After three years and three studio albums (plus a live mini-album), several tours supporting some of the major names in the UK rock scene, and a fan base that’s grown exponentially since the band’s inception, it came as a bit of a shock to learn last month that vocalist Paul Manzi was leaving CATS in SPACE after this run of dates. He has been recruited by veteran glam rockers The Sweet, whose guitarist and sole original member Andy Scott has previously collaborated with the Cats. The band themselves seem to be more relaxed about the situation than some of their fans, which suggests they knew what was coming and have prepared accordingly. Consequently I expect a new lead Cat at the microphone to be announced before long, but this show was a chance to bid farewell to the voice that we have become accustomed to on those meticulously-produced albums.
This gig was a three-band bill, and I got in to catch the last bit of openers Wasted Fate’s set. They were good live, and I enjoyed their cover of Stone Broken’s ‘Wait For You’. Next up were Jimi Anderson Group, who have nothing to do with a fast bowler from the England cricket team! This Jimi Anderson is Scottish, and leads a six-piece band featuring two guitarists. He is a very good singer, with the band performing melodic rock not a million miles removed from Little Angels way back in the early 1990s. He did have to work hard to get the partisan Cat Fans gathered near the front on side, but gave a fine performance.
Those Cat Fans got a bit excited prematurely when the lights went down 15 minutes earlier than scheduled and ‘Stray Cat Strut’ (the intro tape) played through the PA, but the band weren’t ready yet so the mixtape soon resumed. When they did come on, Paul Manzi created an instant impression dressed in his natty long coat with silver trimming. Kicking things off with ‘Johnny Rocket’ from the latest album, they delivered a set taking in all three albums, following up with ‘Too Many Gods’, title track of their 2015 debut. It was clear from the off what an accomplished band this is, although I’ve followed them from the start this was only the second full set I’ve seen them play. Able to recreate live those intricate vocal harmonies thanks to guitarist Greg Hart and especially bassist Jeff Brown (almost Glenn Hughes-esque in his bass/vocal role) contributing heavily, they all also contribute visually – not just standing there gazing at their shoes but moving all over the stage, getting the crowd involved, while never missing a cue. Manzi’s ability to project this material was also noteworthy, plenty of facial and visual expressions to go with his superb lead vocal.
Midway through there came a brief acoustic section, where the band all lined up sat on stools to perform three numbers. I often liken these guys to the Dead Daisies (the Cats are of similar vintage and experience) and this part was reminiscent of what that band do mid-set. One treat for us was an acoustic rendition of ‘Man In The Moon’ which is seldom performed nowadays. During this section the other guitarist Dean Howard was evidently struggling to hear himself, between numbers he was bashing out chords to the amusement of the other guys. He couldn’t hear his monitor – however, out front he was loud and clear, as the audience quickly assured him!
The main set resumed with ‘Last Man Standing’, their lament to the decline of London’s Denmark Street which once played host to music stores, as well as publishers and writers, prefaced by a short audio montage of news reports about the area’s loss to developers. Before they played ‘Hologram Man’ guitarist Greg Hart spoke about the importance of live music; he’s passionate about the live experience and is so dismayed at the increasing use of ‘on track’ in performances and more recently, the advent of holographic recreations of deceased stars, that he felt he had to stress the point before playing the song the band wrote about this phenomenon. It had particular significance since the date was close to the ninth anniversary of Ronnie James Dio’s passing, one of those artists who have been ‘revived’ in hologram form.
They saved the best of an already brilliant show until last, as they gave us a superb rendition of ‘Greatest Story Never Told’ – or as your correspondent has dubbed it, ‘Greatest Song John Miles Never Wrote’ (!) It is stylistically similar to ‘Music’, the epic that defined Miles’ career and this band has not been shy in admitting the influence of the 70s singer/songwriter on their own material. They closed with ‘Five Minute Celebrity’ before coming back for a short drum solo courtesy of Steevi Bacon, leading into the disco-flavoured ‘Thunder In The Night’. Then that was it, and the band took their bows before a cheering and delighted audience of Cat Fans. That was about the first time we got to see keyboardist Andy Stewart properly, as he was stationed right at the back of the Tivoli’s deep stage all evening.
A superb set performed with panache by top class musicians, they showed on stage they can rock as hard as anyone, which may surprise those who see them as a bit ‘mellow’ for the rock scene. That’s especially true of at least one media outlet who claim they aren’t suitable for their radio station – all I can say is that if Thunder, Status Quo and Deep Purple thought they were a suitable opening act, then there’s surely little doubt this band is eminently suitable for a rock radio programme! Paul Manzi will of course be missed, but I am confident his successor will carry the torch and this band will continue to go from strength to strength.