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Live Review:

Nine Below Zero
Half Moon, Putney 28 Jan 2011
Review by Stuart Constable

I know, I know. I should have done Nine Below Zero back in the 1970s, when they flew the flag for the blues and R&B - it meant rhythm and blues, back then, in the face of the punks, alongside Dr Feelgood. But I was still learning, catching up with American blues and the first British blues boom of ten years before.

So I saw and heard Nine Below Zero for the first time on their current tour, celebrating the 30th anniversary of their Don't Point Your Finger album. I'm kicking myself for missing it all the first time round.

The current line-up is a band classic, originally dating from the 1990s. Founder Dennis Greaves fronting on guitar, legendary harmonica man Mark Feltham and a rhythm section immortalised under the leadership of the late Rory Gallagher - Gerry McAvoy on bass, Brendan O'Neill on drums.

The Half Moon was sold out and was packed with mostly men of a certain age, style and paunch. This was the generation that had grown up with punk, but had clearly yearned for a bit more than guitars and vocal chords thrashed in the name of rebellion. The idols of their youth did not disappoint them.

Before assessing the elder statesmen, however, it's worth mentioning the glimpse we got of the younger generation. 13-year old Aaron Keylock has established himself as a prodigy of the London blues jam circuit and he caught the eye of Dennis Greaves, whose own lad Sonny, also 13, is no slouch as a drummer. With Max Maxwell on bass - he's the old man of the band at 14 - the boys were invited by Dennis to open the evening.

Young fellers

It was a risky move. They were remarkably good by any standards. With the charm of boyhood to help them they might have stolen the show if the headliners had had a bad night.

Fortunately, Nine Below Zero were clearly delighted to be back at the Half Moon and they were in glorious form. With a near word-perfect audience, they hammered through a succession of favourites from Don't Point The Finger, sprinkling in standards like "Can I Get A Witness" and "Got My Mojo Working", both featured on the band's debut Live At The Marquee, along the way.

"Doghouse", "One Way Street", "You Can't Please All The People" and, of course, "Don't Point The Finger At The Guitar Man" were all delivered with undiminished energy. Greaves' guitar evokes Magic Sam, Chuck Berry and the King triumvirate, melded into a uniquely English - no, London - style. Feltham is the aristocrat of UK harmonica players, with a tone that remains sweet and distinctive even when it is driven hard through a valve amp. His "Swing Job" was a highlight of the evening.

Having recently released the all-originals album It's Never Too Late, Nine Below Zero is not a band content to live off its past. True, there was a lot of nostalgia flying about, but I came to the party with no previous experience and within a few minutes I was singing and dancing as if I'd been part of it all for 30 years.

Post SRV and Gary Moore, it can be difficult to avoid the bloated axe-twiddling of today's blues-rockers. But there was a time when even the British blues was true to the spirit of the blues itself, which evolved primarily as good-time dance music. In the hands of Nine Below Zero, that spirit is as irresistible as ever.

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