Archive for alternative rock

Nine Below Zero – Live At The Marquee 

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Nine Below Zero in action.  From left to right: Peter ‘Pete’ Clark (Bass), Kenny Bradley (Drums), Dennis Greaves (lead vocals & guitar) and Mark Feltham (vocals & harmonica).

IN THE PAST I’ve provided a few random reviews for Counter Culture.  However, it’s always been my intention (and ambition) to review as many of my own books, CDs & DVDs as is possible.  Now that I’ve got a bit of time on my hands – and I’m still looking down at the daisies as opposed to looking up at them! – I thought that now’s a good as time as any to start.  So, in the words of the Ramones, Hey Ho, Let’s Go!

With the above in mind, I thought that I’d kick off with Nine Below Zero’s brilliant CD Live At The Marquee.   

I first heard about Nine Below Zero from a friend from East London many, many years ago, probably in the early to mid 80s.  He highly recommended both the band and their live CD.  I’ve listened to it lots of times over the years and have always thought that it was probably one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard; not only does it convey the music but also seems to capture the shear energy of a live gig.  

I must admit that (at the time) I’d never heard of the band.  However, my friend had been over to South London a couple of times to see them.  He’d described how frenetic they were – effectively a Blues band that performed with the speed & energy of a Punk band.  Therefore, I’d a rough idea of what to expect on the live album.  But having an idea of what to expect & listening to the real deal are two different things.  Suffice to say that I was blown away by the CD itself.

I’ll leave the actual review of Live At The Marquee until another time.  However, I thought that it might be helpful to provide a little background information about the band themselves.   

Nine Below Zero started off life as Stan’s Blues Band in 1977 and consisted of four South London lads who found inspiration in the Rhythm and Blues.  Led by Dennis Greaves (lead vocals & guitar) the band included his schoolmates Mark Feltham (vocals & harmonica), Peter ‘Pete’ Clark (Bass) and Kenny Bradley (Drums).

Graves was obsessed by the Blues.  But to form a R&B band in the late 70s was a bold, almost reckless, move.  This was the time when Punk was exploding, and had literally blown other music genres – like R&B and Progessive Rock – out of the water.  (I think I’m right in saying that Dr. Feelgood were probably the only well-known British R&B band at the time. They’d formed in 1971 and hailed from Canvey Island in Essex and were known for their driving R&B which had made them one of the most popular bands on the growing London pub rock circuit.)

Despite the seemingly unstoppable rise of Punk, the sharply dressed Stan’s Blues Band played in local South London pubs like the Apples and Pears, the Clockhouse, the Green Man and the Thomas ‘A’ Becket.  Playing six to seven nights a week they built up a loyal following.  Like Dr. Feelgood they went hell for leather and played at a frenetic pace.  Mixing original songs with covers at their gigs, they were soon playing all over London.

Stan’s Blues Band changed their name to Nine Below Zero (they were named after a song by Sonny Boy Williamson II) on the advice of former musician Mickey Modern.  He’d seen them play at the Thomas ‘A’ Becket (in the Old Kent Road, Southwark, South London) in 1979 and was so impressed that he offered to manage them.

In a bold – but completely justifiable – move, Modern decided that Nine Below Zero’s first album would be a live one.  And so with just one change of personal (Micky Burkey for Kenny Bradley on Drums) Live At The Marquee was released in 1980.  

The album was recorded at the well-known music venue, the Marquee Club (in Wardour Street, West London) on Wednesday 16th & Thursday 17th July and was billed as a live recording.  The admission fee was £2 with a reduced rate available for students & Marquee Club members.

Apparently, it’d been an ambition of Dennis Greaves and the rest of the band to play at the Marquee – even in the capacity of a support band  Therefore, to appear as the headline act & record your first (live) album must have been out of this world.  Prior to this gig, Nine Below Zero were well known as an brilliant high energy act.  However, I’m wondering if their desire to play at the Marquee spurred them on to go the extra mile and produce such an electric album?

I feel that the CDs sleeve notes excellently conveys something of gig itself:

‘Fourteen high octane R&B monsters – including three Greaves originals Straighten Her Out, Stop Your Nagging and Watch Yourself – merged Chicago chops and cockney charm in a ferocious homebrew of adrenalin which never once seemed out of step alongside the ten regular live favourites: the aforementioned Freddie King’s Tore Down, Otis Rush’s Home Work and J Geil’s version of Pack Fair and Square line up with the John Mayall and Paul Butterfield collaboration, Ridin’ On The L&N, Lloyd Price’s Hootchie Cootchie Coo, Sam the Sham’s Wooly Bully, Muddy Waters’ Mojo Working, and Rush’s I Can’t Quit You Baby, plus Motown stalwart’s The Four Tops’, Can’t Help Myself and Marvin Gaye’s Can I Get A Witness, are all nailed down before the band signs off with their instrumental wig-out, Swing Job.’

