Okay, we’ve set the scene – let’s talk about the album. It’s a big album, and it deserves a proper dissection, so I’d like to go through it track-by-track with you. For a start, let’s talk about that little intro piece, Dive. “We always like our little intros on albums to set the scene for what is going to be a forty or forty five minute experience. I love albums that have that, that make you think ‘ooh, this could be interesting’ – like going on a little cinematic journey. So with Dive I wanted to do a little bit more than just a few silly effects, it was more ‘you’d better sit down here because this is a real rock album’… I wanted to do the most powerful, chunky guitar riff that you wouldn’t have heard on a Cats In Space record before so that people ‘bloody hell – this is different!’ and so I had this big chug-chug-chug riff like a Submarine going through the water; Somebody said to me the other day it sounds like Saxon – and Ill buy that even if Saxon aren’t in the Cats’ remit to be fair! So Dive is just a two minute, set-up kind of track. At the end of it you’ve got that Pete Townshend-y guitar thing, just to let you know that the next song is coming, and that it’s going to dovetail with Dive in a kind of one-two hit. It came out brilliantly, I’m chuffed to bits with it. Steevi (Bacon, drums) did all the intro stuff on it, all the people running along gangways and klaxons… it was really fun doing all of that”.
And the next track is Spaceship Superstar… “That started off as me mucking about with a guitar… I was using a capo on the second fret but playing it regularly. The standard rock tuning is A but I really like the key of B, which is really beefy – AC/DC‘s Down Payment Blues, Pinball Wizard, the key of B has a really chunky feel to it when you hit certain chords. I love that flamenco type of guitar so I channelled all my Tommy and Quadrophenia and came up with Spaceship Superstar. The title I had a long time ago, and I wanted it to be for a really ‘up’, feelgood type of song. And then when we got to the studio everything came out just as I wanted it to. Bearing in my when I demo it’s just me on my own with an engineer and I’m just slamming down instruments, trying to make sense of it all; I was playing along and decided to hold on to the note that comes before the middle eight and what we call ‘The Genesis Section'”-
It does sound a lot like Genesis! “It’s very Genesis. And the more I played it the more I though ‘this is good, I’ll write a song with it’. But also I realised that it just sits there really well in that track. It’s all that part needs to be. But it also enabled me to get through to the next bit of the song and we then decided to have several guitar solos, just make it a big old rock song. It’s one of my favourites… actually I think it’s one of my favourite songs that I’ve ever written”.
As you say, you’re demoing largely on your own. Do the songs ever take on a different personality when the other guys come in and lay down their parts, or do they maintain the same character? “Not really, because if I’m producing… it’s hard to explain but I already have the finished product in my brain, even if the demo only has one guitar, bass, drum machine and no vocals. So I know what it will sound like, and I ask the guys to fill in the gaps and then orchestrate what they do. The good thing about it is, and I’ve discussed this with (Cats’ studio wizard) Ian Caple many times, as soon as Jeff (Brown) puts his bass on it becomes a Cats’ song. Even before the vocals. There’s just something about the way he plays the bass. So I always make a point when I’m demoing the bass of just marking notes. No fills, no runs, because the minute you do that you’re colouring the track. Influencing it – and I like Jeff to do that bit which adds his character to it. So he definitely puts his stamp on it. Obviously I know how Steevi plays the drums, but this time around he played all of the electronic drums before he went into hospital so we were quite a way down the line with them when we went into the studio. Steevi’s vibe was all over the demos which had never happened before, and that was a bit of a turning point in the way we record; up until now me and Mick (Wilson, Greg’s co-writer), had always programmed a drum machine and just put in the sort of drum fills we felt should be in there. This time Steevi played the electronic drums and it really gave the songs extra life from really early doors. Then me and Dean (Howard, guitars) put the guitars down; I show him where the solos go but he’ll often say ‘oh I’ve got a part, can I try this?’, so we do record a lot of stuff, and not all of it gets used. The songs a eighty per cent down the road when the guys come in as far as production is concerned, and then they come in and do their bits. Then they go away and I go back in with Ian Caple and we ‘produce it’ and put it back together as it were. It’s quite a long process, but the recording is actually very quick because the guys are so good. They know exactly what Cats in Space does. Dean did the whole album in three sessions – all his rhythm parts and solos, three sessions, four songs a pop… the man just knows what to do. As does everyone. Andy (Stewart, keyboards) takes the longest because we use the keyboards for lots of extra parts, textures… we had a Grand Piano, a digital piano, another piano, a piano in a cupboard… (laughs)”.
