Now MES is gone from our shores, King of the Slums' compilation of recent folk-horror postcards from the brooding Mancunian estates is salutary and essential
THEY emerged from Hulme in 1986, breathing sour fire and an eagle eye for unfashionable detail. Second cousins of The Fall in the way they filtered and spat language to reach deeper, following the grimy thread of it back through 21st-century estates and the Industrial Revolution to a lost, almost medieval rural folk tongue, as captured in songs such as “Ardent Swains” and “Venerate Me Utterly” and “Fanciable Headcase”. There was a compilation and two LPs proper, the latter of which donned flares and Kickers and spliffy dub stylings; but success was elusive and they vanished back into a Mancunian peasouper, a clutch of recordings scattered in their wake.
But there was a second coming for King of the Slums, Charley Keigher’s vitally dark diary of the Mancunian way. An LP emerged in 2009, a little beacon of regrowth, jointly credited to Slum Cathedral User. 2017 brought Manco Diablo; a year later, Artgod Dogs.
Cometh 2020, and the band are ready to take the lead off Our Favourite Trainers, a rerub of material from Artgod Dogs and two singles from recent times: the digital-only “Bard & Potter Ltd.”/“Frogwood”; and the limited 12”, “Peak Human Experience”. As a (re-) introduction to the foursome’s recent postcards from the side streets and crescents, it’s vital and cautionary in equal measure.
You’re straight in with “Goya Pinter Honey Bed”; this track sets the agenda firmly. Goya, the disasters of war; Pinter, the drama of the kitchen sink; and a bed at the heart of it. There’s still that dubby space that came to the fore on Blowzy Weirdos, combined with that snarling guitar, and still that sawing violin, these days courtesy Clarissa Trees. Spoken word looms in and out in the background. “Stockport, I mean Stockholm … nice.” The video is all fast-cut imagery, your eyelids peeled back like Alex undergoing desensitisation in A Clockwork Orange.
“Jimmy Flamingo” comes in on a guitar riff, clouded grey by a violin with its roots in some eerie, whispered remembrance of an English murder ballad. Who is Jimmy Flamingo? Only Charley can explain. It’s for the best that we let him:
“There’s three flamingos painted on the gasworks wall / All in full colour, exquisitely drawn/ No one knows who the artist is / Some say it’s Jimmy from Bulldog Street / Is that the same Jimmy who the other week / Was stood bollock naked and screaming abuse, outside his ex-girlfriend’s house? / No that’s a different Jimmy … Well, is that Jimmy, went to that funeral / Dressed as a groom, proposed to the widow / Lost five teeth, got thrown in the river? / No, that’s a different Jimmy….”
This is the world we’re in, the world we’re dealing with: urban folk horror, myth, art, truth and death and transgression.
“Crombie and Grist” is a male-female vocal two-hander, documenting a dysfunctional, but magnetic and necessary, North-West love. It harks back tonally to “Vicious British Boyfriend” and The Fall’s “An Older Lover”.
“Crow Syndrome” is built around an almost-Krautrock guitar – almost Manuel Göttsching. That’s, of course, before it attaches its slavering jaws to your thigh. “Summer Scribbler” sees Charley’s vocals buried in a fuzz, with the guitars and violin building to an epic, full-throated wail. “The heat is rising, the heat is rising,” is the mantra. You can almost taste an ominous incident out on the Bury New Road. You’re glad you don’t know too much more than the sound conveys.
The nine-song set takes its bow on “Diamante Swansong”. Herein Charley reveals: “Shall I compare thee / To a summer’s day / No best not, I’m fickle / Change my mind a lot … Some swansongs belong / At the bottom of canals / My swansongs, have a distinct lack of swans, lack of swans”.
For my money, an element that everyone misses about King of the Slums is: they’re folk. They’re not folk in any preserved-in-aspic chunky sweater sense; but lyrically, you can draw a line of sight to Eliza Carthy at her most full-blooded. This is our folk, our song, an articulation of now.
According to the band, this reprisal of recent materiel comes in advance of a wholly new LP due later in the year, provisionally entitled Encrypted Contemporary Narratives. And with MES now passed over to wherever it is psychic wordsmiths go, it’s Charley who’s out there among the strays and the flat-roofed pubs; by the lift shafts and the truncated cobbled alleys, seeing, knowing.
Take heed of King of the Slums’ second coming. This rough beast, its hour come at last, is slouching towards Brinnington and Beswick to be born.
King of the Slums’ Our Favourite Trainers will be released on July 1 in digital format on all the usual platforms: to listen and purchase at Bandcamp, visit https://kingoftheslums.bandcamp.com/album/our-favourite-trainers