Nine Below Zero

  • Read All About It: Bruce Foxton and Russell Hastings of From The Jam Talk To Tootal Blog

    During a couple of rare days off, Bruce Foxton and Russell Hastings of From The Jam talked to Tootal Blog about their new ‘Live!’ album, their Winter 2017 UK Tour, and looked back over their ten year partnership.

    What are you up to at the moment?

    Bruce: I just had a Sky engineer come into the office, he’s been up on the roof, threading cables through and I’ve been helping him. When I say “helping” I mean making cups of tea. I’ve not been ‘doing a Rod Hull’; my insurance wouldn’t cover it.

    Russell: Bruce and I often tell people we travel for a living. We spend a lot of time living out of suitcases. When I get a chance I listen to music to relax. The other day I had my iPod on shuffle and it went from Erik Satie to Never Mind The Bollocks. I get as much pleasure from both but then that’s my taste. Drummer Mark Brzezicki and I used to listen to songs just to check out the harmonies. Things like Don McLean, barbershop type arrangements; a good harmony really does it for me.

    Some of the songs on the new ‘Live!’ album are now 40 years old. Why do you think they have endured?

    Bruce: It’s obviously all Jam songs; we record every show good bad or indifferent, but we had a few shows that captured the band live basically, and we selected about a dozen or so songs from there. People want to hear those songs and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed. It’s live, it’s not perfect but it captures the band… what we’re all about, basically.

    The crowds are getting bigger. There’s a real cross section from parents, like my age or a bit younger, and they’re getting their kids to come along. Or they want to come along because they like what they’ve heard their mum and dad play on the old radiogram, or whatever, all those years ago.

    It’s still very healthy. Those songs, we love them, we play them with as much passion and conviction as we can muster every night. I love playing those songs still.

    I’m very, very lucky to have been able to do this for so long, at this level. That is a testament to the quality of the songwriting and indeed Paul, Rick and myself.

    "We stole the twinkling stars in the black night." (Photo by Derek D'Souza)

    Russell: The fans have stayed loyal because Paul’s lyrics captured what was happening in their lives at that time. I understand that because I was a fan too. For me, no one has caught the energy quite like that since. Ultimately they are simply great songs.

    However I do think people overlook the brilliant production from Vic Smith. A lot of people aren’t aware what a big part he played in shaping The Jam sound; great double tracking, particularly on guitar and vocals. Vic was very good at distance mics, it gave the sound a great depth. The 30-foot guitar sound, often recorded at the other end of a corridor. Listen to ‘Monday’ or ‘Scrapeaway’ – two completely different songs but both with phenomenal production.

    Bruce will tell you how one of the first bands he saw was Dr. Feelgood. And it’s well documented how Paul and Bruce caught the early Sex Pistols gigs. For me “In The City” is a brilliant combination of Dr. Feelgood and the Sex Pistols.

    How would you describe your style? Does it go hand in hand with the music?

    Russell: I think what I wear, like my music, that’s who I am. I try to find different or unique bits of clothing but it’s not easy. I like hunting further afield, I will often look for new things when I’m in America. I’m a big fan of basket weave shoes. And jackets. Sometimes I think I should be saying “Hello, my name’s Russell, and I haven’t bought another jacket for a week”.

    Bruce: Onstage or offstage? I mean I might look a bit eccentric if I took the dog for a walk, with one of my stage suits on. In terms of putting a suit on for a performance, that is almost as important as playing the songs well. For me the style – how we appear – goes hand in hand with the music. It’s a very important part of it. It makes me feel we are about to do something of quality, going out there and perform those great songs. If I just went out there in t-shirt and jeans, it wouldn’t work for me; it’s too casual. I want to feel up for it in every sense. Looking – hopefully sharp – is part of it for me.

    Bruce, have you still got that red leather box jacket?

    Bruce: We’ve, at last, got round to having some wardrobes fitted at home. Since we’ve lived in this house we’ve had to keep all our clothes in those temporary clothes rails you get from Homebase. At the back of one rail I found my red leather jacket. I can just about still get in it, which ain’t bad, really. The leather probably needs a bit of treating, it’s a bit like cardboard.

    Do you recall the first time you were allowed to buy your own clothes?

