CD: CATS in SPACE ‘My Kind of Christmas’ (Harmony Factory)

Those CATS in SPACE have really pushed the boat out for the holiday season this year, with a specially-recorded Christmas single released on multiple formats. You could have had a 7-inch satsuma-coloured vinyl (very clever, CATS!), a 12-inch picture disc featuring the new artwork created for the season by the band’s regular artist Andrew Kitson, or a CD which contains the song plus additional new tracks with reworked versions of older songs. Alongside all of that fans could also buy a limited edition print of the cover artwork, or for the well-heeled CAT fan, a ‘Catmas Tin’ box set containing the CD, two 7-inch vinyl records, plus various CAT-branded items such as a Christmas decoration and even some candy (!) all presented in an aluminium tin with the now-familiar CATS in SPACE logo on the lid. If like me, you’re short on both house room and readies especially at this time of year, the best bet is that CD since it features a lot of material for your tenner, so that was what I plumped for. At the time of writing, there are still various formats available for the CAT completist to indulge themselves with however.

My Kind of Christmas cover art by Andrew Kitson

My Kind of Christmas cover (art by Andrew Kitson)

The band are also pushing for a Christmas chart hit with this single, having launched a campaign on their fan group. They’re up against strong competition as you might expect, but after having held off playing this disc until the calendar finally reached December, it’s time to give this seasonal offering an appraisal. Starting off with the Christmas song itself, as you’d expect by now there are numerous nods to their many influences. They’ve chucked the kitchen sink at the production; it’s all there – sleigh bells, lyrics touching on everything from ‘mini-skirts at the office party’ (are we hoping for a mild December, lads?) to ‘Eric and Ernie on the box’, vol-au-vents and ‘flat warm beer’. (They stopped doing Watney’s Red Barrel years ago, guys!). They have gone full Wizzard with a children’s choir on the last chorus too, although the over-arching message is to urge us all to have this mindset all year round (‘don’t wait for the snow to fall, to wish peace and love for all‘) set to a song which evokes memories of classic 1970s Christmas chart-toppers. The melody in the chorus did make your correspondent think of Petula Clark’s hit ‘Don’t Sleep In The Subway’ though, and I bet that was not entirely unintended!

Track 2 on the CD (‘This Is London’), written by ‘7th Cat’ Mick Wilson, is a paean to the capital city, praising London as ‘the jewel in the crown’, set to a melodic rock song not a million miles from the sort of thing Cutting Crew did in the 80s, all harmonised vocals and gently soothing guitar backing. Another new one from Wilson follows, ‘If I Were You’ is a mid-paced acoustic track showcasing new vocalist Mark Pascall’s voice as well as those trademark harmonies.

‘Hollywood’ is the last of the new material; bassist Jeff Brown picks up the writing credit  as well as taking lead vocal on this one, a not-quite-so complimentary view of Tinseltown (‘land of the greedy, home of the vain‘) where ‘the faces may change but the dreams stay the same‘. All these tracks are in a rather gentler style than perhaps we’ve come to expect from the albums; that’s not to suggest the new album will be all like this but it does offer further proof that the band aren’t all bombast, they can rock you gently as well as heavily.

The remainder of the tracks on the CD are reworkings; there’s a new, acoustic version of ‘Chasing Diamonds’ as well as the new version of ‘September Rain’ which they issued separately in, September! The trilogy of Pascall reworkings concludes with ‘Yesterday’s News’; this is flagged on the cover as the ‘audition tape’. All of these new versions of older songs are to establish Pascall as the CATS singer now, having taken over from Paul Manzi who sang on the first three albums he is now putting his own stamp on the back CATalogue. The last track on the CD closes with a karaoke (or ‘kataoke’ as they would have it’) version of ‘My Kind of Christmas’ for you to sing along to. (The lyric is provided in the CD booklet, helpfully!)

As is the case with everything CATS in SPACE do, a lot of thought, time and effort has gone into the production and presentation of this release. I’d have liked this CD to be a little more lively, maybe with a cover of a party classic just for fun, but as it is, it is another quality product. I do hope the next album has a little more dirt under the claws however!

The band have today (as of the time of this post) just issued a promo video for ‘My Kind of Christmas’ – at the time of writing it is only available on their own Facebook page. Directed by none other than Toby Jepson, they have themed the video on ‘A Christmas Carol’ interspersed with the band playing on a stage set just like you saw on ‘Top of the Pops’, complete with audience attempting to dance!

