Fast closing on their fortieth anniversary, London Blues legends, Nine Below Zero, are heading to the north-east this weekend to take on the sights and sounds of The Arc.
Formed by Dennis Greaves back in the heady days of the late seventies only three members of the early line-up remains, Greaves being flanked by Mark Feltham, who talked him into reforming the band after a brief hiatus in the mid-eighties, and Mickey Burkey.
The band you see now though are an incredible eight piece, compared to the quartet that hit the London club scene back then and it was during the inaugural years they were known as Stan’s Blues Band, playing mainly at the Thomas A’Beckett Pub on the Old Kent Road before being managed by Mickey Modem and persuaded to change their name “to something sharper,” Greaves going with Nine Below Zero after a tune penned by American blue soloist, Sonny Boy Williamson.
Successful outings, and the subsequent name change, proved beneficial, being picked up first by A&M Records, releasing their first album in 1980 entitled Live at the Marquee; twenty-odd albums later and they are still going strong, especially after playing in and around the old London suburbs saw sessions with The Kinks, The Who, even going on to headline at the Hammersmith Odeon alongside respected bluesman, Alexis Komer.
“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 Feel Good – it was quite a big thing.”
They persevered, took the capital by storm, made sound-waves that continue aplenty today.
That is, in part, down to the incredible fan base they’ve garnered down the years and, having moved with the times themselves, moulded into the Blues band that appears today.
“We went to Woolworth School and the Thomas A’Beckett club backed onto that,” Greaves continued.
“It had a lot of music and boxing shows on and we managed to get a residency with them (in those formative years). We were paid £25 for each night that we did, usually a Tuesday, but there’s been many highlights since then.
“I was asked recently what the highlights have been and you can look at the twelve nights with Eric Clapton at the Albert Hall, playing with ZZ Top, the Kinks, the Who, appearing on the South Bank Show and the Old Grey Whistle Test and The Young Ones, there’s been many a highlight.
“Then we kind of went our own way a bit. Mark (Feltham) went off and did some amazing session work for seven years and I went Los Angeles with The Truth – all I did was eat Mexican food and write songs, getting lost in the band, getting ensconced into reading and writing music.
“Then Mark called me up and said we should all get back together, which we did, so it’s his fault.
“It’s different now though, a lot different and we’ve doubled the size of the band to cope with that, now taking around an RnB extravaganza. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do and felt as though the time was right with the extra material we have.”
With an impressive back catalogue Greaves, Feltham, Burkey et al take pride in working in an ever-changing music industry and, knowing that some of the roots, that club feel, has been lost in transition, aim to keep the sounds going.
He added: “We’re just about the music and getting that club intimacy right, but we can also float in our own little ocean and be able to deliver; so long as we can do that then the fans will be there. As for the new album (13 Shades of Blue) and coming back north, we love Stockton and the venue is great, has a fantastic vibe about it.
“We’ve always done something in the area as we love what it’s about so it’s a privilege to be able to do these and we certainly think they love their RnB as well.
“As for the album, it’s dedicated to those Blues singers who have slipped under the radar and is the versatile colour and styles of the Blues.”