I stumbled on The Family Cat. The record shops I frequented all had it. I picked it up so many times, mainly because it had something that appeared fantastic. The Family Cat is such a fantastic name for a band, and the artwork on debut mini-album ‘tell ’em we’re surfin’ is utterly brilliant. So I bought it, and took it home and fell, in quite a big way, for The Family Cat. They were a London-based five-piece who originated from Cornwall, Plymouth and Southampton.
From that first album, I worked back and discovered their brilliant NME-single of the week Tom Verlaine. Two albums followed, both worth further investigation, 1992’s furthest from the sun, and final album Magic Happens from 1995. They had fleeting success (mainly in the indie chart) and gained some notoriety with their single ‘Bring me the head of Michael Portillo‘, and then they were gone.
And that’s the disappointing thing. Sharp, catchy songwriting, lyrically ambitious and with a sound best described as a engaging noisy, almost dreamy pop, they had everything that Ride and The Charlatans and others had. Except the success. It wasn’t through lack of trying. They had a great live show, transfixing in those student days full of lager and pizza. They evolved, making smart on the surface sale-able records, all to no avail. And so it would seem that Paul ‘Fred’ Frederick (vocals, guitar), Tim McVay (guitar), John Graves (bass), Stephen Jelbert (lead guitar) and drummer Kevin Downing, would be consigned to the indie history books.
Until now. 3loopmusic are starting to create an enviable reputation for gathering up the lost, undervalued and sadly missed. they’ve gathered up the finest singles, album tracks, peel sessions and tracks that may have been used for a fourth album. That’s right. Unheard (read – new) material from the band that Sonic Youth described as their favourite UK band at the time.
We spoke to Fred, who gave us the story behind the release, and all things Family Cat.
Thinking back , who were your influences when you were starting out?
Fred: Musically, Television, Velvet Underground, Jesus and Mary Chain, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Gang of Four, Josef K, Stooges, MC5, Big Star. Other than that, the band was influenced by a fear of work.
Great to see the compilation come out. How did it come about?
A couple of labels approached me about five years ago but the timing wasn’t right then. Then I was asked to get involve by 3Loop. We met up in a pub in Kensington, and they suggested an anthology. I knew one of the 3Loop gentlemen from before so I knew I could trust them to do a good job. We started putting it together from there. They told me I’d be a rich man within 6 months.
Are you surprised with the reaction?
Well, yes, though I was certain that the people who were into the band before would be interested in the unreleased tracks and newly mastered versions of the released stuff. Not sure if we have converted any new people as yet.
[http://youtu.be/_dKj9SOSJDU] Golden Book
Did you have free rein on choosing the tracks? Or were there contractually things you couldn’t put on?
We discussed a few approaches to the track-listing, deciding in the end to do a Singles As and Bs disc with both in chronological order. The sogs kind of choose themselves. 3Loop made some good suggestions but let me leave off a few tracks I didn’t want to include because they sounded horrible. There were a few songs we couldn’t use because we couldn’t work out who owned the rights- cover versions mostly – but also a sweet acoustic version of Final Mistake.
I bet it brought memories back – any particular ones you remember from the various recording sessions?
I have such a bad memory – I remember doing vocals for tracks, king of being there, the people…..a lot of songs I don’t remember recording at all. The best thing about this record is that we got Iain Stronach to do the cover art, just as he did for the first Family Cat records. Its was great to meet up with him again.
There’s Peel Session tracks included in the release. What do you remember of those times?
It was always a great honour to do Peel Sessions as I grew up listening to, and learning from, John Peel right through the 70s and 80s. It was as important as getting in the NME or playing at ULU. The equipment in the BBC studios is amazing, way better than the studios we used at the start of the band. Dale Griffin, a great producer, was in Mott The Hoople, which impressed me. The BBC session tracks have a vitality missing in some of the studio recordings.
And there are tracks on the compilation from the abandoned fourth album?
Well there are demos of songs which may have made it to the 4th LP if we had ever got round to recording one. Snowplough, Ace of Cups and Taking Your Sister Home were all possibles for another record but we never got that far. So they are demos only, but good examples of the kind of thing we were doing just at the end. We wrote about 50 songs after Magic Happens came out, and about 20 of them are decently recorded.
But no chance of any live dates, not even for old times sake?
No live shows, no, sorry
Is this because you’re spread around the country? But in this technological age, new recordings might be possible…..?
It’s because I have a music project called Jack Adaptor, which tales up all my time and creative energies? If I’m going to do music, I want to do new music. Also a couple of the Family Cat aren’t interested in this project at all.
Sounds good – can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Jack Adaptor is a project I have with my musical partner Christopher Cordoba. We’ve been working together for more than 15 years and have a great creative relationship. Chris does all the playing and production and I contribute lyrics and singing. You can get all 5 Jack Adapter LPs from www.supplepipe.com plus Cordoba’s 2 instrumental records which are great. I get a lot of pleasure from being creative and still love singing and I’m looking forward to finishing our 6th LP later this year!
Did you enjoy touring back in those days? You were certainly a great live act…
I loved getting on stage, it was always the reward for the hours in the tour van eating Ginsters pasties. I would have liked to have toured more in Europe and the USA. We seemed to be constantly droning up the M1. I think as a live act we made up for our deficiencies with energies and attitude, though we got better as we went along. In the beginning though we were just glad to play!
…and some of the bands you enjoyed touring with?
I enjoyed Posies and Big Star at Reading. Band of Holy Joy, PJ Harvey, Moonshake. We had a lot of support bands who went on to stardom (Manics, Blur, Neds)
When you look back on the Family Cat – what emotions do you feel? Any regrets?
I’m proud of having done it. It’s part of my life and I have no dramatic feelings about any of it. Things could have been different but that would mean my life would be different and I like my life now.
Do you think you were hindered by the labels you recorded for? You have plenty of critical acclaim and high-profile supporters?
We were hindered by our own weird band dynamic, by being popular before we had really got good at playing, by some iffy business decisions, by some bad luck…..most people we worked with were well-meaning and did their best.
The critical acclaim was always mixed with some negativity, but that used to happen back then – if the NME liked you, Melody Maker had to hate you!
What do you think of the music scene now?
I don’t take much notice! I love my jazz, avant-garde, weird rock, contemporary classical. Cafe Oto in Dalston is a great place to hear music. I go there a lot.
What advice would you give bands starting out now?
Get good fast. Do it all yourself, and be lucky.
With this new release, I reckon it might just be us that’s the lucky ones. Five Lives Left, The Anthology is out now on 3Loopmusic now, and you can get hold of it here