The Family Cat - Purrfect Timing
Melody Maker 12 August 1989 - Everett True
Of all the new bands attracting attention this summer, The Family Cat look among the fittest to survive. Everett True brushes up on a few of their nine lives.
Have you ever noticed a dog eyeing you up as you invade its domain? Teeth bared, mouth curling, it strains at the leash as if that's all that lies between you and oblivion. The perfect pet for squaddies; loyal to owner only, masculine, dirty, noisy, they're dumb enough to learn all the crap tricks which even the least self-respecting human wouldn't perform, except under undue torture. The word "independent" might as well never have existed as far as these beasts are concerned. Dogs are clumsy and smelly. Pathetically affectionate, all dogs and their owners should be muzzled, leashed and made to lick up their disgusting territorial faeces. Stupid, stupid animals. But cats on the other hand … now we're talking…
The Family Cat is a most deserving creature indeed. Fiercely independent, loveable, affectionate only if the situation arises, is the most feminine of animals ("pet" is too insulting a word). Sleek, graceful, proud, a cat would rather show you disdain than rush into confrontation. Anyone who doesn't love a cat has no warmth in their heart, no fire in their soul. That is unless they're allergic. The Family Cat … every home should have one.
This Family Cat is much (un)like any other. A five piece guitar group who grew up in Devon and Southampton, fired by their love for The Buzzcocks, The Jam and a time when live music held sway. Like many, they formed a band in an attempt to escape the humdrum existence of everyday life. Like many, they go out drinking together. Like many, it's small things in life that matter most to them.
Yes, The Family Cat are much like any other band, except in the music they create.
Fred: "It's most tiny landmarks that count - playing our first gig, getting our first review, getting the single out, having it reviewed in Melody Maker - things that are brilliant. Just rehearsing can be good fun. We got excited when the tee shirts were made, or when we played at the Electric Ballroom and or name was on the poster, like the classic posters of The Clash and Buzzcocks."
The Family Cat are … smart.
The Family Cat are five. Fred is the thoughtful, golf playing vocalist-cum-guitarist, who wears shades even on the darkest evening. Born and bred in Southampton, he came to London eight years ago, in search of his own band.
Kev Donning (drums) would never be able to build himself up on a job application form. Self-effacing in the extreme, he says virtually nothing throughout the interview. From Cornwall and ex-Mecca worker alongside Tim McVay (rhythm guitar), Kev's a fan of Lindsy Morrison's drumming style.
Tim's also from Cornwall. A Cancerian and keen footballer, he once had trials with Exeter City. A sussed dude.
Tim: "To put a cover version in your set pigeonholes you - people will believe anything. If we were to say, ‘Oh yeah, Def Leppard are the best band of the last 10 years', and you printed it, then sure to God our next review would go, ‘Well they've obviously got their Stone Roses wedding Present Def Leppard influences'!"
John the bassist, born in Bristol, as tall as he is broad owned his first album (Cream) when he was two. his mum was an early beatnik who used tomake cakes for Keith Floyd. Once head cellerman at the Savoy (the biggest wine-seller in the world,) he f***ed up his leg in a motorbike accident so joined the DHSS, instead. John is a man who likes his live music.
John: "The whole point of going to a gig, as far as I'm concerned, is to actually go and enjoy seeing a band play live, but in the last couple of years that's been lost a bit. We'd like to bring that feeling back."
Jelb (Stephen Jelbert, lead guitar) recently met Brix Smith and Nigel Kennedy stepping out together at the off-licence he works in. From Cornwall, Jelb's a man renowned for wearing shorts on stage. He has very fixed ideas on music.
Jelb: "The trouble is that the better a band learn to play their instruments, the more normal they start sounding and very few bands have avoided the trap. When we first saw Sonic Youth back in '84, everyone was, like, disbelieving, it was terrifying. But now they just seem really bored by it all."
The other day, The Family Cat released their debut 12-inch on the Bad Girl Corporation label, a record which has made several people sit up and take particular interest. Entitled "Tom Verlaine", it's a heady mixture of inspired riffing and dreampop, very much guitar Class Of '89, which recalls The Stone Roses and Galaxie 500 (to name but a few) with its simple, ringing tones. One of its stranger features is that it was produced by Rick Butler (ex-Jam) at his Ark Studios in Islington.
Fred: "The single isn't actually about Tom Verlaine - that was just the working title. A useful reference point. Effectively it was just built around the idea of growing up, getting older and how you remember certain times certain people. The first verse is about a birthday party I had when I was 17. I don't remember if Television were played, but I can imagine the probably would've been. If it makes people go out and buy a couple of Television records then we couldn't be happier."
Not surprisingly, The Family Cat express a string admiration for the guitarwork and straightforward songwriting of Flying Nun bands, particularly The Clean and The Bats. Their inspiring use of layered guitars on songs like ‘Octopus Jr' (sex and pornography), run far closer to these Antipodean craftsmen than any wilder (and thus tamer) English counterparts. It's in the approach, rather than any indigenous sound.
