(Make Me a) TRISTE© Mixtape Episode 16: The Catenary Wires

The Catenary Wires

The Catenary Wires formed in 2014, as a duo of Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey.
They had previously been in Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research and Tender Trap. The first Catenary Wires album “Red Red Skies” (Elefant/Matinée Recordings, 2015) was a marked departure from the fuzzy sixties-inspired girl-group pop of their earlier bands. It was more acoustic, emotive and melancholy.
With the release of their second album “Til The Morning” (Tapete, 2019), the band expanded to include Andy Lewis (bass), Fay Hallam (vox, keyboards) and Ian Button (drums). While the sound was bigger, the core of the band remained the dual vocals of Amelia and Rob.
The band have just completed their third album, to be released in May 2021. The first single “Mirrorball” is a lovesong inspired by eighties discos.
The band’s name refers to the chain of curves made by the overhead cables seen suspended from pylons or above electric trains, cables that can seem to lead you off to somewhere different and unknown.

What Amelia and Rob say: When we moved out of London to this rural part of Kent, we were suddenly in a very quiet place.  Lockdown didn’t make a huge amount of difference – it’s just a little bit quieter now than it was before.   When we moved, we found ourselves listening more keenly to the new music other bands were making. We don’t see that many people, and don’t get to attend that many gigs – but we can hear what people are doing.   And there is a lot of good new music around.  The songs we have chosen are the ones we would put on a mixtape for each other right now, for when we aren’t writing songs together… 

The silence here is probably why our current band, The Catenary Wires, started off with just voices and acoustic guitar. We’ve gradually built the sound up again, now we have three other members in the band. We try to write songs that are strong enough to work just with one guitar, while knowing they will be very much enhanced and enriched by Fay, Andy and Ian’s contributions. Mirrorball, the first single off our upcoming album, is a good example of that. It’s quite an intimate duet, but the band do a lovely job of conjuring up the atmosphere of a forlorn 80s disco – the place where our two lovers meet…

Their MIxtape:

ROB’S MIXTAPE CHOICES:

THE MUDD CLUB – Bottle Blonde

It’s one of those new records that makes you want gigs to start happening again immediately. It’s funny, spiky, sweet and rough at the edges, and when you finally get to see The Mudd Club playing live you know you are going to be watching two very young performers giving garage punk a good-natured kicking, breathing new life into it and making it their own.   The video is good too.  I reckon that the recording of the song and the making of the video were about as much FUN as anyone managed during lockdown.

MARY TEE and BRUCE BRAND – Mini Mini Mini (by Jacques Dutronc)

Lots of people, including us, have broadcast live music from their homes in the absence of proper gigs.  There are lots of other musicians in our part of the world (Kent) doing the same thing, and occasionally we get invited to play at a virtual ‘open-mic’ night in Chatham, where you have to choose a cover version to perform.    Mary Tee and Bruce Brand (of Thee Headcoats and many other bands) are the real stars of this scene – they’ve recorded dozens of great songs in their living room and with just a guitar, a bit of percussion and vocals, recorded into a phone, they make you feel ok about being locked down.  I will still be watching their songs long after lockdown is over.

NANCY AND LEE – Lady Bird

This is obviously a very old song, but it’s one of the ones we covered for the virtual Kentish open-mic night, and because I had to listen to it several times to work out how to play it, I now can’t get it out of my head.  I love it.  It’s a perfect duet, I think.  And it only has two chords – which I was very grateful for.  In my mind, this song, so expressive of breezy, liberated 60s America, will always be associated with lockdown in a small English village in the year 2020.

AMELIA’s MIXTAPE CHOICES:

MAKIN’ TIME – Feels Like It’s Love

Makin’ Tim were a mod revival band from the mid-1980s. I wasn’t that excited about mod at the time – I was more of an indie kid – but I did love girl groups. With Fay Hallam’s great pop songwriting and vocals, Makin’ Time felt very different from all the other more laddish bands in that scene, and I played their album a lot.
Over the years, I kind of forgot about the band. But then, a couple of years ago, we suddenly discovered that Fay was our neighbour in this very tiny village we now live in.  Not only that, but she was still making music.  We quickly made friends and persuaded her to add her amazing singing and Hammond organ to the Catenary Wires.
I chose this song of theirs in particular, because Fay cheekily sings a bit of it over the end of our current single Mirrorball. She also sings a bit of Talulah Gosh, the band I was in at around the same time. The single is a paean to the 1980s after all, so it is very appropriate!

RED RED EYES – Low Light

Laura MacMahon, the singer in Red Red Eyes, used to be in a great all-girl punk-pop band called Betty and the Werewolves, who I loved a lot. In fact, when they stopped, we expressed our love by stealing their guitarist, Emily, for our own band of the time, Tender Trap!
Laura then disappeared from the music scene for a while and moved up to Aberdeen to focus on her career (as an academic working on film studies). When I first heard Red Red Eyes, I had a hunch it was her but I wasn’t sure. I remember watching this video, just waiting for her to turn around to see if it was who I thought it was. Right at the end, I saw it was!
When the Catenary Wires put out our last album, we asked Red Red Eyes to play our launch show. It was so nice to see Laura again and her bandmate Xavier is great too. We were hoping to see them again in May 2020. We organise a small festival of poetry and music in our barn each year – a bonus of moving to the middle of nowhere – and had invited them to play. But of course we had to cancel it because of the pandemic. Hopefully next year!!

PENELOPE ISLES – Leipzig

Penelope Isles are based around brother and sister, Jack and Lily Wolter, and they just make a glorious noise. Theirs was the last gig we saw before lockdown (excluding gigs we performed at ourselves) and it was just amazing.
The two of them sing in a similar register, so you sometimes can’t tell who is actually singing. And the music seems to be semi-improvised, but you can tell they’ve been playing music together forever, because it all seems both complicated and totally natural. The result is a sound that you just sink into and enjoy. It feels a bit shoegazey but is somehow too exuberant for that tag. Enjoy.

MIrrorballis out now on Skep Wax Records and Shelflife. The new album will be out in June.
Look HERE for more information on The Catenary Wires.

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