With Cats In Space finally getting the chance to tour their fine Atlantis album, an early date on their late summer brought them to the Robin. For me, this was the first visit to the venue since the Great Lockdowns, and being as objective as possible, it seemed that the old place, apart from having a few alterations made, such as a slightly bigger open area by the entrance seemed to be trying to keep the place as welcoming as possible, such as allowing punters to make their own decision about facemasks. Unfortunately, the car park being given over to being a vaccination centre told its own story.
But as far as the music was concerned, it was a pretty good way to renew the relationship with live music. There had been a lot of good things said about openers False Hearts, and it’s obvious that the band have a lot of things going for them, but they didn’t really come over on tonight’s showing. According to singer Emma Hodgson, this was guitarist Steve Balkwill’s first gig with the band, although you really wouldn’t have guessed from this performance as they were as tight as you’d like, but their take on modern hard rock, with Halestorm being an obvious influence, didn’t really come over on the night. As good as the sound was generally, Emma’s voice didn’t really cut through, and I suspect they were probably hampered by seriously limited stage space and having to use some of fellow support Vambo’s gear. There’s a lot to like about False Hearts, especially when they can write a line like ‘I detest you, but I love you’, and while this wasn’t their night, I suspect there will be plenty more in the future when they will shine.
Londoners Vambo, on the other hand, seemed to impose themselves straight away. I thought as they began that there might be a bit of a Led Zeppelin influence somewhere, and while that definitely proved to be the case, the band’s playing, songs and stage presence said there was a lot more happening than that. For those unfamiliar with the band, they’re a fourpiece, guitar, bass, drums and the vocals of Jack Stiles; James Scott on bass and drummer Steve Price are as tight a foundation as you could wish for, and Pete Lance looks pretty much stadium ready on guitar. ‘Fast Car’ might just have been the best song in the set, but I would rather have heard some more of the band’s own material rather than the two covers in the set, Zep’s ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ and Purple’s ‘Burn’, although fair play to them for not picking a more obvious Zep song, and while they had the confidence to vary the arrangements, they did a very good job with both songs, although the drum solo might have been a bit much under the circumstances. As support bands go, this was really impressive.
It must have been an interesting time for Cats In Space since they toured in support of their last album, Narnia, in 2019. They’re on their third vocalist in as many years, with original singer Paul Manzi being replaced firstly by Mark Pascall, who then left during the recording of the next album, in turn replaced by Damien Edwards. The rest of the line up remains the same, which is a good thing as the Cats are currently one of the best live bands around at present. The opening sequence is the ‘Dive!’ intro from the new album, then the band enter and hit their mars immediately with ‘Too Many Gods’. Like several of the bands they’re open about emulating, their music is not only based on great songs and great playing, but on the multi layered vocals of the likes of Queen and ELO, which they’re quite capable of pulling off live.
As might be expected, the set was built around the new album, with the remainder almost equally split around the other studio albums. After the usual set opener ‘Too Many Gods’, an early highlight of the set was ‘Mr Heartache’, (again a mention for the harmonies!), and it seemed remarkable that after so little live work over most of the previous two years, how quickly the band had hit their stride. Even ‘Only in Vegas’, a song I’ve never been that partial to, hit the spot. There were one or two surprising additions to the set, including ‘Scars’ and ‘September Rain’, both from the Scarecrow album, the latter being especially memorable, as Damien Edwards sang it with only Andy Edwards piano as accompaniment, although Grag Hart and and Jeff Brown on backing vocals, although both of them seemed to providing comic relief at the same time.
Although the great part of the set was excellent, the band really looked to be taking things up several notches as the set neared its end. After the title track of the new album, ‘Thunder In The Night’, the Cats’ potential disco classic and a serious rival to Kiss’ ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’, had heads nodding and feet tapping all over the hall, the quirky verse of ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ kept up the atmosphere, and they even managed to maintain the heat through the epic ballad of ‘I Fell Out Of Love With Rock’n’Roll’, before bringing the main set to a thunderous climax with the epic ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’, proving that not only are they great songwriters, but a terrific live band.
After that there was a single encore of ‘Hologram Man’ and that brought an excellent evening of music, from all three bands, to an end. Despite the upheavals the band have undergone over the past couple of years, the Cats are in rare form, and if you get the chance to see them, you won’t be disappointed.
Vambo on Facebook
False Hearts on Facebook