    Russell: Yes, I have a crazy memory for this kind of thing. It was a matching pair of jeans and jean jacket, from Shirley’s in Chichester in 1974. I think that song “Float Like A Butterfly” was in the charts around that time. I fell in love with vinyl at the same time as I fell in love with clothes.

    Bruce: I can’t actually remember when it happened, I think it was just a natural transition, really. Probably, towards the end of school, I imagine. I honestly can’t remember saying “Right, Mum, you’re not dressing me in short trousers anymore. I’m going to go and buy some long trousers.”

    The Jam suits, when we first started wearing those, they were made by Burton’s. Are they still going? I know John Collier isn’t but I can still remember the bloody advertising tune for that. There you go, showing my age again…

    Ever looked at some old photos and thought "Why did I wear that?!"

    "For those of you watching in Black & White, this one's in Technicolor" (Photo by Derek D'Souza)

    Russell: There’s loads that I look back on and wonder “what was I thinking?” I still have a habit of buying things in the wrong colour.

    About 10 years ago we were in New Zealand with Bruce and Rick. Just before we went on they looked at my trousers, raised an eyebrow and asked when are you going to get changed? So now, just before we go onstage you have to glance at someone else’s outfit and raise your eyebrow. An unspoken and long running joke. I do recall saying to a drummer – who shall remain anonymous – you can’t wear that shirt tonight!” But clothes are very important to all of us. The only time you’ll see me out in a pair of tracksuit bottoms is if I’m off to the gym.

    Bruce: Well… Yes. There is a classic photo that resurfaced not that long ago, much to the band’s amusement, It’s myself at a soundcheck, I think it might have been Guildford, actually. Obviously the weather was nice outside because I’m wearing, well, shorts, basically. Very short, Seventies shorts, with white socks and trainers. It just looked awful. The thing is at a soundcheck, you wear whatever you feel comfortable in and think, “Who’s going to notice?” But these things have a way of finding their way out, unfortunately.

    Before The Jam, I was a printer. I went to Guildford Art School for a year, and I won the Best Student Award. There’s a photo of me at the presentation wearing Oxford Bags, a shirt with a big collar, a velvet jacket and a kipper tie. It looked I was in The Sweeney.

    You worked together on your albums Back In The Room and Smash The Clock. Any plans to record more originals?

    Russell: We have an aching desire to record more new material. We’ve got loads of new ideas, plenty of basic demos and rough recordings.

    The song ‘Number Six’ (from Back In The Room) was written about my old house, which I lovingly restored around the time my children were born. The working title was “This Old House”. Charles Rees said, “You can’t call it that! So, I told him the story and he said, “What number was the house?” So the title changed in an instant. It was great fun to play; it came together so easily. I reckon once we had the parts Bruce and I pieced it together in about 20 minutes.

    "You'll see me come running, to the sound of your strumming" (Photo by Derek D'Souza)

    Bruce: We’ve got quite a few ideas, either choruses or verses. If Russ or I get half a riff, onstage at a soundcheck you can kick it about a bit, record it onto your phone. We’ve got to knuckle down early next year and crack on with that. Recently we enjoyed a couple of weeks off but then it gradually builds and builds. After Newcastle we go up to Scotland, and there on in it’s busy enough for us, so there won’t be time.

    We’re thick through to Christmas, which is great, but the odd days you get off, that’s the time to get your laundry done, and a little bit of time with your Missus. So, we won’t be able to get to the studio but it’s coming along, we’ve got some good ideas, it will be next year at some point. Hopefully we’ll record it at Paul’s place again.

    The new ‘Live’ album has a couple of vinyl editions. How do you feel about the vinyl revival?

    Russell: I’m just glad that people can once again appreciate the artwork, not just the sound. I started to despair when it looked like everything was going to be download. I’ve known our art designer, Tony Ladd, for a few years. He is an amazing concept person. His design for the new album is great. I love the whole package, the sound, the smell, everything.

    Bruce: Definitely. Vinyl is more my era; that’s all there was, so I still think it sounds better on vinyl than it does on CD or Download. And it’s nice that you get more packaging with it, with a record there’s a lot more to look at. I’m as guilty as anybody of downloading tracks but, that’s it; you’ve got the music but you don’t get anything to mull over and look at.

