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DATE OF INTERVIEW: 15th March 2019
In the four years since they formed. Cats in Space have already taken their live show to arenas and other sizeable venues around the UK, as support to Deep Purple, Status Quo and Thunder. Not to mention a prestigious opening slot for Phil Collins at Hyde Park. And they've also transpired to be prolific in their creativity, releasing three critically lauded studio albums to date, along with a 2018 live release. Their latest work, 'Day Trip to Narnia' offers up another diverse platter of 70s inspired classic rock, and beyond, on a drastically entertaining album that showcases these ailurophiles' skilfully crafted and authentic, yet fresh, take on sounds from a bygone decade. Metal Discovery took a day trip to Nottingham to have a natter with founding members, guitarist/songwriter Greg Hart and drummer Steevi Bacon, before their show in the Rescue Rooms, to learn more about what lies beyond the wardrobe...
METAL DISCOVERY: Three gigs under your belts on the ‘Tour of Narnia’, so how have they been? All good?
GREG: Tremendously good, haven’t they.
(Greg Hart on Cats in Space's authentic sounding take on 70s music)
"...you have to really know and understand and have a knowledge of 70s music, and I’m talking an anorak level, to be able to, as a writer, bring that forward and do it nowadays. 90% of bands that are kind of on that retro bandwagon, they’re already pooling from a watered down source from a band that’s done it before."
Steevi Bacon and Greg Hart in the Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, 15th March 2019
Photograph copyright © 2019 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: And with the absence of Rock Goddess.
GREG: Yeah, poor Jody was taken poorly and they had to back out of the shows, which was a real shame because we were having a right old laugh. And they’re very good value; they’re a fantastic band. But the fans have been coming out. We haven’t played for quite a while, doing our own shows, it’s been quite a while, so we weren’t quite sure what was going to happen, but it’s been pandemonium, hasn’t it.
STEEVI: Yeah, absolutely pandemonium.
GREG: Obviously, the gigs were booked a long time ago, so we’re probably not exactly where we want to be at this stage, but we’re just kind of going back out onto the bike again… or the spaceship. So, in that respect, it’s working out well; we’re embedding the new songs in… and the crowds have been absolutely ridiculous.
MD: The new material’s been going down a storm?
GREG: Ah mate, yeah. The good thing is, everybody has said how seamless the new stuff fits in with the last two albums and nothing feels disjointed. So it’s almost like a greatest hits set and that was always the goal, anyway.
MD: The new album’s amazing - the compositions, the production and the performances. It’s all flawless, I think.
STEEVI: Thank you.
MD: How’s it been received by fans, generally? Were there any negative bits of feedback out there?
STEEVI: I saw one where he said he wasn’t disappointed but just confused that the first two albums were like this and this is so different. But we decided to do that.
GREG: That’s what it’s all about.
STEEVI: You can’t just make number three the same as number two… it’s just, where are you going with it?
GREG: This is the whole point of what we’ve said in interviews from day one. When you’re in a rock band, and you’re working within a strict demographic, it’s like a little box because you want to get on the radio or in a magazine, you’re playing in parameters so short that you’ve got no room to do anything that’s a little bit experimental. Whereas we’ve come from the polar opposite of that; we’ve just gone - bring in all the 1970s and late-60s, and we’re just gonna take melody and influence and chord structures and ideas and the whole bloody lot. And, so, our box is huge and it confuses a lot of people. A lot of people don’t understand us and, “We can’t play them on the radio because they don’t really do this and do that.” Well, Queen, ELO, all those great bands from the 70s, they didn’t have the box either. They had their own box and just did what they wanted to do.
MD: And kids are getting into Queen now, because of the movie, so that music’s getting a whole new generation of fans.
GREG: Absolutely, yeah. But all our fans, it’s almost like we’re the band that they’ve been waiting for, in a funny sort of way. We’re giving them new music that sounds like it fits in with their ELO boxsets and Queen reissues and Supertramp… whatever, you know. We’re bringing something new to add to this collection and it almost sounds as if it should be from there.
MD: With a fresh twist.
GREG: With a fresh twist, yeah, because we will never be boxed in. I mean, as I said in an interview the other day, I said, “Don’t write us off doing an easy listening album.” We might well do it.
STEEVI: A lot of those old bands that all our fans grew up listening to are now almost on the verge of being holograms… literally, where there’s nothing left of the band, they’ve all retired or, bless ‘em, they’re now Cats in Space, and there’s literally nothing left to play except a hologram of Freddie or whatever.
GREG: No classic bands now will write new music because they’re so geared up to having a million pounds and this, that and the other, and selling ten million copies, they don’t want to put an album out that’s not gonna sell what it used to sell. And it won’t do that, no one will sell like that anymore. So, they think, “What’s the point in doing it? We’ve done all that, we’ve proved a point, and let’s just have a heritage, greatest hits tour, year in, year out, it’s a massive cash cow, off to the island for six months of the year… why not.”
MD: Yeah, even if you look at a band like Metallica, they’ve only put out two albums in the last fifteen years. I mean, they don’t need to, like you say.
