The word ‘legendary’ can sometimes be a bit of a throwaway line when it comes to describing any musician or act with a modicum of influence and credibility. But in the case of Kid Congo Powers (the ‘Powers’ being a non-compulsory moniker addition these days), the term is a more than apt descriptor. If you need convincing, the fact that he’s previously spent time in seminal acts of the calibre of The Cramps, The Gun Club and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, should set the record straight fairly quickly. Oh and he was also president of original Ramones fan club as a 16 year old. In short, he’s one cool cat!
These days ‘Kid’ (as he’s commonly known) is a fully fledged band leader in his own right, with his current long-term musical project, Kid Congo And The Pink Monkey Birds, equally adept at delivering an exotica-tinged, sleazy swamp groove as well as their trademark high octane, blues inflected garage rawk. He also happens to be one of the most captivating front men you’re ever likely to lay eyes on.
And the exciting news is that he’ll be performing on the Gold Coast in May, as part of this years’ bumper Blues On Broadbeach Music Festival line-up. The Kid obviously has a bit of an affinity with this part of the world, with this being the third time since 2015 that he’s toured Australia.
In turns charming and funny (as well as being a bit of a musical encyclopedia), I ask Kid if he’s looking forward to playing as part of an eclectic, blues based line-up outside of his regular club show environment. “Oh definitely, I can’t wait to come back to Australia. They ask, I’ll show up!” And with the band’s unique and highly entertaining stage show, they’ll be sure to make a big impact with the crowds that flock to this year’s event, even if his oeuvre is far from a traditional blues template.
A unique drawcard of the band’s live performances are the extended, often highly amusing spoken word monologues that Kid uses to introduce many of the songs. Having seem him perform previously, the impressive thing is that by the end of the ‘story’ the words will magically congeal to reveal the title of the song. I ask him if these are planned outpourings or more stream of conscious musings.
“It’s a little bit of both. It starts as a stream of consciousness..I’m not a good planner. But then it becomes part of the act..another part of the music. That’s why I enjoy playing live so much, the songs become something else and take on a life of their own. I think of it in terms of it being part of a rock and roll ‘show’. It’s quite theatrical, and I’m not embarrassed to say it. Because I look at my musical lineage, and my involvement with what I call ‘the big three’ (The Cramps, the Gun Club and Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds), and there’s a sense of drama and entertainment with all of them. I like there to be communication between an artist and the audience. When I was a teenager, I went to see The New York Dolls, and you felt like you were at a party, and David Johansen (New York Dolls front man) was the host of the party. And I like to have that feeling at our shows. So I won’t be standing there staring at my feet – although if you have nice shoes that’s ok! Plus I’m a blabber mouth haha.”
While his musical pedigree cannot be questioned, upon chatting further with the affable front man and guitarist, I discover just how humble and grateful he is to have spent his formative musical years as part of the aforementioned revered acts.
“It’s all been satisfying. My time with The Gun Club was amazing because that was something we created out of nothing. We didn’t really know how to play, we didn’t know much about anything, we just started. I was very close to that, because I had a stake in the original vision. Jeffrey Lee Pearce (Gun Club founder) always called the band ‘surrealism in blues’ with our music.
With The Cramps, I was a massive fan before I was even playing music. They are one of the reasons I picked up the guitar. To be in that band was like a dream come true, and I’d only been playing guitar for one year when I joined them. Then I was making records and touring the world! It was fun and crazy, and I had a big responsibility. It was a real trial by fire and I had to deliver the goods. Brian Gregory, the Cramps guitarist before me, was such a fan favourite and so iconic in his presence. It was a big pair of high heels to fit into haha!”
Then with Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, from a personal and aesthetic perspective it was similar to where I’d come from, but musically they were very, very different. The songs were often vocal or piano led, and were often quite experimental during that Berlin period of the band, which was quite challenging. It’s all been fascinating for me and I’m really appreciative. I really learnt from the best. It was one of the most fortunate musical educations I could have had.”
Kid Congo And The Pink Monkey Birds will be appearing at the 2018 Blues on Broadbeach Music Festival, one of the largest free music events in Australia, taking place from 17 – 20 May. They are also touring nationally throughout May, including a show at The Foundry in Brisbane on 19 May.
IMAGE (c) Robert Ascroft