Live, their over-heady mix of predictably cheesewire guitars and plodding drumbeat can occasionally grate on the nerves, recalling The Wedding Present in their less inspired moments or the more anthemic Mega City Four. The three guitars and bass, though looking great when all flashed on high, leave themselves open to charges of overt machismo, and their great strength (the songwriting) doesn't have a chance to work through the mess. In fact, aside from the edgy "When Push Comes To Shove" and a few quieter moments, The Family Cat positively falter live, which is a real shame, considering their avowed preferences.
The Family Cat don't take themselves too seriously, claim not to be, "the most original band in the world", hate CD's and are all (bar one) vegetarian. They don't like managers of bands who put out tee-shirts promoting Hitler, recon Rick Butler is "sound, but a bit of a slaphead", hate The Sundays and think Ivor Cutler's a total genius.
Jelb: "When we play live it's like … can I say cathartic?"
Tim: "No, because we don't actually know what it means."
Jelb: "Well, it's like, who need drugs? When you're playing you want to step over the edge all the time - that's the most important thing. We're really privileged to have that chance. You might be watching the very worst band on earth and standing there roaring with laughter, but that doesn't matter. It's what they're getting out of it."
The Family Cat - Claw Inspiring Guitars
Melody Maker - 20 September 1990
"This is what we always wanted to do," said The Family Cat a few months back. "We're a bit scared of what's happening. We have nightmares about selling no records, or microphones exploding. This is Very important to us. What are we about? Oh the pursuit of happiness. You spend so much time looking for things to make you happy. So may ways. When you're young, you think you can write the whole world down in a 12 line song, yeah? Then, as you get older, you think, ‘I could write a whole book and never get close'."
The pursuit of happiness? Well, high aims and noble intentions fuel The Family Cat. They're an eager bunch. And lately, their devious, delinquent guitar patterns have been coloured in darker. The Family Cat's sense of impatience has been getting noisier. It's been hard to turn a deaf ear to them and that's exactly how they planned it. Stoke Newington's guitar warriors now mean business.
It's always been easy to dismiss The Family Cat. Just take the asinine name for a start. There's always been a notion of the trivial, the lightweight about them. Now these ideas are being exploded. A proud and vital single called "Place With No Name", where they muse on the nature of heavy sounds, is the first step. Some distinctly confrontational live shows are the next. Slowly, step by step, The Family Cat are proving they deserve to rank up there with the few bands who wield guitars like surgical steel.
"That's what we're like," confirms singer Fred. "Everything we do is deliberate. We're not all style and no content. We're all content and a bit of style. There's no depth to anything now, but there's depth to us. People have preconceptions we're gonna be like C86 all over again, sure. But they see us live and we're nothing like that. We take their eyes out."
People think you're a joke. It's that cuddly name.
"People may think that," confirms jolly giant bassist John, "but when they see us, they go f***ing hell! They're called The Family Cat? They should have been called Shit In My Basket!'"
Hmm. On second thoughts, maybe stick with what you've got.
When we met, The Family Cat are down at the mouth. It's a mixture of things. For one, they've had their ropy old Transit nicked. The engine was knackered, so they bought a new one and left it in the back of the van with all the football stickers and old set lists. They were gonna fix it in the morning. The thieves then came along in the night, fitted the brand new engine themselves and drove off. Having a strong eye for irony, The Family Cat can see the funny side of that. Just.
Yet disappointment runs deeper than this. Our interview kicks off with a good (or bad) half hour of anti-music press vitriol. The Family Cat feel they haven't been getting their share of column inches. They resent it. Last Christmas they figured in every pop paper poll of Best New Band, then nobody came to talk to them till this September. Naturally, they wonder what they're doing wrong. Drummer Chris sums it up when he says, "We released one of the best singles this year, ‘Remember What It Is That You Love'. And it got no recognition whatsoever." The Family Cat have been feeling hard done by.
So they're clawing their way back. "Place With No Name", a tactile, fertile pile-up of guitars, is their new single, telling tales of quiet rooms, staring out of windows, dew on grass, Leonard Cohen records and velveteen skies. Scattered images combine and focus to sketch a picture. A more recalled in tranquillity, Fred?
"Yeah, I guess so. That was a situation I was in. I was living in a little hovel in the middle of France with someone. We had no electricity, no water, nothing, just each other and a radio. Yet it was comfy. I felt all right about it. We were both homesick, sure, but the song's the way I saw it. I think it's an uplifting tale. It's positive!"
So why star out Cohen's name on the sleeve - to L****** C****? Why so coy? Were you afraid of the curse of Tikaram?
"No, it was just a joke," sighs Fred. "I had very few tapes in France with me. One was a recent Cohen LP. As far as my lyrics for our song went, it was him or Eddie Van Halen! But the point is, Cohen's a cliché. You're supposed to listen to him at 3am, after too many glasses of port. So we starred it out, like an obscenity. It's a joke."
