It’s a grey day in late 2012, and Cable - Derby’s most exciting musical export to all but the staunchest White Town fans - are playing their first show in thirteen years. It’s the first of four, and the only one they’ll play as headliners – the rest as support to Hundred Reasons and Hell Is For Heroes.
The fans that never thought they’d see this day come are over-the-moon. They’ve been bombarding the band’s Facebook page to prove the point, and there’s a crackle of excitement running through those coming from all over the country to witness the evening unfold. For some this is clearly a nostalgia trip, but others wonder whether it could be the start of a new chapter in Cable’s story – rather than a mere footnote.
In just over five years in the mid-late nineties Cable put out three records 1996’s Down-Lift The Up-Trodden, 1997’s When Animals Attack, and 1999’s Sublingual - each a significant progression from the last. But, at the peak of their creativity, a lawsuit brought by a former manager slowly strangled the band until they reached the point where continuing became impossible. By the end of 1999, Cable was no more.
Technically, I’m here on official business – to interview the band and discover what it is that’s led to the short run of performances. But I’m a little nervous. I love Cable, and most of us can probably think of at least one band they loved that ruined everything by reforming. The youthful exuberance that made the records and live shows so important to you, now replaced by a plodding weariness and cynicism.
So, when I walk into the venue to find the band having just finished soundcheck, I’m pleased to see everyone looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. A few minutes later vocalist/guitarist Matt Bagguley, guitarist Darius Hinks, and myself, wander off in the general direction of town to find a suitable place to record an interview. Both came to Derby as students, and neither has had much to do with the place for over a decade, so they struggle to recall the layout of the town’s winding streets. We find a warm looking local boozer that’s playing the Spice Girls on the jukebox, silently showing football to nobody on a giant projection screen, and features a smattering of loud tipsy locals who might subconsciously think of the pub as home…perfect.
In recent years there have been a lot of bands reforming to play their ‘classic’ albums, which often feels quite money-motivated. But this doesn’t feel like that. It seems more like the opportunity turned up and it felt right. I guess you’re not getting ten grand from ATP...
Darius: Ha, we’re definitely not getting ten grand for this, no. About a year ago we met up, solely with the intention to get together in nice circumstances and remind ourselves that we were friends. And that’s what sparked off these shows.
Matt: There’s a lot of bands doing retrospective gigs, but we haven’t done a classic album yet, so we can’t do that. This has more of a loose feel to it. We’ve had opportunities to play in the past, but it never felt right, so I really didn’t think this day would ever come along. It was really exciting when the gig was first offered and I thought ‘ok, I’m going to say yes this time’. I spent the rest of the day emailing and texting the band, nervous to see if everyone would agree.
So what have you been doing for the last 13 years?
M: Nothing really. We split up and went off in our different directions. I lived in London for a while, moved around different places, but I was completely through with anything to do with bands, music, or the music industry in general. I met a Norwegian girl and moved to Oslo in 2000. I’ve been there ever since, just getting by. I started doing music again about six years ago (Je Suis Animal), only because they allowed me to play the drums – I got in the back door with that band.
D: After Cable split, I did try and struggle on a little bit. I knew someone working at Transcopic, Graham Coxon’s label. They paid for me to do some recordings, but I really couldn’t sing. So that kind of petered out...I really haven’t done anything musical since. It’s been a surreal experience picking up a guitar again and trying to practice with other musicians, because I really had left it behind. It was like one of those dreams where you slip back to school and associate with people from 20 years earlier, very strange.
But to a lot of fans who’ve continued to listen to your records over the years, it’s almost like you never went away. The band didn’t exist, but we were still listening to Cable...
M: That might be something to do with the way it ended, it wasn’t our choice to end the band the way we did, it felt like we’d been cut off. Most bands reach a natural end or just carry on and on until their fans are completely bored with them. I suppose we didn’t reach that point. It’s difficult for me to have a perspective over all this after living in Oslo for the last ten years – I've heard from Cable fans over the years, but still I've wondered myself if Cable ever existed in the first place. It's weird and amazing it's stuck with people for so long.
