Regarde le chou: getting a taste for Cabbage with Joe Martin

Band Substance: Cabbage in live action at The Ferret in Preston, Lancashire, October 2016, and set to return soon (Photo copyright: Richard Nixon / rich pictures)

Performance poet turned guitarist/singer Joe Martin was between a band rehearsal and a couple of train rides that would take him over the North Yorkshire border when I called him. But when I let on that a version of our interview would end up in The Lancashire Post, he was more than happy to talk, not least on account of his own Red Rose links.

“I was born in Lancashire, so felt quite obliged to do the interview. I’m from Settle, but on a border patrol on a ferry the other day I was asked where I was born. I don’t often get asked that, so very proudly responded ‘Burnley!’ I then lived in Clitheroe for a bit, until my Dad got a job as head chef at Giggleswick School. Years later, I ended up being canteen staff there … that’s where the song Dinner Lady comes from.”

You may know the track in question. It was the band’s first proper release, a 7” single on Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess’s O Genesis Recordings label. But I quickly assure him I’m unlikely to ask about quiche ingredients.

“No comment.”

I’m pleased to hear that, instead intimating that it’s all a bit ‘cross-border’ in Settle, while unsuccessfully trying to avoid mention of the ’Y’ word lest he should offend any Lancastrian readers.

“I went to school in Yorkshire … but I was born in Lancashire. I didn’t stretch too far. I’m very proud to be from the North of England, and we rehearse in the glorious Northern province of Mossley.”

Cabbage’s spiritual base is itself traditionally Lancashire, but with confusing links to Cheshire and Yorkshire’s West Riding and now deemed part of Greater Manchester. But it’s all academic anyway, and as soon becomes apparent, while Joe and bandmates Lee Broadbent (lead vocals), Eoghan Clifford (guitar), Stephen Evans (bass) and Asa Morley (drums) stick close to their roots they aren’t too interested in the notion of geographical division. Besides, I told him all I really knew about Mossley came from my days reporting on non-league football, covering Chorley FC there.

“Oh, you’re familiar with Seel Park? That’s home to a quite famous incident where a footballer got caught with his trousers down, I believe. Don’t know if you’re familiar with that story. I think that epitomises the Wild West nature of Mossley.”

It rang a bell, so to speak. But changing the subject fairly sharply, I changed tack and asked Joe if Cabbage enjoyed their recent Reading and Leeds festival appearances?

“Yeah, fantastic! Depending which part of the country you’re from, Reading or Leeds is a rite of passage for teenagers, quite often a first experience of a festival, realising you can drink constantly, everyone in the same boat. With me it was Leeds, with a strong sense of humour and lots of fancy dress. I think that dwindled slightly, but there’s always time to bring it back.

“I first went when I was 16, with Ian Brown playing. I’d never taken ecstasy before but felt this would be an appropriate time. I was at the front with identikit Manchester look and bucket hat. He said after in an interview it was great and there was this bunch of 17-year-old kids at the front, digging the tunes. And years later I ended up on BBC North West Tonight being interviewed after a Stone Roses show. I have no recollection, but it was quite a stern interview actually. I’d like to dig it out of the archives.”

Fast forward a few years, and 2017 has proved another winner for Cabbage, their self-proclaimed ‘apocalyptic sprautrock’ going down a treat live, not least at a Manchester Academy sell-out, and big shows at Dingwalls in Camden, Glastonbury …

“And the Scala in London. That was good. Glastonbury was quite special to us. We were very lucky to be invited to play Billy Bragg’s Leftfield Stage, just after a band called Shame that we like. It’s a very noble cause, supporting good ethical charities and encouraging in a really positive way, spreading a message of political change. The following day we played the John Peel tent too. I’ve a lovely cheesy picture of me standing next to a big sign saying, ‘Teenage dreams, so hard to beat’ – true in many ways.

Well, anyone quoting The Undertones is alright by me. Besides, I’d struggle to think of anyone else who used ‘cabbage’ in a song (My Perfect Cousin, of course, which just happens to be about an O’Neill relative by the name of Kevin, written nearly four decades before Cabbage’s own Kevin made it on to vinyl).

“In terms of myself and Cabbage, we were conceived at Glastonbury, pretty much. We’d just begun recording (debut EP) Le Chou in 2015 then had the most amazing time watching The Fall at Glastonbury. It was quite a spiritual moment. I think the stars aligned and what-not, feeling even more inspired than we already did to do it ourselves. It was an awe-inspiring Fall set, with Mark (E.Smith) on fine form, having previously been banned from Glastonbury. Utterly brilliant.

“They released the album Sub-Lingual Tablet on May 25th – my birthday, with bizarre synchronicity – and played the album in its entirety in a late afternoon slot. Very few people knew the songs, despite the band having 40 years’ worth of music, yet they somehow won the crowd round. A real spectacle.”

