“It’s been an intense year. But we’ve never swayed from wanting to be a band that stands for something.”
Faced with a band as explosive as Cabbage, it’s disturbing if unsurprising that untruths have clouded the positivity of their intent. Here are some certainties among the drama: Cabbage are a band to believe in. Compromises will not be considered. And their music is the most thrilling way imaginable to convey Cabbage’s message.
‘Nihilistic Glamour Shots’ is one of the most important debut albums of recent times. There’s been a weight of fevered expectation around a full Cabbage album, ever since their startling debut EP ‘Le Chou’ arrived at the start of 2016. Since then, Cabbage have released 36 songs, been at the centre of two media storms and played well over 200 gigs.
“There’s never been a question of quantity over quality, though,” explains Lee Broadbent, the more excitable, puppyish of Cabbage’s two frontmen, in contrast to the calmer, more considered Joe Martin. “There are four people who write music in the band, so there are always songs coming in. We quickly developed our roles within Cabbage, which means we all know how best we can help shape each other’s songs.”
It’s an album that confirms these five fiercely committed, feverishly talented men as one of the most nuanced bands in years. Equally drawn to socialist politics and titting about, they’re devotees of both big choruses and anarchic totems like GG Allin, Genesis P Orridge and Butthole Surfers. It’s a mixture writ large throughout ‘Nihilistic Glamour Shots’, from the frenetic opening salvo of ‘Preach To The Converted’, ‘Arms Of Pleonexia’ and ‘Molotov Alcopop’, via ‘Perdurabo’s swampy blues and wild funk of ‘Exhibit A’ to the devastating seven-minute finale ‘Subhuman 2.0’.
It’s hard to think of another band who could write a magnificently infectious two-minute frantic anthem and then call it ‘Obligatory Castration’. “That song is our Bladerunner,” laughs Joe. “It’s set in 2033, when it’s clear the world’s population figures are out of control, so castration becomes compulsory for all males on reaching puberty. We’re aware the title means that daytime Radio 1 airplay is unlikely.”
Although it broadens Cabbage’s sound further still from their already eclectic previous five EPs, ‘Nihilistic Glamour Shots’ also does a superb job of capturing the raw energy of their freewheeling live shows. The band have kept the gigs fresh partly by theming each tour, with autumn’s Healing Brexit Towns Experiment living up to its name.
“We’ve seen how, in the truest sense, a lot of Britain is sad,” sighs Lee, gathered with Joe, bassist Steve Evans and drummer Asa Morley at respected Manchester pub venue Gullivers. (Rhythm guitarist Eoghan Clifford is missing with an infection brought about by “too much frowning”, according to Lee.) “The Brexit tour brought home how devastated a lot of small towns have become thanks to Tory policies. Practically, there might not be much we can do, but at least we’ll go there and give the crowds some escapism for the night. Buckley, which I didn’t know at all, was one of the most memorable shows we’ve done.”
Cabbage shows were, of course, at the centre of controversy after Lee was falsely accused on social media of sexual assault during a gig supporting Kasabian at London’s Forum in April. An investigation by the Academy Group confirmed that a story Lee had forced a girl’s face into his crotch was untrue. Despite the band’s innocence, some have shunned Cabbage since.
They’re understandably upset by the false claims but have, in a typically Cabbage move, tried to gain some positivity from the storm by teaming up with Safe Gigs For Women to promote their initiative at shows. “They’re brilliant,” enthuses Lee. “Given the publicity, they could have rejected us, but they realised we’re genuine. It’s a brilliant movement. I’d never want anyone to feel uncomfortable at our shows. To have something like that happen, so full of lies, was horrible. We’ve closed the door on most of it now, though I’m sad the person who invented the story still won’t speak to us to explain why they did it.”
Cabbage have always had a passionate fanbase, drawn to their marauding songs, so at least most of the public seem aware of the truth behind the headlines. “We’re fortunate that our gigs are extremely balanced,” says Joe. “We don’t seem to have a gender split in our audience. The nature of our music is fast and driven, but we don’t have an intimidating crowd. That gives us an inclusive feeling. There’s no bravado, and gender is irrelevant at our shows. With a lot of bands, there’s a boisterous mob at the front, and that’s not very inclusive. We’ve got a mixed, positive crowd and the atmosphere is great.”
Lee admits the reports “flatlined” Cabbage’s spirit for a few weeks, but being able to record their album galvanised the band back into action.
‘Nihilistic Glamour Shots’ is produced by The Coral singer James Skelly with his longtime right-hand man Rich Turvey. Cabbage’s early EPs, which formed the wonderfully-titled compilation ‘Young, Dumb And Full Of…Cabbage’, were released on Skelly’s label Skeleton Key. “We’d thought about James producing our EPs,” Joe admits. “But he thought we should develop on our own at first.” “Well,” Lee interjects. “We played him through the whole of ‘Young, Dumb And Full Of…Cabbage’ and James went ‘Right, my turn. There’s nothing I can do with that.’”
Initially, Skelly and Turvey produced the ‘Gibraltar Ape’ single. “We locked horns at first,” says Lee. “James wanted us to make songs that sounded like they could be singles, and we’ve never thought in those terms. It was a tough three days. But then it clicked, and we know he’s just forcing us to work harder, getting us sounding better, not more commercial. The four-minute funeral march at the end of ‘Subhuman 2.0’, that’s totally James and Rich’s production magic.”
