One very useful piece of feedback I’ve received since giving this site a facelift, is that I now have a very professional website full of great clips and music, but a blog which is essentially written for my friends; therefore not giving any further insight into my professional life. This is a valid point and one I may not have noticed myself. Although I do like the candid nature of these posts, I must concede they do nothing to bring musicians or music-lovers back to this site time and again. To fix that problem I’m going to start by doing a few gig, song and album reviews – starting with Cat Empire!
A Good All Rounder
So; regular, music-related blog content. I’m proud of the fact I am able to turn my hand to many areas of musicianship – composition, Lyrics, production, playing a number of instruments; therefore I’m going to do my best to ensure my blog reflects this breadth of expertise. I’m going to start by doing something that any music lover can do, whether professional performer, or bedroom superstar – and that is offering my opinion by reviewing the aforementioned Cat Empire gig. Please do feel free to comment or communicate and let me know if there’s something music-related you’d like to hear or read about and I’ll do my best to comply!
Onto the review. I was recently fortunate that my dear friend and fellow Storey guitarist Joe purchased us tickets to see Australian band ‘The Cat Empire’ play their first show at the Royal Albert Hall. I had been introduced to them a couple of years previously and although I LOVED one of their more recent tracks, Steal the Light (see below) I’d still not chosen to buy an album and wouldn’t say I’d graduated to being a fully fledged ‘fan’. Therefore I approached the gig with low-level excitement in that I was pleased to see a cool band at a spectacular venue, without being ‘hyped!’ Speaking to Joe, I would say he felt the same. We’d just spent two days recording the music video to our forthcoming single ‘Promise of You‘ and were exhausted so it was good to be able to relax, whatever the surroundings.
Support act Andreya Triana was a good entertainer with decent songs, and I was particularly impressed by her pianist who was clearly a very fine musician. Not the last of the night. From now on there are going to be elements of sarcasm and fun in this review because if I don’t include them I could rightly be accused of writing one of the most biased reviews of all time; in fact I would probably sound like one of their mothers, so impressed was I with what I was about to watch!
As The Cat Empire took to the stage, my eyes were immediately drawn to one member, who like your typical Aussie guy was wearing a vest. But unlike your typical Aussie, he was holding a trumpet! I’ll be honest – as the band launched into their first number, my first impressions of trumpet-toating, vest-sporting Harry were that he was probably a bit of a cheeky-chappy – creative, dynamic and fun loving; yet the musical snob in me suspected he possibly didn’t earn his place in the band solely for musical reasons. Though with his pot-belly and the fact his beard extended around his neck and half way down his back, he clearly wasn’t in the band because of his image either!
Anyway, I was pleased to be proved wrong. Immediately. As soon as he put it to his lips and let out a first rasping, piercing yet full bodied blast from his trumpet, it was clear that Harry really knew his way around a horn. Apparently he’s a fan of one of my great heroes, Miles Davis, and it showed. But his trumpet playing didn’t tell half the story. As the band settled themselves into song two, apparent-lead singer Felix sat himself behind some congas and Harry took to the microphone. Was this Harry’s ‘token song’ much like Roger Taylor used to get his own brief solo spot in the middle of a Queen set? In a word, ‘no’. After hearing only a few bars of song two, it was clear that Harry was very much co-lead singer on merit; his voice soared. Mesmerising. And songs that good deserved voices like the two heard so far.
The fact The Cat Empire now seemed to have two lead singers leads me neatly onto Felix. Felix was neither pot-bellied or wearing a vest. Slim, muscular – he could be perceived as the ‘pretty boy’ of the band. He’s probably last out of the dressing room before show time, and I imagine he uses more hairspray on tour than the rest of the other band members combined! But again, any thoughts that he may be in the band because of anything other than musical reasons were quickly dispelled. I remember seeing footage of Ian Gillan – vocalist with Deep Purple in the 1970s – moving behind a set of congas mid-song, as the band went into one of their famous solos. It didn’t bring much to the sound but it looked good and I guess for him meant that he didn’t feel like a spare-part for the duration of a 20 minute jam.