"Yeah, as if it's Leonard C***!" offers guitarist Tim, uproariously. We laugh like drains.
It's hard to work out why The Family Cat haven't snagged deep into the guitar loving mass indie consciousness. So I make up a theory on the spot.
I tell them we like our guitar heroes to come anguished. Some bright red blood does no harm. We love angst and drama, arms flung to heaven, the raw or mannered impact of a Pixes or House Of love, whether they mean it or not. By contrast, The Family Cat are clever schemers. They're literate, literary, calm and collected. They never wave their nerve ends at us. Right?
"I'm never sure what to say about my lyrics," confesses Fred. "I wouldn't say they're not angsty. There's a lot of venom in them. Some are universal and some are personal. Just because I'm not bleeding doesn't mean they're not heartfelt."
"I like lyrics to be … involving," he continues. "They're never just slapped in place, boy meets girl style. They're always twisted. I dig around inside a little. They're never crass. But you get lost in this whirlwind of feelings and sensations and don't know where to put yourself. I woke up today on the sofa. I was in a state last night. I woke up and thought about last night's gig and thought, ‘Was it good? Was it bad?' And I just didn't know!"
"And you have to wait for the world to come round to you," guitarist Jelb tells me. "You're sitting wearing a Birdland shirt now. Well we've seen Birdland a few times and had a good laugh, but we couldn't be Birdland. Well, we could do it, but we wouldn't be able to keep a straight face. That's not a criticism of them … oh, maybe it is, I dunno. What I mean is, we can never acknowledge just one side of things. There's always more."
Doubt is a recurrent theme for The Family Cat. It keeps coming back.
"Yeah, as you get older you realise you're sometimes wrong," agrees Jelb. "So The family Cat aren't simplistic. We recognise the world isn't black and white. We don't hate goths it they come and see us play! We don't hate country and western when we have to drive through the night from gigs and we find Hank Williams sounds good! That's what I've realised; there's a reason and a place for everything …"
So what keeps The Family Cat playing this dark, deviant rock music? Any guesses, lads?
"The music keeps our lives on target," decides Jelb. "It's that good. We're at that stage in our lives when most people have careers. We've got music. Friends from college say we're the last romantics. Are we? I dunno. We do what we want. That's something."
And when I was at college," says Fred, finally, "I worked quite hard. So a friend always told me I'd be an accountant, I'd settle down and be dull and boring. And now he's an accountant and I'm the lead singer in a rock'n'roll band! So who had it right, eh?"
We'll get back to you on that one.
It's Miaow or Never
Melody Maker 8 August 1992
The Family Cat topped the indie charts recently and yet they still feel hard done by. Must be all the puns. David Bennun reckons they're within a whisker of the big time.
" So you're here for a stitch up job, then" This is John, the improbably large bassist.
Hell, no, I'm her to help you salvage your reputation. Look on me as your little friend.
Fred, singing guitarist. " We're in the process of exploding that reputation. It isn't one we brought upon ourselves anyway, although our name did hinder us to the extent that we came in on the back end of the C86 malarkey. I'd never heard of C86. I didn't think for one moment that we'd be thought of as ‘indie' band, you know, jangly. Aw, those f***ing puns!"
That's it. Blame it on the NME.
Kev, drummer: "Some people have got it in for us and they always will."
Jelbert, guitarist: "But we love it. We love that side of it."
Fred: "Yeah, the chip on our shoulder about the press is fast becoming a Golden Wonder crisp. The slaggings haven't really been about the records or the live performances. It's been more of a personal diatribe. Maybe we don't quite fit in with commonly held ideas about what a band should be like."
Tim, another guitarist: "It changes from week to week. I'd hate it if somebody said of us, ‘They're perfect for 1992'. I'd think, ‘F***ing hell, in 1993 we're going to be out the window'. So we're always going to happen. Like cholera or something like that."
There is an all round sigh. "They'll make that the lead quote," says a resigned Jelbert. "They'll pull that out and give it a spread."
Losing in love and in life. Ageing Introspection. The probable contents of my diary, were I to keep one; but also the favoured themes of The Family Cat's splendid new LP, "Furthest From The Sun".
Fred: "Yeah, my lyrics are very nostalgic, written with hindsight. A lot of these things happened five or six years ago and I'm seeing it through older and wiser eyes. Or maybe older and more stupid ones."
Tim: "Some of his reminisces happen about two hours later. He'll have beans on toast for breakfast, and he'll turn round and start getting all dewy-eyed about how great they were."
Fred: "I am Mr Nostalgia. I mean, I'm not getting any younger …"
But you're a Rock'n'Roll band, trying to appeal to The Kids. Isn't this bad market-targeting?
Tim: "Maybe you're right, I mean we were going to call our newest song ‘Nowhere To Go But Down'. But I think we'd better change it to ‘Lads On The Piss'."