The next track is Revolution. “I had Revolution by the back end of last year. I’d had the idea in my head for a long while. Ironically the lyrics took on a new set of legs with what’s going on in the world politically right now; I wanted a really fast song but like Cheap Trick. But quite simple, with a blackout chorus, the sort of thing The Sweet would do. Nothing fussy but just crack out a humungous harmony over three power chords. And it came together pretty quickly; it’s the fastest song we’ve ever done and at one point I wasn’t sure whether it might not be a bit too much and wouldn’t fit on the album. But it does sound like Cats… And as the album kept coming together Revolution kept sticking it’s head up. I said to Dean ‘of the demo songs what ones don’t you like?’ and he said ‘I love ’em all but that song Revolution – that’s one hell of a song!’. OK -it’s in then! And that was that! It’s just a fast, up-tempo rock song. We’ve done it live and it’ll be played on the livestream – and it is really fierce! That’s the real Cats In Space right there because live that’s what we try to be – a powerful rock band. It’s what this album has captured. We still wanted the studio technology and wizardry but we wanted to capture more of what the band is live. The core of the songs were really to be as we would do them live and that is why the album has turned out as it has. And Revolution is the ultimate example of that”.
The other side of that is Sunday Best. “Sunday Best! That’s classic Cats. Me sitting down at the piano trying to be Jeff Lynne… I wrote that song a long time, probably two years ago. Again, really bizarre – I didn’t have a clue about what the words would be although I had a melody. I could hear the phrase ‘in the morning’ in the chorus hook. I said to Steevi about it, because although Mick and I write most of the lyrics Steevi actually writes really good lyrics. I asked him to send me anything he had and he gave me Sunday Best. I immediately loved the title – very Queen, exactly what Cats is all about. Lazing on a Sunday afternoon… but bugger me the chorus fitted absolutely perfectly. Don’t wait until it’s time for Sunday… and Steevi had never heard the song! Plus it’s very personal for Steevi as it was his take on what happened when he has to go to hospital. So it’s quite a deep and meaningful song lyrically even though it’s a fun, jaunty number”.
Next up is Listen to the Radio. “I wrote that eight or nine years ago. The riffs… the actual chuggy guitar part was also written ages ago. I thought it was very Rick Springfield, but I never finished it. Well, I thought I hadn’t finished it but I was going through my phone one day, listening back to the ideas and samples I have on the computer, and I thought ‘there’s that riff again. I’ve got to do something with that!’… I knew the melody but the version I’d played into the phone went straight into a chorus that I didn’t remember writing – I thought ‘how the hell have I missed that?’ It should have gone on the first Cats album! So I demoed it. The song then was actually called Julianne Said. And the lyric was a true story about something that happened to me years and years and years ago. I got really smitten with a Lesbian, but I didn’t know at the time that she was. I was chatting her up and she was saying ‘not if you were the last bloke in the world’! It had such a good hook. The band played on it, Jeff loved it, Dean wasn’t sure, he thought the lyric might be a bit sexist but it wasn’t, so anyway we got the song done. Not to skirt around the issue, when Mark (Pascall, former CIS vocalist) came in to do vocals for the songs, he’d never mention this track. For some reason he wouldn’t acknowledge this song. There were two or three he just wouldn’t talk about; the only songs he’ mention were two he’d written and a couple of others, like Spaceship Superstar. Eventually he messaged me and said ‘I can’t sing that song’. I said it had the potential to be the first single from the album… It was just a fun song, very much like The Darkness. But he point blank refused to sing it. At one point Jeff was going to sing it, he’s got a great voice, but then we thought that if Jeff sang the first single from the record, Mark would be left redundant. So I backed down. I wasn’t happy about it, and I won’t do it again, but I rewrote the lyric. I wasn’t happy because I’d already spent money and time demoing the song. Mark wrote some words, which he chucked at me and I pieced them together. The thing that stood out, that I thought worked, was ‘listen to the radio’. So I decided to go the other way and write an obvious, fake ‘normal’ rock song. But the way it turned out, it turned into a sort of ‘come on everybody, let’s appreciate what we’ve got’ feelgood song which actually worked as a strong song on the album. But somewhere down the line we are going to do a version of Julianne Said that Damien will sing. Not any time soon but we’ll do it as a bonus track. And I think the fans will love the lyrics – especially when they know it’s about me. They go ‘what a tosser!’ (laughs). But Listen To The Radio will probably be the next single as is”.
