In the late 90's, I was a sprog browsing a seaside gift shop, and begged my dad for a toy accordion on display. I got home, figured out The Simpsons theme, then intensively dived through my family's and neighbours’ record collections.
Swiftly graduating to a Bontempi, my parents sent me to weekly lessons - where I learnt how notes work with each other, any Beatles song I wanted, and was eventually forgiven for not being able to sight read.
When I was 10 I joined a local youth big band. This was ideal as unlike other opportunities for musical sprogs, I didn't need sheet music - just to learn the crucial licks and progressions and then vibe it. (Quite prophetic, eh?) I absolutely loved it. Before I finished my GCSE's I had already been thrown in front of packed crowds at The Barbican, Lords Stadium, the IndigO2, and the Royal Albert Hall.
Lugging a Yamaha stage piano as a hypermobile 14-year-old became a mission, culminating in dragging it from Sidcup to Trafalgar Square during the morning rush hour only to be told "we don't have any inputs left; you have to use our one."
I furiously stormed to Denmark Street, spent my savings on an electric guitar, and fell in love with blues, punk, rock & roll, and whatever appealed in my local HMV while it still existed. Having a portable instrument allowed me to explore my local music scene - developing my craft and identity, and forming bands instantly.
Once I got a driving licence, I dusted off my keyboard and had a brief stint in cover bands to make some dosh on Saturday nights. Although playing my heart out to territorial drunkards screaming 'play sweet caroline', and 'you're far too young to know the most famous music ever' eventually destroyed my soul, I figured out how to faithfully reproduce sounds I'd hear and admire in famous records, expanding my palette beyond previously conceivable.
Searching for a purpose, I found myself at a jam night at the The Pelton Arms in Greenwich, which turned out to be a Nine Below Zero warm-up gig. I was instantly blown away by the musicianship and emotional expression, and started to attend the jams on the regular purely to learn; absorbing licks, techniques and tunes from some of the most seasoned and accomplished players I'd ever seen.
One thing lead to another, Dennis signed the metaphorical adoption papers and I coated Nine Below Zero’s 2019 album ‘Avalanche’ with ivory, rotary, analog and plucked sonic vibrations in the creative paradise of Glenn Tilbrook's 45RPM Studio. We went on to tour the album, playing rammed venues all over the UK and Europe from the intimate to the prestigious. I had the time of my life and was finally in my element. Then the pandemic hit.
At first the idea of three weeks off seemed novel and a chance to focus on creativity, in spite of the seemingly small mental and financial hit. But 16 months later, I was absolutely drained. There was a prospect of playing at Wickham Festival 2021 which, by pure miracle, materialised. It was EMOTIONAL.
Against all odds, we completed a 32-date UK tour, culminating in a sold out show at the 100 Club - then hopped on a hovercraft to Sweden, Germany and Austria.
Now we're back in full force, and it's an absolute honour. We get out and about so probably have a show near you, come down and watch! And say hi!
(Photos courtesy of Kay Janet and Nancy Gorman)