Greg Hart Interview
9th August 2022
Kickstart The Sun
Q: Congratulations on the new album, Kickstart The Sun. No.1 in the UK Rock/Metal chart and notably on another half a dozen other charts as well. Have had time to enjoy the success?
GH: Yeah it’s been brilliant. The National Physical, CD and Vinyl, is a good one, Number 11 I think that was. The initial release of it has been a long time coming as we have been planning it for some time so when you are so far ahead, when you actually get the record out, you’re happy when it’s done.
Q: Was there a bit of umming and ahhing about making it a double?
GH: For a while, yes. We thought about forcing it into a single album for many reasons. People’s attention span is about 46 seconds on YouTube so that’s how tough it is to keep people engaged but the fans that we have so far and indeed the new fans coming onboard have all really embraced what we do. We are old-fashioned in what we do, that is old school albums the old-school way and I think people of our age, it takes us back to when we were all kids and we didn’t have any cares in the world and a double album was great. It does work for us. It’s all very grand and over-the-top but people really like it.
Q: This is your 2nd album with Damien on vocals and I say this with no disrespect to Paul Manzi as he’s a great vocalist as well but Damien has taken the Cats to another level.
GH: Yeah. Paul is a fantastic singer and I am really glad that he went on to do what he has done with The Sweet and to be fair, I think he was always destined to go that way. Damien I have known for quite a long time now and I knew that his voice could take these songs in the direction we needed to go with the band. He just fits like a glove and is an extraordinary singer. I’ve said many times already that he really is world class with what he does and a joy to work with. You just have no worries with him; he’s so consummate.
Q: He is contributing to the song writing as well.
GH: He is. Obviously me and Mick Wilson have always done the writing on the earlier albums but we have got to the stage now where Damien started coming up with ideas for the instrumental bits and pieces that I had. He was putting forward such creditable ideas I thought ‘Ah! Right!’. As the producer of the album, you must always look towards your best and strongest assets and you shouldn’t ignore anything coming from anybody. I am always willing to take stuff on if it is for the good of the band and Damien has a lot to offer.
Q: It was Krusher Joule who first alerted me to Cats in Space and Atlantis which hand on heart I think was the best album of 2020 and I did wonder if you could come up with something that good again. You have and, in many ways, bettered Atlantis. Did you feel any pressure, not externally but within yourself to come up with the goods again?
GH: 100% - I am always battling internally (laughs). It’s continual and I’m a nightmare to be fair. My head is full of crazy stuff and maybe it’s a leftover thing of the eighties, I don’t know but I think it’s because I am finally doing what I always wanted to do back from the Moritz and If Only days. I’ve always had this 70s thing going on and because now is the time that I’m actually doing it and I have the guys around me that are capable of doing it, there is just an awful lot coming out and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. I think if you worry too much about trying to surpass what you did on the album before you might get stuck in a rut because you will just be trying to beat yourself up about it. Atlantis was a great album to make and I fell Out Of Love With Rock And Roll is one of my all-time favourites and it always will be. Atlantis, Marionettes, Spaceship Superstar, they are all perfect songs from what was in my head at the time but with Kickstart, I wanted to try harder, to go for it, dig for it and Damien came in with some lyrics and we all mucked in a bit more on it and ended up with this double album. I’d be a liar to say I don’t worry but I think you just have to keep moving on the way that you do. I mean our next album might be completely different – who knows – but at the end of the day, they are great songs played by great people. The palette for Cats In Space is exceptionally wide, much wider than other Rock bands and very much like what Queen or Styx or bands like that would have done which allows me as a writer to think I can do a disco song or write an epic. They all fit into the Cats remit.
Q: The Cats songs are uplifting, happy, carefree almost, as all music was on the radio when we were kids. Was that the aim or one of the aims when you formed the band?