CATS in SPACE Facebook Page

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

CATS in SPACE release reworked ‘September Rain’ with new vocalist

Earlier this year UK retro-rock band CATS in SPACE announced their new vocalist as Mark Pascall, who came in for original singer Paul Manzi. The new guy has performed some shows with the band and by all accounts has been welcomed by the ‘Cat Fans’, but they have decided to introduce him properly by re-recording an older song to feature his vocals. The single was released in limited quantities on CD but is also available on YouTube now.

‘September Rain’ was originally on the band’s second album ‘Scarecrow’, and this version has been completely remade. The arrangement is not much different however, so it serves the purpose of giving the fan base a taste of what Pascall will bring to the table. The song, a mid-temp pop rocker that you’ll find yourself singing for hours afterwards, is ideally suited for radio stations although whether it will actually get any airplay is another matter altogether!

It is a good move on the band’s part; giving their new frontman a small piece of the back catalogue to make his own of, especially since he has to go out there and sing songs that Paul Manzi put down on record. It helps bed in Pascall to the role, and he delivers a performance that is a little different, perhaps slicker than Manzi, but arguably just as good.

Those worried about the band’s direction with a new voice at the mic need worry no longer, the group are in good hands with Mark Pascall. Below is the new promo video for this version of ‘September Rain’:

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

CATS in SPACE Facebook Page

CATS in SPACE reveal their new frontman

UK rock revivalists CATS in SPACE have announced the name of their new lead singer this week, who takes over the role from Paul Manzi. They announced it in a short video clip posted to Facebook and YouTube, along with additional news that they are working on new studio material and that the tour in support of current album ‘Day Trip To Narnia’ will resume soon.

New vocalist Mark Pascall is a name unfamiliar to me, he is also lead singer in melodic rock band Departed who have toured in support of Inglorious. On the evidence of that band’s songs available to listen to online, he will be a good fit for the band. Possessing a powerful tenor voice, he will have big shoes to fill of course but certainly sounds up to the job of presenting the CATS songs live, alongside incumbent members Jeff Brown (bass), Andy Stewart (keyboards), Steevi Bacon (drums) as well as guitarists Greg Hart and Dean Howard. The band are known for their intricate vocal harmonies and so they have chosen well here.

Meanwhile, former frontman Paul Manzi has joined veteran glam rockers The Sweet; that band (still featuring original guitarist Andy Scott) will be playing dates of their own later in the year.

I look forward to seeing what Mark Pascall brings to the CAT universe, I intend to see the new incarnation as soon as they return to my part of the world.

Presented is ‘Are You Ready’ by Departed featuring vocalist Mark Pascall:

CATS in SPACE Facebook Page

Departed Facebook Page

The Sweet Facebook Page

 

Caught Live: CATS in SPACE, Tivoli Venue Buckley 10th May 2019

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.

 

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

CATS in SPACE Facebook Page

Jimi Anderson Group Facebook Page

Wasted Fate Facebook Page

 

 

LP: CATS in SPACE ‘Day Trip To Narnia’ (Harmony Factory)

If CATS in SPACE founder, guitarist Greg Hart was unsure whether there was an audience for the music he wanted to make (unashamedly retro-sounding power pop/rock) then he can have no doubts now. It’s been a steady upward curve for him and the rest of this band of experienced, veteran musicians from the UK rock scene since their debut offering ‘Too Many Gods’ emerged four years ago. From small venues to some prestigious support slots opening for the likes of Thunder, Status Quo and just last year, performing to arena crowds on the Deep Purple UK tour. Anyone who’s followed them since launch (pun not intended) will know by now what to expect: well-crafted songs with plenty of references to the bands which influenced them, all topped off by a lead vocalist (Paul Manzi) who can sing the phone book and make it sound good.