    You've worked with Steve Cropper, Wilko Johnson, Steve Norman, Paul Jones - who is left on the wish list?

    "Take a pinch of white, and pinch of black, mix it together make a movin' flavour" (Photo by Derek D'Souza)

    Russell: I’m a big fan of Glenn Tilbrook. I think he’s an amazing songwriter; he has a knack of finding the magical chord, then knowing how to resolve it. For me he’s up there with Paul McCartney and Paul Weller. A master of his craft. A bit like Bruce really… though he’s too modest to admit it. He doesn’t realize the effect those great melodic basslines have had on people. The Jam songs wouldn’t have been so great without that great backline.

    Bruce: That’s hard. Some of them are dead. I would have loved to have done something with The Who, and I’d still like to work with Pete Townshend; our paths have crossed here and there, he’s a lovely man. And I was actually involved in a band called Casbah Club with his brother Simon Townshend for a while. I would like to work with Paul McCartney, as well, but he plays the same instrument as me, which is a bit tricky. I’d have to show him how to do it!

    And I’m not just saying it but Steve Cropper. Wilko Johnson… they were all so lovely. Not pretentious or up their own backsides, and some of the stuff they’ve done… you, know, it’s amazing. We were so lucky and proud to get them on our record.

    Russell: And I’m a big fan of Dennis Greaves, of Nine Below Zero; a lovely humble bloke. The measure is would you buy a secondhand guitar from this man? And Mark Feltham, their harmonica player – he joined us onstage recently for a version of ‘Non-Stop Dancing’.

    Bruce: We’ve done a few shows with them (NBZ), and again, they’re not pretentious. They’re experienced, they’re great at what they do and they got on with it. And they are nice guys as well. I think that’s perfect; it’s a pleasure working with them.

    From The Jam have been together quite a while now. What keeps you going?

    Bruce: 2007 we started out From The Jam proper, and here we are in 2017. I love playing music; I love The Jam material. It’s good to keep it alive, and it keeps me alive. Otherwise, what else am I going to do? I’m very fortunate to be in this position; that I can still play those songs and enjoy it, and the crowds are still coming in good numbers.

    Russell: Over those ten years… we speak on each other’s behalf. He knows what I’m thinking, what I like and vice versa. We even get up to go to the bar together. I think we might be turning into the new Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt.

    What's next for you?

    From The Jam "Live!" is released on December 1st 2017.

    Russell: We’ve got a few festival dates then it’s off on tour again, starting in Oldham, right through to two nights in Brighton just before Christmas. It’s the 35th anniversary of The Gift, so we’ll be throwing in a few songs from that album each night.

    Bruce: We are playing a few towns that are off the beaten track, so to speak. We have done some strange towns before, strange names, but wherever we go the crowds come and they really appreciate it. Perhaps they think, “Wow! Bands at this level don’t normally come out to see us; we have to go to so-and-so to see ’em”. It definitely goes down well.

    A lot of fans have pre-ordered the new album on Pledge Music. It looks like you’ve got a lot of album signing to do.

    Bruce: And I’ve got a load of lyrics to write out as well. We’ve got to crack on with it but it’s the least we can do.

    ‘From The Jam Live!’ will be released on 1st December 2017, on CD, Vinyl and Download. For details of all packages visit www.pledgemusic.com

    For details of forthcoming live dates, and to keep up to date with all the band news, visit www.fromthejamofficial.com

    With thanks to Bruce, Russell, John Waller and Derek D'Souza at www.blinkandyoumissit.com

  • Dennis Greaves of Nine Below Zero and The Truth Talks To Tootal Blog

    How the devil are you?

    I’m really well. I turned 60 this year. I can’t believe I’m still doing what I’m doing. You know what? I feel as fresh as a daisy.

    Tell us about your early life.

    I was born in Tufnell Park. Mum and Dad had bought tickets for the Australia trip. We were going to be Ten Pound Poms but Dad bottled it. Then a flat came up in the Elephant & Castle, Peabody Trust, so we moved from our rented accommodation in Tufnell Park; I had six beautiful years in North London and all my family are still there.

    Was there much music in the house when you were growing up?

