Kevin Howes was at a thrift store in rural Alberta in 2014 when he came upon an old vinyl record in a plain white cover.
The music historian, who was on a cross-country trip digging to find lost music from the analog era, paid the cashier 25 cents for the record, not knowing what to expect.
“I took it home to my motel room later that night and I had a portable turntable and I listened to it and I was just flabbergasted at what I was hearing,” Howes said. “This was a really personal, progressive folk album from the early ’70s.”
The label on the LP had the word “Catseye,” along with nine song titles and songwriting credits that included the name “O’Kane.” It was printed in the U.K., so Howes guessed Catseye was a long-forgotten British band.
Howes, who has made a career of unearthing obscure artists of the past, scoured the internet and reached out to contacts in the U.K., but couldn’t find any trace of Catseye and the mysterious O’Kane.
The rise and fall of Catseye
About five years after discovering the album, Howes emailed musician Duane O’Kane, asking if he had anything to do with a band named Catseye.
O’Kane was stunned to have someone reach out to him about a band he helped form decades ago.
“I thought it was just some wacko, frankly,” said the Vancouver singer-songwriter. “‘This is crazy. What are you talking about? Yes, I’m Duane O’Kane. And yes, I did that record.’ He wanted to get together and I thought, why? It was such a long time ago.”
They agreed to meet in Vancouver, where Howes, who has received two Grammy nominations for his work with Indigenous artists such as Willie Dunn, professed his love of the album.
According to O’Kane, in the fall of 1972, he was travelling by train through the Rockies when he met a British guitarist named Colin Brown, who was strumming The Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin for fellow passengers. The then-22-year-old O’Kane joined in, and the two hit it off.
They reconnected in Vancouver, where they worked with O’Kane’s collaborator, Lorraine Pilling. O’Kane and Pilling eventually moved to the U.K. in the spring of 1973 to join Brown to pursue music.
In London, the three were joined by musician José Gross and they recorded the album, printing 99 copies of a vinyl demo to present to record labels.
Legendary BBC DJ John Peel called their London flat to praise the album, which garnered attention from a label owned by Elton John. Despite the interest, the album never saw the light of day.
Eventually Catseye split up, with Pilling and O’Kane returning to Canada.
“Who knows what all the reasons were, but I think it was a whole lot of ego that gets involved at that stage, when suddenly [there is] interest in the band and maybe everybody wants to be the leader and things change,” said O’Kane.
He continued to pursue music, however, forming the band Carmel and working with musician Randy Bachman.
A sense of validation
Forty-eight years after it was recorded, Catseye’s album was released digitally with a vinyl edition in the works.
O’Kane says other members of Catseye are aware of the album’s release and, like him, are pleasantly surprised by the renewed interest.
Howes says Catseye holds it own against other singer-songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s and is relevant to a modern audience.
“People are still making music in this vein today, in this folk singer-songwriter style, but these are some of the original people making it at the time,” he said.
For O’Kane, the release of the album nearly 50 years after it was recorded has helped validate his decision to move to England to follow his dreams.
“To have something like this just come out of nowhere, it’s such a profound breath of fresh air for me,” he said. “To have that period of my life acknowledged, as opposed to just some distant memory that was a bunch of long-haired people in the early ’70s doing something weird.”
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