Sussex blues band Catfish seem to be caught in a fast-moving current.
Since releasing their debut album in 2015, the musicians have been nominated for numerous awards, played several major blues festivals and received plenty of very positive reviews.
They’ve also gained a particularly strong following in West Sussex, having won Horsham’s Battle of the Bands Covers competition in 2015 with a dazzling set.
Now, Kevin Yates (drums), Dusty Bones (bass), Paul Long (keys) and Paul’s son Matt (guitar) are back in the studio for album number two.
Speaking to the County Times Matt is astonished at the band’s sudden rise and the response to their first CD, So Many Roads.
“We started out just playing in the back end of pubs, having a good time, earning a little bit of money so figured we’d record some songs to sell at gigs,” he says.
Paying tribute to artists like Robert Petway and Eddie Boyd, their selection of classic blues covers went straight into the Independent Blues Broadcaster Association airplay charts at number 1.
“We recorded that album all in one take,” says Matt, explaining that they made the most of an intense six-hour studio session. “It got picked up by internet radio stations and it instantly skyrocketed. Everyone absolutely loved it so we went back to it and remastered it.”
The sudden popularity meant most of the band’s initial output was covers. Earlier this year, for example, they paid tribute to the late B.B. King with the EP When B.B. Sings the Blues.
But the album they’re making now will be full of original material. Known only as Broken Man, their current working title, it should come out early next year.
So what are they trying to do musically with this one?
“It’s very dependent on the songs,” Matt explains. “The track ‘Broken Man’ is a very dark, mysterious and progressive number. But then we have a tune called ‘Best Days’, which is a very happy tune about not caring much about all the troubles in the world today.”
It sounds like quite a mix, but Catfish have their own style they’re injecting into each song. In fact, the band’s name comes from ‘Catfish Blues’ by Robert Petway – a favourite for them to play early on and a tune that seemed to say something about them. Everywhere they went and every time they played ‘Catfish Blues’, listeners would say they had never heard a version like that before.
To people unfamiliar with the genre, blues might seem to have a rather American feel. I ask what it’s like for a band based in semi-rural England to play in this style.
“Well the blues is and isn’t American,” says keyboardist Paul. “Blues itself, I guess, originally came from Africa and went over to America with the slave trade.”
But, as Paul explains, a lot of what people listen to today is influenced by artists like Gary Moore and Peter Green and the great British blues explosion of the 1960s.
“For me, blues is an emotion,” Paul states. “It’s not about a chord sequence, it’s about a direct emotional contact between you and an audience.”
Maybe that’s the secret to Catfish’s success. This 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 came third in the Young Artist of the Year category.
Matt, described by one reviewer as the band’s ‘secret weapon’, grew up in Dorking and Wisborough Green before heading to Guildford to study at the Academy of Contemporary Music. He’s only 21 but he possesses an astonishing level of skill.
It’s the result of hard work and a genuine love for the instrument. Matt started playing at a young age and mainly taught himself using the ‘Clapton method’: “Just listening to records, trying to play along with them.”
“I’ve always had more of an ear for it rather than an eye for it,” he says. “If you learn through your ears you learn more about the tone, more about the vibrato and that side of things. And you get the feel for it right, you get more of the emotion in the playing.”
The next Catfish gig in Sussex is on September 27, supporting Kirk Fletcher at Worthing Pier (7pm for 8pm). For those who’d like to travel further afield the band play Bluesrockfest in Gravesend on September 24. Matt also runs a jam session at The Malt Shovel, Horsham, every second Wednesday.
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