'80s - Nine Below Zero (2015)
'On The Road Again: The Dennis Greaves Story'
Growing up back home in England, Nine Below Zero were one of those bands that you either knew about or didn't. There was simply no middle ground. They didn't produce Top 40 chart hits, they weren't mentioned in Smash Hits, didn't get any of their videos shown (if indeed they even made any) on TOTP, so how did I stumble across them, I hear you ask?
Well, it was actually due to a brilliant piece of marketing on behalf of their record label, A&M. Back in 1981, they released their second album Don't Point Your Finger on GREEN vinyl! Promotional kryptonite for us record collectors, I snapped it up and after gazing at its "greeness" for a while, then wondered what it actually sounded like!
It was then that I was hooked on Nine Below Zero, because the songs from that album, each and every one were just fantastic. The English blues band, with a growing cult following throughout Europe, were MY band, right there and then, and I nearly wore that album out. And then suddenly there was a period when Nine Below Zero were on TV almost weekly. They appeared on The Chris Tarrant Show, South Bank Show, O.T.T., the Old Grey Whistle Test, and The Young Ones as well as supporting The Kinks and The Who on tour.
To give you the full SP on the band though, the genesis of Nine Below Zero was actually formed in South London in 1977, by guitarist and lead vocalist Dennis Greaves. Taking bassist Peter Clark with him, they recruited Kenny Bradley on drums, and vocalist and harmonica player Mark Feltham. They originally called themselves Stan's Blues Band, and for two years built up a local following in London clubs.
In 1979, while playing at The Thomas A'Beckett pub in the Old Kent Road they accepted an offer from former musician Mickey Modern to manage them, and it was he who persuaded them to change the band's name to something sharper. Greaves chose Nine Below Zero after the Sonny Boy Williamson II penned song.
In 1980 they released their first album, Live At The Marquee, which was recorded on June 16th of that year. Drummer Bradley was replaced by Stix Burkey and by the end of that year they were one of the most popular club attractions in London. As mentioned above, in 1981, they released their second album, Don't Point Your Finger. Produced by Glyn Johns, the band then subsequently replaced bass player Clark with Brian Bethell.
Their third album, Third Degree, contained '11+11' (written by Greaves and Modern) and due to it having appeared on the first episode ("Demolition") of the BBC Television comedy series, The Young Ones, subsequently the album was their highest placing appearance on the UK Albums Chart, spending six weeks in the chart and reaching number 38. Nevertheless, the band decided to split.
Entering into the 90's, and Nine Below Zero came back together in various guises and brought out a slew of new records: Hot Music For A Cold Night (1994), Ice Station Zebro (1995), Live in London (1997), Refrigerator (2000), Give Me No Lip Child (2000), Chilled (2002), Hat's Off (2005), Both Sides of Nine Below Zero (2008), It's Never Too Late! (2009), The Co-Operative (with Glenn Tilbrook) (2011), Live In London (2014), and after the re-releases of their three early albums as 2CD expanded edition's, both Greaves and Feltham have just released Duo here in 2015.
Still touring today, and with Greaves' other band The Truth also back out and about live, I thought it was time to sit down and chat with the man whose vocal tones had been a major part of my musical upbringing back in the 80's. And so, chatting recently with the man himself, Dennis Greaves, I first wondered, back in late 1977 - and with punk starting to take the UK by storm - both he and Mark Feltham had formed Stan's Blues Band and were gigging successfully. But what was it like to
be there at the inception of punk in the UK? "Back in 1977 the live music scene in London was electric. What punk did was to inspire you to just form a band and play. It just so happened we loved the Blues."
In a tribute to Sonny Boy Wiliamson, the band changed its name to Nine Below Zero - one of his song titles. But why that one in particular? "Two reasons, really. The Stones took their name from a Blues Legend Muddy Waters, so we wanted that link with the Blues. And also the number 9 was great for artwork and logo's."
In 1980 NBZ signed to A&M Records and you all gave up your days jobs. But what was your day job at that time? "I was driving a van around London doing odd jobs. Man with a van!"
That same year you released the blistering debut album, Live At The
Marquee, but as not many acts release their debut as a live entity, why was releasing such an album your first choice? "It was simple really, because we didn't have any songs of our own so as to buy some time we did a live album."
In 1981 you released the brilliant, and totally incredible
track-for-track album, Don't Point Your Finger. What was it like recording
that first studio album and did it all go smoothly? "To make your first studio album with producer Glyn Johns was amazing and quite unbelievable and to go to Olympic in Barnes where he recorded with The Who and The Stones was inspiring. We learnt the art of recording very quickly with Glyn as he suffered no fools."
As you think about the album now, which is your own personal favorite
track from it, and why? "It would be 'You Can't Please All The People All The Time' cos Glyn pushed me all the way on this one and its an original sounding NBZ song. We were finding our identity."
Living in the UK at the time my album was on green vinyl! Still in
possession of it today, am I a lucky bastard or simply just one of a
million?! "You lucky bastard!"
Around that time NBZ started touring with The Who, The Kinks, and many
more. Did you feel like your life had suddenly blown up and if so, were you in total control of it? "I was so young and so happy and on top of it and I still see all those guys now. We made bonds that stay for life."
Interestingly, NBZ made their first TV appearance on the very first
episode of The Young Ones, performing '11+11.' What can you remember about
that day on set? "I remember how professional they all were and the chaos they created, but so creative with it. A very special moment for us to be involved with something so new at the time. Ground breaking comedy."
