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Turn Me On: Catfish & The Bottlemen

Somewhere in Sydney, Australia, there’s a busker who directly impacted the name of a rock band from a small Welsh seaside resort town. Years after the fact. This busker from Down Under, dubbed Catfish the Bottleman for the liquid-filled bottles that he used as an instrument, was pretty much the first musical memory of a very young Ryan Evan “Van” McCann, whose family had briefly travelled to Australia.

Back home in Llandudno, Wales, in 2007, a teenage McCann started playing guitar with Billy Bibby, his friend’s older brother, and when their duo became a band in need of a name, McCann remembered this long ago busker and named the quartet Catfish and the Bottlemen.

That answers everybody’s first question.

For six years the lads played wherever, including “closing” bigger bands’ shows by setting up in the parking lot post-gig, and it paid off with a 2013 Communion Records deal that netted them four singles. One of those singles, "Kathleen", hit #1 on MTV’s hottest tracks in April 2014 and within a year Catfish and the Bottlemen had seen their debut album, The Balcony, go to #10 on the UK Albums Chart, they had their first BBC Music Award.

Catfish and the Bottlemen hit US shores with The Balcony in January 2015, and the very next day the Welshmen performed the energetic pop rock confection "Kathleen" on The Late Show with David Letterman. As the song was climbing steadfastly into the Top 20 on the US Alternative rock charts, the band was diligently collecting comparisons from Yankee scribes to Johnny Marr, The Kooks, and, notes McCann, “Oasis, but with better manners.” You could add that their crunchy, guitar-driven tunes spew bits of British Invasion-inspired Ramones affability and everything that made hits of those early three-minute punk pop burners by Elvis Costello.

With "Kathleen" leading the way, Catfish and the Bottlemen toured in the UK, Europe, North America, Japan, and Australia, and they played a number of festivals including New York’s Governors Ball, and Bonnaroo.

Early in 2016 the guys (now McCann, original member and bassist Benjamin “Benji” Blakeway, and later arrivals drummer Bob Hall and guitarist Johnny “Bondy” Bond) won their first Brit Award for British Breakthrough Act. When their second album, The Ride, was issued it hit #1 on the UK Charts and, so far, Top 30 here.

Just as The Ride was coming out in the spring of 2016, and with the delightful new garagey single Soundcheck already on the airwaves to herald the show, Catfish and the Bottlemen played to a standing-room-only crowd at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, a crowd that exuberantly and confidently sang every song—even the brand-new ones.

And somewhere in Sydney, Australia, there’s a busker who’s proud.

See more Turn Me On at Rock Cellar Magazine