GH: Again, 100%. Initially we just wanted to do an album that was just purely for us. Too Many Gods (2015) was the kind of album I wanted to write back in the day but when we did it and released it in 2015, I didn’t care that people would really think, although I did care about the album greatly of course. There was a fear that people would think ‘What’s this? What a load of old rubbish!’ but the total opposite happened and we seemed to turn on a lot of lights in a lot of people who were hankering for the days when music was uplifting and carefree. I just want to make albums in the modern world now that I wanted to hear back in the day because people need something that is joyous and uplifting. If people want to go in and do doom and gloom and listen to those bands, that’s ok, of course it is but when you listen to Cats In Space, it’s time just to have a nice time, appreciate the musicianship and the thought and love that goes into it and take people back to another time. We hear stories all the time from fans on forums about how they found us and what we mean to them and it makes you go ridiculously emotional because when you hit people that hard – and we are channeling some people exceptionally deep –that’s what we wanted. ‘Yeah, come on! This is what it used to be like!’ It’s a brilliant thing and as you may know, some of our fans are so die-hard, it’s almost like being a Bay City Roller back in the day! (laughs)
Q: You are the principal song writer. Run us through your song writing process.
GH: (laughs) Blimey…I haven’t got all day! Geoff Downes (Asia) once called me prolific which I always took as a great compliment. We wrote a lot of songs together around the Aqua time (1992) and we were just sitting at his house one day just churning them out. We would say ‘Let’s do something like Whiney Houston’ and 20 minutes later we had a Greatest Love Of All type of thing. I think my head just goes into something as I have a good knowledge of 70s music and Pop music in general so it’s almost like having a dictionary in my head that I can go to for reference. I’m not being blasé but I just don’t find it difficult. If I pick up a guitar, normally I can get something going but if something is not happening, I don’t pursue it. I never overwrite songs, I never write thirty and take the best ten, I write exactly what I need for an album but I make sure they are good. If they are not good, they don’t make it to the album; I am the worst critic there is. I just love writing music and if you have a passion for it, especially when you write exactly what you want to write, from a totally selfish point of view, I am always going to write a song. If I was in another band doing a particular style of music that I would be just fitting in, I couldn’t write those kinds of songs because it isn’t where my heart lies.
Q: I played Listen To The Radio to a friend of mine recently and he’s a musician, multi-instrumentalist and typically will analyze the performances above everything else but his first comment when it finished was ‘Great song’. He said that again after he asked me to play it again. I think that’s testament to not only your song writing but also the band as they play what’s needed, not letting their egos get in the way. Is that fair comment?
GH: Correct. That is absolutely the nail on the head there. The joy of Cats In Space – and it was either by witchcraft or Ouija board or something, I don’t know where it came from – but when we got together and played together, there was a magic. I knew all of them before but we had never played together and they respected that this was myself, Mick Wilson and Steevi Bacon’s project and they were more than happy to play on it. As time has gone on, we just know what we have to do. With Dean for instance, as a guitar partner, he is just sublime. There is no competition, no ego, it’s the ultimate opposite. In fact, Listen To The Radio is the only song we have ever done where Dean has come along to the studio and on the back of the demo and said ‘I have a great solo worked out for it’. I said ‘Ah…that’s the one song I have a guitar solo for.’ So we decided to record both and sit down and discuss which was the best one but me being the way that I am, I was watching how long the song is as I didn’t want it to outstay it’s welcome. Well, Dean’s, the first solo, was done and dusted by 2 mins and 20 secs so we could still get out of the song in three and a half minutes with a double guitar solo so he played his and I played mine and they were both very similar so it works a treat. Jeff plays his bass like Jeff does. He is a phenomenal bass player and he never gives himself enough credit for his playing; he’s like John Deacon in that respect. Steevi’s drumming is Cozy Powell, Roger Taylor, Andy on keyboards is an incredible pianist.
Q: You are all seasoned musicians and vocalist aside, you’ve had the same line-up, since inception. How important is that consistency?