"Furthest From The Sun" topped the indie charts. So who's into the Cat?
"There's a pair of truck driving mods who follow us around, whenever they can get to the gigs. They turn up in all parts of the country. And there's a woman whose mum keeps coming with her. She doesn't want her to, her mum cramps her style, but if her mum hears that there's a Family Cat gig on, she won't stay away. And we saw a bloke in Kent who had our surfing cat logo tattooed on his shoulder. Really badly. It looked like he'd spilt sweet-and-sour down himself. I mean, it's touching, but he didn't have to mutilate himself. And there's this brilliant one legged stagediver who turns up. He's got an inflatable leg. It cam off at one gig, and the bouncer had to retrieve it for him before he threw him out!"
Tom Verlaine Single Review - Everett True
Melody Maker 22 July 1989
Look, basically, this would've toppled Silverfish from the revered position if it'd made an appearance only five minutes earlier. Chris Roberts pressed a white label onto me saying, "Look Jerry, you might like this. It's a bit Wedding Present-ish though." Wedding Present-ish? The singer might have a slightly gruff manner, the guitars might chime and glisten in much the mode of The Stone Roses, the drums might be leaden and reminiscent of Spacemen 3 and the whole might be another example of the Eighties transcendence dipped into the whirlpool of psychedelia, but no way, no way, is it Wedding Present-ish. Okay?
Strangely enough (or perhaps not), "Tom Verlaine" could be Flying Nun's Snapper or Television themselves in '89, and yes, it does draw parallels with "every red blooded fretwork king" of the year: the Roses, The Clean, Straitjacket Fits, Galaxie 500, the lot. A shimmering delight of a debut.
Ignore the name. Or rather, love the name. Critics will be falling over themselves to be the first to lay claim to The Family Cat's unique mix of fretwork and dreampop very shortly.
Furthest From The Sun Review - Sally Margaret Joy
Melody Maker 27 June 1992
"But a least they're enthusiastic," winced my conscience after I'd been rendered spiritually paraplegic by this album after the fifth listen and had to bite my own arm just so I could actually feel something. The Family Cat are so honest, earnest and reliable, they'd have been better named The Family Mutt. They make me realise that enthusiasm is an overrated virtue and is only really bearable when partnered with talent.
Okay, Okay, let's get a little balance and reason into play here. Numbing though "Furthest From The Sun" may be, it does have its perks. Some people I know whose byword is aesthetics must be "Functional" told me I'd be pleasantly surprised by the album's "good songs and good melodies". Yeah,, if I like tunes that people make up when they're having a really long crap. No it's not the worn out melodies that redeem this record from living death. It's the unexpected tangles the guitars start weaving into "Prog One" or "Colour Me Grey". It's the sensation of unbridled pleasure, even passion, that streams out of their performances (check the brushwork on "Gameshow" or the baroque charm of "Fire Music"). It's the way the first track "Too Many late Nights" sounds so pushily suggestive and the voice so lewdly brazen, so bitey, so stop-start-sigh-shudder-sex.
Sometimes, unfortunately, the singer sounds like Jason Donovan crossbred with a goatherd and the music is redolent of Icicle Works mish-mashed with lukewarm PiL and Smiths. Live, they kick butt. Here, exposed in close up, they're utterly ordinary. Some of you out there will recognise this and will salute the mediocrity that lies at the heart of this album. Those of you who didn't feel that part of you died when you listened to the single "Steamroller" and its chorus of "The Saints are playing at home today/Snow on the ground and a chill in the air" will feel blissfully reassured by it all. In the Cat's hands, rock and life goes on and on and on the same. Nothing changes. I could cry.
Airplane Gardens Review - Simon Price
Melody Maker 4 September 1993
And so the label that brings us Cranes soils its pants with this. It's 1993, and some people are still trying to master that tricky Icicle Works/Julian Cope sound, aspiring to nothing greater than 15 seconds of fame at Number Nine on "The Chart Show's" indie run-down. Trouble is, a couple of thousand of you actually believe this is superior to that Culture Beat single, don't you? Give yourselves a hearty slap round the ear from me.
Magic Happens Review - Dave Jennings
Yes, sometimes magic does happen. Life sometimes takes you by surprise in delightful ways. I should know. I've just heard The Family Cat's new album and loved it.
Like thousands of others, I'd long since written this band off as irredeemably mediocre. I'd seen them play live and shrugged and yawned. But "Magic Happens" is mature, thoughtful and absorbing, so much so that you can't help thinking it may alienate some of those who've happily flapped their T-shirts to the Cat in the past.
There are a few extended bursts of fuzzy guitar to lose yourself in - this is an album that demands and rewards close attention. Paul Q Kolderie and Sean Slade of Radiohead fame are among the squad of producers who've been called in to help the band pull out all the stops, and - like "Pablo Honey" - this album reveals a keen sense of drama and dynamics. Sudden shifts in mood and volume to are used to startling effect, bit they're not playing to the gallery.