Day Trip To Narnia album cover art

Day Trip To Narnia album cover art

The presentation is as important as the production in CATS world, and for this, the band’s third release they gave their fans several options as to how they’d like to take their ‘Day Trip To Narnia’. You could have a straightforward CD version, a double LP on heavyweight 180g white vinyl or, if you were really feeling flush, a special set presented in a wooden box containing the album on CD plus a multitude of other goodies. You had to be quick though, since that was snapped up rapidly even before the record was officially released. They have already reported that the vinyl is running low and that the CD is to be repressed, and all this within a day of the official release date of March 1st 2019. I plumped for that white vinyl LP which came a week before the official release, and was treated to a lavishly-presented gatefold offering featuring artwork by Andrew Kitson, plus a poster by the same artist depicting a painting of the inside of a bedroom, complete with ‘space’ wallpaper alongside various CATS in SPACE memorabilia. The inner sleeve for one of the discs also features a comic strip panel, concerning a character known as ‘Johnny Rocket’. The character is featured heavily on the album itself, taking up the second half of the record as a concept, reminiscent of the Small Faces doing something similar many years ago on side two of their ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’ album.

The first two sides of this double LP feature a selection of songs in the now-familiar style, 1970s-styled music coupled with some acerbic lyrics about more modern-day topics. ‘Hologram Man’ immediately caught my attention with a biting lyric about the increasing use of technology to ‘resurrect’ deceased stars and base a show around a holographic recreation of them. The widow of one much-missed Metal star will doubtless not be happy with lines such as: ‘Let’s welcome back the legend, but you can’t shake his hand’ for instance! Another song takes aim at the tribute scene (‘Tragic Alter Ego’); Greg Hart knows all about that having performed in one well-known tribute act for many years himself, and is probably drawing on experience with lines like: ‘Got to be note perfect, you can’t improvise’.

The big difference with this album is the introduction of a concept for the second half of the album; ‘The Story of Johnny Rocket’ concerns a 1960s schoolboy who dreams of taking a space flight. The story goes from his schooldays to his progress towards his goal, via meeting the woman of his dreams and finally getting to take that space flight – or so it appeared. The story is available to read on the band’s website as well as being published in the sleeve notes, and if you remember the film ‘Capricorn One’ you might see a parallel or two 😉 This segment includes the disco-flavoured ‘Thunder In The Night’, the lead-off single for this album. Reminiscent of ‘Discovery’-era ELO, listen for the backing vocal of ‘Can’t Stand This Disco Music’ for a little giggle!

One thing I did take from playing this entire album is that although the influences are just as easy to spot this time around as on their earlier work, they’re now establishing a style of their own, as though the ingredients have been in the blender for a bit longer. Whereas before you’d listen to a track and find yourself exclaiming  ‘Queen!’ ‘The Sweet!’ ‘John Miles!’ at various points, now it’s more definitively CATS in SPACE. It is another meticulously-crafted, beautifully produced album which has already captured the imagination of their fans. Though I still prefer the ‘Scarecrow’ album personally, this is so accomplished that I’m obliged to give this one another five inflatable guitars.

CATS in SPACE are:

  • Paul Manzi – lead vocals
  • Greg Hart – guitar, vocals
  • Dean Howard – guitar, vocals
  • Jeff Brown – bass, vocals
  • Steevi Bacon – drums
  • Andy Stewart – keyboards, vocoder
5gtrs

5 – Delightful

CATS in SPACE guitarist comes ‘Full Circle’ with reissue

The band CATS in SPACE have been enjoying some much-deserved success over the past year; comprising guys who have been around the block as it were, their collective experience and musical craft has seen them gain favour with rock fans quite quickly. Now the fan base has been delving back into the members’ respective pasts, and there have been many requests for a reissue of ‘Full Circle’, an album released by CATS founder member Greg Hart ten years ago under the band name ‘Hartless’. I treated myself to a copy at the time of the original release, and gave it a good write-up on my old MySpace blog, likening it to a bygone era when rock bands such as Thin Lizzy were seen on TV shows frequently, especially the anarchic Saturday morning show ‘Tiswas’!

At the time of that album, Greg had just ended a decade-long stint as one of two guitarists in long-established tribute band Limehouse Lizzy; this album makes plain his deep admiration for Lynott and company from the get-go with a pose featuring Greg in a Thin Lizzy t-shirt. There is strong Lizzy influence throughout the record, although he and the band (comprising guitarist Marty Wells, bassist/vocalist Ray Edmunds, drummer Michael van Dell as well as Greg himself on lead guitar and vocals) were able to produce an album of songs that recalled the golden era of 70s rock, without outright copying it.  They did include one Lizzy cover (‘Romeo & The Lonely Girl’), further emphasising their admiration of the Irish rockers.

