Substance, simplicity, soul and a bit of love in the context of rock n' roll are not as common as, perhaps, they once were. Enter Nic Armstrong, a 25 year-old English boy blessed with an uncommonly powerful voice. Nic and his band, The Thieves, have fashioned a remarkably confident and exciting debut album, The Greatest White Liar - a work that mixes rockers with ballads and melody with blues-ey riffing in tight, skilful writing - creating a sound which proves that not everything with a keen eye on the past must surrender its character and turn a blind eye to anything vaguely contemporary.
"Music saved me from going mad," muses Nic in the Old Angel pub in the heart of Nottingham, England. He elaborated to Mojo magazine, "Every day I would be learning from the way Leiber & Stoller told a story through a song, and how Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly would get so much in two and a half minutes. Then I would try to write songs that reflected my mood on the day."
Having left his hometown of Newcastle to start a course in fine art in Nottingham, Nic was soon searching out like-minded souls with his battered guitar and love of the authentic roar of the likes of Gene Vincent, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry and The Beatles.
A series of dead end bands, crappy jobs and missed opportunities left Nic lost and disillusioned with his lot. Salvation came about via a nation-wide talent competition organized by U.K. style magazine, Dazed & Confused. Vowing to give it one last shot, Nic's girlfriend submitted a battered tape of his lovelorn, soul-drenched tales.
The third generation cassette sounded like crap and the recording methods were far from professional. However, his unique voice (brooding pop to primal scream) and keen ear for a jaw-droppingly catchy tune was evidence enough that this boy was the real deal. >/p> Nic didn't win the contest but the tape fell into the right hands and within days, he had gone from scratching a living to picking up a recording contract with respected British indie, One Little Indian, and a management contract with Quest (home to Bjork). After years of accruing an enviable armory of songs and assembling a fabulous band called 'The Thieves' (Shane Lawlor on bass and Jonny Aitken on drums), there was no hanging about. They were promptly dispatched to Toe Rag Studios in London, the analogue bastion of producer Liam Watson (The White Stripes, The Zutons, The Kills) who immediately understood what Nic and the band were hoping to achieve. A couple of weeks later, Nic Armstrong & The Thieves' debut album, The Greatest White Liar was born. Originally released in the U.K. during the spring of 2004, the album garnered ecstatic reviews. The Sunday Times wrote "A 14-track stunner ... a truly exceptional singer." The Guardian raved, "Melodies so instant they could arrive in a jar."
Each track showcases the remarkable talent of Nic and his ability to twist his classic influences into a contemporary album of finely crafted pop moments. Recalling the early to mid sixties and the halcyon days of British pop music before trousers flared and acid was dropped, the tracks have a rare innocence and beauty. And the mix of styles all fit together seamlessly - the pissed-off stomp of opener "I Can't Stand It" sits nicely alongside the wistful Merseybeat of "Too Long For Her" and the mid-tempo, dancehall feel of "The Finishing Touch." A cover of the Leiber/Butler song, "Down Home Girl" (also covered by The Rolling Stones among others) is downright sassy. The U.S. release also includes a storming rendition of Chuck Berry's "I Want To Be Your Driver."
Next on Nic's agenda was to take his incendiary band (adding a 4th member, guitarist Glynn Wedgewood) on the road. Dates in the U.K. and on the European continent have been plentiful. Support dates with Paul Weller (a huge fan of Nic's) have helped to raise the profile. Appearances in the United States are just around the corner.
The Greatest White Liar reinstates the song as something your mailman can whistle. There's no posturing, little fuss, just good old tunes - something often forgotten about in the rush for the right haircut. Nic Armstrong & The Thieves, timeless talent for 2005 and beyond.
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