Artist To Artist – Cobby & Mallinder
It's that time again where we pitch two artists against each other to talk history, music, and in this case football. We caught up with Steve Cobby and Stephen Mallinder and asked them to challenge each others knowledge, memories and conversational appetite. The pair are set to release a collaborative EP for Throne of Blood Records. 'Tumblefish' is due for release next month.
Do you recall when and where we first broke bread Malcolm?
If memory serves, but correct if I'm wrong, I think the first time we met was in the old FON Studios in Sheffield where I was working with Mark and Robert, although i'm damned if I can remember what I was recording and mixing. You were doing a gig with Bomb the Bass and popped in for refreshments.
Correct, RHK was there as well so given that was '87 I’m guessing you were working on CODE. I’d been hired by FON a few months before but it was a posting that failed miserably as I wanted to engineer but they wanted a tape – op / tea boy and wouldn’t let me near the desk. Three months in I was politely told it wasn’t working out. I was swinging by to see if anyone wanted guest list action for the Bomb the Bass gig and was more than pleasantly surprised to see you there, due to the fact I was still in Cabs fan-boy mode. I think the next time our paths crossed was when you came to see my old band Ashley & Jackson at Subterranea on Ladbroke Grove a year or so later, just before you moved to Australia.
So what was the first record you bought and the first band you saw live Mal?
Well this show's my age, the first record I bought was The Chiffons 'Sweet talking Guy' – to be fair it wasn't like it had just come out but I was 14 and a soul fan, so this as a US import was a rarity and so I had to have it. My rare record collecting career didn't expand too much from there for a while though as at that time records were a bit out the range of a skint teenager.
The first gig was at Sheffield City Hall around the same time 1968/69 when my mate Fuzz Fairey and myself broke in through the back door in our school uniforms to a matinee performance of Booker T and MGs – we got kicked out by security but broke back in through a toilet window and managed to get up to the balcony level and so caught the band, plus bits of Jimmy Ruffin and Blue Mink.
So what are your first music memories Steve? was there music around the house as you gre up?
I loved that Chiffons tune as a youth. The ‘Stay away from him’ BV’s refrain halfway through gets me every time. Pop genius.
Earliest memories in a wax fashion would obviously be via my Mam and Dads collections. On Dads side Motown Chartbusters Vol 3, Tom Scott and the LA Express / Tom Cat, Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, Best of Frank Sinatra and The Beach Boys and Glen Campbell on Mams.
First record I owned was Life On Mars, a gift from Jeff Appleby my next door neighbour who was bass player in The Rats with Mick Ronson. First single I bought was Burning Love by Elvis from Bolders Records in Gypsyville. The shop was owned by Trevors Dad. Trevor being the bass player in the Spiders From Mars. It’s all about the Bass . . and Bowie.
First band I saw was Rush at Queens Hall in Leeds. I lost the will to live about half way through. The second band was an entirely different matter. Same venue but treading the boards this time was Motorhead on the Ace of Spades tour. Most entertaining for a 15 year old.
So outside of music what other humanities were pushing the young Mallinder’s buttons?
Ha … strangely saw Motorhead at the Black Swan in Sheffield when I guess the first started, not by intention but because bands played there Sunday nights (it was the heady days of pub rock) and we'd go down just for a bit cheap entertainment … I remember me and Chris (Watson, Cabaret Voltaire) cracking up at Lemmy wearing badge that said 'Who Gives a Fuck'. It was on the same Sunday night sessions I saw the Pistols play before they'd made a record, and the first ever Clash gig (the chalkboard outside said The Teardrops .. Joe Strummer announced they'd changed their name in the van on their way to the gig).
Well I was into both art and politics at an early age, I got into reading Marxist tomes from being about 14, got very het up about the Palestine situation and the occupation of British troops in Northern Ireland – I shifted quite quickly from being a catholic boy taught by monks into an outspoken politico (I went on to study politics at university).
But I was always painting, I turned the cellar (basement) into a studio for myself and spent most of my time doing oil paintings and trying my hand at various bits of sculpture.
And from a tender age a football fan so watched my team, Sheffield Wednesday with a bit of passion.
So what was the change for you from music fan to music maker? Was there a particular moment or spark?
