01 November 2006 (released)
10 November 2006
The answer has been found... Music News met guitarist Paul Mahon in London during the band’s latest UK tour. The Answer’s Cormac
Neeson is keeping schtum this afternoon. Struck down by flu, the lead singer lost his voice mid-tour - forcing the cancellation of two gigs - and is rightly resting before returning to the stage for tonight’s final headline show at London’s Mean Fiddler. In fact his heavy metal vocal style has always been crucial to the band, even before he actually joined.
When guitarist Paul Mahon and bassist Michael Waters started playing their bluesy, Zeppelin-infused rock compositions, people instantly recommended Cormac’s 'chords’ as the ideal accompaniment. But discovering their choice vocalist was based in New York thwarted the master plan until Paul fatefully enrolled on an ethnomusicology course at university back home in Northern Ireland. "I remember seeing the name Cormac Neeson," explains Paul who began to wonder whether it was just a fluke. So one day, grabbing the last seat in class he decided to ask the short-haired, soberly-dressed stranger next to him if he knew. "I’m Cormac Neeson!" was the reply and with drummer James Heatley recruited soon after the ingenious line-up was complete.
A stroke of good luck this may have been but the next round of fortune was four years away following endless gigs around Ireland with little respect in return. "The last people to give you credit sometimes are your hometown," sighs Paul. "People are coming out of the woodwork now and phoning up for tickets!" No surprises really as The Answer eventually got their break when Steve Lamacq played a demo on Radio One, the added bonus being at the time Lamacq’s house guest was fellow classic rock fan Dave Bedford who, on hearing it, wisely headed straight to Belfast and offered a management deal.
Then signing to Albert Productions, the band spent six months involved in every stage of their debut album 'Rise’ ("one of the perks of being on an indie label") and only on its June 2006 release did things really speed up as critical acclaim flooded in. Most notably Classic Rock magazine, having already crowned them best newcomer at 2005’s inaugural awards ceremony, hailed 'Rise’ as "the best British rock debut of the decade"! Paul doubts it’s the best but "definitely top ten".
So is it easier to revive a classic sound than create a new scene?
"Yeah, definitely. I guess in the early days it was maybe more the older crowd who’d either grown up in the 70’s or seen Led Zeppelin, Free and The Stones. Initially if they hear about it they’re going to jump on but also the downside of that is they’ve seen it the first time." And there were opportunities aplenty to win over that passionate generation - including the legendary Jimmy Page on one occasion - as The Answer landed support slots with Deep Purple, Paul Rodgers, Thunder and Whitesnake; presumably a thrill as well as a prospect. "Whitesnake was really good. Meeting David Coverdale is quite an experience," says Paul laughing at the memory of being holed up in a dressing room right at the top of a Newcastle venue. "We were playing acoustic guitars, working on a radio session and someone came up the stairs and said, 'David will meet you now’. We were pre-occupied playing our guitars and the guy goes, 'No, no, no, David will see you now’!" Despite the demands, superstar Coverdale turned out to be very down-to-earth after all.
But it wasn’t all about warming up for such greats; the band also supported spandex-clad, rock dropouts The Darkness who Paul admits did serve their purpose. "When The Darkness came along people were divided on that. I quite liked them and they were good for us." Panning half of their difficult second album, he still believes for all their "Spinal Tap element" they really just wanted to be a good rock n’ roll band and is surprised by their quick demise though maybe not the consequence. "In the wake of them there was a bit of a rock revival and some of those bands have fallen by the wayside because they weren’t the real deal."
However The Answer have truly delivered and indeed risen from this fallout. As rock gods in the making fulfilling all your classic needs is it perhaps time for some of the wrinklies to hang up their boots and reach for the slippers?
"I think some should quit, it gets to the point where it’s just nostalgia really," he laments. "My favourite band as a kid were Mötley Crüe and they never came to Northern Ireland. I got to see them last summer and I was eight years old again, but I maybe wouldn’t want to go and see it again!"Lose yourself in the heavy duty of debut album 'Rise’ and be sure to see what all the live fuss is about. The Answer tour Europe till mid-December and will be back in the UK again next year. Visit the official website