Following this record he went on to work once more with his old band Moritz and eventually formed an act (which also includes present CATS keyboardist Andy Stewart) celebrating the pop hits of the 1970s, with male and female singers, and playing live a broad selection of hit songs from artists of many differing styles. Originally titled ‘The Jackie Generation’, it became known as ‘Supersonic 70s Show’ or ‘Solid Gold 70s Show’ and continues to tour the UK regularly.

Back to ‘Hartless’, and the reissue of ‘Full Circle’ will be available from the beginning of February and is strictly limited to 100 copies. The album will only be available as a physical CD; no downloads, no streaming, so if you want one, be quick!  Recommended for fans of 1970s styled pop-rock; to register interest, contact Greg directly.

Screenshot-2018-1-31 Greg Hart

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Gigs of 2017 part four

For part one click here

For part two click here

For part three click here

NOVEMBER

This month started off with a bus ride over to St Helens to see proggers Mostly Autumn; that gig did clash with Michael Schenker’s show in Manchester (which featured many guests including former MSG members) but with me still off the road at the time I plumped for the more local gig. The Citadel was full when I got in, moments before the band took to the stage, and they delivered a show of their usual prog epics, with great playing from all. That’s only the second time I’ve seen this band, and I should try and catch them more often. The next night saw veteran American rockers Y&T visit Liverpool on their now-customary UK and European autumn tour. They were supported by Voodoo Vegas who were a good warm-up, while Y&T themselves once again delivered a strong set of back catalogue favourites. There’s still been no new material from them since 2010 but they have such a strong back catalogue they can play a different set from one year to the next and still give a full two hours on stage. A good night topped off by actually meeting frontman Dave Meniketti alongside his wife and manager Jill, whose novel ‘Welcome To Groove House’ I bought a year ago and brought for her to sign this time out.

The next week saw a strong bill pitch up at Warrington’s Parr Hall, headlined by Black Star Riders with Blues Pills, Tax The Heat and Dirty Thrills making up the rest of the bill. I was too late to catch Dirty Thrills but saw another great performance from Tax The Heat, an entertaining set from Blues Pills and a stormer from Black Star Riders. The only slight quibble was the sound balance, in a civic theatre such as this with a high ceiling the sound swirled around all evening. I do like that venue, as it is not too big and has good sight lines with a stage high enough to allow a good view of the band from anywhere – except perhaps the front row! Another week later and it was the turn of Britain’s first lady of blues guitar, Joanne Shaw Taylor to come to our part of the world. She added this show at New Brighton Floral Pavilion some time after her run of autumn dates were announced, perhaps catching out fans as this date was not sold out as I’d expected. She always gives a great, expressive performance and this time was no exception, and this time she’d added former King King keyboardist Bob Fridzema to the live band. With support from the excellent Dan Patlansky, this was a splendid night of bluesy rock guitar.

A few days later I made the (late) decision to take the train up to Manchester and see Deep Purple on what they have billed their ‘Long Goodbye’ tour. Whether that means they really are bowing out remains to be seen, but the guys aren’t getting any younger and there cannot be much more to come. A good bill was opened by CATS in SPACE, given only 30 minutes they wowed the audience, many of whom were already in place. I had missed them on their support slot for Thunder, and also their own low-key tour of small venues, so this was my only chance to see them this year. They’ve had a phenomenal year with the release of second album ‘Scarecrow’ and with them having opened for Thunder, Deep Purple and finally Status Quo, they must be pinching themselves. Special guests were Europe, who since reforming several years ago have delivered some strong material far removed from the parping ‘Final Countdown’ days. They actually sound a lot like Purple themselves nowadays, and gave a good set mixing songs from current album ‘Walk The Earth’ with the 80s hits everyone expected.  Deep Purple also showcased a lot of material from latest album ‘Infinite’, but still found room for plenty of old classics. Ian Gillan isn’t the singer he was 40 years ago, but wisely has recognised that and manages his voice well nowadays, rather than try to blast it the way he once did. Near the end of this set, guitarist Steve Morse played a short burst of AC/DC’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ in memory of Malcolm Young, with news of the AC/DC founder’s passing having only emerged earlier that day.

