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Paul Ansell on vocals and Rhythm Guitar, Antonio Coni on lead guitar
Mark Pennington on Bass and Ricky Hughes on Drums.

by Shaun Mather

           One of the hottest bands on the European circuit are Number Nine, fronted by the wonderful Paul Ansell. Formed in 1993, they recently celebrated their 10th Anniversary with a two year deal with Alpina Records where they join the Nu Niles.
           The band specialises in originals from Ansell and covers of less obvious material like Hey Joe or The Passenger. As he points out on his website, "I wanted to play all the stuff I liked, and not be restricted by what people wanted a rockin band to play. In '93 the musical boundaries were a lot more narrow than now, and playing Hey Joe, or Red Light, was a big no no."
           Their live show is dynamic and though the band has changed personnel over the years, they've all been top-notch musicians. The first time I saw them was a couple of years ago at Hemsby and the interplay between Ansell and guitarist Malcolm Chapman was sensational. Ansell's delivery was brilliant, and from the moment he launched in Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town, I was hooked.
           Today's young bands need support, the best way obviously is to buy their CD's. As a career overview of Number Nine I've decided to take a quick look at all their CD's. All you have to do is go out there and buy them!

Sweet Inspirations
           Following this winter's tour fronting the Scotty Moore band, Paul Ansell has come up with an Elvis concept album. It's a pity it wasn't available for sale on the tour as his brilliant performances would no doubt have helped shift plenty of copies after the shows.
           Don't worry, he hasn't come up with meaningless covers of Hound Dog and Blue Suede Shoes, this is a well thought-out album. The contents range from less familiar covers across the three decades, as well as songs he never recorded commercially or was rumoured to have cut. There's also a few that Elvis heard as demos and even some where they second guess what the King would have sounded like if he'd cut them.
           Elvis made his mark at Sun by injecting rockabilly drive to hillbilly and blues numbers. The band carry on the tradition with solid takes on Skeets McDonald's Lonesome Life For Me, Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes and Lefty Frizzell's Always Late.
           The beauty of the 1956 RCA ballads is reprised with Only You and With A Crowd (But Also Alone), whilst Oakie Boogie is one of those numbers that was included in the first pressing of the Jukebox songbook but never came to light. Cracking version here, but given more of a Sun than RCA sound. Poor Boy from the Love Me Tender flick is turned into a rocker with Darrel Higham guesting on some great guitar fills ­ are you sure General Lee done it this way!
           It's not all 50's though. The natural sound of Number Nine lends itself perfectly to later era TCB Elvis. The funkyabilly Tiger Man could fit on any of their albums and gives new guitarist Antonio Coni room to stretch out like Jimmy B. In the wake of A Little Less Conversation, all BMG need to do is release this cut of Viva Las Vegas as by Elvis and Number Nine and we'd all watch Top of the Pops for the second year running. The beat is bouncy and hypnotic with the double bass of producer Mark Pennington sounding like the bass line I want to get buried to. Good Time Charlie is a classic and I love the versions by the Big E, the Killer and Dwight Yoakam.
           Pick of the album ­ Don't Forbid Me. The Memphis Flash was sent the demo of this but passed it up, much to the delight of Boppin' Boone who scored a massive hit with it. Elvis did give a hint to how it suited him during a jam sessions with some mates in December '56. Ansell's version here is stunning, as close as he's ever sounded to Elvis. And is that the Gordanaires in the background? Superb ­ it's a hit Mr Phillips!!!!

Number Nine
           The band's 1991 debut first saw the light of day on Rockhouse records but is now readily available on the Swedish My Way label, with a couple of tasty bonus cuts. Amazingly, the whole thing was cut in just two days in Bath, and until the recent release of Countryfied, was their most rewarding album. It's jam-packed with great songs with only his cover of Dream Baby not really doing much for me. It's the album which defined their style and it's most inspired moments are as good as any modern band has ever laid down.
           The CD reissue is split conveniently into rockers and ballads. The seven rockers are first class and include some superb interpretations of Hey Joe, Proud Mary and That's Why. Even better is a sparkling take on the Mel Tillis composition, Ruby, which gives the Kenny Rogers hit a completely new life. I'd love to know whether Mel Tillis has heard this, and if so, what he thought ­ b-b-b-b-b-brilliant. Red Light is another stormer which has become a cult song for the band. His own compositions, The Stranger and the moody If I Ever complete the uptempo side.
           Pick of the ballads are Dark Moon, This Time I've Hurt Her More Than She Loves Me and an unusual choice of latter day Elvis, Pieces Of My Life. Ansel's own Simply Aware is another example of his fine song-writing flair. His vocals are fabulous and it's got the late night feel of an Elvis early 60's song you'd wished he'd recorded.
           The two bonus cuts are solid covers from some of Memphis' finest, Sitting And Thinking (Charlie Rich) and a rockabilly blast through Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache (Warren Smith).
           Pick of the album ­ If I Ever. Any song that mentions Memphis, automatically gets my attention, but this acousticly driven number is a modern classic. To be pick song of this album was no mean feat! 