GREG: The hunger goes. I would like to think that if I ever had their money, I would still have the hunger. Like Steve Harris out of Iron Maiden - the man’s got hunger written in his eyes. He’s the daddy. When it comes to that kind of thing, he’s the daddy, because that man hasn’t changed in 35/40 years.
MD: And Bruce.
GREG: And Bruce, as well.
MD: He’s sixty now.
GREG: Yeah, and they can still do it. I just think, wow, we’re nothing like Iron Maiden but, for a model of how you do your shit, that is the daddy. Queen, different, because they’ve lost Freddie.
MD: And Bruce has long hair again. He seems to have grown it all back!
GREG: What an influence that man is, though. He lives life, to the max, every day, in all the best possible ways. So, we’re just trying to do the same thing and provide that little… there’s a little chink of light in there for a band like us to give something back to the people who don’t wanna do any new albums… so, okay, move over, we’ll write fifteen albums! That’s the goal.
MD: You’ve done three in four years, and a live album, so that’s a good start!
GREG: Exactly, we don’t hang about!
MD: The album’s described in blurb as being “a ‘vinyl journey’ that will leave you breathless”, so I guess it’s quite apt that all the vinyl copies sold out on pre-orders. So that left you breathless, did it?!
GREG: It’s also a tip to the asthmatics out there, of course!
GREG: But, yeah, the vinyls came and went. Basically, what happened is they all sold out on the day of release and pre-order. But, what that meant was all the copies went out into stores and onto the platforms online to sell, but we actually had to do two orders in the end. We sold out of our first order alarmingly quick and, by the time that happened, and our distributors put their copies out into the marketplace, they said, “Greg, we haven’t got any more copies back in stock, so once they’re gone, they’re gone.” I said, “So, there’s no copies to sell now, once they’re out there?” He said, “No.” Right, so, they’ve all gone and we’re gonna be planning something about that soon…
MD: What you do is all 70s idioms and sounds, but it sounds very authentic to the era. There’s been a resurgence in all this retro stuff, but what you do sounds more authentic than anyone else. I mean, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a band you’ve never heard of from the 70s.
GREG: That’s absolutely right. From day one, when we were writing the songs and even before the band was put together, we said, “We want this to be authentic… no modern, no this, no that and the other.” ‘Scarecrow’ was done using all old equipment, you know, blah, blah, blah. And, I think, if I’m gonna blow a trumpet, I’ll blow it now - you have to really know and understand and have a knowledge of 70s music, and I’m talking an anorak level, to be able to, as a writer, bring that forward and do it nowadays. 90% of bands that are kind of on that retro bandwagon, they’re already pooling from a watered down source from a band that’s done it before.
The only other band that I’ve ever heard in any recent years that have done it to the nth degree and one that I aspire to be like is Jellyfish. They were way more authentic than what we are because they’re just, you know, from a different planet. But I think you’ve got to have an understanding of not just the music as it is… you’ve got to know the back of that. You know, we sounded like Queen, but why? Because Queen were doing stuff like The Beatles and The Beach Boys and Led Zeppelin and Yes. You know, people forget that. If you go back to ‘Queen II’, you can hear all that, and that’s where we go to.
MD: I said in my review that Cats in Space have some of the best post-Queen vocal harmonies I’ve ever heard.
STEEVI: Thanks.
GREG: We spend a lot of time on them.
MD: And they’re great on the live album, too.
GREG: Yeah, we do them live. We’re blessed with the fact we’ve got very strong singers. There’s no jiggery-pokery, you know.
STEEVI: We spend some days just doing vocals, literally, working out all the different levels and different harmonies and…
GREG: And Mick Wilson, being the co-writer and our studio guy, he sings on all the stuff with us, as well. So, there’s a lot of four vocalists and five vocalists singing stuff. It was a happy accident when we got together. We didn’t know we would make that sound; it was pure fluke. It was one of those “hey man” kind of moments; it was all a bit hippy-ish but, sometimes, in life, I think everyone gets one go to do something magical. Whether you choose to make it magic is up to you, but you only really get one opportunity and you think, “Shit, this really is the best thing.” And that’s what happened with Cats in Space.
MD: It’s magic you’re making. It sounds magical.
STEEVI: Cheers.
MD: Obviously the music’s of a bygone decade, although the lyrics seem to generally be of the here and now, as you’re lamenting the “good old days”… emphatically so in ‘Silver and Gold’. Do you think we’ll ever return to the “good old days”?
GREG: Yeah, with us. We are the good old days. If you want the good old days, come to a Cats in Space gig, and we will take you straight back to the good old days. Whether it reminds you of ‘On the Buses’ or whatever, you know…
GREG: ‘Slade in Flame’ or ‘Jaws’ or whatever. We only ever did this for our own amusement and our own kind of selfishness, if you like. We made a pact that, if it does work, don’t move the goalposts because, otherwise, it won’t work. It will change and it will pander to what you think and then you start chasing your own tail. What we do is that we’re totally selfish about it and the fact people love it is great, and we’re giving more selfishness as we go along. And I think that’s why we take people back to that kind of bygone age, you know. But we do discuss modern stuff… you know, how we’re sad and disillusioned, if you like, with some of the things going on in the world.