    My Grandad played everything. Terribly. There was a harmonica, a piano, an accordion, a guitar; and he could pick up anything. He sung in the Boston Arms in Tufnell Park, my father sung there also and I’ve sung there, so I’m really pleased that the tradition carried on.

    Luckily my Mum and Dad loved their music. When I grew up it was very much Frank Sinatra and Brook Benton. My Mum loved Adam Faith, my Dad sung in the pubs, all the Al Jolson stuff. As a kid we never had babysitters, we got dragged to the pub when they used to go and see Matt Monro in the Boston Arms.

    Take us back to the ‘70s when Nine Below Zero started out.

    Nine Below Zero in 1982: (L. to R.) Brian Bethell, Dennis Greaves, Mark Feltham, Mickey Burkey.

    We weren’t Nine Below Zero until ’79. I’d been to see Beryl, who used to run the Thomas A Becket pub in the Old Kent Road. And it was all boxers, villains, footballers, police, musicians, all in the same boozer, and she said, “Yeah, I’ll give you a gig, every Monday night. What’s the name of the band?” I said “Er… Stan’s Blues Band”. God knows why; terrible name. ’79 was when we did our first gig as Nine Below Zero. And just like the Rolling Stones, whereas they took their name from a Muddy Waters song, ours is a Sonny Boy Williamson song.

    We got our first North London gig at Dingwalls. Had to go back across the water. It changed our lives that gig. Paul Jones, from the Blues Band, was in the audience, and that was where our first manager, Mickey Modern, saw us.

    The guitarist and British Blues legend Alexis Korner was a big fan.

    Alexis was so lovely to us. Oh, I miss that man. Do you know why? Because he was so intelligent and so sussed. He said to me, “You remind me of the Rolling Stones”. I said, “Why’s that?” He said, “Because you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing but you’ve got the feel. You’re so innocent; so naive. Like the Stones were. They just wanted to play Blues.”

    Are you still as enthusiastic now as you were back then?

    I’ve got an 8-piece Nine Below Zero band now. I’ve got some young players in there, a few Jazzers – sax, keyboards, trumpet - and a girl singer, Charlie. They’re all early 30s. And then there’s me, Mickey and Mark, and young Ben on bass, our new bass player. It’s just revitalised the whole band. Very important that you don’t become a tribute to yourself, I’m really aware of that. I didn’t want to slap around doing the same old thing.

    And then three or four years ago, Mick Lister came back into my life, and we put The Truth back together. We’ve got my son, Sonny, on drums. He’s grown up with it all, and he’s given me that energy. Brian Bethell is on bass, me and Mick Lister on guitar, and a new keyboard player. I did have Andy Fairclough, who unfortunately I gave to From The Jam. Russell rung me up and said, “Can you recommend a good keyboard player?” I said, “Well, this guy’s ‘The Bollocks’” and I lost him… I don’t mind at all.

    We were playing these Truth songs the other night, in Brighton – we played with Secret Affair. It was absolutely packed; hot, sweaty; it was really good… - and I went “Wow! They’re not bad songs”. Mick and I sing really well together.

    With a song like Exception of Love, I’ve been waiting to have a drummer like Sonny since Gary Wallis. It’s got that swing [mimes intro]; a lovely, good feeling song.

    Then I’m going out with Mark Feltham as a duo. When me and Mark met 40 years ago the common denominators were Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, John Mayall, Walter Horton, Little Walter, Muddy Waters… and with the duo we’re able to go back to what really made us do what we do. Of course, Nine Below Zero took it to it’s own situation and vibe because we couldn’t be just another Blues band back then. I think I’m the happiest I’ve been for a long time because I’ve got these three little projects.

    Has the Nine Below Zero approach to R&B changed over the years?

    The Nine Below Zero Big Band

    When we started out Mark said, “Ever heard the J. Geils Band?” and I said, “Ever heard Dr. Feelgood?” So we mashed all that up. In ’77 when we started it was all Punk; I was 20, so I think we just picked up on that exuberance. I think we became our own brand; mixing what Mark bought and what I bought.