The concerns of "Magic Happens" are those of introverts. "Wonderful Excuse" is a melodic, upbeat, song about guilt; "Move Over I'll Drive" an ominous, sinister song that examines the terribly un-rock'n'roll theme of responsibility. The Family Cat spend lots more time brooding than they do screaming on this record, and yet this very personal diary full of anxieties makes absorbing and ultimately, uplifting listening.
"Magic Happens" sounds like the work of grown men who've been through plenty of anguish and uncertainty and still find life fascinating. It contains some truly transcendent moments: "Hamlet For Now", for instance, is nothing less than brilliant, a disconcerting meditation on drugs, lost love and dishonesty that ends in exhilarating chaos.
I never would have believed that The Family Cat were capable of anything quite this special. Sometimes it's great to be proved wrong.
Golden Book Review - Ian Watson
Melody Maker 23 July 1994
Ignore the unfortunate cover. Linger briefly on the title track, even though its optimistic whirl through the sunnier side of US college rock is a life affirming treat. No, the true moment of majesty here is "Bring Me The Head Of Michael Portillo", a slow brooding lament which has singer Fred casting a saddened eye over this septic isle and spying the enemy within - the home counties racists who "won't lose much sleep tonight".
This is the anger of the S*M*A*S*H single turned inwards, the sweeping cello and mournful bass conveying a feeling of quiet disgust - and, as the maggots spill out from the guts of the Daily Mail - reading populance, you start to seethe with anger yourself.
The marquee, London - Live Review - Bob Stanley
Melody maker 24 June 1989
So what's in a name? While Swans aren't exactly silent and graceful, likewise Cornwall's Family Cat are as far from cute 'n' cuddly as you could wish to be. Like the currently favoured Mega City Four, the Cat are intent on reclaiming punk's heritage - they even sing a song about Tom Verlaine and the late Seventies fergawdsake. Tunes are bright, playing is spunky and occasionally thrilling. But something's wrong, they look wrong. Maybe it's the guitarist, a Griff Rhys Jones lookalike in a baseball cap. Or could it be the ‘solid' rhythm section (ie the bassist is rather portly). No, it's something more elusive. While yer Mega Cities and Jesse Garons play punk pop with a broad grin, and The Stone Roses (you knew I was gonna mention them, didn't you?) and Inspirals look utterly cool, The Family Cat hit an unhappy medium. Look at the singer, he's trying too hard - on the very first song he's overcome with angst, barely able to get the words out before he reels back from the microphone, his face a vision of pained concentration.
Maybe it's The Marquee that does it: songs like "Push Comes To Shove" are fine sprints but just as they're about to cross the finishing line the guitarist is off into a Cream trip and blows the whole thing. The overall effect of the aptly titles "Big" is of a great POP song, only played with the hammed-up rockiness of a Birdland.
Which is all well and good if that's your bag - it left me cold, but that's my problem. The Family Cat will adorn the covers of various rags by the end of the year, no trouble.
London Camden Palace - Live Review - Simon Williams
NME 29 th July 1989
In a cruelly crowded Falcon, they were lost in a sweaty haze. With Birdland at the Electric Ballroom they were hampered by sound problems. But tonight The Family Cat finally manage to satisfy our ravenous aural appetites, and of all the places it has to be in this nocturnal nirvana for garish goffs and bemused tourists.
The Family Cat's entrance is heralded by The Wedding Present's "Anyone Can Make A Mistake". The drummer certainly can - he arrives late, the bad little timekeeping extrovert.
"Push Comes To Shove" is an unsettling start, barely give us a chance to twig they're using three guitars. Debut single "Tom Verlaine" has one such object twitching recklessly over its colleagues' consistent, relentless, rut-gouging riffs.
This band HAD to happen one day. Their existence was inevitable. The introductory track is no coincidence, as The Family Cat throw the Weddoes' chopping frets into a dark room with The House of Love's Brillopad brilliance and scouring plectrums. All organised explosions and calculated crashes, they change like meerkats in a jewellers shop, diamonds and gems flying everywhere.
True, they lose a touch of momentum after the first three surges. Perhaps they aren't the most novel act around, and maybe the Copey-like vocals are a shade too flat. But these are trivialities, and mega minor ones at that. They call their last song "Stranger On The Shore", light their fags and amble amiably, as if to prove they can play that moody stuff, before accelerating to a feedback-frazzled poonk rawk climax, kicking their guitars and dashing off amid luminous storms.
And this is just the beginning. They know they're good. They know that we know they're good. They'll be bigger than a barn door.
The Zap, Brighton - Live Review - Simon Turner
Melody Maker 12 August 1989
Distinguishing between brilliance and brilliant plagiarism is not as simple as it sounds, especially when you don't suspect a deliberate attempt to cobble together contemporaneity. But it's symptomatic of the post 1988 syndrome that's so much of what's happening is visibly a product of immediate forbears. Just check the number of comparisons I'm forced to make.
