Quite apart from the similarity in names, the pairing of Cats In Space and Space Elevator was a perfect match. Both are new acts, albeit with seasoned musicians who have been on the scene a while, trying to do something different and bringing back the lost art of songwriting and lush arrangements with a sense of theatre and dynamics.
With no London date on their co-headlining UK tour, several of us headed south of the capital to the unfamiliar surroundings of an archetypal municipal hall in which – unusually for a gig of this nature – we were in plush, tiered seats. It wasn’t the most rock’ n’roll environment, but on the upside the sound was crystal clear and the stage spacious.
Space Elevator opened the night, and it was my first chance to see them as after bursting onto the scene with some hype a couple of years back, this was their first significant tour. While a rather static four piece band struggled to fill the big spaces on stage, there could be no doubting the charisma of the enigmatically named lead singer ‘The Duchess’- famous for her figure hugging catsuits, on this occasion she paid homage (intentionally?) to the venue with a black and white harlequin number.
Opening with a rather stop-start near title track in ‘Elevator’, their music defies pigeonholing but the Duchess has a powerful and versatile voice and the arrangements were always interesting. Three songs in, ‘Loneliness Of Love’ had a massive melodic hook that back in the eighties would have seen them cracking the charts alongside the likes of Belinda Carlisle, Bonnie Tyler and T’Pau.
Former We Will Rock You house guitarist David Young came across as being very much the musical driving force, and his solos were always crisp and fluent, and he was given ample opportunity to shine on a cover of ‘Don’t Believe A Word’ which started in the slow Gary Moore fashion before climaxing at a faster tempo.
However my old school standpoint that rock should be performed wholly live was tested to breaking point as liberal use was made throughout of taped keyboards, leading me to wonder what else was emerging from studio trickery, notably during a couple of dual tracked guitar solos.
Despite these reservations, songs like ‘Ordinary Day’ and ‘More Than Enough’ impressed while the subject matters covered also included themes off the usual rock’n’roll beat such as Dr Who, and on ‘Oils And Bubbles’, OCD!
‘Really Don’t Care’ was another highlight, although the optimistic lyrics of ‘We Can Fly’ allied to the Duchess’ cheesy grin were a bit X Factor for my tastes. A set of over an hour ended appropriately enough with a decent cover of ‘Love In An Elevator’ and though it was a flawed performance, I was intrigued enough to want to get to know their music more.
Cats In Space, in contrast, have been my personal discovery of the past 12 months as well as securing some high profile festival appearances. Their set closely followed the launch gig I attended at the Half Moon back in January, but with the advantage I was now more familiar with their lovingly crafted homage to the smoother side of seventies rock in their ‘Too Many Gods’ album.
They opened with the title track, the extravagant musicianship giving it an almost pomp rock sound, and it wasn’t only the music that had a retro feel, singer Paul Manzi looking like a young Roy Wood with his curly locks and tinted specs, and guitarist Greg Hart, main songwriter and very much keeper of the seventies flame, in a pair of patched jeans I can’t have seen since being in the playground in about 1978.
‘Only In Vegas’, ‘Last Man Standing’ – with some harmony guitars from the well matched pair of Greg and Dean Howard – and ‘Stop’ were all immaculately crafted soft rock, the last two with a lyrical message complementing The Cats sound about the decline of old-fashioned values both in music and society. However in a break from the norm a B side ‘Scandalous’ was noticeably heavier, albeit with a continued Queen influence, particularly with Paul’s vocals.
‘Man In The Moon’ was a beautiful ballad with a touch of Wings and a good example of how keyboardist Andy Stewart added to the richness of the sound throughout with a variety of period sounds such as the vocoder, and as one of their early singles, ‘Mr Heartache’ got several nods of approval. However for me the gig went into another dimension, pun intended, with the closing trio of songs.
‘The Greatest Story Never Told’ was a multi-part epic with some breathtaking, almost angelic vocals at the start from bassist Jeff Brown, whose vocal harmony support befitted a man that sang with the Sweet for many years; ‘Unfinished Symphony’ had more typical Cats lyrics on the older musician’s quest for fame and Paul’s vocals gave it a dynamism that reminded me of Who’s Next-era Roger Daltrey, whilst ‘Five Minute Celebrity’ saw the band rock out to a catchy riff with Greg and Dean in particular pulling some great shapes.
As expected the first encore was their cover of ‘How Does it Feel’: once I had got over my disappointment that Danny Bowes, who along with Thunder bandmates was watching the show, was not going to reprise his guest appearance on the recent single, the song was faithfully delivered and a majestic reminder that Slade should be for life, not just for Christmas.
Greg then said that the glam rock rule book required that Slade had to be accompanied by Sweet and ‘Burn On The Flame’ was another well chosen cover, again allowing the band to show both their heavier credentials and their sense of fun which showed in some great stage movements.
Indeed my only complaint about Cats in Space’s set was that, at a shade under an hour, it was too short. It left plenty of time though for both bands to mill around after and meet fans in what was a disappointing crowd, given the quality of the music. Nevertheless this tour should be a good launch pad, as it were, for both these excellent bands to shoot for the moon in 2017.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 2 August 2020.
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