Every so often there comes a time when, seemingly out the blue, an artist’s star ascends. From being just another hopeful hoping to make it big, they do just that and find themselves feted at awards events and headlining sold out shows. Sometimes, it’s easy to understand why one act makes it, whilst others never do. Catfish and the Bottlemen are one of the lucky few, who— without the help of a big hit record or, for that matter, much in the way of newsworthiness — won the British Breakthrough award at this year’s Brits. Considered by many to be the next big thing, they’re also a band they say you have to witness live.
A mini tour of the UK brought the Llandudno quartet to Brighton and arguably its most prestigious venue, The Dome. The show was sold out, but it seemed many of those with seats preferred to stand down the front. Before the Bottlemen took the stage, the task to entertain them fell to Brighton’s own Black Honey, another band who’ve been building a big reputation for their live performances. Like many in the audience, this was my first time seeing them and, probably like a lot of them, my first impression was drawing comparisons with Wolf Alice.
As a quartet fronted by a guitar wielding blonde, there is some visual similarity, and the fact that like Ellie Rowsell, Izzy Baxter rarely smiles and often yelps would seem to confirm the resemblance. Right now, Black Honey are not as good as Wolf Alice, but they showed enough promise here for one to think they could go on to bigger things. Under some slick lights and aided by a superb sound system, this was almost a preview of what they may be like in a year or eighteen months time. It also goes to show how much having a quality live production can elevate any band.
They were a hard act to follow, and I’m not so sure Catfish managed to create much of a gulf between them. That despite the best efforts of their fans, who clearly were loving the show, lustily singing along at every opportunity, standing on each others shoulders and going crazy in the moshpits. To be honest, I didn’t feel the band really deserved all the adulation. Yes, the Bottlemen sounded great (but that was largely down to the venue’s acoustics and their sound engineer) and their light show was flashy and frenetic. But one has to say, musically they’re not doing anything numerous others haven’t done in the past. There’s not a distinctive Bottlemen sound and if you took away front man Van McCann, the rest of the band members are anonymous.
McCann can sing, but there’s not much special about either his voice or his onstage charisma. Reviewing the previous night’s London show, The Standard said ‘There’s nothing revolutionary about Catfish and the Bottlemen,” adding they were “as traditional as a wet bank holiday.” Indeed, with their stacks of speakers (Orange’s, Marshall’s, and even one rebadged a McCann) they gave the impression of a band from yesteryear, which essentially is what they are. Their haircuts and clothes support the notion of their being deja vu, all over again.
Ironically, the one part of the show that stood out, was when the band departed the stage leaving McCann bathed in a glow of white light, to sing Hourglass with just an acoustic guitar (and the audience accompanying him) for support.
When they returned, it was back to playing more perfectly OK, but largely unremarkable songs, including three new ones from their soon to be released sophomore album. Of those, 7 sounded the best, even if wasn’t especially distinctive. “We like keeping it simple.” said McCann recently. There’s nothing wrong with simplicity, but the danger is keeping things too simple means you have a lot less to stand out with.
Apart from an adoring fanbase, quite what it is that the Bottlemen have escapes me. There’s nothing wrong with them, but there’s nothing that special either. Many claim they are one of the most exciting bands around right now. Maybe I’m missing something, but I didn’t see it. Indeed, on the night, I thought Black Honey had more going for them.
Words: Gary Marlowe
Photo: Images Out Of The Ordinary
Follow Catfish and the Bottlemen at @thebottlemen
The new Catfish and the Bottlemen album The Ride is out on 27 May 2016
Follow Black Honey at @BLACKHONEYUK