It strikes me that a mandatory requirement for being a member of Nine Below Zero must be a dirty great grin. This is a band who have fun – and no wonder when you’re cranking out a set centred on party-time R’nB, and doing it in fine style. Not to mention the fact that front man Dennis Greaves scatters a rather nifty line in humorous patter throughout the proceedings, coming over like a regular from Minder.
When I got hold of Nine Below Zero’s latest album 13 Shades Of Blue last year, I was
surprised to find how laid back and funky they were. My image of them from back in the day was of
post-punk blues blasters in a Dr Feelgood-meets-The Jam vein, all sharp suits
and sharp edges. But true to its title 13 Shades Of Blue showed them exploring
a wide range of blues and soul styles.
|Greaves and Feltham - no messing
That variety is on display in their live show too, but they ain’t so laid back about it. Live, Nine Below Zero are a punchy, horn-honking, high revving proposition, propelling the crowd to a good time. They’re well-honed, and they don’t mess about. Opener ‘Don’t Lay Your Funky Trip On Me’ is, of course, funky, and sets the tone with a good time vibe underlined by the barefoot shimmying of singer Charlie Austen.
And whether it’s the classic R’n’B of ‘Can’t Do Your Homework Any More’, or the scorching take on John Mayall’s ‘Crawling Up The Hill’, that good time vibe infects the crowd.
A highlight of their first set is the gorgeous ‘Don’t Play That Song For Me (He Lied)’, a hit for Aretha Franklin that gets an impassioned delivery from Austen, while Greaves and Mark Feltham add some great harmonies. Another is B.B. King’s ‘You’re Still My Woman’, sung by Feltham and featuring some dreamy, string-bending guitar from Greaves as well as a blazing trumpet solo from Paul Jordanous meshed with some discordant piano from Andrew
No shrinking violets, they play pretty loud even for this old metal fan, and it has to be said that when they all get wired in and start competing for space it can all get a bit shrill at the top end. Thankfully that doesn’t happen often, or my ears would have been ringing even more by the end.
|Charlie Austen - impassioned barefoot shimmying
They open the second half with a swinging instrumental dedicated to Georgie Fame, on which Andrew Noble contributes another big jazzy keys solo, and Chris Rand shines on alto sax. ‘Stormy Monday Blues’ is another showcase for Charlie Austen’s vocals, and also for some elegant harp from Mark Feltham, who elsewhere shows off everything from subtle background trills to sizzling solos.
Then it’s time for more fun, as they go through the gears on the Chas’n’Dave-leaning ‘Three Times Enough’ and the Jam-like ‘Eleven Plus Eleven’, before kicking off the encores with ‘Woolly Bully’. It’s a recipe for dancing, and the roars of approval from the audience at the end are testimony to Nine Below Zero having delivered on their mission.
Earlier The Troublemakers warmed up proceedings with a semi-acoustic set featuring Sandy Tweeddale on guitar vocals and Tim Elliott variously on resonator, harp, washboard and even kazoo. Special mention has to go to Laurie McMillan, drafted in earlier in the week to dep on stand-up bass and not only doing so seamlessly, but also contributing spot on vocal harmonies throughout.
They explore a range of blues styles with ease, especially on ‘Peg Leg And Barbecue Bob’, with some neat slide from Tweeddale and a great guitar/harp riff, and Champion Jack Dupree’s ‘Early In The Morning’, with its tasteful harmonies and a grabber of an electric guitar lick from Tweeddale on his particularly luscious looking ivory-coloured Gretsch semi-acoustic. Blues’N’Trouble may be about to call it a day, but with The Troublemakers Tweeddale and Elliott have a different string to their bow.