    When we got back together in the ‘90s we had Gerry McEvoy and Brendan O’Neill, Rory Gallagher’s rhythm section in the band, and it went a bit rockier. The ‘90s were tough for Roots music because you were in the middle of the Nirvana, Oasis, Blur situation and there wasn’t a lot of room for Roots music. And when Stevie Ray Vaughan died it lost its way a bit. We’ve always managed to produce a new album and keep going, that’s very important. That keeps the longevity, having new albums. Five or six years ago I got the original line-up back together; Brian Bethell, Mickey Burkey, Mark and myself, so that was another fresh, albeit vintage, idea and we did a lovely tour.

    And then I had this idea to do a new album, which became 13 Shades Of Blue. I sat in my kitchen and got a playlist together; brilliant Blues songs that went under the radar. And then I’m thinking, “There’s a bit of Ska in that; that’s a bit Soulful, that’s a bit Funky, that’s a bit Rootsy, and I thought, “Wow! Blues just funnels through all these genres”. It’s nice to discover a song like “It’s Your Voodoo Working”; it’s like I went back to university for a year and studied.

    Then I’m thinking I need a bit of piano, a bit of trumpet, a bit of sax. And I run a Blues Jam at the Pelton Arms in Greenwich, last Sunday of every month. A girl walks in, she said, “Can I sing ‘Stormy Monday’?” She got up and the whole pub just went… and stopped. And that was Charlie, our singer. The following week, we’re in the studio, and recorded Aretha Franklin’s “Don’t Play That Song”. It all happened, so naturally, so organically, and before I knew it, I thought, I’m going to have to take this on the road.

    On that last album you pay tribute to Aretha Franklin, Charlie Austin, Aaron Neville, John Mayall… All of these records must have been in your collection?

    Nine Below Zero: The Current Four Piece. (L. To R.) Ben Willis, Dennis Greaves, Mark Feltham, Mickey Burkey.

    If you read Keith Richards book, he said his job was to teach every white kid about Muddy Waters. People come up to me and say, “Hoochie Coochie Coo”, or something as obvious as “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch”; “That’s a great song that you wrote”. I said, “No”. It’s John Mayall, or Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, so… I walked into a pub – my son runs a pub – and on the jukebox he’s got “Don’t Lay That Funky Trip On Me”. Why have I never heard that? And he says’ “Oh, it’s Señor Soul”. Of course, you find out it’s the harmonica player from War, Lee Oskar. So, there you go, you’re educating yourself, and if I can pass that on…

    You mentioned that in ’77 when you first started it was all Punk, but only a couple of years later you were on an episode of the ITV South Bank Show dedicated to the British R&B tradition

    Oh, wasn’t that wonderful… It was the Blues Band, Dr Feelgood and Nine Below Zero. Sixties; Seventies; Eighties. Fantastic! And do you know what, I often say there would be a gap there to The Strypes. I wish there was more bands like The Strypes, I really do. I think they’re wonderful. I’ve been at a lot of festivals this summer and there’s a lot of them ‘NME’ bands, trendy Indie, all the same… nothing’s jumping out.

    Why has R&B lasted? We are talking about a style of music that’s been around for 70 years.

    Do you know what it is? It’s feel. You feel what they are projecting. Take ‘Smokestack Lightning’. Put that on and I defy you not to feel it. It’s one chord, but the feel and the soul… If you listen to something now from the ‘90s, it’s gone, its lost but you go back to Buddy Holly, all that stuff - three microphones and loads of compression. Those early Elvis Presley recordings… Scotty Moore on guitar; bass and drums. It’s feel. You put that on and there’s something special there.

    Some of your own recordings are almost 40 years old now. 40 years ago what was the expectation?

    Dennis Greaves (L) and Mark 'The Harp' Feltham

    I didn’t think about it too deeply but I wouldn’t have thought I’d be here now talking to you. No way. I’d come out of school, got a little job. I convinced Mark to turn professional. We got a record deal with A&M. We were in the Thomas A Becket one night; we did a demo, and then we signed to A&M Records. We were on The Kinks tour; we were playing with The Who, and it was like… woah! We didn’t stop to think, we were just rolling, going with it. I’ve had a wonderful journey. There’s been loads of ups and downs. I remember going through my wife’s wardrobe, looking for coins to buy a paper or for my bus fare. Though I think those periods really put you in good stead; she’d go to work, I’d be stuck at home writing songs but I think it’s good that you have that fight, that passion.

