NINE BELOW ZERO at Mycenae House
Dennis Greaves is a stunningly good guitarist and his Nine Below Zero bandmate Mark Feltham is surely one of the world’s greatest harmonica players, so watching them play live is always going to be a thrill.
Some gigs, though, have that extra something – a sprinkling of stardust, perhaps – that makes them magical. And that was definitely the case for their sold-old appearance at Mycenae House when the pair looked back on their 42-year association by performing songs that had us rocking in our seats and telling stories that had us rolling in the aisles.
The south Londoners’ set-list of 22 songs took in their own material, blues classics, country standards, a taste of Latino and even a 200-year-old hymn, all done with the tightness, skill, wit and artistry that have made them legends with audiences and fellow musicians.
There were any number of highlights. Their take on the Vinson/Chatmon creation Sitting On Top Of The World was as at least as good as Cream’s famous version and Feltham’s flamenco-like playing on Perez Prado’s Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White was nothing short of miraculous.
They acknowledged music’s debt to Hank Williams with Moving On Over and My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It and gave us a stunning interpretation of Warren Zevon’s Carmelita that Ry Cooder would have be proud of.
Their covers of the Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee songs Born To Live The Blues and I Love You, Baby were to die for, as were Riding On The L&N by Lionel Hampton and Dan Burley and Jimmy Reed’s iconic Ain’t That Lovin’ You, Baby.
Self-penned tunes and songs from their brilliant The Co-operative collaboration with fellow south Londoner and Squeeze frontman Glenn Tilbrook included I’m Your Ice Cream Man, I’ve Got Egg On My Face, Ter-Whit Ter-Woo, Satin Sheets and The Ballad Of Dombóvàr.
They paid tribute to their old guitarist pal Mick Abrahams with a storming version of Jethro Tull’s Some Day The Sun Won’t Shine For You, showcased Feltham’s sublime talent with Stone Fox Chase - the harmonica anthem by Charlie McCoy and Kenny Buttrey which became the theme for TV’s Old Grey Whistle Test - and revelled in Bill Mack’s Drinking Champagne with its killer line “I never loved you much when you were mine”.
They ended the gig with a straight – and completely wonderful – version of the 1779 hymn Amazing Grace in which Feltham explored emotional depths of heart-stopping beauty and subtlety. I can’t imagine many other bands who could have got away with such a dramatic change of mood but that’s one of the things that makes Nine Below Zero unique. Another is Feltham’s fabulous bespoke attaché case for his 15 harmonicas.
Earlier, Tilbrook’s guitarist son Leon had got the audience into the right frame of mind with a 30-minute opening set featuring five of his own excellent songs, a rousing cover of The Stripes’ Mystery Man and, to finish off, a fine take on the old Fleetwood Mac classic Oh Well. He’s clearly destined for great things.