It's great to be with you on home turf

'You become a very popular uncle when you can hand out wristbands,' says Level 42 frontman Mark King.

The 51-year-old singer and bass guitarist with the Isle of Wight's biggest musical export is looking forward to his first festival appearance on home turf when Level 42 open Bestival on Friday.

He says: 'It's the festival my kids and all my family go to and they're all looking forward to it. They're especially looking forward to having a bit of kudos for once with backstage passes.'

When Mark and I talk, he's just hopped off an aeroplane, mid-way through Level 42's 30th anniversary tour.

'We had a great show last night in the Isle of Man. I've never been there before. But it's one more territory under the belt, I suppose.

It's just like the Isle of Wight really, except the weather's worse!' he exclaims.

Born in Cowes and raised on the island, Mark moved to London when he was 19, but returned home 10 years later, to raise his family. He now lives just outside Sandown with his wife Ria and 13-year-old daughter Marlee.

His middle daughter, Jolie, lives in Ryde, while his eldest daughter Florrie lives in Brighton and his son D'Arcy lives in Oxford.

Mark's sisters live on the island too and his younger brother, Nathan (who now plays in the band), lives not too far away in Basingstoke.

'The Isle of Wight is beautiful. It's the best place to raise a family,' Mark says enthusiastically.

'When I was spending such a lot of time away on the road with the band, we already had two kids.

'I thought "I've spent all this time away, it would be great to be around my family again".

'It was lovely to move them back and we've been happy here ever since.

'I've been lucky enough to travel around the world and see some fantastic places too.

'America, for instance, is a massive country. It's got everything – deserts, mountains, oceans and lush green lands. But there's no place like home,' he continues.

Mark's love for the island is apparent and he says he was delighted to return in the 80s.

'I moved back at the height of the band's success and it was nice to come home as a bit of a local hero.'

Aside from raising his family and continuing his music career, Mark's proud of another achievement on the island.

'I opened the first cafe bar on the island,' he explains.

'It was the first one,' he repeats excitedly. 'When I moved back there was nothing like that.

'I bought an old jewellers and turned it into something loosely based on an Amsterdam brown cafe.

'It was the first place on the island that women felt they could go in alone and feel relaxed, which is something they wouldn't have done in a pub back then.'

Mark named the cafe Joe Daflo's (an amalgamation of his first three children's names) but gave it up after 10 years with the arrival of his youngest daughter. It's now a franchised chain with cafe/bars and restaurants in Newport and Southampton too.

Mark's heart has never been too far from home. Even when Mark and the band were living in and gigging around London, they still returned home to perform on the island.

In fact, they signed to Polydor records shortly after a gig in Ryde.

Mark remembers: 'We got a gig at La Babalu Club in Ryde airport, where McDonald's is now in Ryde.

'Polydor sent down an A and R guy and we signed to them shortly afterwards.

'I remember things 30 years ago better than I remember last night,' he adds, reminiscing. 'That happens as you get older.'

But, back when the band was starting out, did he ever expect to be on the road with an anniversary tour in 30 years' time?

'Er, no,' he answers abruptly.

'We didn't at all. We never even spoke about it.

'When we started out, four lads, best friends, we used to rehearse at the Guildhall School of Music, where Mike (Lindup] was studying.

'We used to talk about our ambitions and say things like "when my ship comes in, I won't forget you lads".

'We didn't realise that was our ship – we were already on board the bloody thing!' he laughs.

'It was because there were so many other things going on. Phil was a member of M and I did their second album with them.

'We were both involved with Leisure Process with The Human League's producer.

'Roxy Music were looking for a bass player.

'There was all this stuff floating around. But I'm glad the way it turned out. We stuck to our guns.

'I don't know where the time's gone. I still feel exactly the same. I still love getting on stage and playing.

'We come off stage laughing. I can't believe I get paid for this. It's

a great job.

'We've been through some line-up changes in the band, some people have gone, some people don't want to live that way.

'None of it's right, none of it's wrong. It's all just the way it is and I wouldn't change a thing. It's all got me where I am now and I'm loving it.'

Mark can reel off an endless list of career highs, including the first time he had a record played on the radio on pirate station Radio

Caroline, his first appearance on Top Of The Pops – 'the Holy Grail for the music business back then', and recording with Earth Wind And Fire.

However, there was one very clear low for him.

'The death of Alan Murphy was about as low as it got, ever. It was just hideous,' he explains.

Alan was the band's guitarist from 1988 to 1989, when he died of an AIDS complication.