Of all things "Tom Verlaine" sounds like Happy Mondays on a real downer, in the way the lines scrawl and intermingle in perverse patterns. There is also a Monday-ish twitchy energy underlying The Family Cat's more predictable guitar manoeuvrings. But in their less spinning bottomless moments, when everything is rather more straightforward, The Family Cat veer close to the turgid whirlwind of The Wedding Present. Here they can be exceptionally ordinary, and their three guitars seem bereft of consequence.
Spmentimes The Family Cat hum and chime like The House of Love, and in these moments of restraint the singer's voice is highlighted as the flatly unremarkable thing it really is. Even on a day off Guy Chadwick sounds rapt by hurt devotion, whereas The Family Cat see a little too clearly and a little too straight. Another song is very Sonic Youth (holding down guitar strings with a drumstick) meets Dinosaur Jr (spears of wah-wah), but it's only a little the worse for being predictable.
Just to confuse matters still further the encore - "A song wrote in about 1911" - is their finest; moving from a drowning frenzy to a truly heartfelt breakdown and back again within a tense three minutes. The Family Cat's strengths rest in their textures and their versatility in creating affecting environments. If it all sounded more necessary, unavoidable and meant, then the potential would be there for magnificence.
Perhaps The Family Cat will sever the umbilical cord that links them to their parentage. I hope so. But for now be suspicious of their impending hype.
Syndrome, London - Live Review - Ian Watson
Melody Maker 16 September 1989
No cosy, pampered, purring creatures here. Almost overnight, The Family Cat have leapt from being a merely promising band with a disappointing debut single to one of the contenders for major honours next year.
Their appeal is firmly rooted in the post-punk-power-pop aesthetic which maintains that if it's a good tune, the guitars are loud and the rhythm hard and driving, then all is well. It's not "progressive" in the way The Young Gods are progressive - they don't weld disparate elements or aspire to the giddy heights of the new sonic architecture they play on our expectations.
So, yeah, it's familiar. We get what we expect, but then we get what we expect when the Brazilian football team emerges from the tunnel or when Viv Richards strides to the crease. As The Stone Roses gather together all the best bits of Hendrix, Beatles etc, The Family Cat breathe new fire into the finest elements of the Eighties "indie rock" (what a perfectly hideous term). It all harks back to the Buzzcocks, of course, but they are so capable of loping and unwinding. Loop with melody. The House of Love with a lobotomy. Inevitably, "Tom Verlaine" sounds a million times better than the record. Tonight, almost every number bears the stamp of greatness. No weak links, no filler material.
The hatch is down and the doves fly out, spiralling, spiralling into Wonderland.
T & C2, London - Live Review - Ian Gittins
Melody Maker 30 September 1989
Now here's a strange thing. All the words piled on The Family Cat may actually be true. They do the right thing to start by getting their firepower in order; three guitars and ready means they've the muscle to back up the surge of the adrenaline, flesh out the germ of a good idea at the heart of every song.
The Family Cat are the Bunnymen, say, minus the mysticism but with steel. They're The House of Love without Chadwick's literary aloofness, but with a burning urgency. Tonight, they take on like the world's on fire. "Remember What It Is You Love" as a call to arms, is frantic, breathtaking, a pile-up of thrills and hysteria I can't believe this crew are whipping up. The Family Cat cut it, and no mistake.
They're not a sexy bunch. One has a basin cut, one looks like a redneck. The tiny singer, I decide, can never be Messiah. Then they start playing and I change my mind completely. Like the Bunnymen, The Family Cat play a rock cut free of R&B's boozy swing and spurred only by imagination and adrenaline, dreams and visions. The Mary Chain would do this if they weren't such lazy, cynical bastards. The Family Cat love the Stooges, sure. But then there's more.
They talk too much; daft inter-song banter about footie, Luton and Crystal Palace. But The Family Cat are nowt to do with trivia. Nor smalltalk. "Tom Verlaine", the single, grips rock's states and stases as superbly as Television, a dark, luminous glow. It's massive, as sexy a way to hurl words into guitars as I've ever seen for a good few months, as serious as only thrashed and restrained guitars can sometimes be.
I leave on fire. See past the silly name. The Family Cat are massive.
Duchess of York, Leeds - Live Review - Dave Simpson
Melody Maker 24 March 1990
The Family Cat would do well to take heed of Steve Jones' advice on the Pistols' frightful "Friggin' In The Riggin'", and "Give it some bollocks!", you know a little spirit, life, energy … a little purpose.
They slope on like construction workers on the way to the pub. The guitarist - wooly hat, fag in gob and "macho" smirk - is definitely a bricklayer in the making. It's not that The Family Cat are in trouble - the Duchess is packed - but that they have nothing to offer. A nice block of houses would be a far greater gift to the world.
