Last week I made guest appearance on Future Radio, a Norwich based community station. The interview went well, with the questions centring on my debut novel, Justice For All, along with related topics such as what gave me the inspiration for the story, how I come up with my characters, what type of research I undertake, and how music influences my work. This was the first time I’ve been live on air, and I even got to pick a song at the start of the show – I went for ‘Stay Positive’ by The Hold Steady, but more on them later. I’m hoping to get hold of an audio file of the interview to put on my website – stay posted for further updates.
On the gig front, I had two fantastic nights out in Cambridge last week. The first was to see Nine Black Alps play at The Portland Arms (a pub with a separate gig room). For the uninitiated, Nine Black Alps are a UK rock band that turned a lot of heads when they first broke on the scene a few years back, but who’ve subsequently slid off the radar a little (probably due to their incredibly slow release schedule in my opinion, as their music remains far superior to most of the bands that are currently championed in the press).
The gig room held maybe a hundred or so people, so the event was intimate to say the least. Why a band as good as Nine Black Alps were playing in such a small place is beyond me, but I wasn’t complaining as the chance to see one of my favourite acts up close and personal was a rare treat, and boy were they on top form! The set list was comprised of classic tracks from their debut album, Everything Is, along with a smattering of cuts from their slightly poppier follow up, Love/Hate, plus a whole host of new songs from their as yet unreleased third album. For me, the new stuff was the most exciting, as it looks like they’ve gone back to the heavier sound of their debut – a move I heartily endorse. This gig will go down as an all time great in my book, and I hope to catch Nine Black Alps again at one of the major summer festivals later this year.
So having had the bar set so high after the first gig, there could have been a danger that the second one would not live up to expectations, but I was quietly confident that this wouldn’t be the case – after all, my second night out in Cambridge was to catch ‘the best bar band in the world.’ This is the moniker that the press has bestowed on US blue-collar rockers, The Hold Steady, but for me it does them a disservice, as they’re fast becoming the best band in the world.
Musically, they’re as tight and accomplished a unit as you could wish to see, but it’s vocalist Craig Finn that propels them to another level. First and foremost he’s a storyteller in the grand tradition, weaving a dense narrative throughout the music that captivates and excites in equal measure. I once described his vocal style as ‘like a drunken poet has got up from the bar and grabbed the mike to entertain the masses.’ He’s also the most enthusiastic front man I’ve ever seen – you can tell that he’s enjoying every second that he’s on stage, and you get the impression that he’d be exactly the same whether he were playing to a hundred thousand people or an empty room. While the lyrics can deal with some pretty dark subject matter at times, there’s always an overwhelming sense of optimism pervading the songs, and if I were to pick one to sum them up, it would have to be ‘Stay Positive’ – the track that I chose while appearing on Future Radio. When I left the gig I felt like anything was possible once again – I need to get The Hold Steady on prescription!
What’s Steve been listening to this week?
Boys and Girls In America – by The Hold Steady
21st Century Breakdown – by Green Day
Everything Is – by Nine Black Alps