I remember how fast the tickets for Catfish’s London show sold out- a brief minute of hope coursing through me just to end with two balcony seats and the feeling of utter disappointment. Yes, I was still so excited on the fresh first Monday morning back to school on the 11th April, knowing that evening I’d be seeing Van and the boys; however, I still envied those with standing tickets, as we all know that’s where the real magic happens. My best friend Lucy and I were waiting in the O2 priority queue fifteen minutes before doors opened. A hasty decision was made, despite being utterly unprepared to mosh, but we managed to swap our seated tickets with two standing- the most incredible spontaneous occurence I have ever encountered.
The floor of the Kentish Town Forum filled up in drabs and before we knew it, that all too familiar smell of cheap fags and beer wafted amongst the hoards of people. You could feel the room buzzing as The Beatles and Tame Impala tracks filled the spaced whilst the stage was vacant. Catfish and the Bottlemen’s UK tour had been much anticipated after the announcement of their second album ‘The Ride’ and their recent attention on the music scene. Having already played several other cities, us Londoners had an inkling as to what to expect, but nothing could prepare us for what was to come.
Support act, Black Honey, started their set at 8pm. Whilst they put on an excellent performance and I could see the heads of many bobbing along, unfortunately the audience didn’t quite respond to Black Honey. Perhaps it was because they are fairly fresh on the indie music scene and the crowd were not familiar with their material, but I can definitely vouch for the band in saying they are an up and coming talent.
The wait until 9:30pm felt like an eternity. The pungent fumes of alcohol and cigarettes became more apparent- completing the ideal atmosphere for a gig. Then it happened. The strobes began to flicker and you could hear Van’s voice booming through the speakers from backstage, teasing the crowd and leaving us in pure eagerness. The whole venue erupted into tumultuous screams and cheers as the band emerged. It was the start of something incredible.
I must comment that I thought the order of the setlist was quite unexpected, as they did not open or close with their ‘iconic’ tracks (but in my opinion all of Catfish’s songs are absolute genius). The band opened with the all too familiar riff of ‘Homesick’ paired with the syllabic verse. At that moment the whole crowd pushed forward, endeavouring to be that inch closer to frontman Van McCann as he flouted the stage. Bodies were pressed up against bodies as we took in the stripped back melody of their opening song. As soon as the chorus dropped the entire room went mental and transformed into a rampage of hard-core mosh pits and singing. I had never been the witness of a room of people so in awe, passionate and enthralled by a band than at Catfish. Their next track ‘Kathleen’ sparked the same amount of moshing and singing as expected.
Next was their latest single ‘Soundcheck’. Inevitably, as it is the tune most fresh in Catfish fans’ heads, the audience went insane when Van began singing the opening verse with his North Welsh accent shining through the conversational tune. During the subdued, low-key bridge before the last chorus, the lights went dim and the atmosphere sent chills up my spine. A huge circle pit was made in the middle of the room and when the astounding guitar instrumental dropped everyone jumped in, immersed in the sheer beauty that is Catfish and the Bottlemen’s music.
The line in ‘Pacifier’- ‘oh but babe’- made me swoon even more than the record does; Van’s gravelly vocals are so intoxicating and raspy it reminds me that Catfish are a working class band with pure talent. Not only this but the amazing guitar intro and drum accompaniment in ‘Sidewinder’ enthused all aspects of the band’s sound, and flaunted Benji, Johnny and Roberts huge part of the band’s success, which is sometimes lost amongst Van’s incredible frontman performance.
New track ‘Anything’ followed, and despite many people having no clue what the lyrics were, it was very popular amongst the crowd. The track had the perfect mix of lo-fi rock and beat drops to get the audience moving. Also Van’s insane guitar solo completely blew my mind.
’26’ followed, and the crowd went back to screaming the lyrics at the top of their lungs. I could not get over the gorgeous tone of Van’s voice when carrying through the longer notes. ‘Business’ was one of the tunes where you ended up serenading a stranger- myself included. It’s one of the things I love about gigs, where everyone is there for the same reason: they share the utter adoration for the artist and their contribution to music- and I feel like singing to someone I have known for two minutes like they’re the most important person in the world is the way to show this.
‘Red’, another new track, proved to be more sultry than a usual Catfish track. I loved it all the same. From what I have heard of the new tracks from ‘The Ride’, the boys are becoming more edgy and exploring deeper atonal rock sounds- which makes me even more excited for May 27th when the album is released.
‘Rango’ got the crowd going mad again after the unknown track with its infectious tune. ‘Fallout’ engulfed The Forum with its melodic verse and contagious lyrics in the chorus. Van sang the statement line ‘but we just always seem to just fallout’ with 2,100 fans with sweat teeming down their foreheads.
‘Hourglass’ continued the set and the calm melody gave the crowd a break from the sweaty jungle of the mosh pits. Everyone swayed along with strangers and loved ones, again serenading those we had just met. There were people on shoulders, people locking hands, and people awestruck by Van’s gorgeous vocal arrangement of the tranquil track. This was the moment when it hit me: I was sharing this incredible milestone moment with one of my favourite current bands and there was no place I’d rather be.
Next was new (but partially leaked) track ‘7’. Out of all tracks I have heard off the new album, this is my favourite. It’s repetitive yet rhythmic tune is simple and catchy. Van’s raspy, rock fuelled vocals are utter perfection in the chorus.
After the memorable lyrics of ‘Cocoon’ and the insane mosh pits that married with that, came the band’s closing tune: ‘Tyrants’. The subdued guitar riff at the beginning encapsulated the audience and had us all in the palm of Van’s hand. We all knew this was the last song, so I took this opportunity to absorb all the vibes and appreciate the night for the remaining few minutes that it lasted. With strobe lights blinding the crazed fans and intricate guitar licks meandering between each dancing body of the venue, before I knew it the lights came up and it was over.
My T-shirt soaked through with sweat, matte hair, make up completely obliterated, heart racing, Docs even more scuffed, and in an utter daze at what I had just been a part of- I knew I had experienced one of the best gigs of my short life so far.
I must also add that Catfish’s merch is really nice, and I wish I had brought more money to buy a ‘The Ride’ T shirt as it was one of the nicest band tees I have ever seen. I split the cost of a pack of badges with Lucy and headed the long journey home, profoundly awestruck. I currently cannot listen to Catfish and the Bottlemen without an odd mixture of feeling high and wanting to bawl my eyes out.
Do I recommend going to a Catfish gig? Yes. Am I excited for ‘The Ride’? HELL YES.