Caught Live: CATS in SPACE / Space Elevator, Academy 3 Manchester, 23 September 2016

Back in January I was gutted not to be able to go and see the debut live gig from CATS in SPACE, a band whose ‘Too Many Gods’ album had seen plenty of action in my CD player since I got it.  That gig took place almost immediately after Christmas at a pub in Putney, London and was also midweek, so was not practical for a Northerner like me. By all accounts the gig was a stormer, with many industry ‘names’ in attendance and with the gig being well-received, it gave the guys impetus to play more shows across the country.

The next month saw the announcement of this run of dates, scheduled for September. A double-headliner with Space Elevator, whom I’d only just discovered thanks to their excellent cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Don’t Believe A Word’, it promised to be a great night. A ticket was duly booked for the gig at Manchester Academy 3 then (or the Hop & Grape as I still refer to it); in the interim CATS guitarist Greg Hart continued with his touring act Supersonic 70s Show (which also features CATS keyboardist Andy Stewart). Nearer the time a single was released, a cover of Slade’s ‘How Does It Feel’, featuring Thunder vocalist Danny Bowes duetting with CATS vocalist Paul Manzi.

When I got into the venue, situated on the top floor of Manchester University’s student union building the turnout was ‘selective’ at best. As such, even though I had a chance to see what merchandise the bands had on offer (there was a CD version of the recent ‘How Does It Feel’ single available, surprisingly as it was issued exclusively as a 7″ vinyl) I was still able to get a spot on the barrier over to the right of the stage, in time for Space Elevator. A four-piece band built around the founding duo of guitarist David Young and mysterious female singer known only as The Duchess, it was the singer who made an immediate impression clad in a blue and red catsuit which almost looked like it had been sprayed on! With high-heeled thigh-high boots to complete the look, she soon grabbed the attention of the audience, mostly fellas ‘of a certain age’ shall we say (including your humble correspondent!) I’ll admit a total unfamiliarity with their music, save for the Lizzy cover, so although I could see their set list displayed on an iPad close to where bassist Chas Maguire was stood, it wasn’t that much help.

Space Elevator at Manchester Academy 3

Space Elevator at Manchester Academy 3

Their set was entertaining, with The Duchess not only having the figure to make the most of that catsuit but also having plenty of moves to go with it; wiggles, high-kicks, shimmies, the lot. She also possesses a terrific singing voice; she’s no mere decoration. she is capable of everything from gentle ballad delivery to a full-on roar. Despite the mystery of her identity, she is obviously no newcomer. This was an assured, accomplished delivery of songs that owed more to 80s pop-rock than outright Metal. I treated myself to their album afterwards which contained pretty much everything played, although their set was well-played and sung I felt I needed to hear these songs properly without the (admittedly enjoyable!) distraction of The Duchess’s eye-popping stage performance! She was so mesmerising to watch, it was difficult to tear yourself away to see what the guys were doing (the live line-up is completed by drummer Brian Greene). The Lizzy cover came midway through the set, surprisngly, but they ended with another cover I should have anticipated, Aerosmith’s ‘Love In An Elevator’. The band have plans for a second album which I look forward to hearing.

Space Elevator's The Duchess

Space Elevator’s The Duchess

The stage turnaround was very short, and CATS in SPACE ambled on with absolutely no fuss whatsoever. They didn’t bring a stage show, no fancy backdrops, no gimmicks whatsoever. They didn’t need any – this was six guys of a certain vintage yes, but with plenty of experience, plenty of ‘chops’ and – just as importantly – no showing off. These guys know they can play, everybody present knew they could play (the crowd had by now increased to a reasonable turnout), they had a selection of songs that were strong enough to stand up without anybody feeling the need to shove themselves to the front to show off their arpeggios (!) Almost all of the ‘Too Many Gods’ album was played although not in the same running order, that included the CD-only track ‘Schoolyard Fantasy’ (which saw Greg Hart break out the twin-neck guitar) and the B-side to the recent single, ‘Scandalous’. From the off it was clear how good these guys are, each song was performed with a precision approaching that of the recorded versions. I was eagerly awaiting ‘Greatest Story Never Told’, the album’s centrepiece which on record, is a duet with 10cc’s Mick Wilson. For this rendition the vocal was split between bassist Jeff Brown and  Paul Manzi, the bassist demonstrated a terrific voice of his own, the two complemented each other perfectly. On record the song builds into a climactic guitar duel between Greg Hart and Dean Howard, which fades out just as they’re really getting going. I did wonder how that would be ended live, they chose to give it the ‘big rock ending’ without feeling the need to improvise a longer duelling guitar solo. Even their singer joked that they had themselves pondered how that one would be closed out!

