From 2007 to summer 2014 Billy Bibby was lead guitar for Catfish and the Bottlemen, gigging his way across the UK, and occasionally abroad, helping to build the loyal, grass roots fan base that would ultimately prove vital the band’s rise to international recognition. He crafted and performed the lead guitar parts on The Bottlemen’s debut album, The Balcony, and can therefore list a gold record amongst his musical accomplishments to date.
Over the past several months Billy’s work has taken a new direction creatively, and he has recorded home studio versions of six new songs as a solo artist. The tracks can be found on Here on Soundcloud.
A new Facebook page and a Twitter account have been duly created, and on May 20th he tweeted a rallying cry of: “Looking for backing band members that are young, dedicated and hungry to tour! #getintouch #freshstart #letssmashit.”
Billy Bibby is back and he has a plan.
“I’ve always had a few songs written myself and just started writing some more and trying to get as many gigs booked as possible,” explains Billy over the course of a phone interview. “In the early days of Catfish, I was writing songs as well, so I’ve had experience in that field. I’m doing what I was doing as a full-time job with the band as a solo musician now. I’m currently in the process of getting a band together. I want to go in as myself with a backing band.”
Billy’s newest track, “This Kind of Summer,” is a bittersweet, nostalgic song with a catchy bounce. It touches upon the summertime memories of being with someone, whether that someone is a girl or a group of band mates. In the opening bars, an acoustic guitar and the gentle squeal of nylon strings--that have thankfully not been silenced by over-eager engineering--create an immediate sense of closeness. It’s as if the tune is being strummed right there, just for the listener. As the song blossoms, drums, piano, a poppy synth, and vocals embellish the track. Billy’s vocals are exceptional: timeless, effortless, and flowing, with a crooning quality reminiscent of “I’m on Fire” era Springsteen or Style Council Paul Weller. Pre-Balcony Catfish fans will recognize the voice as that of “God Gave Her Soul,” a track on the EP Poetry and Fuel which Billy penned seven years ago and just recently began to perform live again at solo gigs around the UK.
Billy confided that his favorite new recording is “Believe Me,” for reasons more sentimental than musical. “It actually means a lot to me, because if you listen to the lyrics closely it’s about Catfish, the band, and leaving it.” The starting point for the song was a suggestion from a friend to write lyrics over the top of an existing riff. “I didn’t know how to do it. I’d never written a song like that before, only proper band songs,” says Billy. “It’s my favorite song now, mainly because of the lyrics, but I like the whole vibe.” The simple, heartfelt ballad begins, “The feelings, that you go through when you’re with them and they’re with you… it takes its time just to let you go.”
A favorite more in line with Billy’s usual musical preferences is “Waitin’ for You,” which exists in both acoustic and full instrumental versions. “That’s what I generally play – quite quick and guitar solos and all that sort of stuff.” Feedback has been divided as to the preferred version with the artist leaning toward the full band rendition, but to those who prefer acoustic, Billy says with a laugh, “I’ll take that! Just as long as people are diggin’ the music I don’t mind.”
Overall, Billy’s new solo musical approach is less guitar-heavy, more melodic and multi-instrumental. “I loved what I was doing with Catfish when I was with them. I was part of it. I didn’t think there was anything better than that kind of music. I was so into that.” In many ways, Billy’s current composing builds upon how he envisioned guitar parts for Catfish and the Bottlemen. “If you listen to the lead guitar parts in Catfish, they’re not necessarily the most difficult thing to play. But they are quite melodic. I always wanted someone to sing the guitar lines back to me rather than have someone be like ‘Oh he’s face-melting. He’s shredding.’ That’s not the kind of guitarist I was.”
“What I tried to do is basically take that melody from my guitar into my thinking. So it’s kind of connected, but it obviously does sound quite different to what Catfish do. It just seemed like a natural transition to me. Paul Weller is a good example with The Jam and what he does now. It is that type of transition. I think the fact of just playing and writing on my acoustic guitar, instead of my electric guitar, has made the songs sound different as well. If I started writing a song on my electric guitar, it probably would sound a whole lot different.”