When Felix sat behind his range of percussion instruments, I naturally assumed that this was a similar situation. That’s not me being cynical – he’s good looking, he sings well, probably writes many of the lyrics – why would he also be a brilliant drummer? I mean, that would simply be unfair! Anyway, in the middle of their third song, Felix and drummer Will took the unusual step of performing a drum solo-duet. Unusual I say because with modern day attention spans at an all-time low, audiences can get restless if they’re not being bombarded by constant vocals, lights, and dancers, all supported by colourful images beamed onto unfeasibly large screens. And still they spend most of the gig holding up their smart phones to record the videos they’ll never watch while simultaneously tweeting about it. Not this audience, and not this band. Will and Felix’s drum solo was devastating – tight, rhythmic, playful. I was yet to tweet a thing.
Ross, Kieran & DJ Jumps
Felix and Harry’s roles as singers/instrumentalists were clearly blurred but this only added to my enjoyment of the show. Their voices, images and instrumental contributions were different and it seemed like the stage evolved with each number; both visually and audibly. But it would be very unfair for me to stop there. At the back of the stage were brass section Ross and Kieran, and DJ Jumps who stabbed, scratched and smiled their way through the night.
One real highlight was when Ross and Kieran joined Harry at the front of the stage; three guys stood around one microphone taking turns to improvise one seamless brass solo. Close your eyes and it sounded like the horn player with the biggest set of lungs of all time – there was no respite as they were literally queuing up behind each other to take the lead for a few bars. Aided by the fact the band were laying down some of the phattest, funkiest and smokin’ accompaniment I’d ever witnessed in the flesh, the track and audience peaked as one into a frenzy of improvised brilliance! I’d not seen a band fly like this since the Dave Matthews Band at Brixton Academy in 2010 and it’s fair to say I hadn’t expected any of it!
If I’ve not used up all of my superlatives already, I’d like to talk about Cat pianst Ollie. Although my first instrument is guitar, I’ve played and studied an increasing amount of piano in recent years so am attentive to what these guys do live, soaking up what I can. The fact is, it took me about four songs before I even realised that The Cat Empire do not even HAVE a guitarist, and this had much to do with Ollie; his playing was a sensory treat and sat where I was, close behind him, I spent much of the night watching his fingers glide up and down his keyboard in awe.
When he wasn’t accompanying the soloists with slick, jazzy chord progressions (which to me, were as interesting as the solos themselves) he was leading jams with Headhunters-style funky electric piano riffs, and even a brief classical piano improvisation; all of it authentic, all of it engaging. His technique was so impressive I dread to think how much practice he must do, but it inspired me enough to make me realise I could do more!
Ollie’s Hair… & Ryan
In the name of balance I feel obliged to mention Ollie’s hair-style, which was nothing short of shocking, and his shirt which was only marginally less tragic. And believe me I’ve sported both dodgy hair and shirts over the years, so if I feel qualified to mention them, they must’ve been bad! As it happens, Ollie had an ally in bassist Ryan. I have a suspicion that Ryan and Ollie were dressed by the same partially sighted crew member. Or perhaps they dressed each other?! No one was sure, but what wasn’t in doubt was the fact that Ryan, constantly switching between electric and upright bass, barely stepped away from Cat Will’s hi-hat (always a good sign) and the pair of them made an intense rhythm section. Indeed they’re a significant part of the fact that whether or not we were listening to fiery Cuban rhythms, laid back reggae grooves, outrageous jazz swing or straight ahead funky-pop, I and the 5,200-strong audience spent most of the night dancing our way around the Royal Albert Hall, and I’ve never done that before!
As we left the venue, Joe said “I’m going to be smiling for days after that!” and I followed up with “I feel like I’ve just experienced the equivalent of a massive musical erection!” The Cat Empire do not need my help to succeed – they’ve already been doing it for years. But visit their Facebook page and if you’ve not heard them before then I recommend you check them out. The albums are great but they do not do the live show justice. Whoever I choose to review next has a lot to live up to!
Cat Empire – 10/10
Since publishing this post, we in Storey have finished the video and production of our single ‘Promise Of You’ – I hope you enjoy the clip as much as you have this Cat Empire gig review. 🙂
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