Paul Manzi of CATS in SPACE

Paul Manzi of CATS in SPACE

To end the main set, the band chose to cover Tom Rush’s ‘No Regrets’, best-known as a hit for The Walker Brothers of course, and their two-song encore consisted of recent single and Slade cover ‘How Does It Feel’, and ending with ‘Burn On The Flame’, one of the Sweet’s rockier numbers. (‘We can’t do Slade and not do The Sweet’, said Greg while introducing this number.)

Greg Hart of CATS in SPACE

Greg Hart of CATS in SPACE

Overall then, this felt like it was the start of something special. The small room in Manchester University was far from packed out, but those present were privileged to see two bands showcasing what was billed as ‘New Classic Rock’. That’s as good a description as anything, and although Space Elevator were very good, I was hoping for a top-drawer performance from CATS in SPACE and they didn’t disappoint at all. If as I expect this band takes off in the next 12 months, they’ll be playing bigger halls and those who saw this show will be able to say ‘where were you?’ when this show took place. With a growing fanbase and some crucial industry support, I see the spaceborne felines heading for infinity and beyond!

4 - Deserving (Space Elevator)

4 – Deserving (Space Elevator)

5 - Delightful (CATS in SPACE)

5 – Delightful (CATS in SPACE)

 

Single: CATS in SPACE ‘How Does It Feel’ (Harmony Factory)

Power pop revivalists CATS in SPACE have returned with this cover of one of Slade’s best-loved songs, released only on 7″ vinyl. No digital downloads, not even a CD version – it’s available only on either red or white vinyl (or both, if your pockets are deep enough) on a good old 45 RPM seven-inch single. (Ask your parents if you didn’t understand that last sentence!)

The Cats have already covered this song, when they performed live earlier in the year. In the audience that night was a certain Daniel Bowes, of Thunder fame; as well as singing for the venerable British band, he is also a respected figure in the industry, and also hosts a weekly radio show on Planet Rock in the UK. He has been supportive of the CATS in SPACE project ever since their debut album (‘Too Many Gods’) was released last autumn, playing tracks from it on his show and also wearing one of the band’s T-shirts during festival performances by his own band. When approached to contribute vocals to this single, he said it took him ‘about a second and a half’ to agree to it. The resulting track is thus a duet between himself and regular CATS in SPACE vocalist Paul Manzi. Initial copies come with the record sleeve signed by the entire group plus Danny Bowes, and the Slade cover is backed with a new track penned by Cats guitarist Greg Hart and 10cc vocalist Mick Wilson, titled ‘Scandalous’.

Single by Cats in Space

Single by Cats in Space

Being old-school myself, even my turntable is primitive; you have to remove the platter and move the belt from one pulley to the other in order to change speed. It’s usually on the ’33’ pulley so it was time to change it over to ’45’ so that this record could have a spin. The ‘A’ side is a straight rendition of the Slade song, with Manzi starting it off and alternating lyric lines with Bowes. Neither singer tries to emulate the great Noddy Holder (wisely) however, they bring their own qualities to this rendition of the song. If you know the original, then this version is a little cleaner-sounding, possibly a bit rockier, but not much different. The cover has reportedly had the thumbs-up from original Slade drummer Don Powell, which says they must have done something right!

Flip the single over and we get to hear previously unreleased track ‘Scandalous’. On this track as well as on the ‘Too Many Gods’ album Greg Hart demonstrates how he can make a new song sound very much in the style of his favourite acts, while not copying them outright. Listening to this song, a catchy power-pop number, you’ll think of Queen, or maybe City Boy, perhaps even Wilson’s band 10cc, but in the chorus, when they sing ‘Scandalous!’  I was reminded strongly of the Bee Gees’ hit ‘Tragedy’! A good song that perhaps could have made the album, although of course overshadowed by a very good delivery of a classic, genuine 1970s song.

