Story: Matt Fernandes
Photos: Sean Rider
Onstage at St. Louis’ Red Flag venue on Sept. 8, a British trio hammered away, generating an astonishing speedball of garage rockabilly, grimy punk, fuzzed-out vocals, blurry drumsticks and cheap suits. Think of the Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil spinning at breakneck speed, ready to fly off into oblivion, only to stop on a dime, poised for his next move.
His Lordship’s wall of sound filled the venue, commanding total attention—and this was just the soundcheck.
Later that night, the band delivered a stunning performance in front of a packed St. Louis crowd. Those in attendance must have felt fortunate—this was His Lordship’s debut performance stateside. Of late, the band has played to sold-out venues in the U.K., generating a fair amount of buzz.
The band hopes this sneak preview will be the first of many visits to St. Louis and the rest of the U.S.
“Touring the U.S. is at the top of our agenda,” said guitarist and vocalist James Walbourne. “It’s the only place we want to be really.”
The trio was in town for their little side gig, as members of the Pretenders alongside Chrissie Hynde. They were scheduled to open for Guns N’ Roses at Busch Stadium the next day before a cancellation occurred. Walbourne has played for the Pretenders since 2008 and co-wrote their last two albums with Hynde, including this year’s Relentless.
For Walbourne, St. Louis was a logical choice to play this first U.S. show. He served as guitarist for St. Louis area-based Sun Volt for several years starting in 2005.
“I have had ties (in St. Louis) for a very long time, and I’ve been here a lot,” Walbourne said, after a post-soundcheck reunion with a cluster of old friends, “which is strange for a bloke from Muswell Hill (North London), but St. Louis is a great place.”
“I remember playing Mississippi Nights,” he continued. “It was the last gig that Son Volt did with the original lineup. I was like 19 years old and it was just a little too much to take because I had heard so much about this club.”
"Trying to start a band during the pandemic was the most stupid thing we could almost ever do. But, you know, we pushed through, we got a couple of bits of vinyl out, which was an incredible undertaking."
His Lordship was born out of the Covid-19 pandemic. After the Pretenders and other projects were put on hold, Walbourne and Pretenders’ drummer Kris Sonne passed some time jamming as a duo at Walbourne’s longtime local pub when Sonne was in London (more on this later).
With bigger crowds showing up at shows and interest growing after the release of their initial EP, His Lordship Plays Rock’n’Roll Vol 1, the two felt they had hit on something. Trouble was, Sonne lived in Copenhagen.
“There were intermittent parts of the pandemic where Kris would come over to London and we’d quickly do something before they shut it all down again,” said Walbourne. “Trying to start a band during the pandemic was the most stupid thing we could almost ever do. But, you know, we pushed through, we got a couple of bits of vinyl out, which was an incredible undertaking. And then we managed to put a few gigs in, and then it just really took off.”
“We would make demos and create ideas for songs, but it’s the kind of band that we have to be playing together, or we don’t really know what we have,” Sonne added. “So, we talked about
His Lordship’s sound emulates time-tested genres like rockabilly and punk, but their urgency and technical prowess elevate them onto a different level. To watch them pull off their intricate guitar, vocal and drum work, with tempos set to ludicrous speed, is to watch a rare display of raw power and talent.
“It was kind of a Covid thing where you have time to think, ‘what do I really want to do?’” Sonne said. “And what I didn’t want to do is mid-tempo singer-songwriter music or something like that. We were very bored with that.”
“It was a reaction, it was fun,” Walbourne said of the band’s style, which blends equal amounts of Johnny Thunders, the Cramps and the Flat Duo Jets. “I’ve had other bands where I’ve been the front man, but it has been more of a laid-back thing. It’s never been as wild as this. But for me, I feel I’ve found my natural state.”
Asked for recommendations in his home environs of Highgate, London, Walbourne mentioned Sir John Soane’s Museum, a house museum with a vast collection of artifacts and antiquities that’s off the beaten tourist path. Then Sonne chimed in with the obvious attraction His Lordship fans should visit—the Boogaloo rock ‘n’ roll bar where the duo developed their new sound.
“That’s my local pub and where we formed His Lordship. Everything happens to me in that pub!” Walbourne said.
The Boogaloo is where he met Martin Chambers of the Pretenders, which resulted in his long and ongoing tenure as lead guitarist and songwriter. He also met Spider Stacy and Shane McGowan of the Pogues at the pub, who he would also later tour with (and spend perhaps one too many late nights with).
“Boogaloo also made me quit drinking,” Walbourne said, “’cause it was too much.”
Walbourne has maintained a hectic schedule most of his career, taking on projects and tours with acts as diverse as the Pernice Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis and Dave Gahan, to name a few.
“It’s a lot of plate spinning because we do the Pretenders thing, which is liable to change at any time with tours being added,” Walbourne said. “We make plans and just stick to them. You have to be very on it.”
His Lordship’s self-titled debut album will be released in January 2024. The band’s second EP, All Cranked Up, is out now via