Billy Bibby was just 10 years old when he began learning the guitar at school in Llandudno, like two of his best friends.
“I just wanted to learn with my mates,” he says, “but because they’d been learning for a couple of years they said ‘You might have to join some of the younger ones’ and I was like, ‘No, let me try to pick it up’ and literally after a few weeks I was better than my mates were. It must have been my kind of thing, really. I always wanted to learn to play guitar so as soon as I started I was just head down and learnt it as good as I could.”
Unusually for a boy in the early 2000s his guitar heroes were Hank Marvin and Mark Knopfler. “My parents were big fans of Elvis, Cliff Richard and The Shadows,” he explains. “I always wanted a red Fender Strat like Hank Marvin, he was my first guitar hero, then it grew. Mark Knopfler is a massive guitar inspiration and I love George Harrison from The Beatles.
“I’ve grown to like more modern guitarists as well but because of my parents I was brought up on older music so it was those old pioneers of guitaring that I looked up to first.”
When he was 17 Bibby co-founded Catfish and The Bottlemen with Ryan ‘Van’ McCann; in 2013 the band signed to Communion Records and released a string of well received singles. A year later they moved to Island and scored a top 10 album with The Balcony, yet that summer Bibby quit, initially to go solo then to form a band of his own, called The Wry Smiles.
He’s tight-lipped about his reasons for leaving his first group, saying only: “I’m proud of what I did in Catfish and what I achieved and everything that came with it but I’m just looking into the future now with my band and that’s all I’m focused on.”
I always wanted a red Fender Strat like Hank Marvin, he was my first guitar hero, then it grew. Mark Knopfler is a massive guitar inspiration and I love George Harrison from The Beatles.
But Catfish’s appetite for playing live is something that has remained with him. He appreciates that for bands who play indie rock ’n’ roll “it’s probably not the chart-topping sort of music that it was a few years ago in Oasis’ days and Arctic Monkeys”. Now, he says, “it’s difficult for a band like us to actually break into the charts with singles so I think you need to have a good live following and a good fan base so you work your trade that way”.
“It’s definitely something that I love doing. Hopefully the lads in the band will enjoy it as well,” he adds.
When searching for band mates Bibby says his requirement was “people that are hard-working and that I can have a laugh with on tour, maybe not always take things massively seriously; be as professional as we can but at the same try to enjoy what we’re doing”.
Last month Billy Bibby and The Wry Smiles released their debut EP, Bide Your Time. “It’s a good ’un,” he chuckles. “I’d got a few tracks written and I was deciding which ones to put on the EP and I went with these four. They’re kind of the first four that I wrote after Catfish so I wanted to get them down first. They’re not similar songs but in a way I think they go well together.
“The first track is upbeat and powerful and the last track is quite slow and completely different but they connect together in terms of lyrics and in terms of how I put them together musically as well with instruments.”
As regards the rest of the year, Bibby says: “I think we always want to keep busy with gigs, it’s important to keep people interested in the music and coming back for more. There are so many places to hit in the UK you need to be out there are often as you can.
“We will probably release another single in a couple of months then maybe another EP at the end of the year but at the moment I’m not in a rush for any albums, I just want to make sure we’ve got a nice solid fan base and we’re in a position to have a good clout behind the album when we’re ready for it.”
Billy Bibby and The Wry Smiles play at Milo in Leeds on Sunday March 20. For details visit https://www.facebook.com/billybibs20/