The single is still available at the time of writing via the band’s website; the signed copies have all been sold now but the group (along with Space Elevator) are playing a short run of UK dates later this month, and so if you get one at their merch stand there’s a great chance you can still get it signed. Recommended.

4 - Deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: Ultimate Eagles, Floral Pavilion New Brighton 3 September 2016

It’s easy to do a tribute to one of the best-loved rock bands of the 1970s: all you need to do is get six immensely talented guys together and give them a CD of the Eagles’ greatest hits and let them get on with replicating it all note-for-note. How hard can it be? 😉

The Ultimate Eagles are one of several tribute bands doing the circuit, paying homage to the Eagles. I’ve seen two others and they were very good, but until now had not caught this act. Formed about six years ago, they boast one very recognisable face in Danny Vaughn, a New Yorker who spends a lot of time in the UK. He is best known as frontman for melodic rock band Tyketto, but in this act he brings a touch of American authenticity to an otherwise totally British tribute band. Vaughn was the one guy of all of this band I’d seen before and knew all about, and perhaps because of his experience fronting his own band he was cast in the role of frontman here, doing most of the between-song speaking to the audience. However, he shared vocal duties with several of the other guys, as this very much was an ensemble cast.

Having seen the Eagles themselves on two occasions I know they had many session players backing the main group, in this case it was the six you saw on stage recreating those intricate harmonies and guitar parts. The format for the show tonight would see the band play a selection of the Eagles’ hits during the first set, and in the second, a complete performance of the ‘Hotel California’ album to mark 40 years since it was released. Coming on stage at 8pm sharp, the first set was an immaculately-performed run-through of hits and one or two deeper cuts. Most of the vocals were handled either by Vaughn or Michael Lawrence, even on songs originally sung by Don Henley they’d alternate. Neither of these guys are Henley, but both do a great job in doing justice to the originals while still giving the songs their own imprint. Similarly with the guitar parts, at times there were four of the guys all playing guitar, and while the lead guitar in a song such as ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling’ can only be recreated 100% accurately by Bernie Leadon himself (as he demonstrated on the final Eagles tour of 2014), Andy G Jones plays the lead closely while still retaining his own sound. Strangely, towards the end of this first set they opted to cover ‘The Boys Of Summer’ (a solo hit for Don Henley, of course) – it was as well-delivered as everything else, but there are plenty of Eagles songs to pick from without having to delve into solo careers, I felt. They ended the first set with a splendid rendition of ‘Take It To The Limit’ with Vaughn handling Randy Meisner’s vocal, with Michael Lawrence adding the high harmonies in the choruses.

Ultimate Eagles at New Brighton

Ultimate Eagles at New Brighton

After a short interval the show recommenced with their video screen showing a short montage, heralding the performance of ‘Hotel California’ in full. The screen was only used as backdrop and to add visual effects, rather than distract it complemented the onstage action nicely. Guitarist and musical director Chris Wright took on the Felder role with the twin-necked guitar, as the opening song and title track was performed to a rapturous reception. The Ultimates could be as hard-hitting as they could be gentle as demonstrated with their delivery of ‘Life In The Fast Lane’ and ‘Victim of Love’ in this set. Although they made no mention of Glenn Frey’s passing during speeches, they paid moving tribute after ‘Wasted Time’; as a recording of the reprise played, all six band members turned to the screen which was showing a video montage of Glenn Frey moments. That was very poignant and was a fitting tribute to the Eagles co-founder.

Chris Wright of Ultimate Eagles

Chris Wright of Ultimate Eagles

On introducing ‘Pretty Maids All In A Row’ (sung by Chris Wright for this performance), Danny Vaughn saluted writer Joe Walsh’s quirky nature by pondering who else would open a song with the lyric ‘Hi There, how are you?’ I felt like shouting back ‘Jeff Lynne!’ whose song ‘Telephone Line’ is close, since it opens with ‘Hello, how are you?’ but thought better of it (!) After ‘Try and Love Again’ (sung by Vaughn, with a shout-out to former Eagles bassist and writer of this song Randy Meisner), they closed with the epic and thought-provoking ‘The Last Resort’ complete with visuals to accompany Henley’s acerbic lyric. That was the main set over, and in front of me one couple did vacate their seats as soon as that was over. However there was more to come as the group came back to deliver a few more favourites, including Joe Walsh’s ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ and ending of course, with ‘Desperado’.

