The four Kings of Tennessee bear gifts
As Kings of Leon prepare to play three big nights at the 3Arena in Dublin, our reporter writes that the south is rising again
Back in the day, the Followill brothers - Caleb, Nathan and Jared - would journey through the dusty, hot South with their preacher papa Ivan Leon Followill, as he spread the Word, healed the unholy and watched them speaking in tongues. The Word never faltered. The Chrysler that transported the Followills all over the Bible Belt was not so reliable...
"It would backfire," Nathan recalled of their godless vehicle, "and we were so embarrassed that when we'd pull into a church, we'd have to kill the engine and coast into the parking lot."
Their father, a preacher at the United Pentecostal Church, could also "backfire the car on command", not least, added Nathan, when they were driving past a building site.
"The guys would literally drop to the ground. I don't know how my dad did it. He was a man of God. He was gifted."
By the summer of 2008, the gifted Followill brothers' transport had been upgraded considerably after they had formed a band, Kings of Leon, with cousin Matthew Followill (Caleb on vocals, Nathan on drums, Jared on bass, and Matthew on guitar). The southern quartet were travelling in their sleek tour bus en route to headline the opening night of Glastonbury. Caleb announced to no one in particular: "I'm definitely nervous." "Don't you worry, baby - Mama's here," Caleb's mother, Betty-Ann Murphy, piped up to soothe her sons.
"Just remember, there may be bands that are louder or bigger than you, but no one's as good looking as you boys or plays as well as you boys do." Caleb reportedly slunk deep down into his seat with mortification spreading across his face, in the direction of his brothers: "Uh, thanks, Mom."
The Followills and their band have been on a magical if sometimes turbulent journey since that successful headline slot at Glasto almost nine years ago. Their 2008 album Only By The Night - with global smash Sex On Fire as its centrepiece - sold six million copies. They became huge internationally; problems emerged within the band fuelled by drink, drugs and egos...
On July 29, 2011, Caleb told the crowd at a big Dallas show: "I'm gonna go backstage for a second. I'm gonna vomit, I'm gonna drink a beer and I'm gonna come back out here and I'm gonna play three more songs." He never returned. Jared referred to the incident when he tweeted, "There are problems in our band bigger than not drinking enough Gatorade."
In 2013 Kings of Leon (named after their father and grandfather) released their sixth album, Mechanical Bull. It was, in a word, average.
They didn't split up but they took a break and came back with their first album in three years, the excellent Walls.
It was a painful journey that began for the Followill brothers in a very real sense in 1997, when their father suddenly resigned from the United Pentecostal Church and divorced his wife Betty-Ann.
"Our parents' divorce shattered the whole mirage of this perfect little existence the outside world couldn't touch and couldn't pollute," Nathan, the oldest Followill brother, said later.
"We realised that our dad, the greatest man we ever knew, in our eyes, was only human. And so are we... this whole new world was open to us."
In a 2011 documentary about the band, Talihina Sky: The Story of Kings of Leon, Jared said: "I always felt like we were the Christians and everybody else were sinners." Southern dis-comfort.
Kings of Leon (with very special guests Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats) play the 3Arena in Dublin on Ju1y 1, 2 and 4. Ticketmaster.ie
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