I have to say that whilst I was typing these questions out for you today I went to Spotify and came across a 12 song collection of NBZ - that
kicked-off with two versions of 'Eleven + Eleven'! My God, suddenly I was
all over the place, singing along and knee deep back in 1982! Are there
certain NBZ songs that still have this stop-what-you're-doing effect on you also, perhaps? "Its hard to say as I'm in the band, but now we have the original line-up back together the live set is really electric and full of energy."
Sadly, Third Degree didn't bring the results that everybody wanted from
the industry and so NBZ took a time out. You, never one for resting on your backside, formed soul / pop outfit, The Truth in 1983. As the move from NBZ to The Truth was seamless, can we assume The Truth has been waiting in the wings ready to move forward for a while there in late 1982? "A&M wanted another NBZ record, but we were tired so I formed The Truth as I had fell in love with The Hammond Organ and Soul R&B on the Third Degree project. So The Truth was a bit of fun, really."
Interestingly, '11+11' (from Third Degree) had legendary photographer David Bailey taking the photos for the cover art! Was he overly bossy that day or was it an easy, but perhaps surreal experience for NBZ? "He was the Boss, the Guv and again, so creative. He took one look at us and decided to use the camera he used on the Kray twins in the 60's! Job done!"
I actually saw The Truth play at The 100 Club in London one hot and
sweaty evening back in '83/'84. After the show, in the tiny dressing room I asked you why you hadn't played any NBZ songs and you answered, "Why would we? The band's done." That comment aside, do you also remember those nights at The 100 Club? "Those nights at the 100 club were amazing and never to be repeated. I'm glad we captured them on record."
The Truth had a great run from 1983 to 1989, even scoring a Top 5 R&B
hit here in the US. So, looking back, why did you name the band what you did, and what was the highlight of your time spent as The Truth? "I liked the Jeff Beck Truth album, so that's where the name came from. The best bits of '83 to '89 were touring and recording in America and being on all radio stations when we drove through cities, heavy rotation on MTV and meeting Al Kooper!"
In 1990 NBZ reformed for a 10th Anniversary sold-out gig at London's
Town and Country Club. What do recall most about that very first reunion
gig? "Not much really. It was a strange time for me. I had just had my first child and it was a different version of NBZ and the 90's was shit for blues with Brit Pop and Grunge around."
Suddenly after the release of both On The Road Again and Off the Hook
you were a touring monster again! You were the opening act for Sting, Eric
Clapton, Ray Davies and even Brian May. It's like every time NBZ came
together they struck live gold in those years! "We always delivered live and feel most comfortable on stage."
In 1995 NBZ released one of my fav albums, Ice Station Zebro - which I
only just found out today had several tracks co-written by Nik Kershaw! How did that come about? "Nik and I were both managed by Mickey Modern and he put us together. Also, Miles Copeland wanted a hit so we wrote one, 'Down By The River'."
Between 1996 and 2014 it truly, honestly seems like you continually
toured around the world, recorded a slew more albums, released DVDs and
generally never let your feet hit the ground! Sound about right? "We formed our own record company ZED and it was important we kept being creative."
All this work also includes an album with Squeeze's Glenn Tillbrook
under the name Co-Operative (2011). It seems that the project had been
discussed for a few years beforehand though, is that correct? "I can't remember it being talked about too much before. It came out of a Beatles MOJO compilation CD than Glenn did and used us as his backing band."
And here we are in 2014/15 and NBZ are celebrating their 35th Anniversary! Seems what you told me way back in the early 80's at The 100 Club was drastically wrong about the band; thankfully! "Yeah, you say things when your young!"
And with that in mind, and the original crew back together again, what
are the main differences in touring these days from those back in the
80's/90's? "It's great to have this line-up back together and to play with them is magic, but it's completely different as we are now under the radar."
Last year both Don't Point Your Finger and Third Degree were re-released on Universal Records. Did you have any involvement in them and all the extra tracks that were included? "I had total control!"
Given that original line-up of The Truth also performed last year at the Mod Revival Weekend in Brighton, will anything be re-released from
them also? "No Truth stuff yet, but maybe in the future."
I have to say I was BLOWN AWAY to see The Truth would be playing live in Brighton! Do you gig as/with them often, though? "We all have day jobs with other bands so its difficult to get it together."
Indeed, will we see a brand new original material album from NBZ (on a
colored vinyl LP also, perhaps?!) and / or The Truth anytime soon? "Yes, I hope so. I will keep you posted."
Do NBZ and The Truth have official Twitter accounts? Also, do you
yourself have an official Twitter / Facebook account? "We have all the social media stuff for the bands, but I don't personally."
Looking back at photos of NBZ in those early black and white
photographic days what do you see in the faces of those boys? "How much fun it was!"
And then looking at the new color ones of the band today, aside from age what do you see today? "Experience."
As we're not called Exclusive Magazine for nothing, can you reveal a
little behind-the-scenes secret about NBZ - something that perhaps hasn't
ever been revealed before? "Mark and I were asked to join the Kinks in 1981!"
Wow ... OK, if you could go back in time and tell the young Dennis of 1980 one thing, what would you tell him? "You're in the best job in the world!"
Finally, we here at Exclusive Magazine LOVE Penguins (the birds), so
we were wondering if you did also?! "Only for the ones on the front of Ice Station Zebro!"
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
Official Nine Below Zero Website
Nine Below Zero on Twitter!
Nine Below Zero on Facebook!
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED Nine Below Zero CD from Dennis Greaves himself, just answer this question about the band: In 2005, the NBZ track, 'Go Girl' was included on which charitable compilation album?
Send us your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win an AUTOGRAPHED Nine Below Zero CD from Dennis Greaves himself! Just send us an e:mail here before July 1st, 2015 with your answer and the subject title CONTEST: SIGNED NINE BELOW ZERO CDs to: email@example.com