Monday, 16 February 2015

INTERVIEW - Nine Below Zero

THERE aren't many bands who can lay claim to the fact they are still going strong after 40 years in the business but one that can is Nine Below Zero.
Formed by guitarist and lead vocalist Dennis Greaves in 1977, they honed their craft in the pubs and clubs of South London before releasing a multitude of albums and touring stadiums around the globe.
Fory years on, and despite a few staff changes over the years, they are still gigging and writing music with their distinctive mix of blues, RnB and rock still as strong as it ever was.
Fans will be able to see two of them - Dennis and vocalist and harmonica player Mark Feltham - perform in a special stripped back set in Blackheath this weekend as part of comedian Arthur Smith's House of Fun extravaganza at Blackheath Halls.
"I've known Arthur for ages and he's a really lovely guy," Dennis tells me. "We did a gig in his house in Balham once. It was brilliant - we were in the kitchen but there was stuff going on all over the house.
"So I was more than up for us being in his show. Besides, it's home turf for me. We've played Blackheath Halls loads of times over the years and we love it. It's such a brilliant and impressive building and we're really excited to be part of it."
As well as the set from Dennis and Mark there will be comedy turns from Arthur, fellow comedian, novelist and actor Jenny Eclair and musicians The McCarricks.
It is the second such event Arthur has organised which he has described as a modern day variety show with him as the "compere beyond compare".
"It's going to be a fun night," says Dennis. "I think Arthur wanted a bit of this and a bit of that - we're one of the musical elements of it!"
And he says he is looking forward to it as it will be a chance for the fans to hear a slightly different musical side to them.
"I'm really excited because Mark and I have been working on a new album, Duo, and we'll be doing some songs from that," he says.
"The album will be released in March so people who come along will get to hear a sneak preview!
"It's an acoustic set and part of a tour we are doing. We've never done a proper acoustic tour before so we thought it would be good to come out from behind our amps - it's going to be lovely - scary but lovely."
The album has been a real labour of love for the pair and is what Dennis describes as a "masterclass".
"Duo is the essence of everything we've ever done," he says. "It's very much about going back to our musical roots.
"We love the sound of the harmonica and we've always been drawn to American blues and folk music.
"So this album is folky with a real emphasis on the harmonica and has been inspired by the bands and musicians we looked up to when we were starting out.
"People like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were legends to us. When they played they had an original sense of rhythm. We never really had the guts or talent to play like they did until we finally sat down and studied them - and it's been a real study!" he laughs.
"In fact it's been like a three year university course in how to play it so we now want to show it off and show people what these people were like."
The gig at Blackheath is the first leg of the tour and Dennis is pleased it's happening on his doorstep.
Although born in North London, Dennis's parents migrated south to Elephant & Castle when he was a child. The original plan was to move to Australia but his parents "lost their bottle" and they stayed put.
"I'm glad we never went," he says. "I like being in South London - I've been here more than 30 years and now live near Greenwich Park and Blackheath. It's a great feeling to walk around the parks here. It's a very creative area too with lots of musos."
He went to Walworth School (now Walworth Academy) near the Thomas A Becket pub which was where he decided he wanted to get into music.
"I used to bunk off school and watch them unload the equipment into the pub," he chuckles. "I dreamt of being able to do that and knew very early on I wanted to be in a band. I never went to discos - just to see live music."
He admits it's been "hard graft" but says it's a passion that has never gone away.
"You have to work hard," he says. "But the rewards are great and I feel very lucky that after 35 years in the business we are still going strong and we still have the buzz to write and perform!"
So much so that he can regularly be found in some of the many pubs in the Deptford and Greenwich area that host music nights.
"I love gigging," he says. "I do blues jams around Greenwich promoting local bands and music events all the time.
"I also play regularly at the Duke in Deptford. It's these places where you learn your craft. I was inspired when I was younger by the bands I saw in these places so I hope I can inspire youngsters myself.
"Besides there's nothing better than playing live. The problem is so many of these amazing venues are closing down - even the Coronet at the Elephant is under threat - it's appalling - where are the youngsters going to get their inspiration from? The world's gone crazy.
"When there's live music in a pub or club, people always like to come in and have a nose, join in and have a dance - I don't know what we'll do if they close - we mustn't let that happen."

Arthur Smith's House of Fun featuring Nine Below Zero takes place at Blackheath Halls on Saturday, February 21. Tickets from £15. or call the box office on 020 8463 0100 for tickets.

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