Last gig of this month was Mr Big, which I almost never got to see! A friend of mine asked would I take on the ticket as his girlfriend (who booked them) had decided against making the trip to Manchester (the show took place at the Academy 1). However, once meeting up at Lime Street Station and boarding our train, he realised he had left the tickets at home! With me resigned to watching football in the student union bar instead, a stroke of luck happened when two people on the guest list arrived to collect their tickets. They had ‘plus ones’ which they did not require, so they allowed us to use them! With that sorted we caught most of openers Faster Pussycat, who have only vocalist Taime Downe left as an original member now. They played a good set of sleaze favourites before making way for The Answer. Unlike when I saw the Irish rockers earlier in the year, this set was designed to touch on all their albums to date. So, having opened with the epic ‘Solas’ they gave airings to a selection of favourites including ‘Preachin’ and ‘Spectacular’. They also paid tribute to AC/DC’s Malcolm Young (The Answer toured the world in 2009/10 opening for the Aussie titans) by covering ‘If You Want Blood, You Got It’. The Answer always give it everything and did so again, though I’d have liked a little more from them of course, time didn’t allow that. Watching Mr Big is always hard work, you never know where to look with virtuoso players (guitarist Paul Gilbert and bassist Billy Sheehan) either side of singer Eric Martin almost trying to outdo one another. They started the set with drummer Matt Starr in place of Pat Torpey, but to the fans’ delight they brought out their original drummer to play percussion alongside the band. Pat Torpey has suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for some years now, preventing him from playing full-time, but the band still consider him a vital member of the band so much that they still bring him on tour. It was, as expected, a long set featuring new numbers and plenty of old favourites, but we had to leave shortly before the end as the last train wasn’t going to wait for us!

DECEMBER

The first of this month started off with another Same Night Syndrome gig clash, with two gigs I wanted to see happening in the same building, let alone the same city! The Lancashire Hotpots won out over former Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan, who was in the upstairs floor of Liverpool’s o2 Academy while the Hotpots were in the downstairs. They were celebrating ten years of their folk-infused tomfoolery with a complete performance of their debut album ‘Never Mind The Hotpots’. That was only part of a lengthy set the lads gave, with them having to play for longer than expected as their regular support Stu Penders & Spladoosh! having withdrawn. ‘He’s got The Mange’, as Hotpots singer Bernard Thresher kindly informed us. This was a superb night full of fun and parody folk, rock, dance, and it’s to be hoped there’ll be ten more years of it!

Next gig was a few days later in Lennon’s Bar on Mathew Street, normally one of many places that cater to the Beatles tourist trade that remains popular in Liverpool but tonight  was hosting a bill with several bands on, including locals Nesh (‘alternative, melodic hard rock’ as they described themselves) and St Helens punks Last Reserves whose singer Alice Nancy compered the evening. I was there to check out Psychords, an all-female punk rock trio from Italy who came recommended by several people I knew off Facebook. The girls had a few technical issues at the start but gave a storming set, driven emphatically by their drummer Claudia Lo. I’d like to see that band again and hopefully they’ll get the chance to come back to the UK in 2018. The very next evening was my penultimate trip to Chester for the year, to see Chantel McGregor play at the Live Rooms. I’d never seen her before, and she lulled us all into a false sense of security with two folky numbers played solo and acoustically, before bringing out her band, strapping on the electric guitar and blowing the audience away! One of many good blues rock guitarist/singers on the circuit at the moment, her heavy guitar sound was reminiscent of the great Robin Trower at times.  My final gig of 2017 was just a week ago at the time of writing this post, once again at Chester. Opened by Black Cat Bones, who had a ball performing on this bigger stage with an elevated platform for singer Jonnie Hodson (improvised from crates!), then Skarlett Riot who, with only a short time to perform, played their heavier material. Singer Skarlett did without her guitar for this show, leaving all axe duties to lead guitarist Danny. Topping this bill were Finland’s Santa Cruz, a foursome who look and play like they have just come from the Strip in 1988! It’s nothing new to someone like me who remembers Skid Row or Guns ‘n’ Roses, but the Finns were fiery and enthusiastic, with great guitar work from frontman Archie and the other guitarist Johnny.

That’s my roundup of 2017’s gigs; I saw more than I’d expected to this year and it’ll be hard to get to as many in 2018 as I did this year. But I’ll be back to report on whatever comes my way in the New Year!

