Catfish frontman vows world domination 

click to enlarge Catfish and the Bottlemen, a Welsh band, is winning awards for its 2014 debut album “The Balcony.” - COURTESY JON STONE
  • Catfish and the Bottlemen, a Welsh band, is winning awards for its 2014 debut album “The Balcony.”
Maybe it was the unusual moniker Van McCann chose for his Welsh outfit: Catfish and the Bottlemen (named for an inspiring street busker he once met).

But for eight years, the singer tried every trick in the book to curry music-industry favor, and nothing worked. Things didn’t click until 2014, when the band won a BBC Music Award for its straightforward rock ’n’ roll debut “The Balcony” and got a spread in the influential UK magazine NME. “Before that, no one would really talk to us,” he says. “Because we’re just working-class kids and our story’s not very Hollywood.”

No longer. Oasis-simple singles like “Kathleen” – which warns against drunkenly phoning the one ex-girlfriend you shouldn’t late at night – have hit a populist nerve overseas.

McCann, 26, now has set his sights on America – the group plays San Francisco this week – and he swears he won’t stop touring until the band is the biggest group in the world.

Having already written the followup to “Balcony,” he says, “I promise you we’re going to put out a load of albums, and it won’t go straight to our heads. We’re not going to disappear to Geneva to ‘find our sound again.’”

In retrospect, the Llandudno native can see both the ingenuity – and hilarity – of his harebrained schemes for success. Born a test tube baby, McCann’s childhood was unusual from the start. His folks ran a bed and breakfast, and rented out his room (he slept in the linen closet).

When English papers first interviewed him, he bragged that he wanted to one day travel by private helicopter. “And they were like, ‘Who does he think he is? God?’” he says. Press coverage promptly stopped. McCann switched to shameless self-promotion. He pressed hundreds of demo CDs, and placed them on car windows in British-festival parking lots. He took trains into London, researched names of record-label executives, and bluffed his way in to see them. When Kasabian guitarist Serge Pizzorno refused a Catfish disc he offered him on the way into a Kasabian arena show, McCann made sure he was heard: He rented generators and played his own post-Kasabian concert outside, in the venue’s garage.

One time, McCann weaseled backstage into an Arctic Monkeys show, pretending he was with the opening act, The Vaccines, who laughed their heads off when McCann and crew told them, “Hey, we just snuck in as you guys!”

“We’re just that driven. And we’re not very good at pretending that we’re not.”


Catfish and the Bottlemen

Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Feb. 10

Tickets: $12

Contact: (415) 771-1421,

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Tom Lanham

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