When you get into a legal situation like the one you did, does it feel more like you’ve gone into business together?
M: That whole last year of Cable was overshadowed by spending more time talking to lawyers than just hanging out, exchanging ideas, and being creative. After we recorded Sublingual there were many, many months where we were just in-and-out of lawyers’ offices. Everybody lost their motivation and momentum, so everyone’s got a bit of a monkey on their back about what happened last time. It’s like people getting married, it’s like a group marriage between four men that...don’t love each other...just like each other.
D: We did share a bed for all those years...
M: But it’s pretty much the same thing as signing a marriage contract isn’t it? Your lives are in each other’s hands and when you have a crisis situation – it’s depressing. You should be inspiring each other.
D: The last six months of Cable’s life weren’t exactly the happiest of times. Something that at the beginning was very exciting – it was a dream come true being in a band – ended on a sour note. So it’s really nice to come back now and recapture some of that original fun element. In the beginning it was a great laugh, an amazing experience. But the only thing that put a downer on it was when we ended up in a legal situation. We didn’t set out with that in mind. So since then, even contact with each other reminded us of it.
It’s funny, thirteen years seems such a long time but it’s taken that to leave some of that baggage behind. Though I’ve noticed that we all slip into a really infantile state as soon as we get together. Separately in our real lives we’re perhaps quite grown up, but put us together in a room and suddenly we’re like children again.
That’s the sign of true friendship though isn’t it? I know that most of my close friendships are based on childish verbal abuse.
M: And that’s basically what you’d have heard if you had been a fly on the wall of our rehearsal room for the last few days. All this talk about us inspiring each other in the past, maybe that never really happened. Maybe all our songs came out of abusive conversations. Whatever works…
The Hundred Reasons support shows were announced first – why did you choose to do this one headliner?
M: The short answer is that we’re rehearsing up the road, so it’s convenient for us to play at this place – it’s on the same street. We were only supposed to do two shows, and that led to a lengthy discussion about if we could really scrape it together to do that. As is typical, it snowballed very quickly. We were completely shocked that the shows sold out in 30 minutes, I thought we would have at least six-months to think about it - and back out if we wanted to. But it’s a dream scenario to come back to Derby and play here really, and the idea that we’ve sold so many advance tickets is completely alien to us. I don’t think we’ve ever sold one advance ticket in our lives before.
D: It will feel like a homecoming gig tonight, there will be a lot of familiar faces there. We knew a lot of the bands that were around at the same time and I think a lot of those guys still live in Derby.
You’ve got 30 minutes at the Hundred Reasons shows – how long are you going to play tonight?
M: Ages...an hour and ten minutes...which seems like a lot.
D: I think that was part of the reason it was nice to do a headline set, after all these years not playing together, doing a half-hour set opening on a three band bill – and this could be the only time we ever do this – it felt right to play a bit longer, dig out a few more of the songs
On that point, time has passed and individual members have been doing very different music since. Has that affected the way these old songs are sounding now?
M: A little bit, but it’s not like I’ve been listening to reggae for the last ten years and wanting to move us in that direction. Darius hasn’t played guitar for a long time, but…you’ve heard music haven’t you?
D: Sometimes it impinges on my existence yeah.
M: Richie (Mills, drummer) has been in three or four other bands since Cable and played in orchestras in the Royal Albert Hall.
D: He’s a Grammy Award Winner.
M: That’s why he’s not allowed into this interview, because he’d have just talked about that the whole time.
Do you think the fact you’re all a bit older has made it easier to do this now? You’re no longer idealistic young guys thinking you can take over the world, as so many bands are.
M: I remember thinking at the time that we were very clued up and knew what we were doing. I look back on it now and realise that we absolutely weren’t...at all. We went from putting two 7” singles out on a tiny label in Derby, then swiftly signed a multi-album deal with Infectious. Now, I don’t have anything bad to say about them at all, they were a brilliant label, they really supported us. But at the same time I don’t think we were ready to be within that big network and have access to nice studios and things like that. Being flown to America to record an album was really overwhelming for me. Once you’re signed to a label like Infectious, with a lot of people working there, you have to cooperate. It was daunting to find ourselves in that situation.