Is it still worth putting out singles? Is Radio Two airplay in the UK still a sort of Holy Grail? “Yes, absolutely. Radio Two is now Radio One because everything has moved on a decade. Some people need to get their head around that. Radio Two and Ken Bruce would always be John Miles, Andrew Gold, Pilot, Queen… ten years later they are playing to an audience that is a decade younger. It’s more like Radio One and a half… Radio One is completely out of the game. So it would be nice to get on there but if they said the next three songs are going to be rock songs it would be AC/DC, Thin Lizzy and one other. Thunder couldn’t get on the playlist and they did a session for Terry Wogan! You kind of try – we tried to get on with the Christmas single last year but all they were interested in was the bloody election! For us a single is a way to keep pushing the band through the album – they do keep the album alive. The way we work is that our fans collect stuff and they expect us to release three singles from every album which they can add to their collections. The money that we can generate from the sale of a single through our webstore keeps us on the road sometimes. The money we make from the sale of a single, on average, takes care of all our hotel bills for a tour. It’s amazing, but the fans will buy this stuff if they know it will keep us on the road so they can see us live”.
The next track is I Fell Out of Love With Rock n’Roll, and for me it’s the one track on the album that links back to …Narnia rather than perhaps to one of the first two albums. “Really? that’s an interesting take. For me it’s possibly the best song I’ve ever written for Cats. It’s lyrically simple but it’s personal, it’s so direct, and I wrote it in about ten minutes! It wrote itself. Sometimes an emotion, an emotional statement is something that you just have to let run. I went through a really ‘usual’ chord sequence, with just a few twists in it. I let it run, but I began to think maybe I was writing a song somebody had already done because it felt so familiar off the bat… It’s similar maybe to something Queen might have done on The Game, but I didn’t want it to become too snazzy. It’s also a bit like a Beatles composition where you don’t have a chorus so much as you have a hook at the end of a progression; by doing that it means you can get to the middle section very quickly which means a song can be technically quite short but it does what it says on the tin… so I went into the middle section which is the ‘Floydy’ section with all the girl singers, took it back to the first section again with a little reprise… and that was the song! I kept playing it at home, thinking ‘there’s something about this song’ but I went through it and couldn’t change anything. I was just pissing about and then I realised what it needed tacked on the end was a bit of a Hey Jude job! I demoed it with Ian Caple last November with just a piano and a guide vocal and I knew then it was going to be a monster. So we got Mike Moran in to come and orchestrate the final part of the song, we threw the kitchen sink at it with the girls vocal’s Damien… it turned out to be everything I wanted it to be. As a songwriter, you struggle all your career to write ‘that’ song, and I think with this I’ve done that. So if I don’t do anything else I can be happy. I’m really chuffed with it”.
Right, we’ll home now then, shall we? “Yes!” (laughs).
The next track on the album, is Marionettes. “That was probably the hardest song I’ve ever done. It was written around the same time as IFOOLWRNR, pieced together out of various ideas I had. I wanted to write a song that was very current; It was originally going to be called Land Of The Broken Necks, and it was written to describe how when you walk down the street everybody’s looking downwards at their phones. So that set up the vibe of the song. The first part of the song was written for …Narnia. I played it to Mick and he said ‘we’ve done this enough haven’t we? why don’t we do something different?’. So here’s an exclusive folks – from playing that part at Micks, we went on to write Thunder In The Night! I don’t know how it happened. ‘Oh fuck it let’s write a disco song then!” But I left the idea on my phone, and I really wanted to do something with it, maybe in the vein of City Boy or Queen. Andy Stewart came down to do some guide keyboards on the track, and he helped me build it up – I asked him to write a keyboard part that sounded ridiculous and then fit it in to the part where I wanted it to go, which he did. He said ‘this is a brilliant song, I really hope we’re going to do something with it’, but it was really hard. It took a long time to do, but I wasn’t sure at one point whether it would even make it on to the album. It just sounded a bit too jumbled up to me. But the more we worked, the more it made sense. I thought well, if it’s taken me this long to see the sense in it, it might be one of those songs that fans take a bit of time to get used to, but in the end becomes a really solid song for us”.
