Page last updated at 08:37 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The Answer to classic rock's future

By Emma Jones
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

It is nearly showtime on AC/DC's Black Ice world tour and a dozen gleaming red freight trucks are parked with precise neatness behind the arena. Even at a standstill, they're noisy.

The Answer
The Answer were "discovered" by Steve Lamacq

Next to them is the support act's bus, and like most nights on this tour, The Answer, from Newcastle, County Down in Northern Ireland, are sleeping on board.

"We've got so used to the sound of the trucks that when they book us a hotel as a treat, we usually can't sleep," says singer Cormac Neeson.

Not that the band are complaining, because this juggernaut of a tour has enabled the four musicians to go from mainly playing clubs in the UK to reaching an average of 20,000 rock fans a night in the USA and Europe.

"It's been a bit of a whirlwind," adds Neeson. "We've done 42 gigs in North America and then there's the European tour as well. But there seems to be momentum gathering for us."

It is gigging the old-fashioned way, but then there is a retro feel to The Answer's brand of blues-rock.

The 1970s influence of bands like Led Zeppelin and Thin Lizzy is there to hear, but their youthful energy and sound have led some music critics to hail them as "the future of classic rock".

That means they are unlikely to ever find themselves on the cover of the NME, although they were inadvertently "discovered" by Radio 1 and 6 Music's new music champion, Steve Lamacq.

"We got our manager Dave because he was staying with Steve at the time," laughs Paul Mahon, the guitarist.

Rock 'n' roll is starting to come back and we've come along with a fresh take on it
Micky Waters, bassist with The Answer

"Steve had a pile of demos lined up and ours was in there. He heard it and threw it over, going 'this sounds like your sort of thing'. Dave heard it and came to see us the next day and it picked up from there."

The band - who are completed by bassist Micky Waters and drummer James Heatley - are an example of how much hard graft can go into the "overnight success story" beloved by the media.

The band formed at college in Belfast in 2000, and for three years did not play a show out of Northern Ireland.

Their favourite location was their local bar, Quinns, where on one occasion, the sound system caught fire. (Fortunately, it was an outside gig.)

The band are currently touring with AC/DC

"Anyone who is in the music scene in Northern Ireland will tell you how much you need the breaks," comments Neeson. "And you need to be seen out of there as well."

They signed to the independent label, Albert Productions, in 2005, and release their second album, Everyday Demons, in the UK this week.

"We wanted to go with a label which would have the patience and the belief to stick with us over three or four albums, which in this day and age is quite rare," the singer explains.

"Having said that, after four albums, if we haven't had substantial success, I don't think the label could be blamed for parting company. So, fingers crossed."

Rock 'n' roll renaissance

In the US, The Answer hover on the brink of greatness. The enormous arena gigs were supplemented by a booking on CBS's The Late Show with David Letterman, where the chat show host declared they were "single-handedly keeping rock 'n' roll alive".

They also got their break with AC/DC at a time when hard rock is enjoying its greatest renaissance since the hair metal heyday of 1987.

Black Ice has sold 9 million albums worldwide and the AC/DC tour will likely be the highest grossing of the year.

AC/DC
AC/DC (pic) and The Answer embark on a European stadium tour this summer

"We're playing to 20,000 people a night, so clearly the fans are out there. Rock 'n' roll is starting to come back and we've come along with a fresh take on it," comments bassist Waters.

But other rock bands like Bush or Def Leppard have managed to sell millions of records in North America without matching the level of success in Europe.

It may be difficult to get radio airplay, but there is another powerful weapon in the Answer's arsenal.

Guitar Hero, the worldwide gaming phenomenon, is using an Answer track, Never Too Late to promote some of its latest editions.

"People who wouldn't give our music a second glance take notice because of that," adds Neeson.

The stakes are about to get even higher - this summer they will be supporting AC/DC on stadium concerts in Europe - playing to an average of 90,000 people per show.

But before that, one of the most important events will be The Answer's own headlining gig at Belfast's Mandela Hall on 20 April.

"We've had no time to get home for the last few months," Neeson apologises. "But we don't forget our loyal support and the fan base which got us here in the first place."



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