This was a welcome return to Under The Bridge for me. Last time I visited, it was to see From The Jam (with Keith and The Men of a Certain Age…). This time I settled into my seat next to a couple of likely lads called Billy and Trev. I didn’t know them, they didn’t know me. No one cared. The main thing was not to be drinking, “fakkin’ lauhhgaah innit.” So that was alright then. We were all there for Nine Below Zero. Billy and Trev were very excited. Very excited.
I suspected they had been excited since the mid 80s. It seemed important to them that I ‘qualified’ for Nine Below Zero by first namedropping a few blues bands. I reeled off all the old blind guys I could think of (Blind Lemon, Blind Blake, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Alfred Reed, Blind Boy Fuller, Blind Boys of Alabama…). If in doubt, it’s always a reasonable bet to prefix the word ‘blind’ to any of your neighbour or colleague’s names. I threw in a reference to the crossroads and that seemed to shut them up just in time for the support band.
Chloe Marriott fronted a 3-piece band of guitar, bass and drums that could maybe have done with a fourth. Chloe has a fantastic, big, bluesy voice and good rhythm on the guitar but struggled to keep up with the lead playing. An extra pair of hands might have helped. This was a big set for a small band and they certainly held their own, but Chloe seems to be making up her mind whether she wants to be a singer/songwriter or a rock star. She’ll be great at either, she just needs to decide. Standout track for me was Hendrix’s Crosstown Traffic.
Nine Below Zero, by contrast, decided what they wanted to be a long time ago. They blasted onto, across, and out of the stage with full-on rocking blues. Zero stalwarts Dennis Greaves (guitar/vocals) and Mark Feltham (harmonica/vocals) have been touring this year as an acoustic duo, but this gig was the ‘big band’ version. So alongside the two original members of the band, we were also treated to backing vocals from Charlie Austin, keyboards, bass, drums and, most importantly a brass section to die for.
Dennis, the original frontman introduced the set with, “I think we’ll just get on with it…” and get on with it they did. Non-stop pumping, rocking, wailing blues. This was an updated, uptown version of the blues. The set included some of their own classics like ‘Don’t Point Your Finger,’ some jukebox covers such as ‘Wooly Bully,’ and enough of the old masters to make me feel that my ‘blind’ education was worthwhile. Riding on the L&N, originally composed in the mid 40s by Lionel Hampton and Dan Burley, and Stormy Monday, also from the 40s originally recorded by Earl Hines, were my favourite examples.
This was a great set. Charlie Austin transformed the band’s live presence – barefoot, little black dress, dancing and making the music all the more worthwhile. Her bright vocals played a nice counterpoint to the more raucous bluesy blokes voices of Greaves and Feltham. Stormy Monday really allowed Charlie’s haunting vocals to shine amidst the ‘call and response’ interplay between the guitar and harmonica. For a moment there I was back in the cotton fields. And if that wasn’t enough they even managed to add a soaring trumpet line hitting notes I didn’t even know you could hit.
The surprise heroes really were the brass section – sax and trumpet from Chris Rand and Paul Jordanous – tight, loud and… ‘brassy,’ as only a brass section can be. They took us nicely beyond the blues into jazz territory at times and it made the whole experience richer and more sophisticated than I suspect it might otherwise have been. Who said blues is one-dimensional? The arrangements took us all well into the 4th dimension. Dennis stopped to check we were all still with him with a quick, “All aboard?” But he needn’t have worried, the crowd was more than happy to be part of this journey. The Georgie Fame instrumental demonstrated a band of talented musicians clearly enjoying what they’re doing, and when that happens, the audience almost inevitably has a good night out.
The Nine Below Zero tour continues with dates around the UK and Europe booking well into 2017. Go and see them. You can also enjoy some of their big band sound in the new Nine Below Zero album – 13 Shades of Blue
- London Pale Ale
- Little Black Dress
Go and see them. You can also enjoy some of their big band sound in the new Nine Below Zero album – 13 Shades of Blue