Caught Live: Deep Purple (with Europe, CATS in SPACE), Manchester Arena, 18th November 2017

I didn’t think I would even be at this show on the Saturday morning, expecting to have to stay in that night, but things changed. So it was I hastily booked a ticket (in the upper reaches of this arena) and a train, which conveniently stops at my local station thus negating the need to go into Liverpool city centre first, and headed up to what many still call the MEN Arena. It was the first time I’d been to this huge bowl in over a year, more to the point my first visit since that terrible attack in May. Having reached Manchester Victoria (and thus, the arena which sits atop the station) in plenty of time, there was time to have a little look around and see what had changed since last I was here.

First of all, you cannot now access the new walkway from Victoria Station to the arena concourse without your ticket for the event. There were barriers in place at the bottom of the steps, and Showsec staff situated at those barriers. As the old box office is still out of commission, I asked about ticket collection. The new box office is situated on the other side of this huge building, inside the underpass off New Bridge Street next to the arena car park and opposite the former Strangeways brewery site. Ticket collected, and there was time to have a little look around the immediate area, where there were plenty of Christmas market stalls in place. It was somewhat of a maze to get around, even if like me you do know this area of Manchester well, so after a hot drink and a cake from a well-known bakery chain I decided to go into the hall early.

When you enter the arena now, be it through Victoria Station or the other main entrance on Hunts Bank, you now need to have your ticket ready as described earlier, before even getting to the steps. Once you’re allowed through, and have climbed up to the City Room foyer you’re now confronted by airport-style scanners. There were four lines to go through these scanners, and it felt very much like the procedure before boarding a flight, there was even a shouty bloke organising the queues! The items they wanted in the basket were mobile phones, e-cigs, pocket cameras (that was me!) while we were ushered through a body scanner like those at the airport. All that done, and with my quip asking which way to the planes ignored, it was through the doors and into the arena concourse. Although they’d only just opened up there were already queues building at these scanners so it was probably a good idea to give plenty of time to get through it all. The procedure was understandable, although it was noted that attack came when the venue was letting out, not letting in.

When I got to my spot, high up in the upper tiers I found the majority of that area was sectioned off! They’d only opened two of the blocks and then only partially, about ten rows were open and I found myself sat in splendid isolation, high above the stage just over halfway back. The floor was seated, unusual for a rock gig at this place, and by my estimation they were expecting a crowd of 11-12000. (That means you could have staged a gig at Liverpool’s Echo Arena, Purple people!) It was nice and comfy up there anyway as I settled for CATS in SPACE, who would open proceedings at 7pm sharp.

Openers CATS in SPACE

Openers CATS in SPACE

When the openers came on, the arena had filled substantially. Their intro tape shows a nostalgic sense of humour with the theme tune to ‘The Sweeney’ playing over the PA. The group are unashamedly influenced by 1970s music, not just rock and indeed two of the band (guitarist Greg Hart and top-hatted keyboardist Andy Stewart) play in the covers act Supersonic 70s Show (also billed as Solid Gold 70s), an act I’ve seen live on two occasions. The CATS were only given around half an hour, meaning only a handful of numbers could be played. Opening with the title track of first album ‘Too Many Gods’ they didn’t hang about before next song ‘The Mad Hatters’ Tea Party’. Straight away it was clear they not only had a good sound in this massive bowl, but they were in great form themselves. Lead singer Paul Manzi gave a superb performance, ably backed by all the other CATS but in particular bassist Jeff Brown, who duetted with Manzi on ‘Greatest Story Never Told’, a lengthy epic off their first album and one that was probably brave to play considering they had only a short time. The other songs were ‘Timebomb’ off the current ‘Scarecrow’ album and they closed with ‘Five Minute Celebrity’ from the debut. That one featured some Who-style windmilling from Greg Hart, appropriate as the song is in that band’s style and also gave drummer Steevi Bacon a brief moment in the spotlight. If you’d said to Greg Hart this time last year that he’d be playing big arenas opening for one of the country’s legendary bands he’d probably have laughed; as it is he and CATS in SPACE have had an incredible year. They’ve opened for Thunder on their UK tour, done their own run of headline dates, and straight after this run of shows they’re back out again, this time supporting Status Quo on their usual winter tour. The band have gained a great deal of support in the year since I saw them play across this city at the University, and now with some crucial industry support this group of individually talented but collectively brilliant guys can only get even more popular in 2018. You cannot help but be delighted for them, especially Greg Hart whose vision it was but all these guys have paid plenty of dues, their success now is thoroughly deserved.

