Dennis Greaves, singer songwriter and guitarist with Nine Below Zero chats with Kevin Cooper about playing Glastonbury, the reunion tour, their latest album 13 Shades Of Blue and their forthcoming appearance at The Great British R&B Festival in Colne.
Dennis Greaves, singer songwriter and guitarist of Nine Below Zero recently played a reunion tour with band members Brian Bethell, Mickey Burkey, and Mark Feltham, to great acclaim.
In 2014 record label Universal Music Catalogue reissued their first three albums, Live At The Marquee (1980), Don’t Point Your Finger (1981) and Third Degree (1982) which were also very successful. He is currently in the process of releasing another studio album, 13 Shades Of Blue which hopes to reflect the various shades of the genre of Blues music.
Whilst in the middle of the Festival season, he took time to have another chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi Dennis how are you today?
Hello Kevin I’m good thanks how are you?
I am good thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
In fact I am better than good because Tottenham are just about to be on the television (laughter). They are playing over in Australia.
Do you want me to call you back after the game?
No don’t be silly (laughter). It’s a friendly and it will be rubbish so don’t worry. We will most probably lose (laughter).
I’ve got to tell you that I have just been playing Doghouse and 11+11 and they really do sound as fresh today as they did back in day.
Bloody hell mate that’s lovely of you to say. I’m glad to hear that you are still enjoying the songs, that’s great.
So just how is life treating Dennis Greaves at this moment in time?
Life at the minute is fantastic. I have just flown in from Italy where I have just done a festival over there. I am flying out to Portugal to play at another festival; we have the brand new album coming out in September, and I will be going out with an eight piece band complete with a brass section, keyboards and a female singer (laughter). I have now been in the business for over forty years and I am enjoying it more than ever really. So I have to say that all is good at present.
We last spoke last October when you were getting ready for the reunion tour. How did it go?
That all went really well. We managed to get Brian (Bethell) Mickey (Burkey) Mark (Feltham) and myself back together for the reunion tour. As you know Universal remastered and rereleased the entire back catalogue last year and to be honest with you that was the catalyst for the four of us getting back together. We all thought that while we were all still alive that was a good enough reason for us to get back together and tour. I have to say that it went really well, I really enjoyed it and we played Third Degree in its entirety. We did some lovely projects like that and it was all good, I was really pleased.
Were there any fall-outs or were you all okay with one another?
Oh no mate, we are all fine, we really are lucky like that. I mean when you look at UB40, Oasis together with many, many other bands we are so lucky. When we were supporting The Who, Roger (Daltrey) and Pete (Townshend) were not speaking to each other. I know that it happens and whilst Mark and I have had our issues, all in all it is like being married without the sex. Being in a band is a platonic arrangement and there is also money involved. For me to have been in the business for this long I think that I must be doing something right.
I always look at Simon and Garfunkel and wonder if they ever sit down and think just what could they have achieved if they had stayed together.
Yes, absolutely, I totally agree with you. I mean they could have done their solo projects whilst continuing to write and perform together. The problem is that my business is all about egos, and they tend to get in the way really. If you can avoid that then I think that you are going about it the right way. I simply couldn’t work in an atmosphere like that where you weren’t speaking to one another. It is a creative industry and so if you are in a creative environment, to have that atmosphere then I don’t think that it is conducive really.
You have mentioned the fact that Universal reissued the back catalogue last year. Were you happy with the job that they did?
What can I say, I haven’t got grandchildren but if I did I would be extremely proud to show them the three projects. Mark had the seven tracks which had been recorded Live At The Marquee so they were added to the first album. Don’t Point Your Finger had an extra disc of a live gig recorded at The Granary in Bristol back in 1981 which really did capture the band for what it was at that time, and I was so pleased with that. And then Third Degree was the album that we had recorded with Glyn Johns which was turned down by A&M together with the more polished version that we recorded with Simon Boswell. So you had the rough and the smooth.
I think that from a fans point of view, if I was a fan, I would be extremely happy with the job that Universal have done on the albums. I have to say that the reason I think that the project went as well as it did was totally down to all of the excellent work done by Johnny Chandler. Johnny is rare because he is a music fan who works within the music business which is really rare these days. That’s why you have got what you got.
You recently played at Glastonbury. How was that?
(Laughter) oh dear, oh dear, that has to be quite possibly the highlight of my life. It is totally unbelievable. The people that run it, the mud, the horrendous problems getting to the stage; it was all totally unbelievable. Unless you go and experience it and play you just don’t know, so you have just got to do it. Seriously it has to be one of the highlights of my career.
After you had played your set did you stay behind to catch anyone?