GH: Now it is very important. I would say on the first album, we were fortunate as it was about people playing our songs but we found straight away that there was an identifiable sound that we had and a connection. Funnily enough, a lot of it is down to Jeff’s bass playing because what he does, really glues what we do together. When I do the demos and I play the bass on them, I’m not a good bass player but it sounds ok but when Jeff puts the bass down, it becomes the Cats. I would say that even when we did Scarecrow (2017), there was already this sound that I thought I couldn’t mess about with too much and I certainly wouldn’t want too now. Touch wood, everybody is happy to stay on board and do what we do so yes, very important now.
Q: Andrew Kitson’s artwork and the Cat Pod are another consistency. Was a mascot or album sleeve identity for want of a better word something you wanted from the start as well?
GH: Before we even finished writing the first songs, whilst we were doing the early demos, I said we needed a name and an emblem like Eddie (Iron Maiden’s mascot) as it was going to be a faceless band so we needed an emblem to sell it. We came up with the name Cats in Space and then the Cat Pod in 10 minutes. It was my little sketch and I then went to a friend of mine who tidied it up a bit and then it went to Steevi who worked on it and then we had the Cat Pod. That was going to sell us T-shirts, calendars, mugs…that was a very important thing. It’s cats, it’s science fiction and it works a treat. When people wear T-shirts with just the Pod on it and no band name, people will go up to them and ask what it is and the reply is ‘Cats In Space’. Then they go on YouTube or Spotify to check us out.
Q: You’re preparing to start a tour, how’s the new stuff shaping up live?
GH: Yeah we start the Kickstart The Sun tour on September 29th and we’ll be putting some album tracks in that. It’s going to be hard to try and work the set out for that because there are big songs that have to come in to replace other big songs and we are having a few headaches of it. Next year we want to take Kickstart The Sun into the theatres and do a full theatre show which could well involve doing an awful lot of the album in the first half of the show and then the hits in the second half. That’s the plan and we are at the time of our career now and with the band we’ve got where we want to put on a spectacle and give people what I think they have been waiting for us to do. It’s an incredible financial risk, probably the biggest financial risk I have ever done so we are going to need an awful lot of people behind us to make it work but I think it will work for us because we don’t really fit into the remit of anything else. You have to go where you belong and we do belong in a theatre environment albeit playing loud Rock music. It’s a gamble but we are all knocking on a bit now so sometimes you have to force the build. If I am going to go out all guns blazing, I will go out with a proper show rather than trudging around the clubs, trying to build a following that I don’t think works for us as our fans are not 25-year-olds who want to stand up on a sticky floor for five hours. We have done a few bigger shows and it just works, we just project so much better than we do in a club. Back in 2017 when we did the Deep Purple, Thunder and Status Quo tours, we also did a little club tour in the middle of all that and we just sounded to big for the clubs.
Your Forrest Gump box of chocolate questions.
Q: You’re at home and some asks you to put the new Cats album on. Would you go for the vinyl or the CD?
GH: Vinyl. Not even up for discussion.
Q: On Facebook and the other social medias, people often ask stuff like the best album of all time. Is there such a thing as the greatest Rock album?
GH: It’s all subjective isn’t it. It’s personal opinion. You know when somebody told me that Atlantis was in there top three all-time albums along with A Night At The Opera and another one, I just couldn’t believe what he was saying but he insisted it is. Mine has to be Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy, purely because it’s the memory of when I got it and the influence it had on me as a kid but there have been other albums that have come along after that but no, I don’t think there is a greatest album of all time. If there is, it’s probably Kickstart The Sun. (laughs)
Q: Are you a dog or a cat person?
GH: Cat. (Greg pans his camera around shows me his cat) Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs cats, horses, all animals but cats are the coolest thing for me.
Q: Greg, thanks very much for your time. Great to talk to you and I’ll see you in October.
GH: Thanks Glenn. We’ll have a drink.