Bitesize! The Family Cat

“She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. She loves you, yeah yeah yeah. She loves you. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.”

Sometimes the best way to get your message accross is to just keep repeating it.

“I should be so lucky. Lucky, lucky, lucky. I should be so lucky in love.”

Repetition. Repetition.

“Here it comes. Here it comes. Here it comes rolling over the hill. Here it comes rolling over the hill. It’s rolling over the hill.”

I’m guessing the last one was less familiar.

The Family Cat whose seven year career was blighted by a lack of familiarity (with record buyers, with the charts, with success), crop up on very few 90s nostalgia compilations and are maybe best remembered for a briefly popular t-shirt which accompanied debut ep “Tell ’em We’re Surfing”. They were also cursed with the grave misfortune of plying their trade at the beginning of the 1990’s, a period guilty of oversized t-shirts, overgrown haircuts and the ill advised baggy shorts/high-top trainers combo. No surprise then that they drowned without trace in a sea of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Kingmaker, Pop Will Eat Itself, Carter The Unstopable Sex Machine and a plethora of other acronym inducing bands.

What distinguished The Family Cat from a majority of their contemporaries however, was possession of a singer who could genuinely sing. Paul Frederick had, and for all I know probably still has, a rich powerful croon at odds with the prevailing style of merely barking amiably. Unfortunately he and his band were inclined to dispel any gravitas by referring to him simply as “Fred”. Similarly, whilst such contractions as Hendrix or Coltrane conjure up images of epoch defining figureheads, referring to your guitarist, albeit quite correctly, as Jelbert, simply reinforces prejudices we may have of post baggy pre britpop mateyness.

I challenge any and all of you though to present to me a more moving song from the period than the thunderous behemoth that is “Steamroller”. A few years earlier The Stone Roses had been inspiring thousands to levels of euphoria that really did make them want to bang drums. Here was the first song in rock’n’roll history to make you feel like doing a bit of tarmacking.

I’ve long considered there to be a similarity between british indie and northern soul. Both are characterised by a reliance on songs; of single moments of inspiration rather than career building bodies of work. Both operated largely without the benefit of major company largesse and the Hendrixes and Coltranes of both genres seemed to be musicians who realized they were only going to get one chance at immortality.

On “Steamroller”, Fred knows his ship has come in as he roars his way through the song with a soulfulness that you don’t expect from a bunch of skinny west country longhairs.

“I know that I’ll love you for the rest of my life even though we never meet again.”

For every chain smoking food dodger who ever idolized Felt and The Marine Girls and thought, I can do that, Fred bellows his encouragement. For every alternative disco that was scuppered by the local rugby club annual night out, Fred pledges his support. Just as R. Dean Taylor, Marlena Shaw and Garnet Mimms did decades earlier, Fred mans the barricades, stiffens his sinews and imitates the eye of the tiger as he stakes out his little corner of rock’n’roll Valhalla.

Indie will always be succeptable to accusations of willful underachievement. The Family Cat prove that it can be noble, stirring and just a little bit heroic.

“Broad, fine, generous, solid and real. With the steamroller into gear you can feel like a star”.

Postscript: One obvious problem with trying to mythologize obscure songs is that they tend not to turn up on youtube. I recommend checking under “F” in your local second hand record shop for the album “Furthest From The Sun”. In addition to two contributions from a young Polly Harvey,  this will also allow you access to the full seven minute version of “Steamroller” with its reprise of the coruscating middle eight in which the guitars squeal like short wave radios. Bliss.