Sunday, 23 October 2016

Nine Below Zero Back at The Arc

Nine Below Zero
The Arc, Stockton-on-Tees

It has been three and a half years since Nine Below Zero last played at The Arc. Last night they returned in triumphant style, determined to show old dogs are more than capable of learning new tricks.

The personnel had doubled from four to eight since the last time they played Stockton-on-Tees, with Dennis Greaves and Mark Feltham being the only two survivors from the previous line up.

Mickey Burkey is now permanently back on drums, following the 'Classic Line Up' shows of 2014 and Ben Willis has replaced Brian Bethell on the bass. The new line up is completed by the addition of Charlie Austen on backing (and sometimes lead) vocals, Andrew Noble on keyboards, Chris Rand on saxophone and Paul Jordan's on trumpet. This is the line up featured on the brand new album, 13 Shades of Blue, which will be reviewed here later in the week.

The introduction of a horn section, keyboard and female vocals allows the band to explore new directions as well as adding new dimensions to prime its form their extensive back catalogue.

The evening blasted off with Don't Lay Your Funky Trip on Me, the first of a number of songs to be played from the new album. Indeed, it is the album's opener too and it showcases, perhaps more than any other song, the capabilities of the new line up. The lyrics are sparse, allowing the music to speak more or less for itself.

The new songs rubbed shoulders with Nine Below Zero classics such as Don't Point Your Finger at the Guitar Man, You, Never Too Late, Woolly Bully and 11+11. They even slipped into a version of Fleetwood Mac's Albatross, before Dennis halted proceedings to inform the audience, 'We don't do that one.'

Dennis was on top form, as usual, as he added humorous interludes between the songs. At one point he drew attention to three pieces of carpet he claimed they had bought from a well-known store earlier in the day. 'We were in and out in 17 minutes. Why do children have to take their parents to these shops?'


Pride was expressed at various junctures. First, with the stand against online streaming and Nine Below Zero's refusal to play along, based on the paltry returns of 0.02p offered per stream or download. Dennis gave the rallying cry to keep the music product as a physical entity. He went on to say they hope to release a vinyl version of 13 Shades of Blue and that the early indications are promising.

There was also pride in the fact that 'We've brought back the drum solo!' and Mickey Burkey certainly showed how it is done.

Mickey Burkey - drum solo!

It is remarkable that after so many years in the business Nine Below Zero have found to a way to evolve their style and expand their repertoire to embrace the worlds of funk and jazz into their established haven of British rhythm and blues. It will be interesting to see if this new style is here to stay. Meanwhile, keep an eye in their tour dates and catch them if you can.

We conclude with a few more captured moments from the pulsating gig.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Nine Below Zero on Teesside

Following yesterday's exciting news about Nine Below Zero's return to Teesside, we take a look back to their most recent visits. Click on the links below for a full review of each show.

They brought the 2011 Guisborough Rhythm and Blues Festival to an explosive end, topping the bill ahead of rising blues star Oli Brown.

Two years flew by before their next appearance on Teesside, at The Arc, Stockton in 2013.
They returned to the area for a gig at the Saltburn Spa in 2014, together with Ben Walters.
2014 brought a quick return to the area (albeit just a little bit further up than Teesside) at the Old Town Hall, Gateshead.

Expect a little more coverage of Nine Below Zero prior to their return to The Arc in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Nine Below Zero

Cult Rhythm and Blues heroes Nine Below Zero are currently touring the UK in support of their brand new album 13 Shades of Blue, and will be performing at The Arc on Saturday 22 October.

Nine Below Zero tour with line-up of three original band members; Dennis Greaves (guitar/vocals), Mark Feltham (harmonica), Mickey ‘Stix’ Burkey (drums) and Ben Willis (bass) as well as additional horn section, keyboards, violin and backing vocalists, creating an exciting new Nine Below Zero Big Band sound after an impressive live debut on the Acoustic Stage at Glastonbury 2016.

Since their genesis in the 1970s, Nine Below Zero have been known for providing unique and innovative music in the form of alt blues-rock, a breath of fresh air in a pop punk era. Speaking about the tour, front-man Dennis Greaves said “To be back on tour with all the guys is incredible….the energy, enthusiasm and the magic are back.” 

“We never had a hit single, but we became a cult band with an almost fanatical following. It will be great for us all to reconnect with the fans” Dennis concludes. 