Attitude, and specifically happiness, is something Billy aspires to in his songwriting. “One thing that I do like to try to get across is that I don’t really genuinely like my songs to sound sad. I like them to sound quite upbeat, even if it’s about something that can be a little bit nostalgic or a bit upsetting, I still like the song to sound quite nice and happy: you’re singing it in a good light. I’m always happy and I try to get that across in songs as well. I’d like people to be happy when they listen to them.”
As far as musical influences go, Billy cites Elvis Presley as his first and primary source of inspiration. “I loved everything about him – his persona, his presence, and as a performer. My parents were both Elvis fans so I was brought up on Elvis.” In terms of guitar influences specifically, “For me Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. He’s got a very melodic way of playing and he’s very technical as well, but I just love the way he played guitar and wrote songs. Fleetwood Mac are a big influence as well. I love their diversity of songs. Anything melodic that you can sing to and have a good time: that’s the kind of stuff that really inspires me.”
When asked if he was also a Little Comets fan, he replied, “We supported them a few months before I left the band. I think they’re brilliant. They’re kind of underrated in my opinion. They’re unbelievable musicians. If there were more people out there who understood what they were listening to, there would be more people buying Little Comets albums. It’s a shame, really. But that’s just the way it is, isn’t it?”
On his own thoughts about the commercial side of the music business, Billy says “I’m not personally trying to hit more of a mass market, but I would be happy if it did hit a bigger market. I don’t know. We’ll see (laughs).”
Perhaps the most significant transition with respect to his Catfish career is that Billy is stepping in front of the microphone as the lead vocalist of his own material. “It’s great to be singing. I love it!” He is quick to point out, “I was never disappointed not to be able to sing as much in Catfish. I was happy doing what I was doing. But like I said, Elvis is a massive influence for me, and I’ve always just sang anywhere since I was little. So to sing lead is great.”
What’s next? Billy is currently auditioning a number of musicians but is also proceeding with great care, “I’ve been taking my time and not rushing into it. I don’t want to be getting people who are wrong for the job. I just want to get it right. Hopefully when I audition I’m going to get them all in for one day in the studio. I want them to not be afraid of touring. They just need to have the same sort of mindset about what they want – to be professional musicians. If they’re up for it, then we should get along fine. But yes, it’s coming along!”
Billy’s seven-year journey as a Bottleman has prepared him well for what to expect as he pursues a new musical career. First and foremost, he underscores the need to “Get yourself out there and be gigging all the time. A lot of people don’t want to make that sacrifice. They want to be comfortable in a job and have a girlfriend and a nice life. We did it for the greater purpose of what Catfish are now and they’re doing really well. That wasn’t going to happen unless we put the groundwork in. If anything, what it’s taught me over seven years is to just work as hard as anything. You just have to want it and believe in your music. And if you believe in your music, you’ve just got to put in more hours than anyone else doing that job. Some people get lucky, but we lived miles away from any big cities so we had to work for it. We couldn’t take the chance on being lucky. You’ve got to go and do it rather than talking about it. Just put the work in.”
Experience and making mistakes along the way is also a vital part of the process as far as Billy is concerned. “If you don’t make mistakes, you’re never going to learn. We made hundreds of mistakes and I know now not to do those same mistakes again. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, and keep doing the same ones again, you’re never going to make it in the industry. We were good at learning from it. That’s probably the biggest part, actually - learning from it, and working hard to correct it. You give yourselves a good shot then.”
“I’d like to take everything I did on board with the band and put it into my own sort of thing so I can hopefully get myself up to the level that they’re at now, which is the plan. We’ll have to see. Time will tell. I enjoy doing it.”
The writer of this article, a loyal fan of Catfish and the Bottlemen and their repertoire to date, wishes tremendous success to former Bottleman Billy Bibby in his upcoming musical endeavors. Clearly he is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get to work.
UK Autumn Tour dates for Billy Bibby: