Heavy Black Frame

Throw in the expansive ambitiousness of forthcoming album [B]'Equally Cursed And Blessed'[/B] and [a]Catatonia[/a] really are flying up and away with the pop fairies.

A long, long time ago, way beyond blue in fact, an odd-looking Welsh five-piece were booked to play Camden’s Dublin Castle. Alas, they did not appear for the load-in or soundcheck. Nor indeed had they shown up by the time the two support acts had ploughed through their sets.

Then, just as the promoter was on the brink of giving up the ghost and accepting that his headline act had blown him out, [a]Catatonia[/a] (for ’twas they) marched into the venue. They were six hours late. They were a bit pissed. And all five of them were wearing sunglasses. Indoors.

Excellent behaviour, obviously, and particularly for a band who, at that time, appeared to have as much chance of cracking the mainstream as Mister Paul ‘Wellster’ Weller has of cracking walnuts with his eyelids. But there were undoubtedly stars in Catatonia’s eyes even when the indie world was held spellbound by the puppy-dog gaze of Louise Sleeper and Sonya Echobelly, and if nothing else the success of the ‘International Velvet’ album (double platinum and counting) represents a massive valediction of the band’s doggedness and determination. And their ability to wear shades indoors without looking entirely stupid.

It also obviously launched Cerys Matthews into 800,000 living rooms, which is a fantastic thing because as this celebratory tour is about to prove once and for all, she is utterly barmy. Straight Dad would surely approve of Derby’s midweek crowd – a mild-mannered mixture of Evening Session kids and casual couples in Deirdre Barlow spectacles – but Cerys is now showbiz dynamite, swigging from a wine bottle, telling hecklers to shut up, cheerily acknowledging the Mexican wave on the balcony and literally bouncing across the stage like some berserk monster mash-up between Debbie Harry, Eddie Izzard and Someone Who Is Very Excited Indeed.

Just like [a]Catatonia[/a]’s music, Cerys represents a full-on collision betwixt glamour and grit, half sultry chic and half barefaced cheek. Flirting with first-night nervousness, she gurglingly alludes to the clumsier elements of the band’s performance (“We’re slick, aren’t we? Hur hur hur!”), and yet a minute later she’s in full bloodied ballad mode, the consummate concert hall professional.

A fascinating mix it is, too. Throw in the expansive ambitiousness of forthcoming album ‘Equally Cursed And Blessed’ and [a]Catatonia[/a] really are flying up and away with the pop fairies, careering from Celtic tinklings to trip-hopping trinkets via the brazen ‘Storm The Palace’ and the downright bonkers ‘She’s A Millionaire’. Because this is an eclectic, occasionally clunking affair which – somewhat crucially – is most successful when it relies upon the formula laid down by ‘I Am The Mob’ and ‘Mulder And Scully’.

In other words, don’t ponce about. When you’ve got the tune and a basic idea (today, [a]Catatonia[/a]’s new songwriting angles appear to be that the Monarchy is very shit, London is extremely shit and love’s a bit shit, but not all the time) give it all a bit of welly and shout the chorus like you bloody well mean it. If you really must ponce about with slow numbers, make beamingly certain that they possess gravitas, grace and a really smashing chorus. And if you’re really lucky, one day you’ll marry those two aspects together and you’ll come up with a single as ludicrous and slinky as ‘Dead From The Waist Down’, which would surely slap the Spice Girls around the cheeky chops and steal their Crimbo number one crown were it not for the fact that it was being released in spring. Ho-hum. Still, going on the basis that all good things come to those who wait, Catatonia – of all the haphazard bands in this whole ramshackle world P have timed their leap into the world of entertainment superbly. True, at times their more earthy (ie, old-school ‘indie’) musical moments sound utterly peculiar in a venue so plush, so municipal, so… Derby. Yet at others you get the slightly perturbing feeling that Cerys Matthews – wine bottle, bangles, bounciness et al – has only just started.

Stay looned, folks…