Catherine Wheel tonight. An early gig, live at The Marquee Club in 1991.
Catherine Wheel formed in 1990, comprising singer-guitarist Rob Dickinson (cousin of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson), guitarist Brian Futter, bassist Dave Hawes, and drummer Neil Sims. Hawes had previously played in a Joy Division-influenced band called Eternal. They took their moniker from the firework known as the Catherine wheel, which in turn had taken its name from the medieval torture device of the same name. The band was sometimes included in the shoegazing scene, characterized by bands that made extensive use of guitar feedback and droning washes of noise, as well as their continuous interaction with extensive numbers of effects pedals on the stage floor.
The band performed a Peel session in early 1991 while still unsigned; two 12″ vinyl EPs were released on the Norwich-based Wilde Club Records, named after the regular weekly Wilde Club gigs run by Barry Newman at Norwich Arts Centre. They signed to major-label Fontana Records after being courted by both Creation Records and the Brian Eno-run label Opal Records. The band’s debut album, 1991/92’s Ferment, made an immediate impression on the music press and introduced Catherine Wheel’s second-biggest U.S. hit, “Black Metallic”, as well as the moderate hit “I Want to Touch You”. The album features re-recorded versions of some of the Wilde Club-issued EPs. “Black Metallic” was later featured in the film S. Darko.
The more aggressive Chrome followed in 1993, produced by Gil Norton. With this album, the band began to shed its original shoegazing tag, while still making skillful use of atmospherics, such as on the song “Fripp”. In a 2007 interview, Rob Dickinson said that members of Death Cab for Cutie and Interpol told him that without this album, their bands “wouldn’t exist.”
1995’s Happy Days saw the band delving further into metallic hard rock, which alienated a portion of their fanbase, even as it increased their exposure in the United States during the post-grunge era. The single “Waydown”, and especially its plane-crash themed video, received heavy play in the U.S. A more sedate strain of rock known as Britpop was taking over in the UK, causing Catherine Wheel to continue to have greater success abroad than at home.
Here’s a reminder of what Catherine Wheel sounded like, during their formative days – and why they made such a huge impression on so many people (yours truly included) – further evidence some Artists are just not destined to be forgotten.
Crank it up.