No, we had to shoot off because we had a prior engagement booked for the night so we were in and out. And do you know what I am sort of pleased that we did really. My wife and children stayed for four days and they were soaking it all up and they will never forget that experience. However, me in my Gucci loafers was in and out (laughter).
Don’t tell me that you had plastic carrier bags tied over them to keep them clean?
No mate no, I was like Jimmy Greaves, I just floated over the top of the mud (laughter).
Your new studio album 13 Shades Of Blue what can you tell me about it?
Well it all started when Glen Tilbrook from Squeeze rang me up telling me that he had just heard a great track being played on BBC Radio 6. It was Don’t Play That Song (You Lied) by Aretha Franklin. Glenn said that he thought that Nine Below Zero would do a fantastic cover version of the song. At that time I was worried because of the song being sung by a female singer. Anyway at that time I was running some blues jams once a week and about a week later a young female called Charlie Austin walked into one of the blues jams and when she got up and sang the whole room went silent. She was amazing. So I went into Glenn’s studio with Charlie and the band and we cut that song.
At that moment I thought to myself that this is a project. Out there in the world we have Cajun blues, Funk blues, Soul blues, Chicago blues, Country blues, there are all of these different facets and different shades of the blues. So the whole thing almost instantly became a project. We have some rare Little Sony tracks, some Little Milton tracks, one Little Walter track and I have tried to cover most of the areas of the blues and I have to say that I really have enjoyed the project. The problem was that I kept adding instruments (laughter). That is when I thought about taking the album out on the road so I put this eight piece band together in order to do the album justice really. I honestly think that it is a great album which captures a vast array of different colours of the blues.
Do you think that the horn section really added to the album?
Yes I do and it is something that I have always wanted to do. I have always wanted to do this sort of project and I have finally done it now. I have now got it out of my system and we will be out on the road promoting it until the end of March 2017. I am now looking forward to seeing just how the punters take to it.
Are you happy with the album now that it is finished?
Yes I am, I am extremely happy with it.
And will we be seeing it released on vinyl?
Yes you will. I have actually seen the artwork for the vinyl and it will look great as a gatefold sleeve. I actually recorded eighteen tracks but only put thirteen out on the CD. So I have been thinking about putting nine tracks on each side of the vinyl album, making it a double album with a gatefold sleeve. I think that the artwork that we have is conducive with that so we will see how we go. If it happens then I hope to get the vinyl out there by the end of next March 2017.
The last time that we spoke I asked you if there was anything left for you to achieve and you said that you wanted to record one last great album with the band. Have you achieved that with 13 Shades Of Blue?
(Laughter) bloody hell no, not at all. I think that I have got another one in me (laughter). After this album I really do want to make a self-penned album where I can really get it out of my system. I would love to sit down and write with some American people maybe, in order to spread it out.
Because of how excited you are at having the horn section on 13 Shades Of Blue will you incorporate that into the new album?
Do you know what, yes I probably will. You have hit the nail on the head there and I will probably keep that option open. However, for the time being I am just going to see how it goes; see how the punters react to the horns on 13 Shades Of Blue.
Would you say that the blues is in good hands at the moment?
Well (laughter) you have got me started now haven’t you. I recently went to see the saviour of the blues, Joe Bonamassa and I have to say that whilst he may be a fine technician, the whole experience left me completely cold. I came away from the concert thinking that it was nothing at all to do with the blues. He is just making a very good living off the back of it.
Coming right up to date you and Nine Below Zero are once again playing The Great British R&B Festival up there in Colne. What makes it so special to make you keep wanting to go back?
Cor blimey, you know what; they really do put a good festival on up there. The staff and the people that run the event are just amazing and we buy into that. We will totally buy into that one hundred percent. We are there with Dave Edmunds this year and I am really looking forward to that. We will be supporting that festival until we die. I think that it is a great festival run by some great people who run it brilliantly, so as long as we are asked to do it we will do it.
I take it from the tone of your voice that you still get that buzz out of touring?
Yes most definitely, it’s my job isn’t it (laughter). You just have to do it to the best of your ability.
At what point in your career did you feel most musically satisfied?
Oh dear, thinking about it that would have to be now. I really am satisfied now (laughter).
What was the last song that made you cry?
That was Frank Sinatra singing My Way live. I was watching a BBC 4 documentary and it reduced me to tears when he sang My Way.
On that note Dennis let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me and I am really looking forward to seeing you at The Robin over in Bilston next March.
Thank you very much Kevin it really is much appreciated. When you get to The Robin come over and say hello and I will buy you a beer okay. Take care and I hope to see you soon.