Singer/guitarist Dennis Greaves formed Stan’s Blues Band in 1977 with school friends, then recruited harmonica maestro Mark Feltham who lived on the same Peabody Estate in Tulse Hill, South London. “I thought we were the only people playing blues, but when we got on the circuit I discovered there were other bands out there”, Greaves remembers. “There was Red Beans And Rice, The Blues Band, The Little Roosters, The Inmates, Dr Feelgood – it was quite a big thing.” 
Changing their name to Nine Below Zero in 1979 and signing to A&M Records, they released their classic live set Live At The Marquee. The Glyn Johns-produced Don’t Point Your Finger followed in 1981 as well as an appearance on BBCTV’s The Old Grey Whistle Test. Their last album before splitting, Third Degree, followed in 1982,the band promoting single Eleven Plus Eleven on the first episode of hit comedy The Young Ones. 
Greaves reformed Nine Below Zero in 1990 with Feltham, who left in 1992 but rejoined in 2001. They are still an incendiary live act as those who witnessed their 2014 show at the ‘100 Club for The Blues' second birthday can confirm, and all that listen to 13 Shades of Blue can attest it is a fitting and accurate tribute to the Blues. 
Autumn 2016 Tour Dates can be found here.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Mark Harrison: Turpentine

Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison has returned with a new album, taking his flair for songwriting and musicianship to a whole new level.

It's been a while since we reviewed albums here at Marsh Towers so we are now reversing the trend and hoping to add our thoughts about new music on a more regular basis.

The works of Mark Harrison have appeared here twice before, namely with Crooked Smile (2012) and The World Outside (2014).

Checking my earlier thoughts, I found:

''If Crooked Smile was Mark's view of the world from his own personal standpoint, then Outside World sees him step through the door to encounter the rest of the world in all its glory, from the eccentric to the scary, from hectic modern life to the hard times of a bygone era.''

I was intrigued to see how Mark's third album would sound and in which direction he would take the listener. The song titles revealed Mark has not lost his penchant for the quirky and unusual.

Track List

Black Dog Moan
So Many Bad People (Out There)
Hell of a Story
Hardware Store
The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek
In the Dark
Dog Rib
Dirty Business
Fade Away
Next of Kin
Josephina Johnson
Mister Trouble
Shake the House

The songs hit the ground running with Black Dog Moan, setting the scene for the rest of the treats in store. In typical style, Mark sets dark lyrics to a jaunty tune. This has the dual effect of making the foot tap while making the brain think; real happy/sad blues. The lyrics depict a man who is almost making excuses to be happy in a world conspiring to bring him down. If there's no liquor, he'll drink turpentine...which gives us the name for the album. This is already very clever writing. Anyone who has ever used turpentine will find the title conjuring up the unique smell and feel of the oil, evoking many memories from times past. Ultimately, despite the charade and facade, there is no outrunning the black dog.

The characters in the songs stand out as eloquent outsiders, observing and commenting on the world around, full of So Many Bad People.

Paranoia raises its head on Hardware Store, which encapsulates the fish-out-of-water feeling we all experience when forced out of our comfort zone. This is undoubtedly one of the album's highlights. The lyrics are very amusing - some will make the listener laugh out loud - but the social message lurking barely below the surface is quick to emerge following a single scratch. It is, in short, a song to which we can all relate.

Let's face it: we live in a world where 'breaking news' is all about who may or may not still be part of a channel-changing cookery program; a world in which headlines regarding top-dollar divorce proceedings scream from the highest rooftops. Is it any wonder these songs of isolation, alienation and despair really hit home?

Hell of a Story is another standout track. The subject appears to have turned his life around in the most unlikely fashion, but the twist of the song casts doubt upon the veracity of the account.

Throughout the tales of people at odds with modern life, we are musically satiated by an almost endless supply of catchy riffs. At the end of the journey we are encouraged to 'never mind that now' but to Shake the House; a positive note on which to finish.

This is roots music at its best, offering up the ideal combination of folk (narrative songs), blues (happy/sad down-and-outs) and country (songs evoking the Dust Bowl). The entire album is thought-provoking. The songs, riffs, lyrics and messages will stay with the listener long after the immediate listening experience has come to an end, leaving an indelible impression - just like the smell and feel of the turpentine itself.

Breaking news: there is a new live album, which includes songs from Turpentine. Let the good/bad, happy/sad times roll!

Find out more about Mark, his music and his tour dates over at his official website.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Patty Griffin at Cadogan Hall

Patty Griffin
Cadogan Hall, London

Patty Griffin brought the Under The Apple Tree roots festival to a fitting conclusion with her final UK date of the year.

It was a whistle-stop trip for Patty, who flew in just for the show before returning almost directly to Texas.

