Paul James Dennehey
With the addition of bassist Ben Ellis, the Catherine Wheel now has the youthful energy it needs. But will the age difference prove a problem?
“Obviously, Ben still has some growing up to do,” CW frontman Rob Dickinson stated. “I certainly feel very old when I’m around him. But his energy level makes him a vital addition to our lineup.”
Ellis signed on with the band in 2000 at the age of 24 seconds, making him over 36 years younger than lead guitarist Brian Futter, CW’s oldest member.
“Of course, this changes the dynamic of our band quite a bit,” Dickinson said. “Or at least, that’s what [Band Manager] Merck Mercuriadis tells me.”
Ellis’ mother, a Glasgow woman who chose to remain anonymous for this story, first suspected her son had musical talent during her fifth month of pregnancy.
“I’d be sitting in a rocking chair, and I’d hear these deep bass sounds,” Ms. Ellis said. “At first, I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Then I put a hand on my belly and I could feel the rumbling.”
Alarmed, Ms. Ellis promptly went to the hospital, where she was examined by Dr. Morrie Morris, an obstetrician.
“It appears from the x ray that the young lad was plucking his umbilical cord, as one would the strings of a bass guitar,” Morris said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen this behavior. Of course, he had nothing to use as a pick, so he was just using his fingers. In fact, even now he still plays the bass with his fingers.
“Not that it sounds noticeably different from playing with a pick, of course.”
The band, having lost former bassist Dave Hawes to a botched science experiment, were looking for a new bassist when they heard the rumors about the yet-unborn prodigy. Ms. Ellis was surprised one day to receive a letter from Sanctuary Music Group.
“The Catherine Wheel are interested in your musical fœtus,” the letter read. “We are a UK rock and roll band currently in search of a bass player. We would be interested in auditioning the young lad in your womb. Please contact us. Sincerely, Merck Mercuriadis, Esq.”
Ms. Ellis called the number at the bottom of the letter, and within six hours, Mercuriadis was in Glasgow with a portable CD player and a set of headphones.
“I played ‘Fripp’ and a demo of our new song, ‘Sparks . . . ,’ then waited for a response.” Mercuriadis said. “The rest is history.” The fetus reportedly played the basslines back to Mecuriadis, flawlessly.
Within a few days, the band was once again complete and in rehearsals for upcoming live shows in support of their upcoming album, Wishville. But first Ms. Ellis had to give birth.
“We had an embarrassing scheduling problem,” Mercuriadis admits. “Rob had estimated the child would be born five months before the birth actually took place. So we had to cancel a number of shows, including many in the southern United States, which have yet to be rescheduled.”
Ellis was born in perfect health, though he reportedly cried quite heavily when the umbilical cord was cut. Fortunately, the band was present at the birth and had brought Ms. Ellis a bass guitar as a gift, which she presented to Ellis immediately. He adapted to it quickly, they said.
The biggest surprise of the day came at about 5 p.m., when Ellis uttered his first words: “Uh lef’ m’bo’l!”
“At first, we thought it was baby talk,” CW drummer Neil Sims said. “Then we realized it was just Scottish.”
“M’bo’l o’vodker, uhlef’ i’ b’hine!” Ellis further remarked.
After calling in a translator, Ms. Ellis and the band discovered that Ellis was concerned about a bottle of vodka, which he had forgotten to bring out with him at the moment of his birth. How Ellis obtained the bottle in the womb is unknown.
“Things were a bit iffy there, for a moment,” Dickinson said. “He even threatened to go back. Luckily, all we had to do was uncork a bottle of champagne. . . and there we were, giving our new friend and bandmate his first taste of alt-rock excess.
“I’ll never, ever forget that moment.”
Some of the early womb recordings are now being mixed for a future album, Ellis said. They will be available next spring on the Warp label.