words: Polly Perkins
pics: Andy Brown
Sandman catches up with those Skankin' Barnsley ska monsters the Catch-It Kebabs.
You can see why Napalm Breath may have been an unwise choice of name for a nine-piece Ska band in the north. With all the metal in them thar hills, the group were bound to play to disappointed audiences, eager for what they had assumed would be a Napalm Death cover band. Add to that the fact that, as students of music technology and popular music, they were surrounded with creative minds their present handle was an obvious choice.
Catch-It Kebabs have already released their first album "Skanking Sausages" through Do The Dog records and have another planned for recording in the summer. They haven't settled on a name for it yet but 'Return of the Kebabulence' suggested as a possibility. They formed four years ago, eventually taking their name from a song by a fellow student band at Barnsley College. "We are all the ones who weren't good enough to make it into the college bands. We wanted to play, so Jamie put the Kebabs together..." Claims David Moalin, the lead singer and front man of the band, "...Some of us haven't finished studying yet, Jamie's still in his third year, and John's got an exam tomorrow!"
The eldest member of the 'Kebabs is just 24, despite this, the band all seem to have a relaxed but not too rock 'n' roll attitude. (actually, come to think of it, most of them were nearly two hours late, some farce involving missing van keys, which was just long enough to really annoy The Grapes' sound technician)..
The 'Kebabs must, therefore, have to have grown into Ska, rather than be reliving a two-tone youth like so many of the acts on the current Ska circuit. So how did they arrive at this underground, retrospective destination?
The driving force of the band seems to be Jamie Smith, a wiry, cheeky young Geordie, his music of choice five years ago would have been 'Chilli Peppers rather than The Specials but a No Offence record changed all that. Now he's interested in writing swing and ska rather than punk, rock or metal.
It goes like this: He'll come up with a bass line or melody and play it to the group, then they all jam it out, coming up with parts for their own, or more often, each other's instruments. He enjoys juxtaposing style and content, "Minor songs with an upbeat theme and the more happy sounding tunes often have a moody, complaining lyric...it's keeps you guessing, keeps them on their toes, eh?"
This writing strategy produces a post rock, contemporary sound which is eclectic to say the least. The members of the band have a wide range of musical background, from jazz to rock, from punk and metal to swing and hip hop. Apparently, one journalist called them 'swingcore' , "We're seasidecorel" jokes trumpet player, John Conyes, "too hard to be softcore, too happy to be hardcore."
David's Moalin's deep voice, rough beard, shaggy hair and confidence conceal his youth convincingly, as he re-iterates:
DM: "...It doesn't have to be hardcore to be new ska, ska's having a bit of a renaissance at the moment, and it's a very supportive scene in the north, much bigger, really, for locals, and less pretentious than the south...It's a real challenge in Barnsley..."
The Punky drummer pipes up: "Small town, Small minds!" and then returns his attention to the fruit machine.
David continues, "We hated Barnsley when we first lived there, but it's right in the middle of where we want to play, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield and it's right next to the M1 so it's ideal really. I like the fact we have to really push the scene there. We have to get in their faces, get them off their arses and away from the TV...and the beer's really cheap!"
"We do three kinds of set, a SKA/Punk one to appeal to teenagers, a more old school set for the old school crowd and a Swing set, which is the stuff we're working on for the next album."
Sandman: So which is your favourite set?
DM: "I like the harder, old style stuff and the swing stuff too, but enjoy playing to a younger audience..."
He laughs throatily, then continues:
DM: "You get more respect from them. Their minds are more open to new music, not so bogged down in definitions and all that, and they don't know any better!"
Sandman: Have you been in the band from it's first outing?
DM: "I wasn't in the original line up but I caught their first gig and loved it, I started off just dancing and playing the cow bell."
Sandman: Like a Bez kinda thing?
DM: "Yeah but not as pissed!"
Tumultuous laughter from the other members of the band indicates the questionable validity of this last statement. In true budget rockstar style, he later pulls some cheap vodka from his bag and decants it into a bottle of Morrisons Lemonade, offering it around.
Jamie Smith is also largely responsible for putting together the monthly Ska Bar night in Barnsley, with help from several friends, a phenomenon that has spread, with six other copy-cat monthlies springing up in northern cities.
They pronounce to offer the best ska bands in the country, and Jamie's attitude, as a promoter, is refreshing. "I hate rip-off agents, they take an unreasonably high cut from the band's wage, and exert too much control. I wanted to start something that could offer ska bands freedom from all that, at Ska Bar they get at least a guaranteed fifty quid and promotion, and a gig. Something like Ska Bar really makes a difference because it's quite a tough scene in the north. The live music scene seems to be much more indie- and rock-based that in the south, where the [predominance of] reggae over the last few years means that bands offering music like ska have a better chance of getting gigs. The thing about this gig is that bands help each other out, I put on bands and often, if they've got a gig at a later date they'll offer us the supporting act, and vice versa and so on."
The Kebabs are due to commence a Ska Bar tour in the new year. Having already made the shift from punk to Ska, Jamie is set on creating a swing based ska band. He reasons out why ska can still attract a young audience. "We get thirty somethings reliving two tone but also lots of teenagers who hear something in ska that's relevant, ska's not all love, love, la la la, it's quite political, social comment stuff. We get to moan about the state of the world, etc. Music about real stuff that people have to deal with.
David chips in: "We write songs about wanking!".
"Yeah, that too," chuckles Jamie.
They clearly have some very dedicated fans. One has gone so far as to have the band's logo tattooed on his back. He was in attendance at the Grapes so got grabbed for a snap and a chat about how he follows the band and why-oh-why he felt it necessary to get a tattoo to prove his dedication:
"It was spur of the moment, I thought about it for a couple of days and then just did it." The rosy-cheeked young man, who goes by the name of "Peeky", continues eagerly, "I think they're really bringing it alive, they're playing original material, it's reflective but not just the same old shit, it's music you can really dance to, proper dance, you know?"
This is clearly a social, as well as creative grouping. Matt Greyling is mending his keyboard in a crowded room at the front of the pub when I seek him out. "We write together, write parts for each other, we have to communicate well, and it helps that we're good mates, we usually party together after rehearsals and gigs…"
It all helps with on-stage rapport I suppose. And it's true that they all seem very comfortable and trusting of each other. They have faith in what they're doing and seem a genuinely nice group of young people, neither naïve or silly nor jaded by cynicism. They're enjoying the scene and their position within it, and for the moment, as Chloe Grey (alto sax) puts it: "We don't have a plan, none of us, just doing what we're doing".
It's a for-the-moment attitude that's lacking in many young bands. By not worrying about the fame or lack of it in the future they ensure that their music is as fresh and real, as their lack of pretension and just as engaging.