Gig review: CATS IN SPACE – Half Moon, Putney, London, 6 January 2016

CATS IN SPACE - Half Moon, Putney, London, 6 January 2016

One of the more left field bands that emerged in 2015 were the oddly named Cats In Space, with their  affectionate homage to the seventies and in particular the lush soft rock sounds of the latter half of the decade that ruled the airwaves, whatever the wise-after-the-event punk nostalgists will tell you. In our Best of 2015, GRTR!’s own Jason Ritchie recommended their debut album ‘Too Many Gods’ to all those who  ‘love the classic 70′s sounds of bands like the Sweet, 10CC, ELO, Supertramp and love a decent tune’.

The organisation of their debut album launch gig showed feline like cunning too, coming early in the New Year when traditionally gigs are thinner on the ground and we are desperate for them to ease the January blues.

The other master stroke was to hold it in one of the few surviving pub venues from that golden age in fashionable South-West London, and the London rock scene, from Thunder’s Danny Bowes to Praying Mantis’ Tino Troy and Bad Company’s Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell, were out in force.

The air was therefore thick with anticipation as the hirsute band took the stage in front of a healthily sized and more mature crowd than you would expect from a ‘new’ act, opening with the pomp rock sounds of the title track from the album,  and ‘Last Man Standing’, with twin guitars from Greg Hart and Dean Howard. Within minutes I formed two immediate impressions.

CATS IN SPACE - Half Moon, Putney, London, 6 January 2016

One, that they were accomplished musicians with the talent to do this melodically intricate style of rock justice, as you might expect from a sextet  with a long list of previous credits to their name and indeed I have seen most of them before in myriad acts. The other that the vocals were immaculate, with the curly haired Paul Manzi having a fine range, not to mention a warm  stage manner, and Jeff Brown, who sang with Sweet for so many years, adding some precise higher harmonies.

Despite some of their harder rocking credentials, they were not afraid to put the soft into soft rock with the following string of songs, including the likes of ‘Living In Vegas’ with a slight disco feel that might have sat comfortably with ‘Discovery’-era ELO and the ballad ‘Velvet Horizon’, led by Andy Stewart’s piano.

CATS IN SPACE - Half Moon, Putney, London, 6 January 2016

The one aspect that made me slightly uneasy was that they laid on the retro seventies schtick a little too thickly in places, especially with the intro to ‘Schoolyard Fantasy’, whereas the music is strong enough to stand up as a fresh body of work in its own right. At least these guys did actually live their youth through that decade unlike the tedious Z-list celebs who populate such ‘I love the seventies’ shows with their third hand memories about space hoppers and flares.

I felt that the material became both more convincing and rocked up in the second half of the show, beginning with their first  single, the catchy ‘Mr Heartache’, which I could spot many singing along to.

There were a couple of epics in ‘The Greatest Story Never Told’, with a piano intro and vocals from both Jeff and Paul before it burst into life, and closer ‘Unfinished Symphony’, given a grandiose feel by keyboards that reminded me of Meatloaf or Who’s Next-era, which segued without a pause for breath into the old Scott Walker song ‘No Regrets’ which people of my generation will more associate with Midge Ure.

CATS IN SPACE - Half Moon, Putney, London, 6 January 2016

On both songs, the biggest guiding spirit for me of all was the ghost of the criminally underrated City Boy. Sandwiched between them was ‘Five Minute Celebrity’ which was a more straight ahead rocker but they still carried it off superbly.

Having played  the entire album I was intrigued what they might deliver for an encore and my hunch (and wish) that they might play some choice seventies covers proved true. Paying tribute to Slade, Paul introduced not one of the obvious hits but ‘How Does it Feel’, which was more in the mould of their influences and the arrangement was superb and if no-one could match Noddy Holder’s singing he made a good fist at it.

CATS IN SPACE - Half Moon, Putney, London, 6 January 2016

Greg, who very much acted as the co-compere, then paid homage to Slade’s contemporaries who had inspired him to pick up a guitar when he saw them on the old kids TV music show ‘Supersonic’ – the chants of ‘We Want Sweet’ were starting even before the opening riff to ‘Burn On The Flame’, again a brilliant leftfield choice and one which gave he and Dean ample opportunity to pull guitar hero poses.

At this stage I could easily have stayed for a whole new set of such expertly curated seventies covers, but sadly that was the end of the show, with my enjoyment only marginally spoiled by their CD’s disappearing from the merch stand faster than a packet of fishy treats in a cattery. Far from an exercise in nostalgia, this gig showed that on talent alone a distinctive and very talented new act has emerged.

CATS IN SPACE - Half Moon, Putney, London, 6 January 2016

 Review and Photos by Andy Nathan

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