Steve Cobby

Steve Cobby, the Hull producer behind Fila Brazillia, The Solid Doctor and The Cutler, picks out some inspirational highlights

I saw ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ when I was about 17 and it had a deep resonance with me. I’d just left school and I was finding out about the wider world and how it worked. Hull’s not exactly an uber metropolis, so ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ was really the first time I realised it wasn’t just me shouting against the world and this film was speaking about exactly the same things that concerned me.
I’ve never seen it manifested quite as well as through Randle P McMurphy. They eventually take the twinkle out of his eye and he’s a beaten man, and I remember thinking, “That is how the world works, isn’t it?”. There’s that great scene where he nicks a boat and takes his fellow patients out for a day. It’s just unfettered joy, a brief glimpse of how it could be, and then it’s back to the grind. I saw all that as an analogy for freedom and how hard it is to get. It was a clarion call for rebellion, but also a reminder of how little power you have as an individual.
The film also made me realise that if there’s an otherness to you, there’s a good chance it’ll be ironed out. It takes a huge amount of effort to stand up for what you believe in and not be steamrollered by power, authority, the state, the system, the man. ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ just confirmed what I feared. You can rebel as much as you like, but how do you beat the power of the state? You are just an amoeba. It’s like trying to shoot down Concorde with a spud gun. That was a real eye opener for me.

My sister bought me ‘Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance’ for Christmas when I was about 16 because she’d heard me going on about it. I was intrigued by the title and kept wondering what could that book possibly be about? When I started reading it, there were lightbulb moments on every other page. There’s a lot of existential angst when you’re at that age, so that sort of philosophical discovery really appealed. It was like, “Somebody’s thinking like I am”, which was massively empowering.
The book talks about quality and how you can define it. We try and measure everybody, but it’s almost impossible, certainly academically, which got me thinking. I didn’t get on with school, I felt it was a load of pointless data being thrown at me that I was meant to spit back to show that I was somehow perceived as intelligent. I thought intelligence was something completely different, something they weren’t even interested in developing at school. In the book, Robert Pirsig talks about how the ancient Greeks went to university to be made wiser. They weren’t tested, they didn’t come out the other end with qualifications for this, that and the other job. They realised that if we have wiser people, we have a better society. And that, somewhere along the way, has got lost.
‘Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance’ was the first book that had a big impact on me. It affected the way I think and look at the world. As an artist, the idea that your work can affect people to that kind of level, that’s your dream.

My dad didn’t have many records. There can’t have been more than a dozen albums – Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, ‘Motown Chartbusters Volume 3’, ‘Tubular Bells’ – but the one that planted the most seeds in me was a mail order Sunday Times triple album called ‘Rock Revelations’. I think you had to collect vouchers and dad wasn’t even a Sunday Times reader.

I was reminded of it when I put an old Solid Doctor album, ‘How About Some Ether’, on Soundcloud recently. I was giving a bit of a backstory to each track and one of them, ‘Light On The Vibe’, samples ‘Right Place Wrong Time’ by Dr John. The first time I heard that was on ‘Rock Revelations’.
Whoever curated the album must have had very catholic tastes. Or maybe they just got what they could. I think The Sunday Times were probably a bit cheapskate, they couldn’t afford The Who and Led Zeppelin so they went for more marginal artists – Dr John, Frank Zappa, The Electric Prunes, Tim Buckley – but at the same time there are people like Buffalo Springfield, Fleetwood Mac, Average White Band and The Doobie Brothers on there. It opened up so many other worlds to me. I played it to death. I wore the grooves out.
My dad’s copy has long since gone to the secondhand shop, so I went to have a look for another one and, sure enough, there was one on Discogs in perfect condition for £15. So I sent off for it. I could remember at least 20 of the tracks, they were really cemented in my mind. I must have thumbed the record time and time again, reading the sleeve notes that gave you a bit of background on each artist. The beauty of vinyl is you can pore over the sleeves much more than you can ever do with a CD or digital files.

I had a lump in my throat when the album arrived in the post. It was like I’d been reunited with a long lost friend. You couldn’t wish for a better grounding in how wide and varied music could be. In my own work, I like to fly the flag for variety and this is the springboard that I bounced off. As much as it pains me to have any connection to that Tory shit rag The Sunday Times, I have to pick this because nothing else even comes close in terms of waking me up the possibilities in music.
Steve Cobby’s album, ‘Everliving’, is released on Declasse

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