Europe at Manchester Arena

Europe at Manchester Arena

Joey Tempest & John Norum

Joey Tempest & John Norum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next act up were Europe; now I have only seen these guys once before, and that was at the Liverpool Empire at the height of their ‘The Final Countdown’ hysteria 30 years ago. That night, the audience was overwhelmingly teenage girls who outnumbered the rockers in the audience by about five to one – and I can still hear the screaming in my head to this day! The band of today is the ‘classic’ line-up which recorded that smash hit song and album; that includes guitarist John Norum who, back when they played in Liverpool 30 years ago was absent. Back then his place had been taken by Kee Marcello, who slotted into the line-up seamlessly. Despite this being the classic band, their sound has evolved markedly since then, and listeners to Planet Rock who have heard their most recent single ‘Walk The Earth’ would have been forgiven for thinking they were more Purple than Purple these days! When Europe came on stage tonight, that was the track they opened with, all brooding organ sound and heavy guitar so reminiscent of the band that was headlining tonight. The new material was well-received, and singer Joey Tempest was in good voice, however when they did reach back to their vintage era the crowd really woke up. Introducing ‘Rock The Night’, the singer cheekily borrowed a Coverdale expression with ‘Here’s a song for ya!’ That got the crowd up, and they also played ‘Carrie’ off that same album, for any remaining 1980s teenyboppers presumably! 😀
This band have survived the millstone hit single by delivering consistently strong albums in recent years, showing that they are indeed a legitimate rock band and not just a bunch of popsters who got lucky once. Needless to say ‘The Final Countdown’ was played last in the set, and air guitars broken out for Norum’s widdly guitar solo in the middle of the song! Europe have just announced a headline tour of their own for September 2018, and with King King along as support that is definitely a gig to look out for.

3 Purple People

Ian Gillan, Ian Paice, Steve Morse

Deep Purple Manchester Arena

Deep Purple Manchester Arena

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Purple have billed this as ‘The Long Goodbye’ tour, hinting but not confirming that this will be their last major tour. The members have said in interviews that they don’t want to stop, but they’re now hitting their seventies and with the best will in the world, they cannot do this for very much longer. They still believe in offering new material whenever they do tour however, and this year’s album ‘Infinite’ was well-received by fans and critics alike. To coincide with this tour, the band even appeared on a BBC special which aired days before this tour commenced; that would never have been countenanced back in the days when Tommy Vance was the corporation’s only outlet for bands of this ilk. Nowadays, Purple and other classic bands of the era are finally being appreciated by a wider circle than the ‘rock crowd’ as their televised concert showed. If you saw that show, then this set was very much along those same lines. Opening with ‘Time For Bedlam’, complete with Gillan’s eerie spoken intro, they played several new tracks interspersed with selected classics. ‘Bloodsucker’ from ‘In Rock’ followed (or should that be ‘Bludsucker’, from ‘Abandon’ seeing as the band re-recorded the track in 1998 with Steve Morse now in place?) and that one showed how frontman Ian Gillan has managed his voice to account for his advanced years. He no longer sings the last verse in a high register, but delivers it as per the rest of the song. It still works, and he can still give the ‘ohhhh nonono!’ where required. He has adapted himself well, and as such can still carry these tunes and give a performance. That’s the right way to go about it, some other singers try too hard to push their voices live and end up blasting their throats out, Gillan has wisely rationed his voice and doesn’t try to be the guy he was in 1972.

Ian Gillan with Steve Morse

Ian Gillan with Steve Morse

The band were getting a very warm reception from the Manchester audience, even for the new material, which was appreciated by the frontman. There were of course plenty of oldies for the fans to enjoy still, ‘Lazy’ came mid-set and featured current keyboardist Don Airey who gave a lengthy, improvised intro before he and guitarist Steve Morse traded solo spots. The 80s were acknowledged with ‘Knocking At Your Back Door’ and ‘Perfect Strangers’, both of which still sound good in the live set today. ‘Space Truckin’ was performed towards the end, not quite the same intensity as when the Mk III version played it in 1974 (and no explosions near drummer Ian Paice this time), and again, Gillan correctly opted not to reach for the falsetto where it was deployed on record. Needless to say, ‘Smoke On The Water’ closed the main set.

