The Family Cat were a disparate group of Southern Englanders drawn to the big city in search of fame and fortune. Naturally, they ended up working in the Savoy Hotel and it was here, within this symbol of Empire, that their plans for musical innovation and greatness were hatched.
“Everything we do is deliberate. We’re not all style and no content. We’re all content and a bit of style. There’s no depth to anything now, but there’s depth to us. People have preconceptions we’re gonna be like C86 all over again, sure. But they see us live and we’re nothing like that. We take their eyes out.”
The Family Cat were a disparate group of Southern Englanders drawn to the big city in search of fame and fortune. Naturally, they ended up working in the Savoy Hotel and it was here, from within this symbol of Empire, that their plans for musical innovation and greatness emerged.
The band was formed in 1988 in the cellar of the Savoy Hotel several years after they first met. With a settled line up of Paul Frederick (vocals/guitar), Stephen Jelbert (lead guitar), Tim McVay (rhythm guitar), John Graves (bass) and Kevin Downing (drums) they made their London debut in April 1989 “at a pub somewhere in Finsbury Park”.
At the gig was John Yates, founder of a new label, Bad Girl Records. Impressed by their blistering live show he immediately snapped the band up and the single ‘Tom Verlaine’ was released later that year. It proved a shrewd move; the single drew critical praise and an NME Single of the Week nomination.
Artwork came courtesy of artist Iain Stronach who went on to produce imagery for all of The Family Cat’s Bad Girl output as well as their distinctive t-shirt range.
Buoyed by this promising start the band went back into the studio with producer Rick Bucker (The Jam) and recorded the ‘Tell ‘Em We’re Surfin’’ album. Resultant reviews were mixed, with the production deemed of insufficient quality to capture the energy of the band’s live shows. However, reviews not withstanding, the album sold well and reached number 6 in the UK Indie Charts.
The next couple of singles ‘Remember What It Is That You Love’ and ‘A Place With A Name’ performed well both critically and commercially, drawing admiring glances from major labels. The result was the band signing to Dedicated, then home to Spiritualized, The Cranes and Chapterhouse.
The first output on Dedicated was the single ‘Steamroller’, an ode to the ‘joys’ of supporting Southampton FC. It was considered a fine return across the music press and the band forged ahead with two more singles for their new label. Utilising their South Coast connections a young and innovative musician and singer was enlisted to provide backing vocals on both ‘Colour Me Grey’ and ‘River Of Diamonds’. The singer in question was one Polly Harvey who had just signed to Too Pure Records under her band’s marquee of PJ Harvey. Both singles again garnered considerable critical endorsement but frustratingly this acclamation was not matched with commercial success.
The Family Cat’s second album ‘Furthest From The Sun’ played out a similar story. Despite being accompanied by an innovative marketing campaign that included a lucky dip in your local independent shop (prizes including posters, badges and a band show in your front room) the album limped in at number 55 in the album charts.
Extensive touring followed but third album ‘Magic Happens’ again failed to take the band to the next level. Singles ‘Airplane Gardens’, ‘Springing The Atom’ and ‘Wonderful Excuse’ troubled the lower reaches on the charts but the album failed to breach the Top 75 despite favourable reviews and press coverage. The disappointment was further accentuated when it emerged that Spiritualized barcodes had been mistakenly printed on the album cover.
With perfect irony what would turn out to be The Family Cat’s final ever release, The Goldenbook EP’, proved to be their highest charting single, helped no doubt by the rumpus caused by b-side ‘Bring Me The Head Of Michael Portillo’.
Having returned to the studio to start work on a fourth album the band were informed by Dedicated that the demos were being rejected, this becoming the spur for the eventual disintegration of The Family Cat and the band called it a day in 1995.
To rub salt in the wounds, a multinational clothing chain had in the meantime appropriated the band’s infamous FCUK logo. They considered suing but decided against it. The brand claimed to have first came across the acronym on a fax to their UK office but supposed numerous sightings of senior marketing executives at The Family Cat gigs could never be proved.
John Graves moved out of music and into another area of expertise, wine. He is Sales Director of a renowned wine company.
Both Fred and John are still enthusiastic cyclists and Fred recently completed the Tour of Flanders course.
Jelbert is a successful journalist with regular contributions for the Independent and The Times.
Tim McVay and Kevin Downing are working at a youth project in Cornwall called Zebs. The project is heavily musically based and, amongst other duties, they teach instruments and help develop young bands.
Tom Verlaine (1989)
Remember What It Is That You Love (1990)
Place With A Name (1990)
Colour Me Grey (1991)
Jesus Christ (1991)
River of Diamonds (1992)
Airplane Gardens (1993)
Springing the Atom (1993)
Wonderful Excuse (1994)
Goldenbook EP (1994)