The Intergalactic rise to fame of CATS in SPACE since their inception in 2015 has been a rollercoaster ride to say the least, and with a new vocalist and a new album about to be unleashed, there’s lots to talk about – so we caught up with the cat man himself, Greg Hart to get the lowdown…
Paul Sabin for HRH Mag: Going back to 2015, what made six musicians, each with their own respective musical careers decide to get together and start a band?
Greg Hart: Hi everyone at HRH, welcome aboard the crazy spaceship! It’s well documented but basically I wanted to write an album purely for my own ‘need’, an ‘itch I had to scratch’ you may say. I was writing with Mick Wilson from 10cc, and pretty soon we realised we had some great tunes emerging and I felt putting a ‘studio band’ together would be a cool idea. So I rounded up the best men for the job. It was all very selfish and self-obsessed but I wanted to do a real ‘70s style album as if it were 1976 or whatever. Just for me! The fact that so many people were waiting for a band like us was a real bonus.
PS: How did the line-up come about?
GH: Steevi Bacon was already with me at this point and he helped from day one to get everything together. I knew Dean Howard, Jeff Brown and of course Andy Stewart so they were my ‘go-to guys’, no one else was considered at this point. I had recently met Paul Manzi and he was perfect for the vocal position. It was dare I say very ‘organic’ and sometimes in life, the stars align and they sure have for what became CATS in SPACE. We just had a magic from day one, weird but true. We made a good racket!
PS: Did you plan to continue after the first album?
GH: We didn’t even plan to play live!! Dean pushed for that – I wasn’t so sure but we knew we had a great album and a wonderful chemistry, so we thought why not! From the very first minute of rehearsals, I kid ye not, we all looked at each other and just went ‘wow’ hang on, this sounds enormous and good… by the time the first show came along I was already writing for the second album as we all knew this thing ‘could’ run.
PS: `Too Many Gods’ was very theatrical in its content, have you ever considered turning it into a musical?
GH: You’re not the first to ask this and the answer is yes, we would love to. In fact, looking back over the four albums there are tunes now that would thread a whole story together, including of course our mini-concept piece ‘The Story of Johnny Rocket’. It’s a bucket list tick we all want, so yes. I’m not scared of saying we are a bit ‘jazz hands’, albeit hard rock jazz hands!
PS: On the face of it, to the uninitiated, your music isn’t anything new, leaning heavily on musical influences from most of the rock and pop world, from The Beatles through to Queen, ELO, The Sweet, 10cc, Thin Lizzy and many more and yet with three studio albums and one live album under your collective belts, your sound and lyrical content seems able to withstand the test of time and draw in new fans too. What do you attribute that to?
GH: I like to think we offer quality music that moves people and that will last – that’s all we wish to do. Stir a passion within. We have seen, very quickly, that there are thousands of music fans our age as well as younger and indeed older, who love classic rock, proper classic rock like it was and have pined for a band to come along like us – dare I say. What we do comes from a very good place, it is 100% honest and not contrived. We are not trying to be cool and hip, we are just making music for ‘our generation’. The fact that it goes so well is a testament to the simple fact that quality will out over hype, every time. We get so many incredible comparisons it is just wonderful. When someone says we are ‘the new Queen’ or whatever it’s just amazing. Though a tad embarrassing! Even if it is just one person saying that we mean that much, it makes what we do and what we write, so rewarding. I could talk all day about the messages and comments we get from people – genuine stories that touch us deeply. We are just so grateful we get to do this and take people into a happy place. Which let’s face it we all need these days.
PS: You have supported some big names already, in what is for a band, a fairly short career, including Deep Purple, Status Quo, Thunder and Phil Collins, how did those support slots come your way?
GH: We were on a few ‘radars’ and our management at the time were approached as the agents felt CATS would be a cool addition to these tours. These people saw what a great live entertaining band we are – not everyone sees that, yet, but they will! Francis Rossi, Ian Gillan and all those guys watched our sound checks every night. The compliments we got were amazing and very funny from Mr Rossi! He stayed on stage for our soundcheck every night playing in the background… great fun!
PS: Is there a dream headliner that you would like to support next?
GH: Yup, Queen, Peter Frampton, ELO, Cheap Trick, or for me personally any band with Roger Manning (Jellyfish) in it… I keep messaging him, we have spoken and I will make that happen!
PS: Every album has the now familiar ingredients of brilliant vocal harmonies, powerful melodies, a twin-guitar sound, and of course great lyrics which seem to sit halfway between a fantasy world and the harsh real world. How does songwriting happen, is there a method you, as a band, always follow?
GH: Thank you! Yes, we work very hard to make everything big grand and thoughtful. Well, songwriting is always a weird thing for me. I tend to conceptualise the album upfront, discuss it with the guys and then they leave me to get on with it. I’m always a year in front! Mick Wilson, who has been my writing partner for a lot of each album, will come and join in and we may take 6-10 months of writing before we present the band with the demos. It’s a fabulous time and my happy place to be honest. With Atlantis I had no Mick for various reasons and I dug deep to create what is about to emerge. Steevi came up with some amazing lyrics and indeed the album title and moving forward I will be working with his lyrics more ‘cos they’re fab. The band all played the best they have ever played and we decided to rock out more, and let rip.
