Fat Cat and I go way back. I first met him in Paris, in what some would say was his most creative period. As we all know, Fat Cat ended up playing piano for The Spice Cats but before he got that gig, he was trying out a bunch of new musical styles and ideas, playing with as many people as he could.
Fat Cat had previously developed his ‘Crazy Cat Beats’ in Hamburg and then played a lot of blues in Warsaw but I don’t think he had an opportunity to express himself in the way he really wanted. In Paris, he found an eclectic mix of artists going beyond rock and blues. The scene was full of jazz, rap, funk and a thousand other styles.
I first heard Fat Cat in this little club in Montmartre where anything could happen. The club was filled with musicians from across the world and we were jamming all kinds of songs and styles. The atmosphere was electric. This little ginger cat gets on stage and takes the crowd even higher than I thought was possible. His chops were off the charts! We jammed on a few songs, got chatting, had a few drinks and that was the start of a long friendship.
As it turned out, I happened to be looking for a guitarist for my jazz band, Big Game Collective. We were messing around with new ways of playing, blending funk and acid jazz with our more traditional approach and I thought Fat Cat would be a perfect fit. I had some amazing musicians already playing for me but thought we could do with some fresh talent.
Nicoli ‘Fingers’ Novak from Croatia on the piano, he was the steady career guy, had a wife and a kid. Jimmy ‘Bones’ McCormack on the bass. He could lock into any drum beat on the planet. Tony ‘Tick Tock’ Valentino, the finest drummer this side of The Seine, me of course, Claude ‘Hotlips’ Fontaine on trumpet, and the stunning Olivia Bellerose, singing vocals. She was something else. Radiant, powerful, entrancing. When she sang, you could hear your own heart beating in your chest!
Fat Cat came and played an audition for us and fitted straight in. He immediately struck up a friendship with Nicoli, gravitating toward the piano. Nicoli taught him a lot about keys and shared a few secrets about his life with Fat Cat. Fat Cat got on with everyone though. He seemed to lift them up with his energy. The only person who didn’t seemed affected by his charm was Olivia.
Olivia was otherworldly, like she came from a different dimension. Maybe it was her beauty, maybe it was her mastery of singing, or perhaps it was the tragedy of her story. She had grown up without a father and her mother had died young. She found an escape in music, hanging out in bars and clubs from an early age. She loved to sing, dance and drink. Everyone wanted her but she never wanted to start something – in case it finished too soon.
When we first met Olivia, it was just me and the boys. We were drawn to her voice and she was drawn to Nicoli. They got on like a house on fire. Nicoli’s calm, steady attitude seemed to represent something solid for her. An anchor to hold onto perhaps. Sometimes it felt like it was just Olivia and Nicoli in the band and we just provided the backing. There was a chemistry between them. Nicoli loved playing piano for her, and she loved singing for him. I think that’s why I recruited Fat Cat. To give us some balance.
After a while, it was plainly obvious that Olivia was completely in love with Nicoli. A hundred men would throw themselves at her after every gig but she only ever had eyes for one man. I don’t know to this day if they ever took it further than their musical relationship. Maybe they had slept with each other, maybe not. Anyway, the fact of the matter was that whilst Nicoli seemed to represent stability for her, like the father she never had, he was married with a child and would never leave his wife. As I said, he was a solid guy. He wouldn’t have told anyone either, except maybe Fat Cat.
When Fat Cat joined the band, everything went well for a while. We made some great music, played some amazing gigs and had a lot of fun. But nothing changed for Olivia and Nicoli. She still wanted him and he would not or could not do anything about it. I could see her getting more and more desperate. Her performances become more emotional, more heart wrenching. It was as if she was spiralling into this place of deep grief that she let out in her music. We could all feel it.
One night, we played what would be our last gig with Olivia Bellerose. You couldn’t make it up. We were playing a venue called La Bellevilloise in Belleville. We were the headliners and Olivia was wild, ethereal, and almost out of control. The concert was amazing and I don’t think anyone there would ever forget it. As soon as it finished, Olivia left. Normally we would all stay for a few drinks, chat with the crowd and meet some friends but that night she just left. We didn’t think much of it back then but that would be the last time we ever saw Olivia alive.
The next morning Nicoli rang me in a panic, desperation and grief pouring down phone. Olivia had been found dead in her bathtub in the early hours of the morning. The water had run over and was leaking into the downstairs neighbours. The police suspected drink and sleeping pills but I suspected she had died of a broken heart.
When Fat Cat joined the band, Nicoli had started paying less attention to her, teaching Fat Cat piano. He loved playing music with him as much as her. Fat Cat was and is a genius, on the same level as Olivia. I think it made her realise that Nicoli would never leave his wife. Nicoli loved the music and not her. It must have broken her heart to see that there had probably never been a chance for her and Nicoli.
The band played on for a bit after she died but Nicoli went into a deep depression. He had lost his best friend and musical partner, his songbird. We didn’t know what to do without her and eventually the band split up. Fat Cat took his new piano skills to The Spice Cats and the rest of us drifted apart. I stayed friends with Fat Cat and we wrote a few songs together. I wonder, if Nicoli had not been married, would they have got together and Olivia still be singing?