Emerging out of south London in 1979, Nine Below Zero built a dedicated following through incendiary live shows that brought a post-punk energy to British rhythm and blues.
The adrenalin-fuelled live set Live At The Marquee was issued as their debut album in 1980 and they headlined a sold-out Hammersmith Odeon the same year. Attempts to capture this fiery live act within a studio setting were never entirely successful, however, and the chart breakthrough that seemed inevitable when the band wowed audiences while supporting on tours by The Who and The Kinks never happened.
Glyn Johns, famed for his work with The Who, produced NBZ’s 1981 studio debut Don’t Point Your Finger at Olympic Studios in Barnes and he gave the band a muscular sound retaining much of the rawness of their live shows. One Way Street is a rollicking boogie, Doghouse a Chuck Berry-esque R&B belter with jaunty harmonica and their impressive cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s Sugar Mama proves them adept at slow blues.
There are mis-steps, though: the Cockney rocking of Three Times Enough is nearer to Chas & Dave than Muddy Waters, and covering Bobby Day’s novelty rocker Rockin’ Robin was simply a mistake. The album is packaged with an excellent live disc recorded at The Granary, Bristol in 1981 with highlights including covers of Otis Rush’s I Can’t Quit You Baby and Roy Head’s Treat Her Right.
The following year’s Third Degree features more sophisticated songwriting but moves away from straight R&B, while Simon Boswell’s polished 80s pop-rock production smoothed out too many of the band’s rough edges. Catchy single 11 Plus 11 was performed on the first episode of TV show The Young Ones but didn’t sell and singer/guitarist Dennis Greaves took the mod-influenced pop-soul sound of Wipe Away Your Kiss further with his next band The Truth after Nine Below Zero split when the album also failed to deliver significant chart success. The bonus disc presents a previously unreleased grittier version of the album that was recorded with Glyn Johns at his Sussex studio but rejected by A&M.