Brassica Neck: Joe Martin live with Cabbage at The Ferret, Preston, October 2016, across the road from 53 Degrees (Photo copyright: Richard Nixon / rich pictures)

I was set to read Joe a list of Manchester acts I presume inspired his band. He’d already confirmed an appreciation of The Fall and The Stone Roses, and I briefly mentioned Buzzcocks, John Cooper Clarke, The Smiths, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets, and Oasis, seeing as there seem to be elements of a few of those in Cabbage’s musical inventory.

“I guess so … as well as bands from other cities. I guess there are sometimes expectations with bands from Manchester, but it’s kind of irrelevant really. We feel more part of a scene of young political bands, such as Idles and Shame. And in the current political climate, especially with communication being so instant and news stories being shared and the way young people can galvanise themselves for political change, it’s more relevant for us to be in a positive group of bands coming through.

”It’s no coincidence that the music’s relatively angry. We live in horrendous, austere times, which create a lot of angst, and hopefully gigs give them somewhere to channel their anger and give us a good outlet.”

The fact that The Coral’s James Skelly, who runs Liverpool label Skeleton Key – the original base of Blossoms and also home to She Drew the Gun – has supported them so far seems to underline Joe’s point that it’s not just about allying yourself to one particular city.

“Yeah, for sure, and we’ll be making an album with him soon.”

How are things going on that front so far?

“I don’t know what I’m allowed to say, which sounds like a diva-ish thing to say, but I can say we’ve got a couple of brand new songs that are really coming into their own – with a fervent blend of rage but more directed approach … I guess more refined is the way to describe it.

“If you can come up with comparisons from bands of yesterday, like obscure late jazz musicians, and say it sounds like a cross between such and such, I think you’re barking up the wrong path though. Music can be interpreted in various different ways. That’s what makes it so great. But I’m too emotionally involved to be able to describe it from an outsider’s perspective.”

You’re not the kind of band that seem to make the same record twice, judging on what I’ve heard so far.

“Definitely not. We’d get bored.”

For instance, I’d suggest Celebration of a Disease might be The Clash’s Mick Jones fronting Black Grape, while Uber Capitalist Death Trade is more like The Dead Kennedys, PiL and The Membranes melded together, and Terrorist Synthesizer has a little of a Mott the Hoople feel for me. And I could go on.

“Yeah … why not.”

If you’re yet to be turned on to the punk thrill of Cabbage, I’d recommend an introductory stint on the internet, getting a taste of their sheer enthusiasm and live presence amid adoring fans. They’re an exciting prospect to say the least. The music press certainly seem to love the band too, not least after The Sun name-checked them as one of their top tips for 2017 and the band unloaded a biting tirade of anti-Rupert Murdoch venom in response.

The band themselves describe themselves as a ‘five-piece Politburo, serving up an idiosyncratic, satirical attack in the form of discordant neo post-punk’. Fair enough. Meanwhile, NME called their debut EP as ‘five twisted post-punk slinkers stuffed with explicit lyrics and Jack White levels of rage’ and The Guardian suggested ‘they’re hell-bent on filling the current vacancy for rock’n’roll commentator on Brexit Britain.’

You can judge that for yourself, with a few EPs already out there, Play & Record release Le Chou (Kevin/Dinner Lady/Contactless Payment/Austerity Languish/White Noise) followed by Uber Capitalist Death Trade (backed by Fickle/Tell Me Lies About Manchester/Free Steven Avery (Wrong America)), Necroflat in the Palace (backed by Indispensable Pencil/It’s Grim Up North Korea/Dissonance) and Terrorist Synthesizer (backed by The Road to Wigan Pier/These Boots Were Made For Walking/Because You’re Worth It) on Skeleton Key Records.

Then there was this April’s Young, Free and Full Of … compilation, including 12 of those songs, and last month’s latest EP, The Extended Play of Cruelty, featuring Celebration of a Disease/Fraudulent Artist/A Network Betrayal/Ertrinken/Asa Morley. Who knows, maybe there are more out there – finding out the details online proved a little tricky for this scribe. Maybe go see them live and find out for yourself. Cabbage play the Grand Pavilion at Portmeirion’s Festival No.6 on Saturday, September 9th, Buxworth’s Rec Rock on Friday, September 15th, and a disused church in Blackburn for Confessional 2017 on Saturday, September 16th.

And then there’s the Healing Brexit Towns Experiment tour, starting at Holmfirth’s Picturedrome on Wednesday, September 27th, calling at Preston’s 53 Degrees the following night (my excuses for calling Joe) and threading right through to Buckley’s The Tivoli on Saturday, October 21st, before a 10-date European stint beginning and ending in Germany. So is there an irony that they’ll be heading slowly towards Europe while David Davis plays at trying to negotiate the UK’s way out of Europe?

“Yeah, and I think the tour’s going to be heavily inspired by a cross between Phoenix Nights episodes and the Bullseye set. That’s what you can expect. Actually, I think 18 of the 20 towns we’re playing voted to leave. Not that that reflects the entire population of those towns. But we feel strongly that bands should go out of their way to travel more and go to towns no one tends to play. Everyone should be able to watch a band in their own town, no matter where you’re from.”

How important was Joe’s previous stint as a performance poet around Manchester in the band’s make-up?

