Lawrence Smith catches up with Sussex blues band Catfish.
There’s a steady stream of gigs flowing in for Sussex blues band Catfish.
Since releasing their debut album in 2015, the musicians have quickly built up a reputation for electrifying live performances, taking their muscular, rock-infused sound to festivals across the UK.
Now the formidable four-piece – Kevin Yates on drums, Dusty Bones on bass, Paul Long on keyboard and Paul’s son Matt on lead guitar – have a new record to show off.
“We’re really proud of it,” says Matt, the 22-year-old frontman and guitar wizard who grew up in Dorking and Wisborough Green. “It’s the culmination of a year’s worth of work.”
Their new album is Broken Man. Released in January this year, it boasts a dynamic mix of styles – from the country-tinged prog-rock of the title track, to the fiery, chaotic blues of ‘Big Shot’, to the romantic blend of piano and harmonica on ‘Part As Strangers’.
“I’m just pleased it sounds okay,” laughs keyboardist Paul.
“You’re never sure when you’re producing your own album,” he adds, explaining that the initial live takes were recorded at Brighton Road Studios, near Hassocks, and finished off at Paul’s home studio.
It’s an important release for the band, their first full-length album made up almost entirely of original tracks. The only exception is a cover of Foy Vance’s ‘Make It Rain’.
So why now, after two years, are the band releasing their first album of original songs?
“We started out just playing in the back end of pubs, having a good time,” says Matt when asked about their 2015 debut. “So we figured we’d record some songs to sell.”
The result was a collection of blues covers called So Many Roads, which paid tribute to artists like Robert Petway and Eddie Boyd.
Astonishingly, the album shot straight to number 1 in the Independent Blues Broadcasters Association airplay charts, and it was this sudden popularity that led to the band’s early reliance on covers.
A tribute EP to B.B. King was released in 2016, hitting number 5 in the same charts.
Naturally, creating an album packed with original tunes this time around meant a colossal amount of work. But doing it in winter offered a few extra challenges.
“While we recording, we all fell ill,” says Matt. “Not seriously ill, but enough to make sure we didn’t do any work on it for quite some time. I had many colds and coughs that stopped me from singing.”
“Life got in the way very much on this one,” he states. “But we’re glad we persevered.”
It’s a rather stoic and sensible attitude toward setbacks, and it can be found in the musicians’ approach to success too.
“Nothing goes to our heads,” says Paul. “With the blues crowd, it’s not about any starry thing. It’s generally about contacts with people, talking to people. The best blues gigs are where you feel at one with the audience.”
Paul explains that, to him, blues is an emotion, not just a chord sequence. A direct, emotional connection with the listener is essential.
Maybe that’s why Catfish are gaining admirers. Only last year they were nominated for several British Blues Awards. They missed out on winning Band of the Year, but Paul won Keyboard Player of the Year and Independent Blues Broadcaster of the Year (he has a radio show), while Matt took third place in the Young Artist of the Year category.
Another reason for the band’s success could be their commitment to quality. The gigs are getting bigger but Catfish don’t consider some shows as being more important than others.
“You have to give every audience your best shot,” Paul states.
Maybe the family aspect of Catfish has helped their popularity too. Watching them live you get a sense of a natural musical chemistry.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Matt laughs when he’s asked what it’s like to play in a band with his dad. “When we started we were playing together just because it was fun and we were making a bit of money from it, but as we’ve progressed it’s become more professional.”
“The whole thing is a family operation really,” Paul adds. “Fiona (Paul’s wife) manages the band and books all the gigs, so it’s a cottage industry.”
Perhaps it’s a small-scale set-up, but that doesn’t hold artists back in this age of social media and digital downloads.
Paul agrees that finding a global audience online is possible but, for Catfish, this method is missing something.
“Yeah, you can do that,” he says. “But you have to have direct contact with the people who come to the gigs as well.”
“That helps spread the word,” he explains. “No matter how long you do it word-of-mouth is still the biggest recommendation any band can get.”
See Catfish live
- Friday, July 7: Farncombe Church, Near Guildford, 7.45pm, £10 advance, £15 door. With support from Hollie Rogers. www.julianlewrymusic.com
- Saturday, July 8: Underground Theatre, Eastbourne, 7.30pm, £8. undergroundtheatre.co.uk
- Friday, July 28: Uckfield Blues and Roots festival, 8.30pm. uckfieldbluesandroots.co.uk
- Saturday, August 12: Worthing Blues Festival. www.facebook.com/worthingbluesfestival
This first featured in the July edition of etc Magazine pick up your copy now.