D: There was pressure that came from the money that was spent on us to be in that nice studio too – there was a huge amount of money involved. It was great that people were willing to invest in us, but it did put a different angle on things. We were a big investment for some people.
Did that take away part of the reason you started in the first place...some of the fun?
M: It didn’t take away any of the fun, because we just ploughed on regardless, and really enjoyed ourselves! We got on really well with Infectious, every slightly pedantic idea we had was welcomed by them. We were a really awkward band to work with – and they just went along with it.
D: We were like the weird relation in the attic…
There were things you did like releasing the promo with a piece of sheet metal attached with all the different bite marks on it. That must have made things more expensive...
M: (Laughs) Probably did, that’s probably where things turned for Infectious. But that idea they actually pushed. We’d have stupid ideas off the top of our heads and they’d say ‘Yeah that’s great! Let’s do it!’. So they were really supportive, but it was still too much for us to take on.
When Animals Attack was your first proper full length and it has a distinctive sound. But it’s more obviously an album of songs written over a couple of years than Sublingual. Was Sublingual more of a definitive statement in terms of the songwriting?
M: When Animals Attack sounds like a Touch & Go band recorded by a Shimmy Disc producer (laughs), there’s loads of reverb on everything – which is kind of what we wanted I suppose. At the time of Sublingual we were all interested in finding somewhere new for the band to go.
D: I think Sublingual was more focused, we were really trying to concentrate on the songwriting by that album, we put a lot more thought into what we were doing. I think with the albums before that it was more of a happy accident when we got things right. We wanted Sublingual to be accessible, I hear people say it’s our poppiest album, but I think there’s a lot of dissonant atonal stuff on there, but it’s harnessed in a better way than we’d managed before.
M: At the end of the day all four people in the band just want to write good songs. Despite Richie’s rock bravado, he’s really interested in the end result.
Was it the two of you who wrote most of the music?
M: The songs would be born out of what me and Darius came up with most of the time, I think you can tell which songs are more drum and bass led – particularly on When Animals Attack. We got Richie in for that album; he was new to the band, which I guess explains why most people think that’s our most experimental record.
We were just finding our feet, but Infectious were really behind us, so I think we were on top of our game with that album. We could do anything we wanted, so we did go on some indulgent tangents.
D: The songs were always written as a band, even if Matt had got some fairly fully-formed idea as a starting point, we’d spend days jamming it in the practice room, so Pete (Darrington, bassist) and Richie would always get to contribute a lot. They really are band songs, they’re not singer-songwriter songs. I think if you put Matt on his own in the studio the songs he’d write would be very different.
M: That comes from the chemistry of the four of us – you’d notice if all four of us were around the table that we work through ideas very, very fast.
There’s a fan site out there that Pete wrote a biography for, and he mentioned you wrote about 20 songs for Sublingual...
What happened to the rest of the songs? Some were B-sides and I’m assuming some are on this (holding up the seven-track rarities CD the band had for sale at the shows). There’s loads of material floating around online, often in quite poor quality. This rarities CD would indicate that there is some desire to make that stuff available properly...
M: It really just bugs the shit out of me that all that stuff is online. I fucking hate all those demos, they sound so terrible. They’re so amateurish; I wish they weren’t on the Internet.
D: Which songs are you talking about?
M: The first cassettes we released
D: Are they online?! I didn’t know that.
M: Yeah, I’ve been stalking that site. There’s all sorts on it, a lot of it bad. But that CD’s good…
D: They’re songs we would have probably have done something with had we carried on…
M: There is more material, we’ve probably got another five songs that no one else has heard. But they’re just shit. There’s seven songs on that CD and we could have added another five shit songs on if we wanted, but we haven’t. I’m the last person on earth that would want to cash in on something just because it’s got Cable on it. I’d sooner try and put my efforts into something new…
D: Sometimes there’s a really good reason a song doesn’t make it on to an album…
Most of the recent discussion online focuses heavily on whether you’re going to do anything as a band after this. Does that get tiresome?
