After a relatively quiet touring 2018 as they recorded their third album in a short space of time in ‘Daytrip to Narnia’, it was great to see Cats In Space, one of my favourite ‘new’ bands back and gigging, and indeed there was a very decent turnout for their biggest headlining show in London yet.
It was a shame that Jody Turner’s illness meant that Rock Goddess had to pull out of what was originally a joint tour. However, judging by the crowd’s reaction to their songs, not to mention a few people at the front with faces adorned with cat’s ears, it was clear that the CiS have built a substantial following of their own and that hopefully those support slots with the likes of Thunder, Purple and Quo have built their profile.
After an intro tape of ‘Stray Cat Strut’, they opened with ‘The Tale of Johnny Rocket’ from the new album and with its strong ‘Spaceman’ chorus it will swiftly become a live favourite, before the marvellously over the top pomp sounds of first album title track ‘Too Many Gods’.
The whole Cats in Space vibe is an unashamedly retro one in every sense, but the songs have enough of an original touch that the effect is like discovering an obscure seventies band, only to find they are a new act.
Paul Manzi is the perfect frontman to convey this aura, and in his frock coat allied to his shock of curly hair had the look of a royal courtier in Stuart or Georgian times. I did think though that his ‘conceptual’ intros as he took us on a journey through Narnia, and not just on the (almost) title track, were somewhat gimmicky, though I may have been alone in my cynicism.
Though the vocals, arrangements and effects on the likes of ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ call to mind 10cc, Supertramp, City Boy and ELO, there is enough of an edge for those of us who prefer classic hard rock, provided by excellent guitar work from the Les Paul-wielding guitarists Greg Hart and Dean Howard. Both sides of the coin were on view on ‘Tightrope’ as the choruses gave way to the two trading fiery solos.
The sound of ‘Clown In Your Nightmare’ kept reminding me of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s ‘Don’t Kill it Carol’, and ‘Silver And Gold’ was a fun lyrical homage to the glam rock era; while ‘Scars’, with people picking up on the ‘Fooling Myself’ chorus with its almost symphonic wall of sound, and debut single ‘Mr Heartache’ were treated like now familiar old friends.
Adding to a Cats In Space vibe is a wider love of anything old school including elaborate album artwork and even a lavish tour programme at the merch desk, combined with a disdain for modern entertainment norms.
So it was that Greg as keeper of the Cats flame went on a rant prior to the eponymous ‘Hologram Man’. A straight ahead rocker but with great three part harmonies from Paul, Greg and bassist Jeff Brown, it was also proof that of all the seventies bands that the Cats draw inspiration from, The Sweet are probably the closest comparison, appropriately so as Jeff served time in the band and Paul deputised at a couple of shows last summer.
The best was yet to come with their lengthy epic ‘The Greatest Story Never Told’ with Jeff and Paul sharing the vocals, before a switch to the more straight ahead rock of ‘Five Minute Celebrity’ with audience participation and typically barbed lyrics.
The encore was a live bow for a new song that has divided opinion in the disco-flavoured ‘Thunder In The Night’. The bass line was out of ‘I Was Made for Lovin You’ and I was reaching for other late seventies comparisons (was it New England?), but I thought it was a great live track, and as the harmony singers sang ‘can’t stand that disco music’ it was easy to take it in the right spirit as an affectionate parody to a movement that even their great inspirations dabbled in as the seventies drew to a close.
While the set, which had been agreed before Rock Goddess withdrew, might have been on the longer side, not a moment of it was wasted with some exquisite music, delivered by professionals who know how to put on a show. With three albums now to cherry pick from and a growing fanbase, this is a good moment for the Cats to orbit into space.
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 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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