THERE was mild confusion when up-and-coming Brit rockers, Catfish and the Bottlemen, hit the festival circuit a few years ago.
“Everyone expected us to be a seven-piece bluegrass band,” laughs singer, Ryan McCann. “Did we ever regret the name? Definitely, at moments. You’d be on stage in Manchester and have to tell people what you were called, three times over, before it sticks. And, in America, you really have to over-pronounce the words. Otherwise, they end up calling you ‘Catfish and the Butthole Men’.”
It will take more than a mildly misleading name to impede the English-Welsh outfit. Just-released second album, The Ride, is on track to crack the UK top ten; when they played Dublin’s Olympia, last month, the matey bunch were mobbed at their hotel. They are on the cusp of becoming the big new thing in frills-free British rock.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” says the amiable McCann. “The biggest pressure is when your management asks you to send a tweet and you forget about it, because you’ve been in rehearsals all day. We understand that the music business is called a business for a reason and that you have to attend to that side of things. In terms of music, the only pressure is what we put on ourselves to write the best songs we can.”
It’s a cliche to describe every new northern English rock band as heirs to Oasis. However, Catfish and the Bottlemen undoubtedly have something of the Gallaghers in their musical DNA. A love of classic rock infuses their songbook, to which can be added a knack for lyrics written from the perspective of the yearning underdog.
These are staples of British rock. The trick is drawing on this rich tradition, without sounding as if you are trying to knock off ‘Wonderwall’. Catfish and the Bottlemen channel the same sensibility that made Oasis and the Stone Roses adored, but they bring their own perspective.
Of course, being a working-class British rock band, they have had to endure endless putdowns from the London media. Though much-diminished, the UK music press still enjoys waging hate campaigns against groups with a mainstream following, and have had Catfish and the Bottlemen in their sights for some time. McCann shrugs. He’s not much-bothered.
“We’ve always seen ourselves as a live group. We know whether a song works or not from the reaction of the crowd — those are the critics that matter. We try not to read reviews. My dad reads them all. I will say to him ‘Don’t look at that — it says we’re s**t’. He’ll be like ‘Yeah… but it’s really funny’!”
“When I read a bad review, it makes me want to check the album out,” adds flat-capped guitarist, Johnny Bond. “There’s some stubborn part of you that actually wants to like a band, just to show the journalist they were wrong.”
The big difference between Catfish and their spiritual predecessors is the youngsters’ composed demeanour off-stage.
There was some minor behind-the-scenes turmoil as their career started to take off, with guitarist Billy Bibby departing suddenly. But, seated in their record company’s Dublin HQ, McCann and Bond are friendly and thoughtful — polite young men who would make their mothers proud.
@catfishandthebottlemen's first festival headline tonight. It was special 🐊 pic.twitter.com/YMzRxXnQur— Niall Lea (@NiallLeaPhoto) May 29, 2016
Still, they can be bloody-minded, in their way. The band refuses to play encores, feeling they are a) naff and b) interrupt the flow of a concert, just as the atmosphere is reaching somewhere special. “We don’t like leaving the stage,” nods Bond. “There’s a slightly hokey aspect, if you walk off and hide behind the curtains. Everyone knows you are coming back. What’s the point?”