Nine Black Alps

TrackAlbum / EP
UnsatisfiedEverything Is
Shot DownEverything Is
Heavier Than WaterLove/Hate
Salt WaterLocked Out From The Inside
Buy NothingLocked Out From The Inside
PhosphorescenceSirens
Don't Forget To BreatheSirens
Come Back AroundCandy For The Clowns
Supermarket ClothesCandy For The Clowns
Ilana SongGlitter Gulch EP

 

Nine Black Alps photo

Nine Black Alps (l to r): Martin Cohen (bass), David Jones (guitar), James Galley (drums), Sam Forrest (vocals/guitar)

 

 

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NBA playlist

 

Contributor: Graeme Lucas

I once had an idea for a book – a semi-autobiographical book which had the working title “Nine Black Alps Saved My Life”. 2005 was a strange time; Coldplay, David Gray, Razorlight, Keane and other middle of the road artists were seeping into our everyday lives and nothing exciting was happening (well, apart from the Cribs). Indie was hitting the mainstream, the Arctic Monkeys were the media darlings (and fair enough too!) but the term ‘indie’ was commonly being used to describe artists like the Thrills, Zutons, Kooks and all sorts of music that I just thought was appalling and dull. That’s how it felt anyway.

Around that time, a good friend of mine started making modern day mixtapes – CDs! His ‘Millennium Masterpieces’ compilations contained some interesting stuff hidden among the dross and one of those tracks was by Nine Black Alps. The moment the song started I had a new favourite band. The song … Unsatisfied. Set against a memorable guitar riff, Sam Forrest began to sing, “10 out of 10 for a race already run” … the song continues, almost sneeringly, but the hook was memorable, and hooked I was. I later discovered that this had actually been a ‘hit’ single, reaching number 30 … 30 … unreal. To this day, it is a song I never tire of hearing and I have never met anyone who has listened to the song and not liked it. Even my dad.

So why did ‘The Alps’ save my life? Well, like many, having passed 30 I had become a homeowner, husband, dad, career man, suburban coffee drinker and completer of The Times crossword. My days of going to gigs appeared to be back in another decade, but my love of this band changed all that. At every opportunity, I would travel to see them play wherever I could. Over the years, Manchester was a regular trip, but I’ve also seen them in Wakefield (3 times), Bolton (in a weird ‘scout hut’ venue), Preston, Blackpool and probably a few other places that time has forgotten. Some of these venues: Ruby Lounge, The Hop are sadly no longer in existence.

Song 2 – no I haven’t changed this to a Blur list, but my second choice is also from the stunning debut album, Everything Is. The song is Shot Down and every time I’ve seen them live they’ve finished with this. It is utterly visceral and the noise they make throughout is just phenomenal. In the old days, bass player Martin Cohen (now a top nutritionist) and guitarist David Jones (owns KWOFF, a great wine shop in Bury) would swap instruments. According to David the reason for this was that Martin came up with the riff and he couldn’t play it at that time. Given that David spent a good deal of time touring with the Cribs as a Johnny Marr replacement, I have never believed this.

I’m going to go chronologically here and on to Album 2, Love/Hate (2007) – the ‘disappointing second album’. Never has this description been so apt, but so wrong at the same time. The songs were there, the melodies, the riffs, but the production was poor. Island Records had detailed Dave Sardy to work on this and it really softened the sound into an almost west coast America surf vibe. That said, some absolutely amazing tunes on here.

Lead-off single Burn Faster should have been the breakthrough single and should have sold billions. With a guitar solo written by the sadly departed Kim Shattuck, released in 2007, the song peaked at number 42 in the charts. With the album making barely a dent, the band were dropped by/left Island records, who simply didn’t deserve to have this band on their roster. From this album, I am choosing Heavier Than Water as this follows the slow/quick/slow/quick method that Pixies did so well.

A darker, deeper sound was illustrated in their third release, a self-funded and slightly goth-tinged new album, Locked Out From the Inside (2009). This one had so many amazing tunes, was dark, riff heavy, but also showed the softer side of the band’s songwriting, through tracks such as Silence Kills and album closer Ghost In The City. It’s a great album that very few people have heard. My choices from this album are just noisy ones though: Salt Water and Buy Nothing. Grungetastic!

