It’s been a while since I’ve spoken to head Cat Greg Hart; the band’s stratospheric trajectory has carried on unabated since we last caught up around the time of the band’s second album, Scarecrow, which first saw the light of day in 2017. A variety of challenges and setbacks have been overcome, but although it’s been a fairly well documented history, some of our readers might not be quite up to speed with events – so, Greg, congratulations on the new album – it’s a great album, but we’ll come back to that later – can you give us a whistlestop tour of the last three years in the world of Cats In Space? “After Scarecrow we did three support tours with Thunder, Deep Purple and Status Quo as well as our own headline tour – 2017 was mega busy. A crazy year. We played the British Summer Time festival in (London’s) Hyde Park as well”.
And after that? “After that nothing happened in 2018! It was really bizarre – no bands were coming through on tour, our management were getting a bit tetchy because we couldn’t really be placed anywhere – and we couldn’t go out again ourselves because we’d done so much touring in the UK in 2017. So we decided to go away and write another album. I’d always wanted to do something about Narnia – as a kid I’d been fascinated by the books of C.S. Lewis. But me and my writing partner Mick Wilson sat down… the original title of the album was going to be The Kitchen Sink Drama, which was the original title of Johnny Rocket. Everything took a kind of sidestep, we were writing songs that moved further away from Kitchen Sink Drama so that didn’t seem right for a title. And then I wrote a song called Day Trip to Narnia. It was just going to be a single song on side one. But there was such a good vibe about it… we spent eight or nine months demoing the album and it just seemed to go on a path where all the songs on side one seemed to line up into this story of Narnia – about the smoke and mirrors of the music industry, how things used to be, other crazy stuff… But while we were doing that, we kept going back to the story of Johnny Rocket, which we then decided to turn into a sort of six-song epic… Had we had a bot more time we probably would have gone the whole hog and done a Johnny Rocket concept. But in the end I just thought we’d do half as the Narnia songs and half about Johnny Rocket. And it seemed to work really well. It got really good reviews and sold really well. But we didn’t tour at all early last year. And then our singer Paul Manzi announced that he’d be leaving at the end of that tour to join The Sweet. They made him an offer he couldn’t refuse but it was a bit annoying because we had a second tour planned and a few other key dates including some in Germany lined up.
After he left a singer called Mark Pascall joined, who turned out to be a really good find. A really good singer but to be fair he was probably a bit young for us – he was twenty years younger than the rest of us. We didn’t think it would be a problem but it did become apparent that we weren’t on the same page later on. We did the second part of the tour, but then we decided we wanted to do a Christmas album, as you do (laughs). I had a song I’d written some years ago called My Kind of Christmas, and I always wanted to do it, so we thought that Mark had been promoting the second part of the Narnia tour but of course he hadn’t worked on the album and so the fans had nothing to hear him on. So we re-recorded September Rain from Scarecrow, with Mark, and put that out, as an introduction, whilst we were already knee deep in recording the Christmas song and some other tracks to go with it. So then of course we had to do a Christmas tour – this was 2019 by now – which went down a storm, went really well… In hindsight people have said it might not have been the best thing to do in view of the way things turned out this year, but if we’d have just shut up shop after Paul left we’d have lost traction and not have been able to keep any momentum going. But I think Narnia would have stalled if we didn’t do what we did. By keeping it going it became a really successful album. So after the Christmas tour ended we set about writing what has become Atlantis, which became rife with many issues which I’m sure we can discuss! So yes, in summary I think we toured Narnia as well as we could and made it what it became. It’s a shame Paul didn’t see it out, but Paul is Paul – he’s his own man. But the split was very amicable – his last gig with us was a highly emotionally-charged one – we were all hugging, fans were crying, because he’s a real character, he was there from day one and it was a rreal shame that we had to come to the end of what we call phase one”.