“Personally, it gave me huge amounts of confidence. You’ve nothing to hide behind. When it’s just poetry it’s you and your words and if you forget them, it’s game over. And when it became backed by a band it was a huge rush of euphoria and excitement.”

Was that interest part of your inspiration to study at Salford in the first place, being the city which gave us the likes of John Cooper Clarke and Mike Garry.

“Yeah, Mike Garry’s a big inspiration, as of course is Dr John Cooper Clarke. But I got a job roadie-ing for a band called Twisted Wheel and moved to Salford through becoming mates with friends who taught me how to play guitar better and simply to be around music. I got to know that band through writing reviews. I studied journalism at university, but my main intention was to get to Manchester and start playing music and writing poetry.”

Yet somehow you ended up around the other side of Manchester with these lads in Mossley.

“Well, indeed, yeah.”

The band kind of got in the way, I guess.

“Yeah, my first friend in Manchester was Eoghan, shortly followed by Lee. And now I’m in a band with them, so I can’t complain.”

Joe wasn’t the only band member with a presence out there before the band got together. Lee was a drummer with Where’s Strutter? and Brahma-Loka, while Eoghan was the  drummer in Mossley outfit The Fayre, a member of the afore-mentioned Twisted Wheel, and worked with singer-songwriter Danny Mahon. Meanwhile, Asa was with Storytellers and Stephen fronted Stephen Evans and the Planets as well as playing bass with Twisted Wheel and playing guitar in electro-inspired trio Mary Joanna with his then-fiancee and her brother, who just happen to be the niece and nephew of Steve Coogan. He also plays with journalist/singer/bass player and past writewyattuk interviewee John Robb (of Membranes and Goldblade fame) in Push Drucken.

So now we’ve got all that sorted, we can carry on. Was there a Cabbage game plan from day one? Or did you make it up as you went along?

“We didn’t have any set intentions or political message. You can only write what’s truly natural to you, otherwise it becomes contrived. Lee and I were getting involved with the Reality Party, meeting Bez (of Happy Mondays fame) in Salford, sussing things out, marching in Manchester, getting involved politically, regardless. We just made music that was natural to us. It was just a very natural progression.”

As he mentioned Bez, we briefly got on to anti-fracking protests west of Preston, seeing as the band were set to play nearby UCLan venue 53 Degrees on their autumn tour.

“Actually, Lee and I went to a huge anti-fracking meeting and demonstration in Manchester. I’d forgotten about that. It’s bizarre – we don’t have any time these days to hang out as friends. We’re constantly working.”

By this stage his mobile phone reception was breaking up a little, Joe skirting the Pennines en route to Settle as I asked about difficulties he might encounter if he was to try and get a US working visa, in light of the song Free Steven Amery (Wrong America), and its defiant anti-Trump message.

“Oh, I’ve no idea. I’d very much like to, but we’ll have to see. I’m unable to offer an apology to Donald Trump, but if he let’s us in the country I’m sure we could come to some sort of arrangement.”

You read it here first. Finally, his band talks of ‘a collective desire to express themselves creatively, artistically, and in a semi-rebellious but ultimately meaningful nature’, while suggesting ‘Cabbage are here to fight for all that’s good’. That kind of suggests they’re more politically switched on than most bands. What say, Joe?

“Rebellion is an effective way to protest, coming together for political change, against the state, and it’s very important to channel your angst and energy into a productive thing. It’s too easy to aim it at the wrong people. We’ve a new song about that, Preach to the Converted. Someone was saying how we slag off The Sun but then go on Soccer AM in Murdoch’s back yard. But if we spend all our time preaching to those at our gigs, it’s a waste of time. Why not get on to one of Murdoch’s many programmes and start spreading the message instead?”

Cabbage, with guests The Blinders plus Queen Zee and the Susstones, start their Healing Brexit Towns Experiment tour at Holmfirth’s Picturedrome (7.30pm, £13) on Wednesday, September 27th, and Preston’s 53 Degrees the following night (7.30pm doors, £14.30/£13). For ticket details of those shows and the rest of the tour, head here.  

Healing Power: Apocalyptic sprautrock collective Cabbage, on their way to a town near you

The Young, Dumb and Full of … compilation album is available via this Amazon link while the Extended Play of Cruelty EP can be tracked down here.  You can also check out Cabbage via Bandcamp and learn more about Skeleton Key Records here.

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About writewyattuk

A freelance writer and family man being swept along on a wave of advanced technology, but somehow clinging on to reality. It's only a matter of time ... A highly-motivated scribbler with a background in journalism, business and life itself. Away from the features, interviews and reviews you see here, I tackle novels, short stories, copywriting, ghost-writing, plus TV, radio and film scripts for adults and children. I'm also available for assignments and write/research for magazines, newspapers, press releases and webpages on a vast range of subjects. You can also follow me on Facebook via https://www.facebook.com/writewyattuk/ and on Twitter via @writewyattuk. Legally speaking, all content of this blog (unless otherwise stated) is the intellectual property of Malcolm Wyatt and may only be reproduced with permission.
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