‘‘Young, Dumb And Full Of… Cabbage’ is a compilation. ‘Nihilistic Glamour Shots’ is definitely Cabbage’s debut album proper. But the band are aware of the importance of that compilation too. “It was important the ‘Young, Dumb’ songs got recorded when they did, just before festival season in 2016,” states Joe. “You can never recapture the excitement of those early gigs, when things start happening. We could have kept some of those songs back for our ‘proper’ debut, but that wouldn’t have felt right.” As Lee summarises: “We’ve created a unique situation for ourselves, where our difficult second album is actually our debut.”
Whatever the intricacies of Cabbage’s discography, there’s no denying the remarkable progress Cabbage have made since forming in Mossley in November 2015. Lee and Eoghan had been drummers in their previous bands, while Joe was a promising performance poet. Hilariously twisted live staple ‘Dinner Lady’ from ‘Le Chou’ was initially one of Joe’s poems, though he admits he only did “a couple of open-mic nights and support slots” prior to Cabbage.
Bassist Steve Evans had the most experience, having been in several bands including classic melodicists Twisted Wheel before adding his beatific calm and fluid playing to Cabbage. “What felt right about Cabbage above the other bands was simply that everyone is on the same page,” notes Steve. “We all want to do the same kind of music.”
A fledgling producer, Steve intended to stay behind the mixing desk before his new bandmates persuaded him otherwise. “We were going ‘Please stay, Ste! Please stay!’,” recalls Joe. “He was the best producer around, Steve. There’s an early rehearsal he produced where we were all bladdered, and he still made us sound ace.”
For ‘Le Chou’, Eoghan and Lee shared drumming duties, with the band yet to find Asa. “With two people in the band who could play drums, there was a lot of pressure on Asa,” says Joe. “But we did a live session in Sheffield where he played ‘Le Chou’ all the way through in one. We looked at each other, going ‘What the fuck just happened?’ He bossed it, proper sorted us out.”
While he’s so far the only non-songwriter in Cabbage and was the butt of the hilarious ‘Asa Morley’ from ‘The Extended Play Of Cruelty’ EP, the laidback drummer isn’t to be under-estimated: check the power of his playing on the menacing ‘Reptile State Funeral’. “When I joined, Joe told me ‘We need a drummer for this band called Cabbage,’” smiles Asa. “I just went ‘Cabbage? Pfft.’ I work best when Lee or Joe give me instructions, rather than just adding my own ideas in straight away. If there’s something in someone else’s head, I’m better at that than taking it from scratch.”
Coming from Mossley, “a hole carved in the hillside,” helps give Cabbage a sense of perspective, according to Lee. “It’s a 15-minute train ride into the centre of Manchester,” he explains. “It gives you space not to be manic all the time. I generally get my best ideas when I’m out running. And there’s a good convergence of ley lines in Mossley.”
Talk of ley lines isn’t a wholly passing reference. The Psychic TV-tinged ‘Perdurabo’ is named after Lee’s fascination with the occult. Its Latin translation means “I will endure to the end”. It’s also the alias Aleister Crowley used to write 1912 occult standard The Book Of Lies.
“My dad is a big Ozzy Osbourne fan,” explains Lee. “So I’ve always been aware of Crowley. Apparently, the meaning of life is contained within The Book Of Lies, though it’s not a book I’ve been able to fully understand. I find him fascinating, though. We might hide some of The Book Of Lies in the artwork for the album.”
Such is Cabbage’s prolificity, none of the debut ‘Le Chou’ EP made it on to ‘Young, Dumb And Full Of… Cabbage’, which is why its lead track ‘Kevin’ was re-recorded with Skelly and Turvey for potential inclusion on ‘Nihilistic Glamour Shots’. The new version was eventually released as a standalone single.
“We initially agreed with our record label, Infectious, to include ‘Kevin’ on the album,” says Steve. “But none of us were really happy with that idea. We feel like we’ve moved on. So we gave them a challenge: if we could write, record and mix a good enough song in four days, it would replace ‘Kevin’.”
The result is the savage ‘Post-Modernist Caligula’. “Doing a song from scratch like that was pure pressure,” says Joe. “There are some songs on the album, like ‘Perdurabo’, that we’ve had for ages and we thought that maybe great art takes time. But we’re dead happy with ‘Caligula’.” Almost inevitably, Cabbage wrote two more songs in the same session too.
With so many songs to choose from already, it’s impossible to play everyone’s favourites at Cabbage gigs. “I like Elvis Costello for having his big wheel of fortune on stage that he spins so he plays his hits at random,” laughs Lee. “That’s something to consider one day, maybe. But I’ve never been one to shout ‘Play that song!’ at gigs by bands I love. Let them play what they want.”
Oh, and that album title? “It’s one we’ve had for a while,” says Lee. “We wanted something to highlight the paradox of how a lot of what gets perceived as glamorous is utterly nihilistic and empty. For instance, I’m no Scrooge and I love Christmas, but it is absolute nihilism in its commerciality.”
Whatever else happens, ‘Nihilistic Glamour Shots’ will have people talking about Cabbage for the right reasons. It’s as idealistic as music gets. “None of what we do is contrived,” summarises Steve. “It’s always with a bit of humour and the best intentions. There’s no bravado for us to maintain. We can’t be caught out, because we’ve got nothing to hide.”