The Cat are indie-by-numbers. They take from everywhere, yet achieve a sound that is striking only in its anonymity. They have no idea of dynamics or variation, every song a heads-down sprint, one even employing that speed-up-at-the-end cliché recently utilised to similar naff effect on the Ride EP. The next single "Remember What It Is You Love", is blueprint patently filched from HOL's "Christine", has no real heart or motivation. I saw The Stanglers, for Chrissakes, seeming more dangerous last week.
The vocals seek identity yet come over as a harsh irritation. The songs, too … C86 outtakes dressed up in modern trappings. Mid-set, the wah-wah comes out of the obligatory Loop bit, and the singer dusts of his Jim Reid /McCulloch poses. Despite some nice guitar lines here and there, only "Arthur Negus", sorry "Tom Verlaine", comes anywhere close to excelling.
"They're absolute shit", someone says. Cat-shit, indeed. Get f***ed, retards.
University of London Union - Live Review - Ian Watson
Melody Maker 26 May 1990
As for The Family Cat, I'm stumped for words. No longer simply the playful indie miscreants we all fell in love with, they're now the full, unexpurgated rock star experience. Fred's the archetypal untidy but sincere big brother heart throb. Tim a whirling dervish of Fender and fringe, Jelbert an amicable blur of energetic egomania and epiletic contortions, John the unaffected eye of the storm, an anchorman for all season.
New songs emphasise the pop star ethic, elevating Family Cat music from an erstwhile orgy of effects pedals to the realms of meaningfulness. "Tom verlaine", for example is more than a crowd favourite, it's practically an anthem, while so many of the songs are now recognised classics that if it wasn't for the five or six new songs aired, the evening would virtually have been a greatest hits concert. Greatest hit however is the emotionally awesome, "Colour Me Grey". It teases your feelings with so much ease it would be frustrating if it wasn't so overwhelming. No kidding.
Back down to Earth pretty sharpish, after all this is only the bloody Family Cat, the encore is simply taking the piss. "Gabriel's Wings", "Octopus Jr" and "Endless Cigarette", three feline favourites played to the full, the boys staying on far too long, indulging themselves up to the eyeballs. The crowd loved it, I loved it and so will you.
Borderline, London - Live Review - Zane
Melody Maker 15 September 1990
Great things were predicted for The Family Cat last year. They had the world at their feet but only managed to scuff it with their heels and topple over. Now that erstwhile indie bands are rubbing shoulders with Timmy Mallet on TOTP, they can see the light again. And tonight they mean business.
Singer Fred stares at the devoted mass of bodies, drinking in the adulation. The Cats' sound is relentless, a flowing seamless stream of piledriver pop. "Place With no Name" wraps tightly around your ears, the timbre of Fred's voice boasting the fiery whine of a youthful Neil Young. There's no note he doesn't aim for, even if he does miss by miles.
"Steamroller" simple flattens you. The manic country guitars bounce of each other, creating cascades of noise that are chiselled to perfection.
It's their sheer musical insistence that takes you over, like being caught in a whirlwind. Tonight is definitely a starting block from which they will leap, for they have extricated all that is infectious about pop and blended the result. There's a full moon outside, and The Family Cat have transmuted into a wolf. Bewitching.
The Venue, New Cross - Live Review - Michael Bonner
Melody Maker 19 January 1991
Like Lush or Cud, The Family Cat are one of those bands you want to covert, but for totally different reasons. Whereas with Lush and Cud it's the delicacy and the madness - the beauty and the offbeat - that makes you long so to hide them away from the horrors of reality, with The Family Cat it's … everything. They pour out some wonderful melodies from amid the dry ice, sending wave upon wave of deliriously catchy songs into the crowd, and it's all soaked up in some of the sexiest bass hooks imaginable. "Tom Verlaine" is like a latter-day "Another Girl, Another Planet" or "Blues From A Gun" - an unstoppable starry-eyed groover that cruises into the sunset with a casual grace.
There aren't really any reference points for The Family Cat. There's something like a skewiff Wedding Present at the start, with the guitars jangling in the same way that guns fire bullets, but that quickly passes - The Family Cat are just themselves, with no need for imitations. Each song almost surpasses its predecessor, the secret being the rich, highly addictive energy of the band and the set. Even the more gentle songs, as slow and sweet as syrup, still sound poised to combust. The Family Cat have tunes and an edge, and that can't be bad in anyone's books.
North London Polytechnic & Camden Palace London - Liver Review - Zane
Melody Maker 6 April 1991
Playing as surprise guests at the "When Saturday Comes" 50 th issue celebrations, The Family Cat seem a little tense tonight. Although the bouncy strains of "Remember What It Is You Love" attracts a few stragglers, the majority of the crowd are happy playing football with a manky red ball.
