Catfish and The Bottlemen: The Graft to Becoming Overnight Sensations
Fresh off the back of New Year dates in Australia, Catfish and the Bottlemen are returning to open arms to play for their every-growing, loyal fanbase on home soil across the UK and Ireland.
With their modest beginnings in local carparks to now worldwide stages, Van McCann (vocals, guitars), Johnny Bond (guitars), Robert “Bob” Hall (drums) and Benji Blakeway (bass) have dedicated the past decade to getting the name of Catfish and the Bottlemen out there (not to be confused with Twatfish and the Cockmen, as described by NME).
And with the power of dedication and the simplistic attitude of “We’re straightforward. We don’t care if people don’t like it”, Catfish and the Bottlemen have projected themselves into the charts and hearts of music lovers alike.
While it may seem that this mysterious band simply hopped into the limelight in 2013 with their first single release, up to that point is 8 years of hard work, rigorous gigging and CDs distributed by masked men. (mysterious, right?) Catfish and the Bottlemen surely put the graft in to become overnight sensations.
CATFISH, THE BOTTLEMAN
Previously known as ‘The Prestige’, the four piece from Llandudno were founded in April 2007 by current frontman Van McCann and previous guitarist Billy Bibby. Bibby is one of two original members to have been replaced, with Johnny Bond now in his place alongside Bob Hall, who replaced original drummer Jon Barr.
The band’s name stems from a childhood memory of McCann’s while he was in Sydney, during which he watched as an Australian street busker named ‘Catfish the Bottleman’ played beer bottles strung to a wire. Named Catfish because of an unusually styled spiky beard he had when he first began playing in 2000, the busker was reunited with McCann in 2015.
Hailing from their parents’ B&Bs in the small, Welsh seaside town with the nearest music shop an hour away, Catfish’s beginnings were less rock n roll and more seaside stroll (couldn’t resist). However, that didn’t stop the local boys from getting their sound out there. Every two weeks, the group would fill 1000 blank CDs from Asda with their music and – complete with ninja masks – leave them on cars outside gigs. Be it their sound or the sinister threat of masked men forcing CDs upon locals, it seemed to pay off and the band started off down the long road of making a name for themselves.
“I want us to play stadiums,” McCann says. “Not just arenas, but stadiums. If I was gonna be a bin man, I’d make sure I was the best. You’re here one day and gone the next, so why not want to play in football stadiums?”
While Catfish seemed to simply emerge with a dedicated fanbase following them to stages around the world, this was not a story of miraculous overnight success, but persistent hard work behind the scenes since the band’s formation.
Following the ninja-distributed CDs, the indie rock band promoted themselves by playing support slots to friends’ bands as well as playing in car parks after other artists’ gigs, including the likes of Kasabian. Limited to their locality, the band took up labouring jobs and allowed themselves £5 per day until they saved enough to buy a van which allowed them to finally get onto the road.
This determined ground-work was paid off by the small successes, with an early demo of the band’s played on BBC Radio 6 Music in March 2009 and achieving runner up in the ‘North Wales Battle of the Bands’. As a result, their fanbase was indeed building. “Even before we got a record deal we were selling out 300-capacity gigs in Manchester,” McCann says. “When we first took off, people said: ‘Oh, they’ve been going for ages, they’re shit.’ Cos they’d seen us when we were shit.”
Happily describing themselves as having ‘no fixed abode’, the band dedicated themselves to a life on the road. Following an 18 month period furiously touring in 2012-2013, with over 100 live shows across the UK and overseas, the band were signed to Communion Music in 2013 and released their first three singles ‘Homesick’, ‘Rango’ and ‘Pacifier’ that same year. Following their signing to Communion Music, the band then signed to Island Records in 2014 and released their fourth single ‘Kathleen’, ranking at number 1 on MTV’s hottest tracks in April 2014.
It was evident it was the band’s intense grafting over more than half a decade that got them to this point, with frontman McCann always incredibly keen and determined for success. Ever since he saw Arctic Monkeys at Old Trafford cricket ground in 2007, he decided that anything less venue wise would be “below the ceiling”: “Someone threw a bag of mushy peas at me, but it’s about creating memories. If you’re going to throw the party, throw the biggest in the street.”
This seems to be the attitude the band has carried with them on the road, a road they would forever be on as the band absolutely dominated the festival circuit in the Summer of 2014. Performing at the likes of Latitude, Kendal Calling, T in the Park, Ibiza Rocks and Reading and Leeds, the band made a name for themselves as providing a live show no audience would forget. “People on people’s shoulders, then on their shoulders as well, a human pyramid,” McCann recalls of Reading and Leeds. “In Glasgow, the audience were all trying to clamber on the stage,” he says. “In Liverpool, someone let a flare off. Indoors. The whole room went purple.”
In the midst of the madness, the band released their debut album The Balcony on 15th September 2014, earning them the BBC Introducing award at the BBC Music awards. The album charted at number 10 on the UK Albums Chart in the week ending 27 September 2014, was certified Silver in the UK on 9 January 2015, was certified Gold on 20 March 2015 and reached Platinum sales on 30 December 2016. Their second album The Ride, released 27th May 2016, only elevated their success. By 3rd June 2016 it reached number one on the UK Albums Charts with unit sales of 38, 000.
Catfish’s music is reminiscent of the simplistic indie sounds that died a slow death from 2010 onwards, with echoes of The kooks and wardrobes like The Strokes coming to life and surviving through this new band that were actually a huge hit. This was perhaps the reason the band are so successful – in an era where music is becoming increasingly technical, computerised and layered, Catfish strip it back to represent those who continue to appreciate good old fashioned lyrics and guitars.
Talking about the band’s music, McCann describes exactly that: “You meet a girl, your best mate kisses her and you have a fight, then you meet her sister. Everyone in Llandudno has those sort of stories. They’re not all about me. I can’t relate to stuff in the charts; if you’re gonna sing about sex, sing about not having it.”
With over ten years of experience under their belts, the rise of Catfish and the Bottlemen is clear. In 2015, the announcement of two Catfish shows at the O2 Academy Brixton in November saw all 10,000 tickets sell out within minutes. A year later, they played their largest headlining show to date at Castlefield Bowl in Manchester, UK. Since, they have toured in South America, Japan, UK, Europe, North America, and Australia along with consistent appearances across the festival circuit. And now, they begin a sold out headline tour this week with the last few tickets remaining for the SSE Arena in London.
Starting the tour fresh off the band’s first release in a couple of years, their new single ‘Longshot’ was premiered on Annie Mac’s Future Sounds on 8th January – the lead single off their upcoming studio album The Balance. This was followed by the release of the second single ‘Fluctuate’, on 13th February 2019.
Lucky for us Belfast folk, the band are bringing us a sold out show to the Ulster Hall on 27th February before heading stateside. And while Catfish and the Bottlemen aren’t quite at stadiums just yet, it’s a far cry from local car parks, and it certainly ain’t no seaside strolls. Give ‘em another few years – they’ll get to the stadiums, and the mushy peas will flying high.
Catfish and the Bottlemen / Wed 27 Feb 2019 / Ulster Hall, Belfast > Tickets