Mark King: My Island
Level 42 front man and slap bass legend Mark King reveals what it was like growing up on the Isle of Wight, why he still loves it, and where you’ll find him on the Island when he’s not on stage.
My family has been on the Isle of Wight for over a century. My mum once did our family tree and traced it back to the 1850s. There are a lot of old Island names on it, including Flux, Pritchett and Downer – and King, of course. They were all farmers back in the day, except the Pritchett’s, who were brick makers. I was born on a dairy farm in Northwood. My dad built boats in Cowes until the boatyard shut down and he joined the prison service.
It was a nice way to grow up, on that prison estate. Living on an island can be quite insular, but not for us. We were mixing with kids from all over the country, whose parents had come here after the mines had closed. They had different accents and a different outlook on life – it was pretty refreshing for us island-born kids.
When I was 14 years old we moved to Gurnard to look after our grandmother. It was a lovely place to be as a teenager. In fact, my great grandfather can be credited with starting the whole chalet thing there. We spent the summers hanging out at the beach, and walking across to Thorness Bay and over the cliffs. You could lose yourself up there, looking at the stars – so magical. It was where I used to dream about being a musician.
The Island proved to be a fertile breeding ground for an aspiring musician. There were so many opportunities to play back in the late 60s and 70s, with a healthy turnaround of clubs, pubs, bars and hotels. We went from one place to the next to watch different bands, it was so vibrant – you could grab a tambourine and just join in. By the time I was 11 years old I had joined a band, Pseudo Foot, and we were playing three nights a week.
It’s great that the Island now attracts such incredible musicians. When I’m not playing at music festivals, I love going to them – and the Isle of Wight has had two of the best music festivals in the country. I love that Rob and Josie da Bank and John and Ziggy Hughes chose the Isle of Wight to set up Bestival – it was a throwback to the green field festival days, and even though it’s moving to the mainland this year, I’ll still be going. And a big-up to John Giddings for keeping the Isle of Wight Festival going in tough times, when there so many other festivals happening around the country. But there are small music festivals happening here, too, that are great fun – Rhythm Tree Festival is always good, so is Jack up the 80s.
I love my job and I don’t get much time away from it but when I do I love to fish. You can head out of Bembridge Harbour and fill the boat up with mackerel in 20 minutes when they are running. Or we’ll head towards Ventnor where there is some great plaice fishing around the mussel beds there. Black bream and bass is plentiful too, and about five miles due south the cod fishing is fantastic. I love to cook, too. And when I catch a lot of fish I’ll hot smoke it. Bass and mackerel are particularly good prepared this way. I’ll serve it with some potatoes that we have grown ourselves.
My wife Ria and I are keen vegetable growers. We’ve always had greenhouses. My parents grew vegetables, too, and it was a competition to see who had best flavoured tomatoes. The Island is famous for its tomatoes and I have a theory on that – even when it’s cloudy here we have more reflected sunlight being on an island, so it extends the growing season, intensifying the flavours.
And when I’m not cooking, we are eating out. I love Robert Thompson’s cooking – his head chef Simon Ulph is a star in the making. My second favourite is The Royal Hotel in Ventnor – I’ve had some amazing long lazy lunches there, and The Little Gloster in Gurnard, built right on the very site where I spent my teenage years. Other favourites include The Pointers Inn, Newchurch, where I’ll go for a pint and the lamb shank pie, and not forgetting the Sunday roast at The Garlic Farm. I think we are very lucky to have such dedicated young talent here on the Island.
I really like West Wight. I like the wilderness vibe you get when you are driving along the Military Road. The views are just stunning. I’ve had the pleasure of travelling all over the world but that view along towards The Needles is hard to beat. I completely understand why so many of the romantic writers from the 19th century wanted to come and hang out here.
Sirens EP is the latest album from Level 42. For more information visit level42.com