Mindful of the time (I had to be on that 23:09 train heading back to Liverpool!) I was on the starting blocks during the encore; ‘Hush’ came first, then a prolonged bass and drum jam led into ‘Black Night’, prompting a big singalong from the crowd. I was all but out of the door when during the improvised section of this number, Steve Morse surprised us all by bursting into AC/DC’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’. As everybody was aware, the news of that band’s founder member Malcolm Young’s death had emerged earlier in the day, and although no words were said by any of the bands during this show, that one excerpt showed how highly he was regarded by his fellow rock musicians. Even before the last chord rang out I was scooting across the concourse back to Victoria Station, for my train which I caught in time to get a nice seat for the ride home.

Considering I wasn’t sure I’d even be at this gig, it was a very good night of rock. One classic band, one who are finally being recognised as such and one new band whose membership is one that’s been around and done it. Purple’s legacy is safe, while both the other bands on this bill can look forward to another successful year in 2018.

4 – Deserving

 

Deep Purple Setlist Manchester Arena, Manchester, England 2017, The Long Goodbye

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Europe Setlist Manchester Arena, Manchester, England, Walk the Earth World Tour 2017

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Cats in Space Setlist Manchester Arena, Manchester, England 2017

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LP: CATS in SPACE ‘Scarecrow’ (Harmony Factory)

Things are certainly different for CATS in SPACE now than they were two years ago, when they announced themselves with their debut album ‘Too Many Gods’. That record got them a lot of attention, most notably from Thunder’s Danny Bowes. In addition to wearing their T-shirt at Thunder gigs, he played tracks from ‘Too Many Gods’ on his Planet Rock radio show and earlier this year, signed them up to be the support act on Thunder’s UK tour. That slot put them before a lot more people, and their fan base has grown exponentially since then.

The guys are of course no newcomers; all accomplished, experienced players who have been in and around the scene for many years. In that respect they’re similar to The Dead Daisies, though that outfit have been through a few personnel shifts before settling on their current line-up.  The CATS’ debut showed obvious musical influences from many 1970s bands (even including a contribution from The Sweet’s Andy Scott) but with lyrical content dealing with more 21st century subject matter. That set them apart from just about everyone else, so what can we expect with this second record?

Simply put, more of the same with knobs on! Like the first album, it’s best listened to right through in one sitting, although the individual tracks are strong enough to stand up to being listened to in isolation. Lead-off single ‘The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ deals with the shallow facade of social media (“Conversation’s a no-no, it’s dead as a dodo”) while ‘Two Fifty Nine’ is a cleverly-constructed song about the need to fit into radio formatting – running to exactly 2:59!

The references are many and varied as was the case with the first album; there’s another nod to John Miles in ‘Clown In Your Nightmare’, complete with talkbox guitar from Greg Hart, but once again he and the band demonstrate that they can show their inspiration without resorting to outright lifting. You’ll think of the Beatles, Queen, even Bruce Springsteen (to name just a few) while listening to this album, and if you’re a real anorak like me you might find yourself reminded of The Turtles – or even Petula Clark – in some places 😉

Closing track ‘Scarecrow’ is stated in the lyric sheet as a continuation of the first album’s ‘The Greatest Story Never Told’; the lyric in this song refers to “Cool Britannia’s Great Untouchable” (who could they be referring to, teehee!) Running to 7:26 it is an epic (which reminds me a little of Uriah Heep) with which to end the album.

If you liked ‘Too Many Gods’ you can buy this record with confidence, it is another meticulously-constructed and beautifully-produced album with all the hallmarks present and correct. The band will tour the UK in September, I expect there to be a lot more people present this time around than was the case when they played the halls up and down the country last autumn. The CATS rocket is now in its second stage as it makes its relentless progress into orbit!

CATS in SPACE - Scarecrow

CATS in SPACE – Scarecrow

The album is available on CD, heavyweight vinyl and for the complete 1970s experience, cassette! It’s also available digitally and you can listen to the album for yourself on Spotify here:

5 – Delightful

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)