Smokin' Country Rockin' Blues
           Swinging Daddy sets the tone for a barnstorming session. It's got a much heavier sound than the Buddy Knox original, and is a real blast.
           Nearly half the album comes from within the band, Ansell writing 5 and bass player Nick Gilroy contributing a fine pair in the flat out rockabilly style, I Love You Just The Same and the Creedence Clearwater Revival styled, Country Boy. Of Ansell's, Tables Have Turned is the slow country type that he excels at, Time sounds like the Meteors and Break For The Border is a bouncy country-bop tribute to the Border club in the London's West End, where the band have been regular performers. During parts of the song he sounds so much like Charlie Rich, you'd swear the Silver Fox was moonlighting.
           The band give a nod to Bob Dylan with a superb version of Wanted Man (some nice steel guitar from Mouse) and Lay Lady Lay, which allows Ansell to curl the lip and show Mr Zimmerman how to sing. The Elvis cover this times comes from the early Ś60s, Tepper and Bennett's western ballad Stay Away, which was on the Stay Away Jow soundtrack and the b-side of US Male.
           One Monkey Don't Stop No Show is given the Joe Tex turnip-green soul groove and suits Ansell and the band to a tee, sounding at the end like a Number Nine original! Another great choice is Tony Joe White's High Sheriff of Calhoun Parish, his swampy love tale, surely the smokin' part of the albums title. As soon as I saw the track listing I knew Charlie Rich's You Can Have Her would be good, and it is! On The Road Again re-emphasises just how good this band are at uptempo country, Nashville radio would hate them.
           Pick of the album ­ One Monkey Don't Stop No Show.

Movin' On
           The bands fifth album, Movin' On was another mixture of covers and originals. It's a typical Number Nine album with their unique sound but although the sound is clear throughout, sometimes it sounds a bit thin, with Mick Wigfall too quiet in the mix.
           Self-written, It Ain't Right sounds like somethng from his Blue Rhythm Boys days, as does his cover of the blues standard, Baby Please Don't Go.
           There's a couple of country covers in the shape of Apartment No.9 and Merle Haggard's Lonesome Fugutive, which sounds more like Gene Vincent's great version than Merle's original. They also play a couple of Charlie Rich numbers, Life's Little Up's And Down's and Midnite Blues. His voice is perfect for the Silver Fox and I would love to hear him do a tribute CD along the lines of Darrel Higham's Eddie Cochran Connection. They come from different stages of Charlie's career, but both suit Ansell to a tee. LLU&D was written by Rich's wife Margeret Ann, and is a country classic which the band play with plenty of reverence, allowing Ansell to display his soulful side. Midnite Blues, from the Sun/Phillips era, is again faithfully reproduced with Gordon Ayres helping out on piano. No Number Nine album would be complete with a left-field cover version. This time it comes in the shape of Iggy Pop's, The Passenger, now a regular in the band's line up. Margarita is given an exotic Latin feel and sounds like something from the Mood Sways album.
           The straight ahead rockabilly comes with Jack Earl's Hey Slim, complete with trumpet and Ansell's own Fool, Fool, Fool, a driving rocker with superb picking from Malcolm Chapman and some Charlie Feathers style mumbling - brilliant.
              Whilst most modern bands would choose to do Mystery Train or Blue Moon Of Kentucky as their Elvis numbers, the band here have chosen to late-in-the-day Elvis numbers, Hurt and It's Easy For You. Both are done with passion and are further examples of the bands versatility.
           Pick of the album - The Jukebox Has Found A Friend.

