes that you could climb a chain-link fence in. It doesn’t take a lot to learn a few riffs and strike a few poses. But to create the kind of easy swing you hear on The Wrong Door, the precision and attack of Big Girl, the blend in Bring It On Baby takes talent, focus and a lot of working together. And when you experience it live you discover what a real show can be - wholehearted, full-on, exhausting and unforgettable.
But what kind of music is it? Well, if you’ll kindly lay aside that list of runners and riders once more, I’ll attempt a brief historical sketch. Ahem! When the great Swing Era ended, in the mid - 1940s, it broke apart and the various bits started growing into styles of their own. One of these dance-hall rhythm and blues, as performed by such names as Lucky Millinder, Buddy Johnson and Louis Jordan, at places like Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. This, I think, is the root of the Biscuit Boys’ style, although their own distinctive approach has by now developed quite a long way from there.
The King and the Boys have been around for quite a while, getting on for three decades in fact. But how can that be? Some of them look far too young. Well, it’s like the penknife with two new blades and three new handles. Individual members may change but the band stays the same. Think of Count Basie’s orchestra. Half a century with one tiny break. Only two members lasted the entire course, one of them Basie himself, but you could never mistake it for any other band. In the case of the Biscuit Boys, the King and Bullmoose have been there from the beginning. Changes have taken place, but not often. The latest recruit is dynamic pianist Mighty Matt Foundling, who took over from Crab - Claw Tromans shortly before the 'Hey Puerto Rico' album - the band’s ninth - was recorded. And, just as with the Basie band, details may change but the magic formula remains unchanged.
One result of being around for a while is that the King and the Boys have built themselves the kind of fan base that aspiring pop stars would kill for. The word ‘fan’ is short for ‘fanatic’, and the last count there were 2,500 people around the world sufficiently fanatical to join the band’s fan club. And if you’re talking about loyalty, how about the fifty - odd members who chartered their own plane to follow the boys to the Cork Jazz Festival?
Everywhere they go they hook more devotees. They’ve played all over Europe, up as far as Russia. Even more impressively, they’ve stormed across the US, much to the surprise of the natives. As one New York magazine put it: ‘Those who say that swing is a musical form best left to Americans, prepare to be proven wrong. This British combo is bullet proof!’.
Of course they are! They’re the genuine article, in full working order, dedicated to shaking you up and swinging you into the middle of next week. They’ve got King Pleasure’s inimitable stogies - and - bourbon voice, they’ve got a roaring band sound that comes at you like the Wabash Cannonball, and above all they’ve got that beat. In the words of the immortal Lord Buckley ‘Rhythm is the key to everything - runs the whole swingin’ thing’.
Resistance is futile. Surrender to having a good time. Dave Gelly June 2006