I was drawn into this gig the way his highness would have wanted me to: scanning through the Fibbers gig guide until his ridiculous image engaged my natural curiosity. Described as a ‘Psychedelic vibrant acoustica shaman’, I at least expected some kind of debilitating drug addiction. Yet having a quick pre-gig browse through his youtube channel I was struck by the sober chastity of his music. At times replicating the unassuming vocal simplicity of Mumford and Sons, I could not help comparing his absurdly juxtaposed historical image with the baffled Napoleon in Bill and Ted’s excellent adventures sitting awkwardly in an American ice cream parlour. However, having built up a respectable following, I was eager to discover upon the dark stage of Fibbers where all this contrivance ends, and any genuine emotional depth begins.
First on the bill was Leeds based acoustic act Sam Airey. It was the kind of opening act which sets the emotional parameters for the show, his songs rich in impassioned rustic depth. The lyrics seemed to calculated to transport the listener through scenes of rural apathy, a kind of folk inflected Wordsworth.
After this poignant performance came We Were Evergreen, whose overwhelming charm and musical zest enlisted a quite rapturous reception. The three beaming faces which shone upon the audience each cheerfully sang in wide eyed unison. Their beguiling innocence bespoke of idyllic childhoods amongst the vales of Arcady nursed by woodland nymphs. Their set started off in with a kind of lackadaisical resignation, the mousy timbre of the xylophone aiding a swaggering vocal style that seemed to undermine life’s occasional mishaps in the name of youth. For the final couple of songs the xylophone was replaced by the more commanding tones of a Micro Korg synthesiser, breathing an electronic energy into their sound reminiscent of that bouncy insistence propounded by The Ting Tings.
Then came the King himself onto the stage, introducing his touring companion/backing vocalist Giovanna, whose incredible voice with a hefty dose of delay turned the energetic crowd rigid for a short, hypnotic set. His courtiers then assembled around him: two soulful backing vocalists, a violinist, an almost concealed drummer, and a bassist standing at the back of the stage who came into his own shouting out the dopey premise to track ‘bam bam’. This full sound was initially quite impressive, yet I could not help noticing the almost subdued participation of the evident star of the show as his brow was creased in impassioned bravado that seemed at odds with both the triumphant music around him and his own lyrical content. It is hard to try and identify a specific formula for King Charles, but it seems for the most part an elaborate manifestation of a nursery rhyme. The chorus for Mississippi Isabel exhibits the kind of narrative stasis and empty resolution found in Humpty Dumpty: ‘I rode around on my bicycle, all the way in the rain. She kissed me once I took her out for lunch, And she never kissed me again.’
The song which stood out from the rest was ‘The Polar Bear and Crocodile Song’, surprisingly the most profound and emotional performance of the set. The chorus sounded huge, with a heavy bass drum syncopation the dominant factor. ‘Love Lust’ also for its accessibility and perhaps familiarity, went down well among the mostly female Fibbers crowd. The prevailing sentiment I had of the gig however, was one of superficial fabrication. That feeling of emptiness which first accompanies the revelation that your heroes of Top of the Pops are actually miming the lyrics. Then what’s the point? Rather than living up to his enigmatic description, I discovered him to in fact be nothing more than a contrived popstar, probably some kind of art school dropout from Durham. His namesake would be rolling in his headless grave.