The Answer on how new album Solas brought them back from the brink
Having enjoyed a rapid rise, The Answer suffered a downturn where even the band’s existence looked in jeopardy. But with new album, they feel the sun is shining on them again
It’s one of the most iconic images in rock: a colony of feral, naked, golden-haired children scrambling across an eerie, apocalyptic landscape, climbing towards the breaking light of a new day.
Local mythology contends that the imposing volcanic landscape of the Giant’s Causeway was created by Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool) building a path across the Irish Sea to accept a challenge of combat with the Scottish giant Benandonner. But for music fans the 60-million-year-old matrix of interlocking, largely hexagonal basalt columns will forever be associated with the artwork for the cover of Led Zeppelin’s 1973 album Houses Of The Holy.
On a preternaturally beautiful mid-September afternoon, the striking North Antrim coastline is once again teeming with feral children – although on this occasion it’s excitable school parties from Asia and central Europe visiting the UNESCO-approved World Heritage Site on geology trips, snapping selfies in the sunshine as they pick their way carefully across the slippery stones. In their midst, posing rather more self-consciously for Classic Rock’s camera, stand The Answer – vocalist Cormac Neeson, guitarist Paul Mahon, bassist Micky Waters and drummer James Heatley – arguably Northern Ireland’s second-best-known rock formation.
“Aren’t they handsome?” coos a 60-something female English tourist, squinting into the sunshine. “Are they a band?”
Informed that the four young men are indeed a band, the nice lady concedes that she is unfamiliar with The Answer. “I expect my daughter knows them, though,” she concludes brightly.
That The Answer are not yet household names, even in their own country, is perplexing. A decade ago the quartet from Downpatrick, County Down released their brilliant debut album Rise and embarked on an adventure that Neeson readily admits saw them swiftly tick off a bucket list of “all the things you dream about as a kid picking up a guitar and writing songs”. Acclaimed as the world’s Best New Band at the inaugural Classic Rock Awards in 2005, the group were hand-picked to open shows for the Rolling Stones, The Who, Aerosmith and Deep Purple, received plaudits from Jimmy Page, Paul Rodgers and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott, and saw Rise rack up a coolly impressive 100,000 sales worldwide, including 10,000 in Japan in a single week. As the album cycle drew to its conclusion, it was announced that the band had been chosen as the sole support for AC/DC’s Black Ice world tour, an astonishing opportunity that would place their gritty, soulful blues rock in front of a global audience just shy of five million. Their rapid ascension into rock’s premier league seemed assured.
It was, says Neeson, “an exhilarating time”. Guitarist Paul Mahon describes the period as a “roller-coaster”, recalling “a lot of childhood dreams coming true”. By any measure, this was one hell of an introduction. But although no one could have predicted it at the time, it would also prove to be the peak of The Answer’s career.