MD: A bit of a good old whinge.
GREG: Yeah, a bit of a whinge. Well, let’s face it, we’re all 50 odd and we’re entitled to a whinge now. Our albums aren’t soapboxes for political statements; they’re very tongue-in-cheek. At the same time, these are views that we have and I’m always told to shut up because I talk far too much! We could go a whole lot deeper if you really want to know what I think, but we’d never put it out on record!
GREG: We try and make it palatable! You know, we’ve all got very strong views about things that are going on in the world, for our kids and our mums and dads not getting looked after properly. But this is the entertainment business and you have to draw a line at some point and go, you know, we’re still here to entertain and, although we might have a scathing attack on radio or looking at mobile phones and stuff, it’s all done light heartedly.
MD: It’s accessible, still.
GREG: Yeah, just have a think, kids; just have a think and look outside the box and there’s a big, bad world out there.
MD: Are you getting kids into your music? Are you finding kids turn up to the shows?
GREG: We try and boot ‘em out, to be fair!
GREG: I don’t have kids, so…
STEEVI: We have quite a few parents who obviously bring their kids along and you don’t think they’re gonna buy into it, but they just sit there with their gobs open, thinking “wow”… they’ve never heard this sort of stuff.
GREG: There was a kid on the Status Quo tour… this guy came over and they were like 50 year old Status Quo fans - mum, dad, and there’s this little seven year old girl, and she’s wearing this… it’s the smallest t-shirt of Cats in Space she could find, but it dwarfed her, and they come across and, “Did you enjoy the show?”, and this guy’s going, “We didn’t know who you were before, we thought we’d better check out who this silly band is supporting our Quo tonight.” And he said, “You’ve blown us away, Quo have never had a support band as good as this in all the years I’ve been to see them.” This little girl was wide-eyed and staring and I said, “Are you all right down there?” She said tonight was her first ever concert and we said, “You’re finally gonna see the mighty Quo.” She said, obviously, with us guys going on first, the first thing she ever saw live was Cats in Space and she went, “Not interested in Quo!” They said she went, “I love this band”, and, when Quo came on, she wanted to go out and look at the t-shirts with the cats!
MD: I was chatting to a couple of geezers at the bar earlier, and they must’ve been mid to late 20s and they said they discovered you through going to one of the Deep Purple shows. I guess you get a lot of that, with the big tours you’ve done?
GREG: Well, this is the thing, we’re only just finding this out. Because, obviously, as we were told by many people after those two tours, the Quo and Deep Purple fans are of an age where a lot of them aren’t on social media. So, our Facebook thing, although it spiked up quite a lot, it didn’t go up anywhere near the amount you’d expect it to if it was a young band. Like on the Thunder tour, where there’s a slightly younger audience, and they are savvy on Facebook. So our spike didn’t go that big so, we said, we don’t really know what we’ve done on these tours until we go out on tour again, because we didn’t tour last year because we were doing the ‘…Narnia’ album. So it’s only literally since last week and now that we’re seeing people coming and telling us where they’d seen us. So now we’re finding out, we’re like, “Wow, we need to make this work now.”
MD: The title track seems to be about the superficiality of rock stardom. Is that the gist of that one?
GREG: Yeah, it’s about smoke and mirrors. Again, it’s all very tongue-in-cheek, but it’s about the guy who’s got the cash, he’s going out through the wardrobe, he’d better go and do another tour, go and make loads of money, go through the motions, can’t be bothered with the fans, goes back through the wardrobe door, puts the pile of cash down. A lot of people asked if it’s about me… actually, I said, “If I had the cash, it would be!”
GREG: Nah, we’re not disillusioned.
STEEVI: All of sudden, he realises, “Actually, I shouldn’t be moaning about this”, when he thinks about his yacht in Saint-Tropez. He goes, “Hmmmm…. it’s not so bad.”
GREG: Yeah, we did a lovely, skippy middle 8 after the miserable, minor key for the verse and chorus. We thought, let’s have a lovely, skippy middle 8…. “I’m on a yacht on Saint-Tropez so thanks for buying that for me!”
MD: There are what sounds like some sleigh bells on there, as well… and some crunching through the snow sounds…
GREG: Yeah.
MD: And with all the snow on the cover… it all seemed a bit Christmassy, as well…
STEEVI: Well, Narnia’s set in a snowy landscape.
GREG: Yeah, it’s snow and, obviously, when people pre-ordered it, it was Christmas, so it all tied in. Of course, now it’s March/April. But, our Narnia campaign, as in all the Narnia Chronicles, will be going on for quite a while, so we’ll be playing it right through to this Christmas. And, as with Cats in Space, you never know when the story’s over.
MD: A Christmas single on the horizon, maybe?!
GREG: [Laughs]
STEEVI: Possibly.
GREG: We couldn’t possibly say that we’d never do that. You never know.