Gig Review – Catfish and the Bottlemen

‘I just wanna fill rooms, stadiums, arenas, everything!’ … A year on from this ambitious lead singer, and Catfish and the Bottlemen are currently touring the UK with every venue sold out: crammed with a sea of sweaty fans.

The four-piece rock band originate from the quaint little town of Llandudno, in North Wales. The band consists of Van McCann on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Johnny ‘Bondy’ Bond on lead guitar, Benjamin ‘Benji’ Blakeway on bass and Robert ‘Bob’ Hall on drums. From what overtly seems like sudden success over the past year, is actually scaffolded by years of grafting and hard work for these boys. In multiple interviews, lead singer Van has listed the various ways the boys have fought their way into the music industry: from playing in car parks after gigs, to leaving EP’s on car windshields at festivals. They seem to handle their success with the most humble attitude. In an interview with Reading and Leeds festival last year McCann stated: ‘We’re just dopes from the fucking middle of nowhere, its crazy. I’m dead proud’.

In September 2014, Catfish released their debut album, ‘The Balcony’. The album received mixed reviews overall, some positive about their sound, claiming the album to be ‘polished’, and others slightly more critical, stating that the band are perhaps ‘9 years too late’. Whatever your opinion on ‘The Balcony’, there is no denying that it has lead the boys to their ever-growing success.

Slowly starting to squeeze into Manchester Apollo now, and Catfish fans begin to chant lyrics of their beloved band, soaking in the angst of anticipation. It’s not hard to see that these boys are definite crowd pleasers. They know how to work the crowd, apparently even when they are yet to grace the stage. From what I can only assume was a playlist that they themselves put together, gave the audience chance to warm up their vocals before the show. The playlist consisted of tunes from the Arctic Monkeys, the Rolling Stones, The Strokes and of course, the Coronation Street theme tune. Because, what sort of playlist do you have if you don’t have the Coronation Street theme tune on it?

After a flamboyant entrance, we’re straight into the set with, ‘Rango’. This was one of the boys’ first released singles and predominately gave them their edge when they first entered the music industry. The single seems to reminisce of a hometown girl with Van’s lyrics touching on Alex Turner’s earlier song writing skills.

The band move onto ‘Pacifier’ now, chorused by the chanting crowd. The song descends from one of McCann’s hometown friends who got her ‘mother took at 13’ as lyrically stated. It’s a sad story, contrasted with light-hearted lyrics from their own laidback lingo: ‘She deffo didn’t like that, no’. The performance followed on from their first song ‘Rango’ with the energy bouncing from person to person in the sea of raging teens.

One of the band’s heavier rock influenced songs, ‘Sidewinder’ is next to enter the dense sweaty air of the Apollo. I personally feel that this song is the most prominent rock singles off the album, with Bondy on lead guitar, implementing the intro with intricate guitar work, overlaid with Van’s illustrious, raspy vocals. The track on the album just doesn’t do it justice compared to the live performance.

Silence fell over the Apollo, followed by the echoing introduction to ‘Homesick’. The relaxed, cordial intro with Van’s vocals slowed to a soothing texture, was of course synchronised with the screaming crowd. The track goes into a sudden outburst of intoxicating drums and guitar, and the magnitude of Van’s gravelly voice reappears. This track was the first song I heard of The Bottlemen, so it’s definitely one that I intended on losing my voice to. It was indisputable to see that this track also meant something to a lot of other people in the audience. Once the track had come to it’s ending, the spotlight focused on Van as he stood back in appreciation, in awe of his fans bellowing his lyrics for him: a clichéd image of every musicians dream.

The hugely anticipated, unreleased single ‘7’ was welcomed to the aesthetic set list next. This gave the audience a brief rest after a sufficient amount of chaos. First of all, this gives me profound hope for Catfish’s second album. The track drifts away from their usual songs, if anything, it seems slightly slower, added with more empathy. McCann delivered the chorus with a magnitude of emotion, topped off with his rugged, raucous vocals… Not to mention the impeccable guitar solo introduced by Bondy roughly two minutes into the song.

The band leaves the stage, leaving only a silhouetted Van figure. Giving the audience time to breathe, we are welcomed to one of their calmer songs: ‘Hourglass’. The band does a lot of acoustic covers of their songs, but this is the only one off their album that is recorded acoustically. Immediately after seeing the acoustic guitar, the crowd are captivated. The track’s lyrics talk about yearning for a loved one, added again with a bit of early Alex Turner aroma.

The lads finished the exhaustingly invigorating gig with ‘Tyrants’: the last track off their album, also one of their main tracks that flaunt their diverse skills musically. With a triumph of riotous guitars and overwhelming drums, the song builds up to a pre-eminent climax, only to finish with an impetuous stop. Perfect song choice to end the show.

So to sum up, if you’re not into chaotically raging around, being surrounded by teens crowd surfing, sweating profusely and listening to the melodic skills of the band serenade thousands of people… Maybe this gig isn’t for you.

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