Catherine wheel with David Hawes in conversation
Catherine wheel special with David Hawes talking about life in the band.
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.
The B-sides and outtakes collection, Like Cats and Dogs, came out the following year, revealing a quieter, more contemplative side of the band, spanning the previous five years. This carried over into Adam and Eve in 1997, wherein the band scaled back the sonic force of their sound from its Happy Days levels, with clean playing on some songs that featured extensive use of keyboards and acoustic guitars. Alternately, songs like "Satellite" and "Here Comes the Fat Controller" were lush and orchestral in scope.
In 2000, Catherine Wheel re-emerged with a new record label, a new bassist (Ben Ellis); a modified name (The Catherine Wheel); and a new album, Wishville. After mixed reviews, record company turmoil and lacklustre sales, the band went on a still-continuing hiatus.
In March 2010, Ferment was re-released, containing bonus tracks and extensive sleeve notes.
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