These people are ignoring an evolution in progress. The Family Cat have left their fresh-faced image behind and their sound is transmogrifying on stage into something altogether grittier. "Steamroller" still knocks me flat. Over the regimented trademarks of swirling guitars and a looping, repetitive bassline, Fred sings with style. He soars with ease into choirboy cool and holds these high notes for an eternity (well, 10 seconds).
Four days later and they're on home turf. All the adoring kittens have turned up and they're going utterly nuts. Fuelled by this change in events, the band are playing with panache. The same songs stick out, but they sound even more sumptuous. But it's easier when people are jumping on stage and kissing you. Given the choice, I'd plump for the latter.
After seeing them play two shows, it's obvious that The Family Cat have been kicked out for the night for too long. Check them again, for they now litter their songs with jarring screeches where once there were only pleasant chimes. There's life in the old cat yet.
Powerhaus, London - Live Review - Ian Watson
Melody Maker 22 June 1991
Moving swiftly on, no sooner have we consigned The Family Cat to the bargain basement when their moment pops up Halley's Comet-like, eager for a rematch. This time the odds are heavily stacked in their favour: there's Reading and a scorching LP to come, and for now a live show to beat all comers. They really seem to be on the crest of a wave, and it's this good mood that makes the gig such an event. Once again songs are what matter and they've got plenty. "Too Many Late Nights" and "Furthest From The Sun" buzz the most tonight, and in all this gig seems to prove that it's perseverance that really counts. If you like your pop precious then look no further. Family are go!
Camden Palace, London - Live Review - Zane
Melody Maker 16 May 1992
The best bands refuse to give in. They stick to their guns, perfect their sound and make sure that when you hear them again, they're 10 times better. The Family Cat are such a band. Although they've been dismissed as also-rans a 100 times, they've just dug deep and learned to hit harder.
"Porg One" and "River Of Diamonds", from the new album, show signs of musical maturity. They last for ages, twisting and turning from hard metallic guitars to gentle, introspective feedback interludes with slow and systematic changes of pace. Fred, wearing a sparkling aubergine shirt, still sings with a Julian Cope-style huskiness, but he's learnt how to use his dynamic strengths. "Fire Music" is delicious: a solid wall of white noise made by the constant buzzing of three guitars, over which Fred screams and howls ‘til his voice becomes hoarse.
I'm glad to see that The Family Cat are releasing "Steamroller" because it's undoubtedly their best song. Tonight it careers on for 10 minutes or so, metamorphosing from sweet pop to fiery thrash then exploding in an ear-splitting rush. With so much experience and so many class ideas, this band has clawed its way back. Maybe, this will be the year of the Cat.
The Venue, London - Live Review - Peter Paphides
Melody Maker 25 July 1992
Like Anna, The Family Cat deal firmly in indie pop for the everyman. Their opaque three-pronged battalion of rickety jangle and a touch of rock'n'roll posturing, propel them into the hearts of the loyal legions with consummate ease. Anything from "Furthest From The Sun" is greeted with little short of utter love, for, at last, it seems that The Family Cat have fulfilled their promise (I'm still not being critical).
And like Anna, I wouldn't want to deny that songs like "Colour Me Grey" and "River Of Diamonds" bulldoze through your frontal lobe with the kind of competence that leaves nothing to the imagination. "Steamroller" kicks into gear and suddenly I'm in the thick of a reception even more hysterical than the time our neighbours' pet dog Keith returned after two weeks of feared being dead (no really). The art of stagediving enters another epoch as a variety of cartwheels and double-backwards somersaults are exhibited by hairies of divergent obesity, and when this is followed by a rapid volley of "Tome Verlaine" and "Remember What It Is You Love" (a philosophy rarely dealt with so well in pop song since The Chills' "Look For The Good In Others …"), only then do The Family Cat transcend the sum of their parts.
Sure, there'll always be a place for this utilitarian indie pop and it's really not my place to be critical, but when I see all those "The Family Cat Made My Life Beautiful" tee-shirts … well really …
Liverpool University - Live Review - Ian Watson
Melody Maker 17 October 1992
It's not hard to see why the kids like The Family Cat. They're a rock'n'roll disaster area that manages to be breathtakingly honest, making them perfect for a raucous night out and an intimate night in. Here we experience the chaotic side of the Cat, but that's not to say that the sensitive side loses out.
The Cat apply themselves to topics such as: What am I doing with my life? Am I really in love? Will dying be fun? Just the simple stuff. They trade in a positive nostalgia, using the past to make sense of the present. If this is all sounding a bit hippy then good, because The Family Cat are starsailors of the highest order. They breathe epics, soundtrack journeys, consider navels and do everything to touch the heavens except play widdly guitar solos. New song "Nowhere To Go" is their ethos in a nutshell: an admission of mortality that manages to be both bitter and optimistic.
Forget any idea that indie means lack of effort. In fact forget indie. The Family Cat are rock'n'roll at its most emotional. We don't need a new chart, we need a new attitude. Here's a healthy one to be going on with.