'No-one knew anything about it,' remembers Mark.

'In hindsight, he didn't look very well, but it came right out the blue for all of us.

'We had just had the most amazing period out in New Orleans and the Record Company wanted to make a compilation album called Level Best.

'The first we knew of the problem, Alan checked himself into hospital and couldn't do the video for Take Care Of Yourself. He called me up and said "can you get by without me?".

'It was fine because the idea behind the video was that we would dress up in ridiculous outfits to visually describe each line of the song.

'The record company guy played Alan for the line "The old man sighs, shuts his eyes and leaves behind another life".

'Seven days later Alan was dead,' says Mark solemnly.

After 14 studio albums, seven live albums, six compilation albums and 18 Top 40 singles (including Lessons In Love, Something About You, Leaving Me Now and Running In The Family), Level 42 had sold in excess of 30 million albums worldwide, but, in 1994, they split.

'Whether it was that it was perceived that we had overstayed our welcome, that we were a hangover from the old decade, I don't know,' says Mark.

'I thought we were coming up with some good material, but it was not even getting a look in with RCA, they were focused on this new band, Take That,' he continues, discussing events that led to the band deciding to call it a day.

Though the band stopped touring and recording, Mark continued under his own name until 2001, when he acquired the rights to the band name and took Level 42 back out on the road again.

'The output isn't like it was back in the day, because there is a lot of living to fit in too, with families et al,' explains Mark, but he still plans to release new material.

Alongside the 30th anniversary box set, released in July, Mark's working on an EP for later this year.

'We're going to put together a new six-track EP to support the autumn tour. I'm calling it the old school project,' reveals Mark.

'I want us to all go into the studio at the same time and record together. People don't tend to do that these days, they all have home studios and record separately, send round files and then bolt it all together in their own time.

'I've got a mobile studio I'm going to take to the rehearsal rooms in London and I've got the songs ready to go.

'The idea of it not being 12 tracks is because, to be honest, I think things are changing with digital downloads. You can cherry pick tracks.

'Albums are just a hangover from when you'd buy a big vinyl LP and you had to make it 45 minutes because that was the width of the groove. It's not necessary any more.

'I think you're better off getting it out faster – four or five tracks at a time, when you have them.

'I could be all wrong though, I'll let you know in October!' he says, only half in jest.

The band have had a busy 30th anniversary year, so far, having already visited Japan, America, Holland, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland.

Aside from opening Bestival next weekend, a date at Portsmouth Guildhall in October will be the closest they get to a home-town show.

'It's certainly the closest we'll get to the island on our tour,' agrees Mark.

'It's not that I don't want to play on the island, it's just that there are not many suitable venues,' he explains.

'So Portsmouth will be our local gig. We've had so many great shows there over the years and I've got some strong memories.

'I suppose it would have been 83 or 84, we were playing there and I was looking down from the stage and this kid in the front row caught my eye because he was going bananas. I did a double take and realised it was my little brother Nathan, who now plays in the band.

'That kind of thing seems to happen quite a lot. Like how the drummer we've got now, Pete Ray Biggin, came to replace Gary Husband, who had too many commitments to come out on a world tour.

'Back in February, before the shows started, I was speaking to the guys about a drummer and Nathan said "look at this clip on YouTube". The name rung a bell. I thought "I'm sure I know this guy", so I called him up and asked if he fancied playing some shows for Level 42.

'I gave him six songs to try and he had no trouble at all. I thought I'd see how good he was so I gave him some other stuff and, again, he nailed it.

'I said "you really know the material, you're really good" and he said "don't you remember me? When I was 11, my parents took me along to your 10th anniversary tour and you brought me up on stage and I played three songs with you". He was this child prodigy drummer, you see. It was a long time ago and it's really nice the way it's all worked out – both these young Herberts from back then end up in the band.'

The whole band is looking forward to opening Bestival this time next week.

Mark says it's the prospect of reaching new and young audiences that excites them most.

'When you're out on the road, doing your own tour, you and the fans know what to expect. But festivals have such an eclectic mix of people – all going to see their favourite bands. You reach so many people, whole new audiences.

'I get a buzz from the thought that there might be kids in the audience that then decide to be in a band. Kids that have an epiphany during our set like Nathan or Pete. That's cool.

'Bestival is just historically one of the best family festivals, so that's where you're likely to see young kids and, to be opening, is even better,' he continues.

'I don't know why we've never been asked to play there before, but I'm going to pull out all the stops on this one.'