I was caught wagging school at 14 ( the local vernacular for skipping class or bunking off ) and as a bribe to return to my academic studies my Dad bought me a second hand guitar and a 5 watt Zenta amp. That's the point I went from listening to playing. Within a year or so I was forming bands. Leather Lemon, Burn The Index and King Douche being three that I can still recall. Apart from BTI releasing a limited edition cassette EP there wasn't any real commercial activity until DFM records in Manchester heard a demo I'd done with Sheffield singer Paul Wheatcroft and offered to re record and release it. That was The Sermon 12" by Ashley & Jackson, which we followed up with Solid Gold. Big Life records heard that and signed us up for an LP. It didn't go well. After two years of fraught relations we were dropped and I concentrated on PORK Recordings, the label Id helped David 'Porky' Brennand set up about a year into the Big Life deal as an antidote to the commercial pressure they exerted on us.
The next ten years were spent as in house writer, producer and engineer establishing PORK as an internationally acclaimed imprint.
How did The Cabs go from an experiment between friends to a commercial entity?
Well probably to add a bit of sonic context I'd been given a guitar by my sister's boyfriend when I was twelve and a few years later, after pilfering a reel-to-reel tape machine form my other sister's boyfriend my mum bought me a cassette machine with microphones etc. So I'd been doing early experiments before I started with Chris and Richard.
We began as about 4 or of us making sounds, noises and daft experiments in Chris's loft for a about a year before it got whittled down to the three of us, taking it a little more seriously – we would spent two nights a week recording and just building up our shared ideas and recording everything we did.
The shift came when a friend of Chris's asked if we would play a fund raising night for an environmental cause (Friends of the Earth). We played tape loops, had home made synths and just mad sounds with vague constructions … the organsiers went mental, threw us off stage and there was a bit of riot … Our first gig.
After that I think we felt we could carry on, we had a bit of courage, and knew we could cope with any consequences.
We kept making recordings which led to some tracks having greater focus and so began sending then out everywhere – to the disgust of record companies but Jon Savage at Sounds (weekly music paper) picked up on them and sent them to Geoff Travis Rough Trade. We'd also sent tracks to Richard Boon at New Hormones so we ended up playing the Lyceum with the Buzzcocks on the first really big punk gig in London around that time.
Geoff released the tracks as the first release Extended Play.
So tell us about the early Pork days and how Fila began its life?
I’d known David McSherry since I was 17 when I'd gone to see his band Punctured Tough Guy and broke bread on a shared bus ride home. We often got together with borrowed electronic bits and pieces and just messed around to see what kind of noises we could make. Recording on cassettes and then taking them apart, reversing the tape then bouncing that down to a four track reel to reel with a beat box and some synth wobbles. All very ad hoc. We carried on in that fashion with the better equipment I'd secured with the Ashley & Jackson deal. More as a release from the constraints of our 'proper bands' than anything with serious intent. Porky happened to hear one of the tunes we'd recorded and asked if he could release it on his fledgling imprint. We agreed but didn't have a name for the project. Not long after I was driving in the car and heard an MP on the radio suggesting a complete ban of a dangerous dog called a Fila Brasileiro. I actually misheard it but suggested it to the parties concerned and Fila Brazillia was born.
I was working on a few different projects for Pork with Heights Of Abraham and my solo stuff as The Solid Doctor all getting released on the label in the early nineties. Eventually Fila just took over as it became more successful and demanded more of our time.
So my team Hull City, currently at the top of the Championship, actually do battle with your beloved sixth placed Owls this very evening. How optimistic are you of coming away with a decent result and what are your thoughts on making the playoffs or perhaps automatic promotion this season?
Well as a Wednesday supporter I'm comfortable with disappointment. It's harder supporting a successful team I reckon as there's a sense of expectation and entitlement so a loss can seem an annoying disruption to your upwards path. I'm in the studio at the moment with Wrangler, Phil from the band is a Spurs fan and he totally agrees. So it can be much less stressful if you know your team's default position is shit.
But optimism always takes over, so with a fool's hope and expectation we're going to finish mixing the new album in time for kick off – Phil is going to take my side with the Owls tonight but we both want Hull City to get promoted as they surely will … with us hanging on to their coat tails – let's all enjoy tonight !
But on the next level and for post match consideration, tell us a little about how Fila started their amazing and productive remix oeuvre?
I concur on a fans default position being one of pessimism and they do say it’s the hope that kills you.