This outfit has been described as the ‘best Eagles tribute in the world’ and I couldn’t argue with that. We’ll only ever be able to see the original band on video now but this band gives as good a recreation as you’re likely to get.

Danny Vaughn of Ultimate Eagles

Danny Vaughn of Ultimate Eagles

Finally, a word about the venue staffing. Yes, this is another (nicely laid-out) municipally-run theatre plagued with jobsworth staff. I take a few snaps at shows for this blog, where possible trying not to spoil anyone else’s view. (As an aside, a photographer was present this night, who advised those on the front that she might be in the way but would try and keep that to a minimum) However, on taking one shot here, the small pocket camera I use was reluctant to focus, prompting an over-zealous steward to remonstrate with me – she thought I was shooting video! That was not the case; I know all too well about this band’s run-ins as regards even their own video clips being muted. Besides, I do not shoot clips as a rule, it is stills only and then only for purposes of posts such as this. I was not impressed with this stewarding, a classic case of a jobsworth butting in where not wanted. (For clarity, there were no signs anywhere saying what people could or could not do, I prefer to use common sense and as said earlier, I know all about video clips of Eagles songs being removed). The incident totally spoiled the night for me, for which I thank her. This venue may be a nice intimate theatre setting ideal for this kind of event, but power-mad jobsworths I can well do without.  I will definitely see The Ultimate Eagles again, but whether it will be at this place is something I will think twice about in future. So – the full five air guitars for the performance, and a deflated one for the venue staff.

5 - Delightful (for the band)

5 – Delightful (for the band)

1 - Dreadful (for the Floral Pavilion staff)

1 – Dreadful (for the Floral Pavilion staff)

EP: Holly Henderson ‘Opium Drip’ (self-released)

Available online via Amazon, Google Play and iTunes, this release is billed as an EP but is actually more of a mini-album, with seven tracks recorded solo by musician and songwriter Holly Henderson. Not yet 21, but with extensive experience already performing live as well as writing and recording her own material, she was previously known to many as guitarist ‘Kitty Vacant’ from her time with all-girl band The Sex Pissed Dolls. To those who only know her for blasting out powerchords and joking with the fans this EP will come as a surprise, since the material is very laid-back and chilled out. She is also known for her artwork, and this EP features a piece of her work as the cover art.

Artwork for Opium Drip

Artwork for Opium Drip by Holly Henderson

The songs are all home recordings, produced whenever she could find time in her busy schedule of touring and all collated for the first time on this EP. She lures the listener in with first track ‘Breakdown’ with some gentle guitar noodling and a dreamy, etheral vocal. The template is similar throughout the EP, although she does play some tastefully bluesy licks in ‘Life Has A Bug (I Fell Ill)’. There are harder guitar parts there too, blistering solos are introduced when you’re already lulled into a false sense of security such as the stunning solos on ‘Your Hands’ and title track ‘Opium Drip’. These songs are not heavy in the rock sense, but are very heavy on feel and emotion, you really sense she’s poured much of herself into these songs, they tend to start off slow and quiet but build into climactic crescendos.

Overall, this EP is best listened to when played late at night with the lights dimmed, sat on your favourite chair with a glass of wine. She was always destined for far more than spending her evenings bashing out I-IV-V chord sequences, and this material shows a far greater depth to her talent than was apparent during her Kitty Vacant days. I look forward to seeing how her songwriting develops in the coming years, be it solo or with DORJA (the all-girl hard rock band she is a member of currently), as she has already demonstrated the ability to pen two-minute punky thrashabouts as well as radio-friendly hard rockers. Now we see a more introspective side to her writing, and I predict she will be much in demand both as a performer and as a writer in years to come.

Available to download via:
iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/opium-drip/id1138146772

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/music/album/Holly_Henderson_Opium_Drip?id=Bbnqgj63ssgauxl2oeuieprkcbu&hl=en_GB#details-reviews

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Opium-Drip-Holly-Henderson/dp/B01L9Q5F6W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472775223&sr=8-1&keywords=opium+drip

4 - Deserving

4 – Deserving