    After Live At The Marquee and Don’t Point Your Finger… everything seemed primed for you to break into the mainstream. How did you feel when Third Degree didn’t cross over?

    In the days before mobile phones, we stopped the tour bus and our manager, Mickey Modern, ran out to the telephone box. Wipe Away Your Kiss had got to #76, so we missed out by one chart place to get on Top Of The Pops. And the deflation was like… Oh, my God. We didn’t know where to go after Third Degree. Derek Green (at A&M) pleaded with us to make another record and he could have been right but we’d been on the road for two and a half years. We were young; we were angry; we were cheesed off. Everything was primed and nothing came of it. Great videos with some good people. David Bailey’s doing the photograph, everything’s right but if you look at that front cover we look tired. Luckily it made me go and form The Truth because I fell in love with the Hammond organ during Third Degree.

    And is The Truth reformation an ongoing thing?

    The Truth in 1984. Dennis Greaves (seated); the white socks and loafer years .

    Very much so. The thing with The Truth is I think we’ve done four or five shows, and it’s fresh. There’s a lot of bands on the circuit who’ve been slapping about, and the problem is if you ain’t made a new record for thirty years, you’ve got to be really careful. Cherry Red Records bought out a 3CD Truth box set, done a lovely job; great artwork. That gave us a reason to go out. And I’ve been waiting for a drummer like my son. I’m so pleased that we can swing, and we can play those songs better than we did back then. As you mature you can groove a bit more.

    You’ve always been a stylish individual. Does the look go hand in hand with the music?

    I’m not an Elvis Presley gold lame suit guy but I like to be nicely dressed. I saw Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino wearing a top like mine and I thought, yeah, looks good. It’s really important when you get older that you don’t try and dress young. You’ve got to be fresh. I look at Charlie Watts – the man’s stylish. I love Charlie. Mick Jagger… mmm, not so sure. Don’t get me wrong. I have done some Wally things in my time, There was “Jumpergate”, when The Truth turned up in these jumpers… that was a big mistake.

    There was a time at Nine Below Zero gigs when half of the audience would be dressed like you; narrow jeans, suede Chelsea boots, leather box jacket with a Fred Perry underneath.

    Yeah, that jacket, I got it on the Kings Road; what was the name of that market? Kensington Market. I use to get a lot of things from Crampton Clothing in the Old Kent Road, opposite the Thomas A Becket. It was all ‘Dead Man’s Gear’ when you think about it. We’d be picking up suits for £1.50, and shirts for 20 pence.

    In 1981 we played with The Jam, on the back of a lorry at a CND rally. I’ve still got the CND magazine with us on the front. I had a Tootal scarf on; white jeans and a maroon and white polka dot; a classic scarf.

    Can you remember the first time your Mum and Dad let you buy your own clothes?

    Yeah, I was thirteen; My Mum and dad took me to Mr Carnaby in Carnaby Street. I was desperate. I bought a purple zipped up turtle-neck. I really wish turtle-necks would come back. I’ve said to Smedley’s… I can’t get a Smedley turtle-neck; they’ve stopped doing them.

    What’s next for you?

    Lots to be done. We’re going to do the Squeeze tour. I’m really looking forward to it, ‘cause I think a lot of fans have bought into the two bands together. Obviously Squeeze have sold the tickets but I’m getting a good feel for that.

    I must record the 8-piece band live. Then it will be the Nine Below Zero 40th anniversary in 2019. I’m just writing a new album for that. Dave Cairns and I are talking about some dual gigs with Secret Affair and The Truth. They’ll be some gigs with From The Jam and The Truth. And me and Mark are doing the duo, so… I feel energised, I feel fresh. Lots to do still. As long as our manager rings me up and says people want to book the band we can continue.

     

    Nine Below Zero are on tour with Squeeze throughout November. Ticket details at http://www.ninebelowzero.com/tour

    13 Shades Of Blue and all other Nine Below Zero albums are available at http://www.ninebelowzero.com/store

    The Truth: A Step In The Right Direction 3CD Set is available at www.cherryred.co.uk

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