Perennial pop punk funsters Bowling for Soup asked “When did Motley Crue become classic rock” in their song ’1985’.
They had a point.
The term classic rock has expanded and evolved over the past five years to become an almost meaningless.
Flick through the pages of the (excellent) magazine of the same name and there is a diverse number of acts and genres lumped under the catch-all of ‘classic rock’. From the retro thrash of Trivium to the prog stylings of Porcupine Tree, the acts vary in ages from the ancient to the fresh. The magazine has even carried two cover-mount CDs of acts that one day aspire to be heirs to Guns ‘n’ Roses 80s sleaze rock throne.
But what classic rock is, for many, music played in the style of 70s and 80s hard rock, the style pioneered by proto-metallers Cream, elevated by Zeppelin and Free and evolved further by Lizzy, UFO, Whitesnake et al. Bluesy rock, with roots in the delta blues of Robert Johnson’s alleged crossroads deal with the devil. Latterly the likes of Thunder, Jet and Velvet Revolver kept the torch aflame when fad orientated music promotion kicked in during the latter years of the
In Northern Ireland there is a healthy crop of acts that can aspire to the title of classic rock, despite the connotations some may draw from that (free cardigan with every CD as was once wittily said by Scottish author Christopher Brookmyre).
Leading the pack in the classic rock vanguard is Downpatrick’s finest, The Answer. In fact they are blazing a trail few can keep up with.
The Answer has been on tour in perpetuity for the past 18 months. They have scored critical acclaim in that time, recorded healthy album sales, supported mega-acts Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones. Considerable achievements.
They have played Donington, collected awards and re-released their debut album, Rise, to record yet more sales (label support evident in Albert Records even taking ad slots on TotalRock!)
Put bluntly they are on the cusp of a real breakthrough to deserved monstrous mainstream success.
Yet, after I hooked up with James Heatley (drums) and Paul Mahon (guitar) prior to their award-winning gig at QUB Student’s Union, no magazines were interested in carrying the review and interview.
Was it that the band was being over-exposed? Was it that the label’s PR machine had been there already?
No, in fact there was a jaded feeling knocking about UK music editors that the band had been covered. Unless the label was paying for a hack’s flight to Japan then there was little interest in the review etc.
This is, in fact a sad testimony to the UK music press, and the wider journalistic view in the UK and Ireland. Build ‘em up, knock ‘em down. Fortunately for The Answer being knocked down usually is followed by being built back up again. That will happen to The Answer, not thanks to the cyclical nature of journalistic habits, but through the band’s obvious talent.
But, as the band look forward to recording the follow-up to Rise, they know that negative reviews, occasional sniping and even ennui from long-time fans, has set the bar higher than on their début platter.
“We hope to be in the studio in the autumn with a 2008 release,” said Paul, as he chugged at a bottle of water and looked only slightly suspiciously at a half-cut Belfastmetalheadsreunited editor.
And as such, how much weight can be put on their live performances? At The Mandella Hall they kicked up a storm. Occasionally a little too loose, the band still managed to hold the attention and awe of the crowd. Crowd awe aside, at times the band have been guilty of being too casual. Rhythm and lead have been noted to be wandering apart during some appearances…for lesser acts this would have been fatal. With Cormac’s professionalism and the band’s ability to right themselves it has been averted. As they grow in importance and exposure such looseness cannot be covered. But it is a tribute to the totality of the band’s dominance that such wanderings do not bother crowds.
Such adulation makes the band a little uncomfortable.
“Yeah, it’s nice,” said James, “But it was a bit mad in Japan.”
Kerrang!, spent two pages extolling the virtues and sales in Japan. Then gave a poor review for their Donington and Hyde Park appearances
Other mags showed their devotion by indifference.
Fickle press cannot be swayed by freebies (though I’m willing to try and be swayed by freebies!).
So what does the future hold? Blues-based groove is ‘in’ at the moment with a plethora of pseudo-rockers like The Killers bothering the charts.
Would The Answer sign their souls away for such fame?
Paul and James exchanged a nervous glance before answering that question…MTV fame and royalties versus longevity.
“The MTV royalties would be nice,” said James, “But we’re here for the long term.”
And that is the attitude that will make sure The Answer will slowly, but with inevitability, gain more fans, gain critical credibility and still be grounded in where their music comes from – classic rock with a Northern Ireland spin.
“We’re working on the songs for the next album,” said Paul.
Hard work is what The Answer do better than most. Great blues rocking is what they can and, all metal gods being willing, do best.
The next album will not have the benefit of, as James put it, “a dozen months of rehearsing on the road”.
What it will have is the benefit of goodwill the band has generated through the constant touring and swimming in the relatively strange seas of Japan and Korea.
The Answer will have a rocky ride over the next 12 months. “We’re ready for the challenge,” said Paul. But, the perseverance they have shown to date will need to be apparent in spades.
To return to Bowling for Soup…on their piss-take song ‘I’m Gay’ they declare a hate for bands that take their rock too seriously. The Answer know it is a serious game, they know that when they take to the stage it is a serious game, but other than that it isn’t life or death for the punters who put their pounds down for a few hours of fun and damn fine entertainment.
The Answer, even when not at their best , deliver pure hard rocking fun. Try to interrogate them about this and, well, there are no ulterior motives lurking in the background.
In short The Answer will lead the way towards a hallowed ground where they may not dominate, but will permeate and seal longevity.
For Northern Ireland it will be further proof that, in the wake of Van Morrison, Gary Moore, SLF, the Undertones, Therapy?, and Ash, there is a further wave of talent bursting through. Better still The Answer are inspiring and showing others that it can be done.
Rise up, the vanguard of true classic rock has led the way…let me follow!