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Catfish: Feeling the Blues

Published by AAH 1st September 2020

Catfish have established a reputation on the Blues circuit as a brilliant live act. Recently, they triumphed at the UK Blues Awards, where they were named Band or the Year, with singer/guitarist Matt Long Instrumentalist of the Year. AAH met Matt at his Wisborough Green home and discovered it’s all about the music…

When did Catfish form? Our first ever gig was in August 2014 at a pub in Billingshurst. So, we’ve just passed our sixth anniversary.

What was the original line-up? We had Terry Harvey on bass (AKA Dusty Bones) with Kevin Yates on drums. Kevin left recently to spend more time with his family. The mainstays of the band have been me and my dad, Paul Long, on keyboards. 

How did you come to start a band with your dad? I’d been in a couple of bands before Catfish but they ended for one reason or another. We decided to start a covers band, just until something else came along. And here we are, six years later! 

Paul has been in others bands too? His previous groups include The Riotous Brothers, a blues and R&B band. They were very cool and played for the love of music, like Catfish. They sometimes played gigs to one person, as we have! You never go into blues music thinking about commercial success; you do it because you’re passionate about it.

How come you chose guitar and not the keyboard, like your dad? I started playing piano but wasn't enjoying it. The guitar appealed to me because you could do all sorts of things to alter the sound. I asked dad if I could have guitar lessons instead and he said, “absolutely!” I'm very grateful for that. Music was never forced on me, which is important. I’ve seen many young musicians and you can always tell when there’s a pushy parent in the background. You can see their heart’s not truly in it. I’ve also seen genuine passion in musicians who are half my age with twice the talent. Young people need to be allowed to evolve naturally and follow their own path.

Was music all you wanted to do? Yes. When I left school, I could have studied A’ levels, but it felt like a waste of another two years, as I knew what I wanted to do. I went to ACM (Academy of Contemporary Music) which was a fantastic experience. I’d still be there if I could be! 

What were the early days like in Catfish? Initially, we played blues standards, playing small venues, making a bit of money and having fun. We recorded a covers album and internet radio stations picked it up and liked our music. Gradually, we started to write our own material and our third album, Burning Bridges, was original songs.  

What are you currently working on? We were working on an acoustic album. We’ve been writing it at home during lockdown, but sadly dad has had some health problems and it’s on the backburner. We released a single too, a re-recorded version of Archangel, originally on Burning Bridges, but with our new bassist Adam Pyke, drummer Kevin Hickman and backing vocals by the brilliant Alice Armstrong. Archangel is one of the songs that people always want to talk to us about.

Another favourite is Make It Rain… I first heard this song being played by Ed Sheeran of all people, on Sons of Anarchy on Netflix. I remember thinking it was a nice song, although a bit overproduced, which Ed Sheeran doesn’t really need to do as he’s a good singer. When I heard the original by Foy Vance, I was blown away and wanted to record a version with Catfish. It’s fifteen minutes long, but a firm favourite. We didn’t play it at one gig and almost got lynched! 

What is touring like? I would happily play to one person or thousands - if one person goes away happy, I feel I’ve done a good job. We were touring in the Czech Republic in 2019 and some nights it would just be us and a small crowd, while sometimes we’d be part of a big festival line-up with well-known acts. At one of these gigs, everything came together and we were told that Catfish broke the record for merchandise sold! 

You’re a powerful performer…It becomes easier with experience. I'm never nervous before going onstage anymore. I'm more nervous in the studio as everything needs to be perfect. I enjoy playing to the audience, feeding off their energy. Sometimes, you’ll have a quiet gig where everyone sits down and listens, so you can play slower songs. Other nights, everybody is jumping about and you can’t break that up with a ballad. 

How strong is the Blues scene? It’s more of an underground thing. Some people say, “Blues doesn't exist anymore!” But it exists in every genre, as pop and rock all stems from the blues to some extent. Whenever I’m listening to music, I can always point out parts inspired by the blues. What I love about it as that it attracts people who just love to play. I’ve jammed on stage with brilliant musicians without even knowing their names! 

You were named Blues Band of the Year. What does that mean to you? It’s nice that people recognise the hard work we put in. We spent a long time working on the album and gigged as often as possible before lockdown. I’d never say we are the best blues band in the UK, as I don't think that's true. Maybe I’m naturally self-deprecating. 

You’ve recently formed a second band? Some of the songs I was writing were getting heavier and moving towards rock. Some of it suited the Catfish vibe, but some weren’t right for a blues audience. I love blues and rock equally, but there’s a different dynamic. So, I formed The Revenant Ones with Kev and Adam, who make for a brilliant rhythm section - the most important part of any band. We’re heavily influenced by Alter Bridge, fronted by Myles Kennedy. It’s heavy rock, bordering on metal at times. 

Do you crave commercial success? It's foolish to go into music thinking you’ll be rich or famous, because you're setting yourself up to fail. if you're doing it because you enjoy it, you're always going to be winning. Okay, maybe I would like to make a bit more money! But for me,  is liberating and if you're passionate, people will appreciate what you’re doing.

For all things Catfish, including live performance videos, visit www.catfishbluesband.co.uk


Matt Long of Catfish