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.
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.
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!
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.)
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!