Founding stars go back to roots

Nine Below Zero’s founding members Dennis Greaves and Mark Feltham go back to their musical roots performing old-style acoustic blues in a one-off gig at the Chichester Inn in Chichester on Wednesday, April 23.

They will be covering songs by blues legends including Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo and Leadbelly.

They will also play unplugged versions of well-known Nine Below Zero material.

As Dennis says, it’s a chance to acknowledge the people who inspired so many of the great British blues bands of the 1960s, who in turn went on to inspire him and Mark.

Nine Below Zero launched in 1979, a time of punk in this country, but punk wasn’t ever going to be Dennis’ thing.

He went down the blues route – thanks to family influences.

“It was my uncle’s record collection really,” he recalls. “Every Saturday night we would go and visit the grandparents when I was eight or nine, and they would be getting ready to go out, and we would listen to their records. We heard some great tracks.”

And so Nine Below Zero was formed – an English version of black man’s blues.

“We imitate really. It’s probably not in our DNA as much as it was in the black guys’ DNA. It was music that started in the cotton fields.”

But the white guys can certain cotton on: “We had a second wave of the blues coming through in the early 80s, and in America, there was a cross over between the black guys and the white guys.

“When you listen, you can only imagine where their fingers are on the fretboards, but when you see it live, then you realise ‘So that’s how they do it!’”

As Dennis says, it was hugely to Nine Below Zero’s advantage that they emerged at a time when the music scene was so healthy – but maybe they would do things differently now.

“We did 250 gigs a year. We did three albums in three years. By the end of 82, we were exhausted.

“Really what we should have done was take a break, but we were young and aggressive and angry and tired. We split up.

“But we got back together again in 90. We missed it all terribly.

“But you never regret things. Mark went on to become one of the most-used harmonica players in the session world. He played with absolutely everyone, and the list goes on.”

Dennis himself also enjoyed success in other directions, but it was great to get back together again.

But the two have also carved out a niche as a duo, which is what we are getting in Chichester: “We are really going back to our early days.

“When we started this project, it was really like going back to university. We go right the way back. It’s something we have never done before. This is completely different. It is just me and Mark exposed.

“The rehearsals have been brilliant, some of the best ever. We are looking forward to playing this music live. To see Mark perform in this environment is truly a masterclass. When this guy gets going, it’s just amazing, and it’s a little daunting for me, to be playing acoustic guitar. No hiding behind the Marshall amp!”

The two have been encouraged to do a CD of the music they play as a duo, and Dennis would certainly like to: “I think it is something we will do at a certain time. The Chichester date is a one-off that we have been asked to do, and we are doing another one in Yorkshire. But yes, we would certainly like to record the music. Friends and peers have been telling us that we should.”