James King and the Lonewolves: Lost Songs of the Confederacy: Released - 2014

JAMES King once halted a gig by his group, Rev. Volting and the Backstabbers, and challenged me to a square go.

What made his volatile threat even more menacing was that it was extended to the other 499 members of the audience at Glasgow University in 1978.

It’s perhaps a measure of just how chaotic a level the show had sunk, that Jimmy Pursey, singer of notorious punk rockers, Sham 69, who were headlining, had to grab the microphone and plead for calm.

“I also hit a guy over the head with my guitar, don’t forget that,” King reminds me, 43 years later.

King remains an outsider on the Scottish music scene. Deliberately so.

He’s led bands such as The Fun 4, Fun Patrol and The Order Of St. Jude, the latter notable for having no guitarist but two bass players.

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But one group eclipses them all … James King And The Lonewolves.

In 2014, the singer channelled his aggression – and creativity – in a more fulfilling direction.

The Lonewolves released their impressive debut album, Lost Songs Of The Confederacy.

It came fully 35 years after the formation of the group in 1979. But, in fairness, there were mitigating circumstances for the delay.

“The band had split up, so when that happens it’s very difficult to record anything, let alone an album,” King recalls.

Even so, the consensus was that the Lonewolves had been given umpteen chances to realise their potential, but had consistently blown it.

I’m not sure why, for a string of periodic singles – including the stunning Texas Lullaby in 1983 – underlined that King was relevant musically.

It only served to whet the appetite for the album which had somehow eluded them.

In 1985, Alan Horne signed the Lonewolves to his new label, Swamplands.

Horne, founder of Postcard Records, had changed the face of UK indie music with releases by Orange Juice, Josef K, Aztec Camera and The Go-Betweens.

King and Horne seemed an odd marriage.

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“I actually got on very well with Alan and used to hang out in the Postcard Records flat at 185 West Princes Street in Glasgow. We certainly weren’t strangers,” revealed King.

“At Swamplands, he was trying to sign Johnny Thunders, Patti Palladin and Wayne County, so the label was a perfect fit for us.

“But I think Alan lost focus by concentrating too much on one of his acts – Paul Quinn.”

Their sole release on Swamplands was The Angels Know. A second single, Flyaway, was withdrawn.

The band demoed tracks for an album with John Cale of The Velvet Underground, but they were ditched.

Further attempts to get off the launch pad – first with John Porter, who’d produced Bryan Ferry and The Smiths, and then with Phil Thornalley, who’d worked with The Cure and Prefab Sprout – were also unsuccessful.

“It didn’t work out. Swamplands went through London Records and they didn’t think the album was good enough,” said King.

“The songs weren’t a true representation of the band – it was more how they thought we should sound.

“We were going to release Fun Patrol as a single but Alan thought it sounded too rocky, so we gave up on that one too.

“We played the song live on The Old Grey Whistle Test but there were a couple of swear words in the lyrics. The BBC and the label didn’t like it. It was a f*****g disaster.

“Horne kept saying: ‘I want you guys to be wild’. But when we got wild he wasn’t prepared to pay the bills.

“The tapes for the album are still lying in the vaults at London Records.”

The band split and King later formed Fun Patrol who released the single, Right To Be Wrong, in 1986.

Over the years, he successfully jettisoned his more belligerent persona and cleaned his act up, winning a battle with alcohol addiction.

“I ended up in hospital due to alcohol related problems, but the Lonewolves actually helped calm me down,” he said.

In 2011, the estranged band members got together to play as a tribute to promoter Alan Mawn, who’d passed away, and the chemistry felt right again.

“We thought, let’s have a go at this,” said King.

“If the songs work, it’s well worth it. But if we’d looked like a bunch of overweight builder’s merchants, I wouldn’t have bothered.”

The Lonewolves laid down tracks with producer, Danny Mitchell, at Carlton Studios in Glasgow.

“We did an overnight session, recording most of the songs live. Two tracks – Fun Patrol and Pretty Blue Eyes – turned out really well.” recalled King.

“The idea was first to release an EP. But it was going so well we thought, let’s record a few more songs with a view to finally putting an album out.”

King had also spent seven years studying for a music degree.

“When the Lonewolves weren’t around, people thought I had just given up and was sitting in the house doing nothing,” he recalled.

“But I went to college and then on to Strathclyde University and got an Honours Degree in music. They had a 24-track studio and I basically lived there. I demoed all the songs for the album in it.

“The security guards caught me in the studio at six o’clock in the morning. I’d sneaked in to work on the tracks.”

King also devoted time to looking after his elderly mother and became a full-time carer, a job he retains today.

Older, definitely wiser, he was marking time to re-emerge with the Lonewolves.

“The songs on the album didn’t sound like something we should have been doing 35 years previously,” revealed King.

“They weren’t political or of a certain era, so they didn’t date. You could play any of the tracks on an acoustic guitar or piano. The melodies were strong enough.

“Lyrically, the themes I was exploring are still every bit as valid. So the songs stand up now.”

The album was released on Edinburgh-based indie label, Stereogram, in October 2014.

But it was when the band showcased the record live that the “missing years” were soon forgotten.

A gig at the CCA Gallery – in which they performed in front of a screening of the controversial 1915 silent movie, Birth Of A Nation – earned praise for the group who had “promised a great deal in the early 80s, but delivered little.”

A review of their show at Oran Mor said they played “an exhilarating set exuding confidence and positivity”.

King was singled out by one newspaper who said: “The wolfman hasn’t lost his bite.”

“If the songs had been 100% old material then maybe I wouldn’t have felt so positive about the album,” admitted King.

“But the fact we had some new songs in there, plus the reaction to the live shows, was very encouraging. It made me want to do more.”


The Craig Ferguson connection

THIS summer, James King goes back into the studio to record his eagerly awaited second album, The Mortality Arcade.

If it’s half as good as its predecessor, we’re in for a rare treat.

Over the years, several musicians have passed through the revolving door of Lonewolves’ membership.

An early line-up featured aspiring drummer Craig Ferguson, now best known as a comedian, actor and former host of The Late Late Show for CBS Television in America.

But the current band – Jake McKechan and Joe Sullivan on guitars, plus bassist Colin McNeill and drummer Paul Carrigan – are more settled. And they have something to say.

King points to A Step Away From Home, a key track on Lost Songs Of The Confederacy, to underline that seven years on, he's still not lost his hunger or desire.

It was inspired by Hellhound On My Trail, written by Mississippi-Delta blues legend, Robert Johnson in 1937.

King told me: “It’s like when you’re trying to get somewhere and at the last minute, it’s snatched away from you. It’s always been like that for me.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m talking to a psychiatrist, but trouble always seemed to follow me in whatever I’m involved in.

“So, I’ve been constantly running from the hell hounds. They’ve always been on my tail. You’re nearly there … but you never quite get there.”

He added: “This new album is already two years late. I know that’s nothing when the first one took 35 years to get here.

“It’s long overdue. This time, that’s down to circumstances like the death of my mother and the passing of my brother. We didn’t intend to have another delay.

“Had real life not intervened the record would have been out by now. We’ve got the songs and we’re all very fired up about the new album.”

THE Billy Sloan Show is on BBC Radio Scotland every Saturday at 10pm.