(With the sleeve notes in mind, they were printed on thick glossy card which served as part CD sleeve cover, part poster & part information sheet about the band.)

To celebrate their 40th anniversary, Nine Below Zero released a new album in October 2019.  Unlike a lot of anniversary releases which tend to be ‘The Best Of’ albums, Avalanche refreshingly featured 12 brand new original songs.

In addition to their anniversary CD, they’d kicked off a new tour in Belfast, with many further dates set.  However, as we all now know, the world effectively stopped spinning when Covid-19 reared its ugly head.  Therefore, they had to cancel all of their gigs from mid-March onwards.  According to the band’s web-site – https://www.ninebelowzero.com – their next scheduled gig is early September in Fleet, Hampshire. Here’s hoping!

Hopefully this brief potted history of Nine Below Zero has provided readers with some insight into the band.  Now the only thing to do is to review the album itself. However, as mentioned earlier (and to absolutely cement my Counter Culture reputation as the slowest reviewer in the world!) this’ll appear in the next thrilling instalment.

Reviewed by John Field 

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“Revamped Too” – Tim Bragg (2012)

Revamped Too is largely a compilation of various tracks from Tim Bragg’s back catalogue but also features some brand new recordings plus previously unreleased material. Tim Bragg is a talented and engaging multi-instrumentalist who has composed an impressive body of work comprising several albums that range from protest folk to jazz-rock to pop ballads with an obvious Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy influence. He is also a novelist who has covered such genres as science fiction and political social commentary in works such as “The White Rooms”, “The English Dragon” and “Oak” – themes that have also inspired an earlier album “Fields of England”. Three tracks from this album (which is due for a revamped release in 2013) are featured on Revamped Too: “Rock the Boat” concerns political-correctness; the gutsy “My Family” and my favourite track: “England’s Seal”, a brilliant Marleyish piece of reggae “agitist” reflection.

The album is impressively produced and mixed with a highly attractive cover and features a wonderful assortment of various well-crafted contributions by various musicians – although Bragg at times performs most of the instruments. There is also a rockier cover version of Phil Lynott’s “Kings Call” and a country-rock version of Little Feat’s “Willin’”. Other tracks to look out for are “Sometimes” (which opens and closes the album with different versions) and “These People” (a reference to those folk who wreck other people’s lives!).

An instrumental album “Crossing Over” concerning spiritual themes and exploring the human predicament of death has been recorded and awaits release sometime in 2013, plus the aforementioned revamped version of “Fields Of England” (a work that demands more recognition). Bragg’s move to France has certainly given him a warm objectivity, Buddhist-like detachment and inspiring artistic perspective in the composition of his music – informed as it is by his writing and philosophical insights particularly concerning his former native land. He delivers these songs with heartfelt conviction and integrity. They come from a real place but as someone once said “a prophet is without honour in his own country” (how sadly true of Bragg). Nevertheless this compilation expresses a freshness and positivity rich in soul and genuine creativity, a work that is topical, relevant and delivered with a gritty rustic realism but shot through with warmth and compassion.

Wayne Sturgeon

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Alabaster Suns – Alabaster Suns CD

Alabaster Suns – Alabaster Suns CD (Iron Pig Records)

alabaster suns coverALABASTER SUNS is the new band of London-based musicians Nathan Perrier and Kevin Williams, the former guitarist and drummer of Capricorns, along with new boy Anthony Dearlove on bass, and this self-titled mini-album on Iron Pig Records is their debut release.  I liked Capricorns well enough, especially their last album, River, Bear Your Bones (reviewed elsewhere on Judas Kiss), though the only time I saw them play live they were rather overshadowed by Lair of the Minotaur, who totally rocked.  The five tracks of this half-hour release, though, demonstrate some significant changes from the sludgy instrumental stoner rock of Capricorns, as well as some points of continuity.

