Chris Startup – songwriter, lead vocals, guitar and harmonica – is the musical director of King’s Gambit, the decade-old Northampton folk-rock collective. They are now drip-releasing a live album, and New Boots spoke to him about the band’s history and this live project.
How did King’s Gambit get together?
In 2006 I met Katie [Paton] and Cheese at separate events as I was playing full time with Tarantism. Katie agreed to sing a few songs of mine, and I convinced her to do more backing singing in 2008 as we got a few gig in the local pubs and local festivals. I remember our first ever King’s Gambit gig playing at The Umbrella Fair in the summer of 2009: we played songs such as ‘Carry Out Some More’ and ‘A Girl Called Moira’. The audience loved it.
In 2006 I did a separate gig with cheese and a few other friends of mine. We played a TwinFest gig in Beckets Park and I can only imagine now it sounded very ‘folk-rock’, as I had a drumkit that was played by a great friend Mr Will Stevens – and bass by Matt Clayson. Cheese then disappeared and came back later in 2014 to become a massive part of our sound that you here now.
Early in 2010 I met up with Helen Turton she was playing with InVocal at the time and travelling all over playing different festivals and clubs. We met during a ‘TEACHERS’ drinks party and I asked if she wouldn’t mind playing the cello with me… she said yes! Later that year Katie, Helen and I started to take it seriously and started to practice once a week with Katie not realising I will soon ask her to play bass guitar.
King’s Gambit was formed out of friendship, festivals and great times. The origin of our band name ‘gambit’ means to “trip over your opponent” (the Italian is Gambetto), or chess move. It also means to me a reference to the King Tripping LSD style lover. I loved the fact we all have a dance-infused sense of rhythm within us, and I hope we now achieve the same vibe for our audience
How would you describe your sound?
Folk-rock dance anthemic party music 🙂
You’ve put out three albums since 2012. What’s been the reaction to them? Do you feel there’s a narrative progression with them?
We first released Lines and Verses in 2012. These were all my first songs I wrote during 2001 – 2006. I had recorded some of these songs before, but without success. When I started working with Katie and Helen I knew the time was right. I recorded all of this album myself, except for Helen’s cello and Katie’s vocals, and at home. I didn’t know my audience, or who I was trying to reach to. I just wanted to record music and share it. To my surprise we sold out all our CDs in the first 4 weeks.
In 2014 FolkBeat was a huge deal for all of us. We had worked hard with our ‘live’ sounds now for a few years and had been gigging these songs at pubs and festivals. I began almost immediately after Lines and Verses teaching Katie the bass guitar, and finally we started to progress as a group. Helen Turton played the cello, I played the kick drum, vocals and harmonica, and Katie Paton played bass and vocals. It was also great to ask Cheese to come and guest on a few tracks ‘Andrews Song’ and ‘Dressed To White’ with his own hand-crafted Mandola. When we released this album we saw the difference with many more festivals and venue bookings. We had gone to France, Germany on Twinfest gigs and had been started to play the festival circuit on the back of Tarantism.
Over the next few years Cheese joined us full-time. All our previous albums had progressed and changed by his amazing sound and ability to play the mandolin, mandola and banjo. We started playing folk clubs around Banbury and Brackley and other parts of the UK, and working a lot in the summer at small festivals – and now in 2018 working with the likes of Continental Drifts.
From One To Another, from 2016, I feel is OUR album. We individually play all the way through on it. I asked my father-in-law Mr Chris Hewett to guest as the accordion player on the album, so I really feel it has family vibe for me.
The songs are so important to me and represent what we do best: playing original folk tunes such as ‘Old Town’ ‘Charles Baker’ and ‘From One To Another’. It is also in some ways an expression of rebellion and protest: ‘The Only One’, ‘Mary Jane’ and ‘Clockworks’.
I’ve been on the underground festival scene for so long with Tarantism I take inspiration from them and other bands such as AOS3, Back To The Planet, RDF. These groups have been the back bone of what I am and was a part of for many years on the festival circuit. Each year has progressed well with King’s Gambit. We have learnt so much from each album and I guess so do the audience. I think that we have had a very natural narrative progression with our band and the music and sound reflects this. We are of course a LIVE band and now play for around 2 hour sets.
With From One To Another you said that this is the album that provides the full picture you’ve been working towards since the beginning. Do you think you achieved that?
Yes it does in one way, but doesn’t in another. I feel I have achieved my goal of writing original folk tunes with arranging vocal melodies. But I still feel it’s just the beginning of the whole picture. I want to create a dance-fuelled party atmosphere. The last three albums is what we do collectively as a group, and will always play them live, but I want to push new boundaries and explore more dance tunes with a banging kick beat.
One review of the album declared “I’m surprised they’re not better known”. Do you share this assessment? Hell, how does a folk group break through; Radio 2?
I do wish we were better known. I feel over time we will be and that our albums and live sound will see more and more people come and see us and dance. The bigger the stage the better. We are totally self sufficient. I am the manager, promoter, designer, songwriter, record producer. It doesn’t take 8 years. I believe it takes a lot longer to achieve goals such as Radio 2, and that is why we are starting to release a live album over the next year and anyone can hear or view it.
Tell us everything about these two new performances that have appeared online. On Facebook recently you said it was “the start of our live album”…so more to come?
Earlier this year I set up my recording equipment and had a meeting with a great friend of mine who is a camera and video editor, Dom – and got to work in creating a live album. I wanted to ask around 50 people to come along on a Sunday and see us live. They sat down during the whole gig and listened to what we asked, so I really feel it captures a cool Sunday vibe. I press record and we start to film. I think a lot of the audience thought it was for a music video, and that they had to listen to one song 50 times over a two-hour period. This wasn’t the case. We play 12 songs in total for just over an hour. I go back home and start to produce and couldn’t quiet believe what we captured. We will be slowly releasing the whole album over the next year on Youtube and other streaming services whilst we concentrate on our next album.
What made you do the Open Stage performance in the first place?
I make a living teaching music. I teach 12 instruments and also teach singing workshops around the county; singing4breathing , people with COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease], and I also have a 30 + piece choir at Open Stage. To me Open Stage was the perfect opportunity to use this venue as I have strong links and also it is central for people to come and watch us in Northampton.
Are you part of a wider roots scene in Northamptonshire, playing with like-minded bands? Any favourite bands/venues to play with? Favourite local festivals?
We love working with any local bands and yes we are definitely part of the wider roots scene…Jono and Uke Dealers, VHS Pirates, Howling Owls – we also had a great new talent Jacob Braithwaite perform at our From One To Another album launch. We play at least once or twice a year at The Lab, The Lamplighter and The Umbrella Fair.
What was the last album you bought/streamed?
The last album I was listening to was Fat Freddie’s Drop – Dr Boondigga and the Big BW. I have recently been streaming CamelPhat and loving a track called ‘Gypsy King’. And Jacob Collier ‘With The Love In My Heart’ – great tracks…
What is your burning desire for the band to do in the future? What plans do you have?
I want to record our next collection of songs at a studio and mix from home. I think we deserve to now move out of the bedroom and into a recording studio to record the next album. I would love to put it on vinyl too. It will be a very dance-lead euphoric sound, and will include songs called ‘Patterns’, ‘Le Bop’, ‘Ballad of a Man’ and ‘Songs in June’. e are also hoping to support a few bands next year, headline new festivals, go on a mini-tour around the UK and generally reach out to as many people as possible.
King’s Gambit Live at Open Stage is available for streaming now, and more tracks will be added over time