Returning to musical matters, the very first remix we were asked to do was in ’94 for Ultramarine, who’d just released their lp United Kingdoms. We reworked the track Urf featuring Robert Wyatt. It went under most radars to be honest but put us on a few maps. One of which belonged to Lamb ( I knew Lou Rhodes from some photography work she’d done for A&J around 91) and they asked us to interpret Cotton Wool. That was the game changer which opened the door for more remix work. In no time at all the world and his wife came knocking on the Albion Street studios door and we couldn’t keep up with demand. I’d read a quote in Brian Eno’s book ‘A Year With Swollen Appendices’ where he said it was easier to ask for an exorbitant fee rather than say no to jobs offered that he couldn’t do. So with that in mind we started to ask for princely sums but it didn’t work as no one baulked at the requests. Daft money for a couple of days work. I collected them all last year to share on Soundcloud and the total was around 70+
Cabaret Voltaire collaborated with quite a few musicians and producers. Is there any that stand out in particular?
Well I think most of the collaborations for CV came when we were on majors – Virgin and EMI – where there was encouragement to collaborate with guest artists, engineers, producers, remixers etc but we always set the agenda. There was a tendency for Richard and myself to work just between ourselves in the early stages of something then we would open it up.
With producers/engineers it was a case usually of them coming to Western Works our sheffield studio to be involved in the pre-production, writing phase then we would go and do final mixes in London – that was how we worked with Flood and Adrian Sherwood, particularly on Microphonies and CODE. Flood and done Crackdown with us but that was all made in Trident. But both were great collaborations.
Working with Robin Scott on Sensoria was a mad and fun experience, he was quite a character but added things that worked – the African vocalists and also chopping and splicing 24 track tapes to create the hybrid song.
On that note perhaps our best collaboration was making many of the films with Peter Care, we worked together for years, even after Pete had moved to California.
Working with Marshall Jeffereson and the Chicago people (Ten City, Paris Brightledge, Sleazy D, Kim Mazzelle etc) at a time when Chicago was the place, we were out there recording, making films and hanging out, was lots of fun.
And of course recording with Afrika Bambaatta was something to remember for me.
But many, many, brilliant and interesting people, too many to mention. I'm very much a collaborative artist so that continues and expands today – with yourself, all the Wrangler collabs (John Foxx, Gazelle Twin, LoneLady to name a few). It's great to share and explore ideas with other artists music film and writing, it's what I love.
And for your part, let's ask who would you choose to work with if you could … this can be past or present, your fantasy hook ups?
Excellent collaborative roll call Mal. Some great names in there. I’ve been fortunate enough to tick off a few dream collaborations with Martin Moscrop of A Certain Ratio, Bill Nelson and Harold Budd and yourself of course. As far as picking a dream collaborator goes I’d have to be fairly obvious and go for old cue-ball noggin Brian Eno. Never tired of his theories and outlook, although not too keen on some of those he’s chosen to work with I’m sure we’d have a laugh and knock something interesting together in the studio. Funny you should mention Adrian Sherwood – another luminary that I’d love to ‘look over the shoulder’ of – as I was informed via a mutual friend of an informal invite to join him in his studio recently. I attempted to ratify this but to no avail. I’ll have to put it down to ‘party talk’. I adore Yukimi Nagaos voice and melodic style so wouldn’t say no to working together. Fantasy hook up would have to be Lord God King Marvin.
So we’ve got this tune coming out on Throne Of Blood. To round this little cyber tete a tete up, what’s your favourite Kurosawa film?
Well having known Martin for a long time like yourself that is a good call and also we both tick the 'proud to have worked with the wonderful Bill Nelson' box. a truly creative, curious and charismatic man. We're hoping he's able to do a bit for Wrangler in the future.
Eno turned up to see Wrangler at Servant's Jazz in Dalston not long ago … for the first time in my life I was dumbstruck, a turned into fanboy to terrified to speak, felt awful later as I completely blanked him but just as I was completely lost for words … now that's a first !
Ade is living in Ramsgate now so I'll think he'll pay you to go and see him … we should pay a visit, a legend of music and the most fun times I've had in the studio.
I have to say the period I was really into Kurosawa was during the 80s when he was at his most explosive and grand for me so got to go for Kagemusha and Ran.
I knew AS was in Ramsgate as my mutual friend also dwells there. As does Ashely Beadle, who called me last week saying he’d heard I was coming down. The Ramsgate grapevine’s let me down obviously. I imagine it will happen if it’s meant to.
Poor form not letting onto to St John le Baptsite de la Salle there Malcolm. You could have charmed him with your rapier wit and repartee and convinced him to produce the next Cobby / Mallinder EP. Perhaps James at Throne Of Blood would like to initiate it…..
I’ve only seen Seven Samurai, Rashomon and Ran. Loved all three. I have a 'to watch pile' as long as my arm, but life always gets in the way…
Time flies like an arrow as they say.
And fruit flies like a banana.