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Catfish And The Bottlemen

Not exactly a catch from the swamplands of the deep south, more in line with the deep valleys of north Wales (Llandudno, in fact), indie-rock combo CATFISH AND THE BOTTLEMEN went under the radar until Island Records found their hook-line dirges irresistible. Although still embedded under the arm of Communion Records, who’d unleashed catchy 45s `Homesick’, `Rango’, `Kathleen’ and `Fallout’ (`Cocoon’ and `Pacifier’ were to follow post-set), the quirky quartet’s parent album, THE BALCONY {*7}, hit pay-dirt and the Top 10 when issued in September 2014.
2008 seemed a long way away when it was down to Widnes, England-born singer/songwriter/guitarist Van McCann, lead guitarist Billy Bibby and younger brother Benji Blakeway (on bass) to kick-start their career a la basement BEATLES songs. Promoting their wares by way of unique car-park performances (drummer Bob Hall superseding Jon Barr in 2010), KASABIAN were impressed enough to give them a support slot on tour. Now worth a fortune on the “net”, earliest singles `The Beautiful Decay EP’ and `Tortuga’ were as close to The KOOKS or RAZORLIGHT as any; McCann’s easy-going swoons identifying with their young audience.
Endorsed by Radio 1’s Zane Lowe, the aforementioned Communion singles premiered what would be a busy summer 2014 period for the band: Reading & Leeds, T In The Park, Ibiza Rocks just some of the festivals to put CATFISH… to the test. Produced by Jim Abbiss, the debut set found favour in America where, after a performance on the David Letterman show in early January 2015, the record subsequently bubbled under the Top 100. But just when things looked tickety-boo, with their album still riding high in the UK charts (`Homesick’ about to be given another release), Bibby announced he was to bottle out. Undeterred, there was hat-boy Johnny “Bondy” Bond to fill his wading boots – so to speak.
Running up to a confident time for the Welsh as Gareth Bale and Co were about to take on the mighty England in the Euros at footy, THE RIDE (2016) {*6} stormed the top of the charts for Island Records, showing that, in music at least, the dragons might have an edge over their southern generals. Convincing Capitol US to subscribe (Top 30) to their KOOKS-meets-ARCTIC MONKEYS sound, global reviewers were also quick to pick up on the band’s derivative shortcomings; after opening triumvirate, `7’, `Twice’ and `Soundcheck’, fresh ideas and impetus run aground. Earnest indie-pop songs of lovelorn, loss and paint-by-numbers passion might well suit the upcoming sing-a-long festival scene, but Van McCann’s CATFISH crew still have a lot to learn – or indeed, relinquish.
Starring Top 30 hit, `Longshot’, one of the best indie-rock singles of the year 2019, the JACKNIFE LEE-produced THE BALANCE {*6} stopped just short of a second chart-topping album in a row. However, the promise and progress CATFISH AND THE BOTTLEMEN had garnered across the pond floundered in an instant by way of mediocre reviews. It was probably easier to knock their hyper-charged magpie sound than get on board their anthemic arena-rock boat, but with the slow-burning `Fluctuate’, `2All’, `Conversation’ and `Encore’ – all minor UK hits – their future equilibrium was in their own hands.
© MC Strong/MCS Apr2015-Jun2019

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