we need to talk about cabbage
The first interview with Manchester’s most exciting new band.
You can spot Cabbage a mile off. Hunched around the top table of a Shoreditch Wetherspoon's, among a white shirted sea of Friday lunchtimers, they look every inch the band (or at least three-fifths of one - the remaining two having missed the 6.00 am Megabus down from Manchester).
"You got any papers?" asks singer and lyricist Lee Broadbent, hankering for a fag but coming across instead like some sort of border inspector for the North of England ("These papers expired three weeks ago! You'll have to come along before you get a nosebleed above Watford"). Guitarist Eoghan Clifford sits cooly as any band's resident suedehead must, while other singer and lyricist, Joe Martin, scribbles quietly in a handmade lyric book - Psalms from the Patch - that I'm later presented with alongside a pack of matches, a sachet of tomato ketchup and tin of Pilsner lager (sheathed inside a blue placcy bag).
So far, so bizarre then, but that's because the band interview just as they play: a glorious crash of ideas, one piled high on top of the other in a rush to get what it is they want to say off their chests in three minutes or less.
Take debut single Kevin, a song that on the surface appears to be just another indie band singing about a bloke who "thinks he's really fit" but turns out to be an ode to the first conscious human being on earth.
"I was reading something about the brain naturally only having two projections," says Lee, pausing to make sure I'm getting all this down (I'm recording it). "Reproduction and immortality. So what you do is, through your life, you either want to pass the knowledge you know through reproduction, or keep that knowledge forever and survive forever. This is what psychologists believe.
"Obviously consciousness takes all that apart and so what I delved into with Kevin was: it wasn't about reproduction or immortality anymore, it was about an idea of consciousness being together. So Kevin essentially is consciousness," he finishes proudly.
Not your everyday lyrical fare then, but Cabbage aren't your everyday band. Conceived in the Northern town of Mossley (pop. 10,921 and the "Royston Vassey of Greater Manchester," according to Lee), they are a band with something to say, from the anti-cuts message of the Fall-sy Austerity Languish ("Days spent differentiating thieving and thriving / I'm at one with the NHS drip drop surviving") to the searing class commentary of loutishly, surreal Dinnerlady ("I'm a dinnerlady in a private school / where the lips are so stiff and Jack Wills is so cooool").
"We think it's such a waste that bands have a platform to say things and just don't" says Joe, the Giggleswick-born, real-life former dinnerlady behind the poem turned song. "I don't know if it is a lack of interest, they just don't care, or if they're fearful of being too much of a niche kind of thing, but I don't see how you can be on such a pedestal and not voice your opinion."
Of course, that voicing of opinion can occasionally get a band into trouble: "I got kicked out my house for calling my dad a fascist wanker," says Lee, again not without pride. "He takes the piss out of me when I talk about Jeremy Corbyn, so it all blew up one night and I was like, "You're a fascist wanker" and he was like, "There's the door!"
"I'm back now," he adds reassuringly ("Living in the dog kennel outside" quips Eoghan).
You see, Cabbage are angry. They're angry about pubs closing, about communities breaking down, about government cuts demolishing things such as the voluntary initiative Lee used to work for, supporting drug addicts and reoffenders. But, one thing they're not, is without a sense humour. They're called Cabbage, for goodness sake.
"It's rebellious!" insists Lee. "Me and Eoghan used to be goalkeepers. And then we were drummers. And then after years of friendship we thought 'fuck it, let's do something together'. We couldn't both be goalkeeping drummers in the same band, so we switched roles about.
"I said, 'We're going to be in a band! I'm singing, he's playing guitar, and we're called Cabbage!'. Everyone's got a different opinion on it."
And have an opinion they will, especially when you're the latest Manchester band to be talked up in such hushed tones. And yet, while it goes without saying the band wear their local influences on their impeccably jacketed sleeves - the black humour of Buzzcocks, the surrealism of Happy Mondays, the haircuts of various Stone Roses - they don't really sound like any of those bands. Not fully anyway.
What they do, more accurately, is capture the energy of the city's great pop moment- that one that stretched from the late seventies to the mid-nineties, spawned at least two generations worth of bands and altered popular music forever. What's more, they're on a mission to do it all again.
"We don't wanna put on average gigs, like, 'here we are, here are our songs, come and watch us and then just go home to bed'," says Eoghan. "We want people to come to our gigs and feel like they've experienced something - feel like they're part of it." Welcome to the church of Cabbage. Lettuce pray.
Cabbage play Manchester's Aaatma tonight (Friday 19th February). Their Le Chou EP is out now.
Photography Debbie Ellis