The album’s seven-minute opener, Iron Gang, is a tangled snarl-up of awkward, angsty guitar surge and complex, technically accomplished drumming.  Kevin Williams belts out some raucous, shouted vocals over the top, and the band’s overall sound has a strong feel of late 80s and early 90s hardcore and noise-rock about it, bands such as Prong, Helmet, Helios Creed, Nomeansno, Lard, Tar, or even the more musically adventurous work of late-era Black Flag and Hüsker Dü.  The length, musicianship and progressive flourishes of Alabaster Suns songs prevent this from being considered out-and-out hardcore, but the influence can definitely be felt, and of course Nathan Perrier used to drum for Conflict before joining Capricorns, so this hardcore punk lineage isn’t too hard to trace.

Alabaster Suns leave plenty of space for time changes, breakdowns and melodic hooks amidst all the riff-rage, though, and whilst Iron Gang and Royal 6 In Hand pack the wide-bore ammo, the relatively short title track Alabaster Suns stands out from the pack as a gentle, introspective instrumental piece, dominated by a bright, clean guitar tone, which could easily have been recorded by Capricorns, or indeed the latter-day, Bees Made Honey-era, incarnation of Earth.  The brevity and tightness of the release keep the attention from wandering, as it was sometimes wont to do amongst the instrumental longeurs of Capricorns jams, and all in all, Alabaster Suns is an accomplished and auspicious beginning to life after Capricorns.

www.myspace.com/alabastersuns

 

www.iron-pig.com

 

http://iron-pig.blogspot.com/

 

 

Reviewed by Simon Collins.  Reprinted with acknowledgements to Judas Kiss web-zine.

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Shudder to Think – Pony Express Record

Shudder to Think – Pony Express Record 


Released: September 13, 1994
Genre: Post-Hardcore/Experimental Rock/Indie Rock
Label: Epic

Shudder to Think

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Number Of Tracks: 13

PONY EXPRESS RECORD is a 1994 album by the Washington, D.C.-based post-hardcore group Shudder to Think.

Sound: Shudder to Think are a post-hardcore band who emerged from the DC hardcore scene in the mid-1980s and were one of the two bands (other being Jawbox) to famously leave Dischord Records for a major label.  Although taking their influence from hardcore punk and alternative rock their music has a pop twist which is quite evident on their major label debut Pony Express Record.

However despite having a clean poppy sound the album is not what could be described as “easy listening”.  The songs on the album jump around abruptly which on your first listen and subsequent listens can take you by total surprise as the song goes in a total different direction than it was going originally.  This is thanks to the number of different time signatures utilised notably in track 5, Earthquakes come Home. 

Another thing to mention is that although being a well produced and a tight sounding record there is a lot of use of dissonance/dissonant chords in the songs and twisted melodies which is what sells the record for me.  It approaches the pop sound from a total different direction which sounds abrasive to the ear but doesn’t put you off. Overall I would give it a 9/10 for sound.

Lyrics and Singing: One of the first things than struck me about this record was the lyrics and the singer’s vocal ability.  Craig Wedren the bands guitarist/vocalist is a phenomenal singer.  I would compare him to the style of Jeff Buckley who in fact did some work with the band for the film First Love, Last Rites.  However the comparison to Buckley is not totally fitting.  In some of the songs Wedren’s singing can become quite intense where he starts almost shouting.  The lyrics are quite intriguing, thought provoking and even clever and funny in places.  From the slightly morbid lyrics in the opening track Hit Liquor“Case of her bones are softer than loose meat” to the funny/weird lyrics in Gang of $ “One honey donut and your lips are stuck to the seat” and his later wailing of “the ghost of my mom is in the telephone”.  The topics and lyrics vary greatly throughout the record my personal favourites being from X-French T-Shirt – “I saw you screaming at the top floor, big window crash, I’m deaf” and Kissi Penny’s“Who’s in distress? Some damsel with a canceled subscription to an ambulance”.  Overall the lyrics and vocals are fantastic. 10/10

Impression: If I was to put it generally, I would say that Shudder to Think sounds like a more abrasive Jeff Buckley.  There aren’t really many bands out there like them.  Maybe Jawbox or Fugazi to an extent, but they lack the poppy/clean sound that Shudder to Think provide.  To me this is a perfect record and I would even go as far to say this is one of the best albums of the 90s.  I would put it up there with Pearl Jam’s Ten, Soundgarden’s Superunknown and many other albums.  I would urge people to go out and buy this exceptional album you will not regret it!
Overall 9.7/10.

 

Reviewed by Joshua Chisim

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