PS: You’ve been working hard for some time now to get material recorded for the upcoming album `Atlantis’ but it’s not been without its problems along the way with Paul Manzi deciding to leave the fold and join The Sweet. Did he have any input on `Atlantis’?
GH: No, Paul left after the first half of the ‘Narnia’ tour. At that point, I had maybe three or four songs formulating, as I am normally writing that far ahead you see.
PS: Mark Pascall, known as the vocalist for the South West based rockers Departed came on board as Paul Manzi’s replacement and did some live shows with you but this didn’t last, what happened?
GH: Mark is a great singer and did a superb Christmas campaign with us. His voice is destined to be a fantastic AOR type voice with the right vehicle for it, but I felt towards the end that the age difference and vibe is not suited for what CATS does, and alas things didn’t work out as we hoped. Adding to the work ethic required to make the album, things just didn’t suit both parties I feel.
PS: How did that set back the recording of `Atlantis’?
GH: As things mapped out, Atlantis became the hardest thing ever, but for personal and health reasons. I lost my father midway recording and Steevi’s partner lost her mum three weeks later. It’s been a very very hard road for us, but the upside is, you hopefully will hear the emotions in the grooves of the new album.
PS: You then got the superb talents of Damien Edwards on board, who appears to be perfectly suited to the role. How did you find him?
I’ve known Dames for a while now and he has sung in our ‘Supersonic 70s’ theatre show, so I knew just what an astonishing singer he is, but I never knew he wanted to do original stuff like ours. I invited him down to do some backing vocals and he smashed them all pretty much inside two sessions. When the situation with Mark arose, I phoned him and asked if he felt like trying out as he knew the songs and we were very much behind schedule, especially if we had to audition again. He came down and blew me away. His voice was perfect for CATS, so much so! Our engineer Ian Caple said to me that Dames is the best singer he has worked with in 40 years. High praise! Again, things line up for a reason – I believe that. He is the final piece in our puzzle. His voice is just wonderful and I know whatever I throw at him he does it and beyond with such effortless quality it beggars belief. I really do rate him as good as any singer there is out there – anywhere. To have him sing our songs and indeed start to write some stuff is a very, very exciting time for us all. The future is bright!
PS: What is Damien’s background?
GH: He toured the live Jeff Waynes ‘War of the Worlds’ show, completed some theatre productions like ‘The Roy Orbison Story’ – he has been a hired gun for many big shows, but finally he now gets to shine in his own right. And trust me when people hear him live it’s going to be a game-changer for this band. Sorry Dames – no pressure mate!
PS: There is also a link between Damien and Space Elevator, who did a UK tour with you isn’t there?
GH: Yes, Dames knows The Duchess very well as they have toured together as backing singers and he sang on both their albums.
PS: You have posted several videos of Damien singing some of your older material. Are there any plans to revisit and re-record any of your earlier releases?
GH: We have been very busy, yes… We have an eye on Germany and feel they need to be introduced to the band as it is now, so we have plans to release some stuff early 2021 over there. If the demand is there, we may do something for the UK after Atlantis settles down (which I hope doesn’t happen anytime soon!). We have loads of stuff planned whilst we cannot gig, which is great as the band just want to play and sing and write so all is very good and the mood is better than it has ever been. Which, considering the climate right now, is quite mad! But we are all full of beans here.
PS: With `Atlantis’ due out shortly, how did COVID impact on recording the new album?
GH: Luckily not too bad, asides from Jeff being stuck in Belgium for half of it. We had five weeks out at the start of lockdown but the studio is in the middle of nowhere so we were able to come and go and keep on it soon after that. I started demoing last November, so the break we had was good as it gave me time to finalise the last three songs which were proving to be tricky. Steevi was recovering from his operation in January too, so the band were not able to even play together until June. So, yes, we were quite lucky in that respect. What it did do was make Atlantis the album it is now, so as ever these weird things that are thrown at you often help you for the better. And we all feel the new album is the best of our careers, from any band we have been in. That’s how much we all feel about Atlantis. And the artwork? Well – that is something else. Our good friend and in-house artist Andy Kitson has once again created a monster… so lockdown helped us I feel!
PS: How will live performance bans affect the promotion of the album?
GH: It’s a slight worry as it is for all bands, but we felt if every band shelves their new album because they can’t tour to support it, then no one would bring out new music in 2020 and people need to have some light and something to look forward to. So, we decided no matter what our album would emerge for Christmas and stand everyone in good stead ready for when the touring starts again. And when it does? CATS will be poised ready and promise a show unlike any we have done before. It’s going to be a full length two-hour show herein, no more messing about! We have four albums to pull from and the fans, we feel, want us to deliver a FULL show wherever possible. That’s the aim for 2021. Bring it on!
PS: Let’s hope we will all get to hear CATS in SPACE on the world’s stages very soon in whatever format this brave new world will dictate!
GH: You can be sure of it, we have new turbos fitted to the Spaceship and quality rock in abundance – stay safe everyone and be nice to each other.