Mood Swings
           This album for Jungle Records saw the band take a different step, still playing their own brand of rockabilly but with an eclectic delve into Latin and softer pop sounds. It was also unusual in that it wasn't recorded as an album, but was a collection of songs that he'd recorded at various locations over the years.
           The booklet is a treat with a funny set of photos of the band members heads imposed on classic photos, so Malcolm Chapman appears to be playing guitar for Gene Vincent, whilst drummer Gwyn Griffiths is with Scotty Moore during the '68 Comeback Special. Ansell himself looks quite comfortable on top of Liberace!
           The version of Sway is a great way to kick off the album, followed by an excellent trio in the shape of Crazy Blues, Running Drunk and a return to the CCR catalogue for a cool version of Lodi. Sweet Marie is a co-write with Darrel Higham who supplies some hot guitar whilst Love Is All I Need is given a nice country feel courtesy of Jimmy Martin's steel.
           Another Place, Another Time is taken a step quicker than the Killer's and works well. He Walked Out is pure Nashville pop, something that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Ace's recent Golden Age Of Rock Śn' Roll ­ Country Edition ­ great stuff. Honky Tonk Man is also strong, with steel and backing vocals adding to the appeal.
           Pick of the album ­ Set Me Free (just shades He Walked Out). A rocker with great vocals, hypnotic guitar and spot-on backing vocals. And that has to be Darrel signing off at the end, ala Eddie.

A Rockin' Good Way
           The group's first album was originally released as a 10˛ LP but is now available again on My Way records. It's a mini-album with only six tracks, and although it's early in the groups development, the sound that we now know so well was already taking shape. 
           Covers range from a barnstorming Lonesome Train to a A Rockin' Good Way. The only track I don't like on the album is their cover of Prince's Kiss, which doesn't really suit Ansell's voice.
           Pick of the album ­ Broken Down South of Dallas. Junior Brown

           This is my favourite Number Nine so far. Without exception, the numbers allow the band freedom to play in their inimitable style, and Ansell sounds more confident than on any previous outing. Take for instance the opener, a cover of Nilsson's Everybody's Talking, he sounds great, giving it the upturned collar snarl.
             There's more of an emphasis on originals here, and with the exception of Took A Hiding For Nothing, I loved them all ­ none more so than the soulful You Need Me (But) which could have been an early 1956 Elvis number. Rock Śn' Roll Heart sounds like a cross between a mid-80s Bruce Springsteen number and the Crickets' I Fought The Law. Nick Gilroy stands in for Mick Wigfall on bass but it's the guitar of Chapman that stands out. I can see this being a highlight of their act.
           Of the covers, Marvin Rainwater's My Brand Of Blues is faithful to the rockabilly feel of the MGM original, whilst the mid-60s, Concrete and Clay is also good. The best cover has to be Waylon and Willie's Good Hearted Woman which builds to a stomping pace and sees the band play in Nashville whilst Ansell sings in Memphis! 
                        Pick of the album ­ Relax Amigo. A brilliant laid back Ansell original on which he adds a nice touch on harmonica. Possibly his best vocal performance to date!

Blue Grooves
           This is a full album of cover versions and although I wasn't as impressed with Blue Grooves at first, it's grown on me with each listen. It's got a more exotic sound than Countryfied courtesy of the Big Town Playboys. This diverse sound shows in quality takes of Thirty Days, I Go Crazy and I Got A Feeling. I liked the speedied up version of Billy Fury's I'll Never Find Another You and also enjoyed Lover Please.
             Of the trio of tracks which feature support by Number Nine, Country Cousin is most typical of their sound. Merle Travis' Must Be Catchin' is given a tasty jazz feel and works well.
           Pick of the album ­ I Feel Like Going Home. Apparently everyone was brought into this world to do something. If so, Paul Ansell must have been born to keep Charlie Rich's name alive. He has the perfect pitch and soul in his voice and this is a great choice to show it. This song could easily have gone tits-up ­ Rich cut the song a few times in his career and gave such emotion renditions that Ansell could either have treated it in a throwaway manner, or worse still, turned it into a parody of Charlie Rich ­ as it is, he sings with passion and respect for the original, and in the process turns in a great performance.  

Shaun Mather
March 2003

Photos: Rod Pyke

Page Posted March, 2003

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