Answer 2013 web@ Newcastle O2 Academy, October 23 2013

It would be wonderful to report that The Answer played a storming set to a packed audience at Newcastle’s O2 Academy last night and everyone headed home in fine heart.

Wonderful, but sadly inaccurate. 

The four-piece from Downpatrick in Ireland were indeed in blistering form – just as well, considering support act Tracer had raised the bar themselves during a mightily impressive 60 minutes on stage.

And hopefully, the vast majority of those present did leave sated and fulfilled by an excellent night of rock n’ roll entertainment.

But the venue was not packed and for this particular observer, the hugely disappointing attendance did temper what should have been a hugely enjoyable occasion.

You see, I’d just read an article in this month’s Classic Rock Magazine in which Cormac Neeson and his band-mates admit The Answer are at a crossroads.

“Make or break” he says, admitting fourth album New Horizon needs to be the release which catapults them to another level.

Well, the brutal conclusion must be that it’s looking like break, not make, on this evidence.

If ears be the judge then The Answer should be heading for the stratosphere. I’ve loved them from the moment I first saw them at Northumbria University eight years ago.

Two of my mates couldn’t attend that night. They had tickets to see Keane at the Arena but, like me, they believed it would not be too long before County Down’s finest were playing such venues.

But it hasn’t happened and if Wednesday night was any barometer for The Answer’s current popularity, then it’s not going to happen either.

I write this with a heavy heart because this is a band which deserves success. Neeson possesses a pair of the finest lungs in rock music, lead guitarist Paul Mahon is a fine, if understated, talent while the rhythm section of bassist Micky Waters and drummer James Heatley provides a platform built on girders.

But for all their craft, energy and passion, The Answer continue to raise questions.

Why haven’t a band, who’ve supported AC/DC on a world tour and enjoyed the patronage of such rock legends as Paul Rodgers and Jimmy Page not broken through?

Of course, mainstream radio’s criminal refusal to give them air-time is one obvious factor.

And rock isn’t as fashionable these days as in the era of The Answer’s heroes such as Free and Led Zeppelin.

But Foo Fighters, Nickelback and even bands like Black Stone Cherry and Airbourne are flourishing where they are not. It’s not right, it’s not fair and it’s not healthy either.

Neeson, a frontman who continues to look as if he’s just walked off set at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, gives his all as if he’s playing to 10,000 fans, not a figure just a tenth that size.

But it must be demoralising for a band of 30-somethings to look out into an audience where at least 70 per cent are 45 or over.

The Answer kicked off their set with the title track from their latest album and also played a rousing Burn You Down (for the first time on their current tour) from New Horizon.

Spectacular, a song which should be dominating the airwaves if there was any justice in the music world, went down a storm as did hardy favourite Under The Sky and Nowhere Freeway – which showcases the singer’s melodic side.

Disappointingly, there was no Never Too Late, the track which first got me into The Answer nor, surprisingly Demon Eyes. But the quartet can hardly be criticised for adventure in their set-lists – a fitting retort to those who accuse them of being stuck in a time-warp.

Tracer’s catalogue may lack their depth but quality is their trademark.

Overcoming sound problems early on and driven on by impressive new bassist Jett Heysen-Hicks, they thrilled the sparse crowd with tracks from Spaces In Between and the more recent El Pistolero with Too Much and Spaces In Between itself drawing applause even from those unfamiliar with their work.

Tracer reminded me very much of The Answer back at Northumbria Uni all those years ago. But this time I won’t making any predictions about what the future holds for them.

Ian Murtagh