Nine Below Zero are a band you’ve probably never heard of. Unless you’re a fan of 80's anarcho-comedy ‘The Young Ones’, in which case you may have seen them performing in the guest slot on the show’s debut back in 1982. Even so, you most likely couldn’t name more than one of their songs - the highly catchy ‘11+11’. Which is a shame, as they’re actually very good and highly underrated.

So what is the reason for Nine Below Zero being so sorely overlooked over the years? They can certainly play, but the same could be said for many unsung heroes through music history, so maybe the truth lies in the fact that they never really fitted into any niche bracket; they wore sharp suits but were never really Mods in the true Paul Weller/Jam mould. They played punchy energetic three-minute songs with fast riffs and staccato vocals but they were by no means punk rock. And at times they imbued the sound of the blues without being pretentious, but yet they were not critically acclaimed, or heralded as underdogs by the musical press. They have, however, supported the likes of the Who and the Kinks along the way and have always performed blistering live shows, so perhaps they are more of a band’s band, esteemed by their musical peers but highly unnoticed by anyone else. They have shown a remarkable amount of longevity – one of those bands that never reached the heights of the big time – but have always seemed to be around. Recently they supported the Stranglers on their 40th anniversary tour, no less. Another highlight is a fiery performance on ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’, which still impresses and stands up to scrutiny, even today.

And so with this in mind, it is only fair that the band’s first two albums should be given a long overdue re-release in 2014, remastered and repackaged each as a 2-disc set with extra live material included for good measure!

The first of these albums is ‘Don’t Point Your Finger,’ and, as they have such a strong reputation as a live band, it seems fitting (if highly unusual) that their first release should be from a live show. Originally recorded and released live in 1981 for ‘BBC1 in Concert’, ‘Don’t Point Your Finger’ is a strong first release (and that is coming from a reviewer who is not usually a massive fan of listening to live albums). The band has always excelled in their live performances, so what better way to announce your first album on the music scene?

Right from the opening song, ‘Don’t Point Your Finger at the Guitar Man’, the crowd are eating out of Nine Below Zero’s hands and the crisp, punchy pace doesn’t slow down throughout. The band displays quite a variety of musical dexterity and draws inspiration from a wide assortment of sources. ‘One Way Street’ is in the trademark style of the group, quick, stompy and anthemic in its delivery, whereas ‘One Way Street’ is more of a traditional R&B number (albeit with a London pub twist enthused through its heart). Main vocalist Dennis Greaves demonstrates a wicked wit and there is real sense of humour running through many of the songs, ‘Liquor Lover’ in particular.

The band throw in a few cover versions for good measure, including the 50's hit, ‘Rockin' Robin’, which sits nicely amid the rest of the set, but it is their dirty blues moments that the band shine the brightest – ‘Ain't Comin' Back’ and ‘Sugar Mama’ being two of the album’s highlights in this vein. The album draws to a close on familiar ground with another crowd-pleaser, ‘You Can't Please All the People All the Time’, leaving me wondering how the band didn’t go on to become a lot bigger.

The second live set on CD 2 includes more of the same – including a few tracks that were to be included on later albums, ‘11+11’ among them, and is also highly recommended.

‘Third Degree’ is the band’s second album, recorded in a studio this time, and is undoubtedly sharper and more polished as a result, although the tunes remain just as short and punchy. It is clear though that the band have improved their song writing and honed their skills somewhat.

The opening track, the previously mentioned ‘11+11’ is a strong highlight, as is ‘Wipe Away Your Kiss’ – and these were probably intended to be the band’s breakthrough songs, although somehow they just didn’t make it.

Although recorded some 20+ years ago, the songs here do not sound dated; the opening riff from ‘Why Can’t We Be What We Want To Be?’ could easily be mistaken for anything from the Darkness, for example.

The album is not without its wobbles however; ‘Sugarbeat’ sounds completely out of place among the other tracks and its disco-styled rhythms don’t really fit in. Another number that appears slightly amiss is ‘Egg On My Face’, where the band has opted for an acoustic ballad that doesn’t really work. But on the whole, the album remains solid and is well worth checking out.

The second CD contains some early demo recordings, studio outtakes/alternative versions and some live recording which has always been the band’s strong suit – but although the collection of tracks assembled here are interesting enough and show much talent, it is only the completists who will go mad for it.

To summarise, both these albums are definitely worth listening to and you will find some forgotten gems you’ve never heard of. If nothing else, it might inspire you to go and see them play live while you still can!











Related Links:

http://www.ninebelowzero.com/
https://twitter.com/ninebelowzero1
https://www.facebook.com/ninebelowzero
https://www.instagram.com/ninebelowzero/
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkCAklDGGSUpWublg7UEuUw


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