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Cats In Space / Space Elevator - Academy 3, Manchester (UK) - 23 September 2016

This was a night set up to prove that space is not the final frontier. With an Elevator to the stars and Cats to sing at them, it was basically Pop/Rock heaven for the smallish crowd in attendance. I was a little slow to the Cats In Space party, only picking up the 'Too Many Gods' release a few months ago, but after just one listen it was clear that the pairing with Space Elevator for this tour would be perfect. I reviewed the Space Elevator album back in 2014 and was impressed not only by the songs but by the performances and production afforded such a low profile release, from artists I had never heard of. Both bands celebrate classic seventies music, the kind those of a certain age will remember seeing on Top Of The Pops on BBC1 every week and hearing on the radio every day. It is retro in many ways but has been given a contemporary edge to make it accessible to a new audience.

With a co-headline slot and an hour long set in Manchester, Space Elevator had plenty of time to make an impact, and they did so, on many levels. First of all, let me start off by saying the sound was perfect. Each instrument had great clarity and it proved that the volume levels do not need to go to eleven for every live show to be effective. Guitarist David Young, drummer Brian Greene and bass player Chas Maguire took to the stage, followed by The Duchess, resplendent in a spray on red and blue cat suit. The opening song, 'Elevator', was the first from the album, re-produced faithfully but with more power and an "in-your-face" sound. I have no hesitation is stating that, aside from looking stunning, The Duchess has one of the best live voices I have ever heard and she also has an easy-going rapport with the crowd. Personal favourites 'Ordinary Day' and 'Loneliness Of Love' had a great energy and the quirkier 'I Will Find You (Gallifrey Dreams)' and 'Oils And Bubbles' benefited from the live setting. I was fortunate to be able to watch the bulk of the set from the small photo pit and it was clear the band were having a lot of fun. When they introduced "an old song, the way it was originally written" I was slightly sceptical. Fortunately, the long slow version of Thin Lizzy's 'Don't Believe A Word' was a revelation. It was performed with passion and respect and gave Young an opportunity to display his own skills. Aerosmith's 'Love In An Elevator' was a fitting closing song, though I could have easily watched them for another hour. I was talking to Young after the show and was pleased to hear that songs were already being finalised for album number two. In a perfect world, Space Elevator would be playing to arena sized venues, though a part of me would really like to keep them to myself.

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There was just enough time between Space Elevator and Cats In Space to grab a beer before taking my place in the pit again as intro piece 'Arrival' began. The sound was excellent once more and when the band kicked into 'Too Many Gods' it was like listening to the album with massive speakers and visuals. With only one release to draw songs from, it was the perfect opportunity to give them all an airing, though it was also good to hear some less than generic covers to fill the time. Everyone in the band was both seasoned and consummate and the harmonies and backing vocals were the best I've heard this side of a Styx gig. Lead singer Paul Manzi has an unassuming manner but a fantastic set of pipes along with a passionate delivery. Guitarist Greg Hart is the bands main song-writer (alongside some co-writes with 10CC's Mick Wilson he was responsible for all the material on the debut album), and was a former member of the UK Rock outfit Moritz, and alongside second guitarist Dean Howard provided some meaty riffs and melodic solos. Bass player Jeff Brown (also occasional lead vocalist) and drummer Steevi Bacon were locked in tight and though keyboard player Andy Stewart was tucked away in the shadows his contributions were essential to the Cats sound. Highlights during the seventy minute set were the album's first single 'Mr Heartache', the multi-layered 'Unfinished Symphony', the gentle 'Man In The Moon' and oh so true 'Schoolyard Fantasy'. The Walker Brothers 'No Regrets' got the Cats treatment along with Slade's 'How Does It Feel' and neither version seemed forced, they were performed with a natural precision and showcased further the wealth of talent on the small stage.

I have to admit to being disappointed, for the band's sakes, by the size of the turnout, but it seems from their responses that it had been a good evening and one of the most keenly appreciative audiences on the tour so far. I'm more than happy to pass the Space Elevator and Cats In Space word and I really hope they can both get more exposure. Not quite time to get the flares out but possibly the soundtrack to any seventies-based parties you may be attending in the near future and a live pairing I would travel to watch anytime.

Dave Bott

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