M: No, I just haven’t got an answer for it. It doesn’t bother us, I mean we’d like to, everyone would like to – it’s just a question of how. The nice thing about this is that we haven’t had any discussion about whether anything is going to happen after these shows. We’ve had a lot of conversations and long emails over the last six months, and 99% of it hasn’t been about the future. Maybe we will do something after this…but it hasn’t been the focus of these gigs at all. It’s just been purely for us to enjoy ourselves. There definitely won’t be a Cable reunion tour or anything like that next year. If we do anything, maybe we’ll do an isolated gig if something really fun comes up – maybe we’ll manage to scrape some new songs together…
D: That would be the ideal thing, but it’s just how achievable it is. We’d all love to write new music. The logistics of even arranging these few gigs have been mind-bogglingly complicated. I don’t know why (laughs), but I think living in different countries doesn’t help, and everyone’s respective jobs and families…
Technology these days lets bands record albums without being in the same country as each other, or even having met in person before. Is that something you could take advantage of?
D: We’d have to meet up. We could have the basis of songs, but we’d have to meet up at some point to jam them.
M: We could definitely do that, but so much of what we came up with in the studio was a result of the dynamics within the band and the way we work through ideas. It would be a different sounding record, if we did another one…which I think is good.
D: After 13 years, if we came back with exactly the same kind of stuff it would feel dated – we’d need to feel like we’d progressed in some way.
You’re just a couple of hours away from playing this first show. Do you still think it was a good idea?
M: I do, whatever happens tonight…it’s been worth it. Anything can go wrong when we play live - we’re prepared for that. But until then it’s been great.
It’s going to be hard for you to have a bad show with so many old fans coming though isn’t it?
D: As long as nobody dies I’ll class it as a success. I don’t know if we’ve got a setlist yet.
M: I have…
D: Oh really? Well, as long as you have one we’ll be fine.
Soon they’re onstage and any fears that the show could be a bad one are swiftly put aside. Walking on to a rapturous applause they start with with Sublingual opener (and possible Blur-related dig) ‘Song 1’, and don’t really calm down until they leave the stage 15 songs later. There’s a few surprising omissions from the set - namely singles ‘Whisper Firing Line’ and ‘Blue Birds Are Blue’ – but album favourites ‘Pocket Promise’, ‘The Colder Climate’, ‘New Set Of Bruises’, and ‘Honolulu’ make up for it, they even dig out the 7” only B-side ‘Vertigo’.
The crowd is uniformly ecstatic, even filling gaps between tracks by singing choruses en-masse from songs that aren’t being played. The band look startled – the expressions on their faces seem to give away that all each of them can think is ‘fucking hell!’.
You can actually see it finally sink in for them how much they’ve been missed.
After the show I catch up with Matt, he looks blown away. He’s lost his voice, which is making him worry about next few nights, but he’s clearly just had quite an experience.
They sell enough t-shirts to necessitate ordering another batch to be printed before the trip down to London the next day. The band chat with fans old and new. Then once the merch queue eventually dies down and the venue ushers everyone out, the band, crew, friends, (and me) head to a lock-in a few streets away where plenty of celebratory drinking gets done and people from the across the band’s history come together again.
The next day I head back home to London and to Elephant & Castle’s Coronet for their first show with Hundred Reasons. I bump into man-beast drummer Richie beforehand – he seems a little less sprightly than he had been at 2am the night before and asks if my hangover was anything like his. Ten minutes later he’s on stage smashing the shit out of his drum kit without missing a beat – that’s a professional.
After a few short days the Cable reunion is over – but a couple of weeks later they announce another ‘one-off’ London headlining show.
Maybe this is the start of something special…
Cable play The Garage, London, on February 9th 2013.