It was a year to the day since I last saw Patty in London (at Kings Place, where, coincidentally, I was for Songs of Separation the previous evening) and having seen her at The Sage (Gateshead) earlier this year I thought that would have been it for 2016, but this unexpected extra chance arose. As there is nowhere I'd rather be than at a Patty Griffin concert, it took me no time at all to snap up a ticket for the festival.

Incidentally, Ward Thomas, who played an excellent penultimate festival set, credited Patty Griffin as one of the major influences on their own music. It was nice to hear, as Patty still somehow seems to be severely underrated in some circles. It may be due to the fact her songs are so deep, so powerful that they are not easily appreciated by people listening to them just once. They require time to unfold, but once experienced sufficiently to reveal their inner power they simply cannot be forgotten. 

Patty's hour-long solo set included some surprises, such as a rare outing for Moon Song (which she gave to Emmylou Harris), the comedic anti-love song Our Love is a Dud ('about an old boyfriend; nobody you'd know' she said, to take way any suspicion it could have been about Robert Plant) and a fabulous encore of Where or When (the Rodgers and Hart classic). Another surprise - for Patty - was a broken guitar strap during Making Pies, which required improvisation involving a raised knee to keep the song going.

Elsewhere, the more obvious choices from last year's Servant of Love album (the title track, Rider of Days and Shine a Different Way) were rested in favour of Gunpowder, Good and Gone and Made of the Sun and Patty took time to praise the return of the Dixie Chicks in her introduction to Truth No.2 (Patty's song, recorded by the Chicks also).

Set List

Making Pies
Love Throw a Line
Good and Gone
Made of the Sun
Our Love is a Dud
Long Ride Home
Moon Song
Truth No.2


Where or When

We conclude with a gallery from the evening.

Thank you, Whispering Bob and the Under the Apple Tree festival crew!

Monday, 12 September 2016

Under The Apple Tree

Under The Apple Tree
Roots Festival
Cadogan Hall, London

Under The Apple Tree - the brand new festival created by Whispering Bob Harris - made its debut in great style at Cadogan Hall, with two stages offering a permanent supply of eclectic music. Roots music draws deeply from the genres of Americana, country, folk and blues and each one of those styles was represented by big-hitters from their respective fields.

The beautiful main hall hosted a virtually non-stop eight-hour musical feast and the acoustic stage in the downstairs bar picked up and filled any snippet of available free time.

The day started with Catherine McGrath on the acoustic stage. A great choice of opener, as Catherine set the bar very high from the start. The acoustic stage would go on to feature Small Town Jones, Blair Dunlop, Balsamo Deighton and Dexeter.

Meanwhile up in the main hall, we were treated to Dan Bettridge, Lewis and Leigh, The Lake Poets, Andrew Combs, Judith Owen, Chris Difford (with Boo Hewerdine), Scott Matthews, Ward Thomas and the pièce de résistance, Patty Griffin.

Ward Thomas - fronted by twin sisters Catherine and Lizzy - are very much in the spotlight at the moment. Their Cartwheels album entered the charts at no.1 on the week of the festival and their celebratory appearance was eagerly anticipated. They certainly didn't disappoint.

The festival represented excellent value for money and was enhanced by a genuine feelgood factor. However, I was surprised to find the event wasn't sold out. Balcony tickets were reallocated as stalls seats and the balcony was closed. This festival, featuring such big names, should have been packed to the rafters.

The only problem I encountered on the day was the noise in the bar area of the acoustic stage, which obscured the stage announcements towards the end of the day and made it very hard for the acts to make themselves heard. Dexeter, the concluding acoustic act, managed to rise above it by bringing the audience (more or less) on their side from the start. It would be an improvement for future events to keep the bar flotsam and jetsam in the main downstairs bar area rather than have the music interfered with in this way.

Nevertheless, the Under The Apple Tree festival managed to put down some very strong roots and Whispering Bob has promised to build on the event's success with another festival next year.

Here are a few images from a busy day with which to conclude this report.

Whispering Bob Harris opens the event
Catherine McGrath, opening on the acoustic stage
Whispering Bob on the main stage
Dan Bettridge
Lewis and Leigh
Boo Hewerdine, before he was joined by Chris Difford

Chris Difford

Judith Owen
Marty Longstaff of The Lake Poets
Andrew Combs
Scott Matthews
Bob in his 'No.1 jacket'.
Ward Thomas, ready to rock


Coming next: a review of Patty Griffin's appearance, which brought the festival to a fine conclusion.