The band disappeared for a while as Sam Forrest wrote loads more songs, released some solo albums, and worked on material for The Sorry Kisses band. Martin Cohen left the band to form Milk Maid (well worth a listen) and was replaced by Karl Astbury. No disrespect to Martin, but I think Karl added a new dimension, with some really strong, driven basslines. Nine Black Alps then signed with another new label in 2012, the excellent, Leeds-based Brew Records, who released their fourth album, Sirens. After the initial hype around the band, things had gone very quiet and around this time, they were playing in lovely small venues to adoring crowds of around 200. The new music was utterly brilliant and my first choice from Sirens is the jaw-dropping Phosphorescence. So far, I have referenced the ‘softer side’ of the band and, throughout their career, songs such as Intermission always slowed things down. On Love/Hate, Under The Sun did the same. Phosphorescence, however, was pretty much new ground. This song is epic and not like anything else they had produced.

Having slowed things down a bit, I want to get back to the Nine Black Alps that are more familiar – the other track off Sirens that always gets my pulse racing is Don’t Forget To Breathe. Dirty riff, great hook. What more could you ask for?

Sadly, Brew Records folded, but somehow morphed into Hatch Records, also home to the excellent Then Thickens with whom the Alps toured, a great band. 2014 brought us another release despite the band’s personal lives and careers seeming to conflict with the lives of rock stars! The album, Candy For The Clowns was, in my view, the best album they released since Everything Is. Littered with great tunes and, amazingly, receiving positive critical reviews (the band were somehow not supported by the music media), this album prompted the final tour.

I say final tour with more than a tinge of sadness as it appears unlikely the band will tour again (if Nine Black Alps are reading this, 2020 will be the 15th Anniversary of “Everything Is”. Loads of lesser bands are doing anniversary tours … maybe you should follow your good friends The Cribs and get out there one more time). This is a selfish view I know, but my son was born in 2005 and has been brought up listening to Nine Black Alps. Recently I asked him, “Of all the bands you’ve not seen live, who would you most like to see?” The answer was unequivocal … He’s seen all his favourites: Cribs, Slaves, Johnny Marr, Cabbage, Toy, Vaccines, Chvrches, Arctic Monkeys and others … all except one. Nine Black Alps – even ahead of Ride. Now that’s a guilt trip Sam, David, Karl and James. How can you deny a 14-year-old mega fan the opportunity to see you live now he’s old enough to get in most venues?

I digress. Time for me to come back around to the point – ah, yes, let’s choose that one. Come Back Around is the younger brother of first album banger, Ironside. If you’re familiar with the first album, but nothing since, this will stir some memories.

Is that 8? This is hard and I’m losing count … one more from Candy For The Clowns. I can’t see past Supermarket Clothes. I know it was a single, blah blah blah, but it’s such a great, playful dig at the culture in which we live, I have to choose that. Again, I defy anyone to listen and not enjoy this great tune.

I’ve picked two songs from each album, apart from Love/Hate (my second from that would have been the beautiful Happiness And Satisfaction) and I have done that for a good reason – Nine Black Alps made some absolutely belting B-sides. Remember when bands actually wrote good B-sides? Many of these songs would have been good enough to feature on any albums and therefore one had to be included.

So, with no room in the 10 for Cosmopolitan, Ironside, Just Friends, Get Your Guns, Southern Cross etc. (you’ve probably heard some of those anyway), which B-side to choose, which one is a bit different? I’m going for live favourite Ilana Song just for the bassline; a great song and a worthy way to end. I always liked Over The Ocean, but my gig buddy once asked Sam why they never play the song live, to which he responded, “Because it’s crap”. Sam, I’m not choosing it as I don’t want to upset you and jeopardise the anniversary tour that, by reading this far, I reckon you have pretty much promised.

That’s the end of the list – the hardest one for me. Five albums with at least seven great songs on each, plus reams of amazing B-sides. This group of blokes may not have really saved my life, but they lifted me out of a pit of mediocrity and reintroduced me to the pleasures of regular gig going. Over the years, they have cost me a fortune: albums, t-shirts, tickets, travel costs, but I think (and this changes daily) I would put them as my favourite band of the millennium.

Thank you – hope to see you next year!

 

 

 

Nine Black Alps official website

Sam Forrest official website (including solo discography)

On Graeme’s YT channel: Heavier Than Water – live Wakefield, April 2014

Nine Black Alps on Hatch Records

Nine Black Alps biography (Apple Music)

Graeme Lucas has been a fan of the alternative music scene since stumbling across Joy Division and Bauhaus as a young child. Thanks to them, the Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen, he spent most of his teenage years miserable and alone. A lover of live music, he likes film and stores a small amount of gig videos on his YouTube Channel and can be followed on Twitter @glpne73

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Arctic Monkeys, Blur, Coldplay, Cribs, Johnny Marr, Pixies, Ride

TopperPost #818

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