I said in my review that I can see it becoming a song that holds it’s own in the live set for years to come. It’s got that epic feel about it. “It has, but the problem we have is that every album we have has these epics on them! We could do a set and only have five songs in it because they are all epics! Scarecrow, Johnny Rocket, all that kind of stuff. So we’ve not tackled the thought of doing this song live yet, but we might do. We’ve got so many big songs in the set there are only so many you can do. There is talk of us doing the whole album all the way through though, so we might just do that”.
It’s definitely an album that warrants a full run through live! Damien’s vocals make the song for me on Marionettes. He reminds me of David Byron from Uriah Heep on this track. “Yes! and Dennis DeYoung (Styx). I think what Damien did on this album, how he came in and attacked the job at hand, was astonishing. I’ve never seen anything like it, ever. And nor had Ian Caple, to be fair. He said Damien did the best job he’d seen in forty years of recording. He did Marionettes – those ad libs he did in the middle, he just did them. I didn’t ask him to do them, he’s just a genius. I said ‘how do you do what you do?’ He said ‘I don’t know. I just listen to a song and it comes out of me’. And it’s perfect. What a vocal! But very David Byron, I agree with that”.
Queen of the Neverland is next. “That leads straight out of Marionettes. I wrote this around the time of Revolution and I wanted another fast song to keep the album’s pace up rather than having too much one-paced stuff. It flew out of me, or at least the chorus did because there are some quite tricky parts in it. I see it as a sort of Ogre Battle from Queen II song. Fast and a bit mad and with a monstrous bass riff in there because I know Jeff can really hack it out! We’ve never done a song where the bass just hammers out full-tilt; I was expecting Jeff to play it with a plectrum, full bore, but he said ‘If this was Queen John Deacon would be playing it with his fingers’. And then he played it so John Deacon it’s not true! He really coloured that song but his playing throughout the album is some of the best I’ve ever heard. But on that song in particular he was so on top of it. We’re doing that one live and it’s a corker!”
Next song is the Bostonian Magic Lovin’ Feelin’. “I always wanted to do a song with that ‘chugga-chugga’ acoustic – very Bostonian in many ways. But it only became Bostonian when Dean put those harmonies on the outro choruses. I wasn’t planning on doing anything there but he played this lick… I said ‘oh man – Tom Scholz!’ So we made him do the big harmony bit. Normally I do all the ‘Brian May‘ stuff but Dean had those parts so I just watched him do it. And of course the minute we put it on and we got the idea for it I felt it needed a lick between the sections to keep the song moving along. So I thought ‘Show Me The Way – Peter Frampton‘ and out came the voice box! It always makes an appearance on every album! This was a song that Mark wrote the lyrics for originally but he never demoed it. So I took it and demoed it but we couldn’t get it right because it all fell down on the chorus. We rewrote it about four times until eventually I completely stripped it back, cut all the chords out and went to Ian Caple and said ‘really sorry but we’ve got to redo this’. Luckily this was still at the demo stage and Mark never worked on it. When Damien came in I gave him the song. About fifteen minutes later he sent me back his version and said ‘will this do?’ – And Magic Lovin’ Feelin’ was born!”
The next song on the list is Can’t Wait Till Tomorrow. “Again another idea that I wrote quite a while ago. I was kicking it around on an acoustic guitar a couple of years ago and never finished it. Originally it was in a different key, much higher because I wanted it to have a high, Supertrampy chorus on it… But when I got to demoing it as a singer I thought I’d completely ballsed it up. As a song the chords worked nicely but it was no good for my voice. So now I’ve got to transpose it and find a way of playing it. Eventually we made it work and it came out really well. We put the Moog solo on it, strings… After Steevi had recovered from his operation he came down and asked if he could play a little bit of harmonica on it. So he played a beautiful harmonica solo at the start of the Moog solo that gave it a real Supertramp feel! And suddenly this song kept finding these little magical pieces. When it was done we sat and listened to it and Ian Caple said ‘it’s one of the best things you’ve ever done’.
