Birthdays, they come around every year. Last month it was, I suppose, a big one in that I turned 60. I never worry about growing old; after all there are plenty of people who don’t have that good fortune. I have been a music recording engineer and producer with the BBC for 35 years, and until recent changes in legislation 60 was the BBC retirement age and I would now have my feet up, wondering what to do - would I suddenly develop an interest in gardening? What I have done though is to go part-time at work. It’s too soon to know how this is going to pan out as it’s still week one and I’ve been in every day! We now have somebody on attachment to the team to be my other half - the sorcerer’s apprentice - and I’ll have to learn to let go.
Hopefully that won’t be too difficult due to the changes in my life in recent times. In 2014, after an (unwelcome) reshuffle in BBC Radio 2 Production I had stopped producing the weekly Paul Jones Rhythm & Blues show. Until that point, to avoid any suggestion of conflict of interests whilst in charge of the programme, I had not been able actively to promote my own band or produce records for people. Now this landscape opened up, and also I started doing the Blues And Roots Connections show in September 2014. I had always fancied being on ‘the other side of the glass’; the new frontier of Internet radio was new and exciting, and the programme was quickly picked up by Stevie Connor at Blues And Roots Radio. It’s great to be a part of this adventure. I was extremely surprised and pleased to be voted Independent Blues Broadcaster Of The Year in the 2016 British Blues Awards. I am touched that listeners have gone with me in my broad approach to blues and roots music. My passion for the show is undimmed and I shall be continuing, always finding time somehow to do the programme.
In the Summer of 2014 my son Matthew Long left the Academy of Contemporary Music in Guildford, and was wondering how best to pursue his career as a guitarist with a love of blues, rock and metal. We had been to jam sessions on the south coast a few times and got friendly with drummer Kevin Yates and bassist and jam organizer Dusty Bones and his wife Suzie. My wife Fiona suggested that the four of us knock up a few Blues covers band and do some pub gigs over the summer to get a bit of pocket money for Matt and have a bit of fun. After one rehearsal Catfish did our first gig at the King’s Arms in Billingshurst West Sussex, in front a posse of friends and family and some bemused locals who had been hoping to watch football on TV.
September saw us record 8 tracks for a demo, in a studio in Portsmouth with an engineer more interested in playing Angry Birds on his phone. This was done in one day, all live vocals and live guitar solos. A demo to get gigs soon turned out to be of interest to people and I would print 20 at a time at home to give away or sell at gigs. It was picked up by the Internet Blues DJs and got a lot of airplay, and I could no longer cope with making copies at home. Realising this was starting to get serious the songs were remixed, a proper cover done and the album So Many Roads was released - with the title track being played by Paul Jones on his BBC show. The gig diary was filling up and we were starting to get noticed. We were a tight band, doing our own interpretations of blues covers and blessed with a guitar-playing prodigy in Matt. Our next release was mostly covers, but this tribute EP to the recently departed B.B. King included our first original, the title track When B.B. Sings The Blues. With these two CDs under our belt we went to the Skegness Rock & Blues Festival in January 2016, a five hour drive each way for a £150 fee to play a half hour set on the Introducing Stage. Blues Matters magazine liked what they saw and booked us for their Stage for the 2017 event.
2016 was a year performing at larger gigs and festivals up and down the UK, and also of writing and recording original songs for a new album, together with our cover of Foy Vance’s Make It Rain, which has become a signature song. The week before its release at the end of January 2017 we returned to Skegness and sound checked in the empty Jaks Club. When we returned to the stage to start our set something had happened, as the place was packed with many hundreds in the audience and more still outside. You could feel the electricity and we played the gig of our lives, which people still come and talk to us about now. The next week the new Catfish album, Broken Man (complete with harmonica contribution from the great Paul Jones), was released and its success and the hard touring all added up to us building a growing reputation, built on the extraordinary talent of the young 22 year old singer and guitarist, strong original songs and the albums I had produced, together with a tight rhythm section.
The constant touring over longer distances was becoming too much for Dusty - after all, none of had expected Catfish to take off in such a way - and he reluctantly decided he’d have to step down, and bassist and good friend of Matthew’s Adam Pyke has now joined the band as we embark on a new album and European as well as UK tours in 2018. Catfish is both a cottage industry and a family business, with father and son writing and performing, and my wife and Matt’s mother Fiona managing and booking for the band. Drummer Kevin’s wife, Kim, also does our CD stall when she can, so we are all involved.
In amongst all this activity I was holding down a full time busy job, doing the radio show and studying for a history degree with the Open University. Now I’m going part time to allow more time for the band, to produce more albums for people and to do an MA in Music; so instead of taking it easy and retiring at 60 new adventures beckon - it feels a bit like running away to join the circus!
Paul Long – 9 November 2017