Slowly but surely the world of live music is opening up again and, apart from gigs that have been held in open air spaces, the indoor show has been much missed by the regular concert goer after it dropped off a cliff edge in March 2020 and became disembodied and Zoom-based. So, it’s no surprise to see a sense or wonderment in the eyes of the people who walked into iconic South London venue The Amersham Arms for a show by Catenary Wires. I could see an audience reacquainting themselves with long-forgotten joys like getting their hand stamped on the way in, going to the bar and standing in front of a stage glowing with spotlights glinting off of mic stands.
The show was very much a musical family affair, and there was no enjoying the green room rider of brown-free M&Ms and Cristal champagne for the Catenary Wires as Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey joined Steve Miles as European Sun who were the first act of the night. Steve Miles treated the songs in his set as a manifesto for life and his wry and entertaining lyrics touched on big issues like handing the wise move of handing over control of our lives to women on ‘The Future’s Female’, getting old on ‘Never Too Old To Be Young’ and ‘My Friend Robin’ which lists Steve’s many ‘friends’ including Robin, Sylvia Plath and Robert Johnson. It’s a warm and funny start to the evening which feels more like a welcome hug and than a formal handshake.
Pete Astor was the night’s penultimate act and, with Ian Button on drums and Andy Lewis on bass, they formed a trio that created a sound that exceeded the number of players. Pete crafts songs that sit somewhere in between Tom Petty, Television and Billy Bragg. There were plenty of Americana-jangles and indie-British-angles to get the crowd up and dancing and Pete also held the crowd rapt with some fine banter between songs, including a great story of a journalist friend whose first job was to go and interview a well-known sneering UK act in the USA. He got there, was told to ‘fuck off’ and came straight home (it’s way funnier hearing Pete tell it). There was much love given to a rousing version of ride-the-rails paced ‘Water Tower’ and with the warm embers of Pete Astor’s set still glowing, and more drink having been taken, the audience were well and truly warmed up for the main attraction.
Catenary Wires are as quintessentially English as the bucolic landscape they often reference in their songs. I have previously said that they are purveyors of grown-up ‘English’ pop, perfectly constructed vignettes of Englishness that can be as dramatic as a kitchen sink drama or as playful as an Ealing Comedy. They are as charming live as they are on record, and they shone with a lack of ego and a love of playing their music to an audience. Alongside Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey were Ian Button and Andy Lewis, back on stage, and keyboard player and singer Fay Hallam and together they were as light, airy, and delicious as a Victoria Sponge at a summer’s tea party. Apart from ‘Dream Town’ (from Til The Morning) and ‘Intravenous’ (from the album Red Red Skies), the majority of the songs were, understandably, taken from the band’s most recent release, Birling Gap, with stellar versions of all tracks. But, for me, the standouts were ‘Always On My Mind’, ‘Canterbury Lanes’, ‘Alpine’, ‘Three Wheeled Car’ and crowd-pleaser ‘Mirrorball’. The live arrangements left nothing lacking from their album’s counterparts, and the layered harmonies are even more impressive in person. Afterwards, as all the band members got to finally enjoy the green room rider, the audience drifted off into the night with happy smiles reflecting the contentment they felt from three outstanding artists.
Catenary Wires have a new single out ‘Always On My Mind’, taken from their excellent Birling Gap album
You can still catch Catenary Wires on tour:
Friday 10 September – The Oast Community Centre, Rainham
Saturday 11 September – The Piper, St Leonard’s
Sunday 12 September – Prince Albert – Brighton
Friday 25 September – Fusion Arts Centre – Oxford
Saturday 25 September – The Tin at the Coal Vaults, Coventry
Tickets available through Songkick
Review by Paul F Cook