You’d come a long way together comparatively quickly, hadn’t you? Even today it’s still only five years since that first album came out. “I know. When we first started people asked me if this was a one album band, is it going to be an ongoing thing, will you play live? And when we saw the first reviews, which we’ve said many times we really weren’t expecting, I said jokingly ‘ if this works, as it now looks like it might do, then we’ll do nine albums. I’ll call the last one Nine Lives then I’ll be off!’ (laughs). And now the joke is coming true! We didn’t expect it, we’ve said this all along. We never expected the response we’ve got; we certainly didn’t expect to do some of the touring we’ve done, but like anything else, If you do something that’s really from the heart, if you do something that you really believe in, do it without any preconceived ideas like ‘we want to do this to make it sell, or because it’s current’, if you do something you really like and hope that other people like, then it comes from the right place. And I think people buy into that, they invest in it emotionally. And that’s what we’ve found with Cats In Space. As we’ve gone on, our fans – and there are more and more of them coming onboard every day – they really invest in it. They don’t just say ‘they’re OK, I might go and buy one of their CDs’. They don’t. They are proper die hards, rock fan music collectors of the sort you used to find in the seventies. And I think they are like that because they know we come from the right place”.
I think one of the reasons behind that fan loyalty is that as a band you appear to be very accessible. You work your Facebook pages well, you make yourselves available after shows; People can post something on your Fan Club page and there’s a fair chance someone from the band will reply pretty quickly. I think that goes a long way. “It does. There are two ways of looking at it. When the Facebook fan page first started up they asked us they could do one. I said yes, as long as there was nothing malicious on it, or that it didn’t turn into a bitch fest as some Fan Group pages do. We watch the page, and we say to the two girls that run it ‘don’t let anybody advertise, we don’t want anything negative on there because we want it to be a happy place’. If anyone has something negative to say we tell them to come and say it to us, personally. At the end of the day you can’t bullshit your fans. You can’t try and stay aloof like Led Zeppelin were in the seventies, those days are gone. Nowadays you have to work with your fan base. And I say this to any other band that cares to listen. You are foolish if you think you can be apart from your fans. Obviously there are mega stars who don’t and don’t have to, but we have to. They are our career. If they don’t buy our product there is no Cats In Space. We don’t have financial backing or record company backing, everything we have we generate through fucking hard work – and trust me it is. There are three of us doing fourteen hour days every day. We stay alert on Facebook because that is our window to the world. And if we don’t do Facebook properly, we see it. We notice a drop, things go quiet… if you keep people engaged with you and make yourself accessible, they really do spread the word a lot more!”
For all the gnashing of teeth we’ve seen about the state of the music industry since COVID, I think it’s fair to say that if this pandemic had have happened twenty five years ago we’d have seen a lot more bands go to the wall because there was no Social Media interactivity back then. The smart bands have used that connection with their fans to keep themselves alive during this period that you couldn’t have imagined happening back then. ‘Absolutely. It’s still done a lot of damage to a lot of bands but we’ve been very fortunate because when it came out I was in the studio doing Atlantis which I’d been doing since November, so I already had all my Ducks in a row as it were. In March the songs were fermenting, although there was a bit of a balls up because Mick Wilson was tied up with touring at the back end of last year and was meant to be for most of this; So he wasn’t there for the writing of the songs which was a shame because I really enjoy the process of writing sessions with him. So to not have him there was a bit weird. But I had a bout three quarters of the album ready when COVID happened, so we were in a good position. We didn’t need to worry about the touring because the album wasn’t ready. But you’re right. If it hadn’t been for social media I don’t think there’d be much of a music industry left. The internet killed print magazines largely, which is a shame because I still like reading magazines, but you need somehow to be in touch with people. So if you take the social media side of it out of the equation now I’m bloody sure things would have been a lot worse for the industry”.
What about the livestreams and pay per view shows we have been witnessing? “I’ll be honest I wasn’t a fan of it. But we have done something (the band play a livestreamed show this coming Friday November 27th – Ed), but it was weird. It was great fun to meet up with the guys again, we rehearsed, it was like going out on the road, except we didn’t we just went to the venue! We’ve done some pretty cool stuff for the stream, which is great, but it’s not the same. Not in a million years. You’re on stage, running through a soundcheck, thinking ‘this is sounding good’, imagining what it will be like with the people in for the show. Then you go back, get changed, and then go and do the show with the lights and the explosions, and there’s no one there! Apart from the crew, who all go ‘Wahaaayyy!!’ at the end. It is really, really weird but for the time being it’s essential. It’s not something I’m over happy with really, it’s not the same, but if it’s a window into the band for the fans to come and have a look at then I suppose it’s got to be a good thing”.