Co Down’s The Answer are poised for a triumphant homecoming next week, after supporting AC/DC for six months. Edwin McFee finds out where it all went right
On Monday, south Down’s The Answer play one of the most important gigs of their career. Fresh from supporting AC/DC — you may have heard of them — all across America and Europe, the hard-rockin’ foursome will finally come home to touch base with their core fanbase at Belfast’s Mandela Hall.
“We’ve got family and friends coming to the show and we’re really fired up for it,” says frontman Cormac Neeson. “What’s great about playing in Belfast is that you instantly recognise about 200 or so faces in the crowd from coming to see us play in places like the Empire or the Front Page when we were first starting out.
“There are people there who have been coming to see us for six or seven years, but you see new faces each time, too. It’s a great way to get a bit of perspective on where we’re at right now.”
Just where The Answer are “at right now” is a pretty enviable place, all things considered. Their second album Everyday Demons is their most successful yet and dented the UK Top 25.
They were lauded by chat show host David Letterman when they appeared on his show.
Their song Never Too Late has thrilled nerds across the globe when it was featured on Guitar Hero.
Throw in a tour with Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, Whitesnake and now AC/DC.
And have we mentioned the gushing write-ups in the likes of Rolling Stone and Kerrang!?
“I’m not going to lie to you — we’ve been working our balls off,” says the singer, who at the time of our interview, was currently on a truck stop in Madrid. “Whenever AC/DC took days off, we played our own shows so it’s been very busy, but you just have to go to one of our gigs to see how we’re benefiting from the experience.
“The exposure from the tour is a gift for a band in our position.”
Not only exposure. Cormac and co — guitarist Paul Mahon, tub thumper James Heatley and bassist Micky Waters — have been firmly taken under the wing of AC/DC, as Cormac explains.
“The band have been amazing to us. Brian [Johnson, AC/DC singer] is a very down-to-earth guy — a typical Geordie who is always up for a bit of craic. Any time he comes into our dressing room after a show, he’ll enjoy a glass of wine — well, more like a bottle actually.
“The rest of the dudes are very understated. If they meet you in the corridor you could end up talking to Angus [Young, AC/DC’s guitarist] about Rory Gallagher for hours. It’s quite surreal but amazing.”
Ever since their inception in 2001, the Downpatrick/Newcastle rockers have earned a reputation as the hardest-working band in the land. They played each gig as if their lives depended on it and hundreds of fans were falling for their Led Zeppelin/Cream-esque charms on a weekly basis.
After a few years of hard slog, the guys received a lucky break when Radio 1 DJ Steve Lamacq handed their demo tape to their soon-to-be-manager who hooked them up with indie label Albert Productions.
2006 saw their debut album Rise, which sold 100,000 units. Pretty soon everyone was raving about Cormac, who possesses a set of pipes that Robert ‘Percy’ Plant himself would be proud of.
The pressure was on for album number two to build upon the promising start.
“We knew it was make or break for us when it came to following up Rise,” says Cormac. “We took three months off to write Everyday Demons and it was the first bit of time off we’ve had in years. Initially we felt the pressure but once we started coming up with tunes, we realized that we had nothing to worry about.”
While the band skillfully avoided the “difficult second record” syndrome, they faced a different struggle altogether a few months ago when they had to cancel their first ever gig in Toronto — as support to AC/DC — as Cormac explains.
“We were in Detroit and Toronto is four hours up the road, so we started travelling to the gig at 5am. When we got to the Canadian border, we were awoken by our tour manager telling us that there was a bit of an issue with the fuzz. It emerged that our driver had drug convictions from the 1970s. As a result, he was banned from entering the country.
“We had to drive back to Detroit to pick up a driver who had been flown in from Nashville, so we wasted a lot of time sorting it all out. Once we eventually got to Toronto, we had missed the gig by about 40 minutes. We thought we had really f**ked it up and would be kicked off the tour.
“To their credit, AC/DC and their management stuck by us.”
I’ve interviewed Cormac many times over the years and despite their string of successes he remains the same, affable bloke he always was. So when I ask him of those rumours suggesting Led Zeppelin wanted him to replace Robert Plant, it’s not surprising that he laughs it off.
“Aye, Zeppelin have been on the phone five times a day looking for me,” he says with a wink. “In all seriousness though, I heard they were going to get the singer from Alter Bridge in and they’re good guys, but Myles Kennedy is not the bloke who can replace Robert Plant. You need someone a bit rawer.
“I’m kinda glad it didn’t work out because Zeppelin without Plant isn’t really Zeppelin.”
As we finish our chat, it seems the stars are lined up for The Answer.
“Yeah, it’s all guns blazin’ at the moment,” concludes Cormac. “We’re doing all we can to make it, so keep your fingers crossed it’ll all pay off.”