The harmonica makes the song for me. It’s so unexpected but it fits so well. “It’s just got that perfect seventies feel where they used to bring in a morose harmonica player… Gilbert O’Sullivan, loads of film soundtracks, it just creates that little mood that sets the solo section up. It’s actually got a bit of a John Miles feel about it but he’s usually in most of our stuff! (laughs)”
Now, you may say that I Fell Out of Love With Rock n’Roll is the best song you’ve ever written. May I not so humbly counter that it’s actually the next track, Seasons Change… Not only that, I think that it’s the best song I’ve heard by anyone in the last ten years. It’s a mind-blowingly good song. “Wow. Well I’m not going to disagree with you of course (more laughter)! To be fair, Jeff is going nuts over this, actually a few people are. I actually wrote it for Scarecrow back in 2015 with Graham Noon who helped me with the very first demos for Too Many Gods. We wrote it, it sounded like a fabulous song, and we demoed it for the Scarecrow album… but it just didn’t fit. There was something about it where I thought we were so close, but I couldn’t let it go out because I felt we could do better. I don’t often do that, I say ‘it is what it is, it’s got to do’. But this time I couldn’t. There was too much instrumentation on it, and the vocal wasn’t quite in the pocket. I don’t think Paul (Manzi, original Cats throatsmith) got into the lyric enough. So we shelved it. We were then going to release it as a Christmas single, just after Danny Bowes (Thunder vocalist) took us on in a management capacity. But he said ‘Thunder are doing a Christmas single this year, and I don’t think you’re in a position to do one. I don’t think you are established enough’. At that point we only had one album out. So Seasons Change got put back in the draw again! And then I looked at it again this year. By this time Mark had left the band and he took one of the songs with him that he’d written. I actually found myself a song light. So out came Seasons Change – I thought it’s not right. Jeff said ‘Do Seasons change for fuck’s sake – it’s brilliant!’ So I took it back in to the studio to redo it. We dropped a few bits off, and I thought ‘this is a bloody good song’. The synth work, the Moog sounds, it started to dance along. I really felt that Atlantis as an album needed this song. There wasn’t as much instrumentation but the song was bigger for that… I sent it to Damien, and asked him to have a go at it. He came back and said ‘I really like that song – it’s one of the best ones you’ve sent me so far’. And Damien being Damien, when he comes in and does stuff, he learns the songs and he smashes them. He did that in one take. My God. What you hear on the album is the very first run through. If that’s not one of the most astonishing vocals you’ve ever heard I don’t know what is. None of the ad libs at the end occur on the original demo. It’s just an instrumental playout. But Damien just started singing away. I was like ‘what is he doing?’, and that’s what it was. All of those ad libs came out of his head in one go. I asked him if he planned any of it and he said ‘no, it’s just what I wanted to sing as the song was playing’. We just sat there in silence… And that song just became magic from that point onwards. Originally it was going on side one, but it’s a classic Cats song and we wanted to get the audience used to the more ‘rock’ stuff on side one and the more familiar stuff on side two. Also, what song could possibly follow it?”
That’s what I said when I first heard it. But you managed to pull it off because Atlantis does follow it, and follows it well. “Exactly. It’s the closing play out, a bit like musical theatre where it’s the last song before the encore. It calms things back down, you start reminiscing about what’s gone before… it’s a reminiscing song. It builds up to the big finale! So it’s very musical theatre in that sense but as a standalone song it’s just a big fuck-off power ballad! As I was knocking the song about, just as a chord progression, it was in a different key, like a Wings/McCartney vibe… As a nod to my good friend Phil Lanzon from Uriah Heep I think it’s very Grand Prix. It’s very much a song he would write and I love him as a songwriter. His solo albums are fucking brilliant. I can’t help but be influenced by his song writing and Atlantis is one of those songs where you can hear that. It closes the album off and takes you round to side one again!”
And that’s that – a very interesting insight into an excellent, possibly career-defining album…
Read the first part of Scott’s Interview with Greg HERE
Read Sentinel Daily’s Review of Atlantis HERE