Solid Doctor is one of the many working names of Kingston-Upon-Hull resident and trip hip dub funk house hop kingpin Steve Cobby. It is a name you should know as we do tend to shout about him quite loudly and rather often.
The interesting thing about Cobby is that, until pretty recently, you can map his entire career in a series of collaborations. Ashley & Jackson with Workforce’s Paul Wheatcroft, Fila Brazillia with Dave McSherry, Heights Of Abraham, with Chakk duo Jake Harries and Sim Lister, JSTAR*S with just Sim Lister, The Cutler with Porky, of Pork Recording fame, Hey. Rube! with Stephen Mallinder, then there’s Peacecorps, Chieftain, Horsemilk, PVP, White Dopes On Funk, JJ Fuchs. A workload like that takes its toll and after a couple of decades straight as a full-time recording artist he fell out of love with music, plain and simple. Or so he thought.
“You never hear a plumber saying I’ve got plumber’s block,” he told me during a chat a while back. “I thought as musicians we should just be able to go into the studio five days a week and produce a lot of material. With Fila we’d clock on at 10 and leave at 6, five days a week. The upshot was it became mundane.”
Worse of all it felt like a proper job, so he quit. Gave it all up.
“The wife became the breadwinner,” he said, “l sold the studio and found I was quite happy wandering round doing the house husband thing. I was too busy bringing up the kids to make music. So when they got a bit older I thought I’d get on me back legs like a Meerkat, have a look round and see if there’s anything else I can do… and there was literally nothing.”
He realised he could only keep tapping the reservoirs for so long before they needed recharging. After 20 years full tilt he just needed a break. “That’s all it was,” he explains. “So now it’s three days a week and I’ve time for the family, time for a life, but not at the expense of music.”
And yet the funny thing about Cobby MkII is the solution to his malaise was staring him in the face the whole time. The only pseudonym he worked under that wasn’t a collaboration was Solid Doctor, and listening back now to the revisited 21st anniversary edition of ‘How About Some Ether’, one of two SD long-players from the mid-90s, you can already hear the newly minted, freshly unleashed solo Cobby, 2017 model.
All it took was a little leap of faith and a steely determination to do things his way, on his own, in his own time and all through his own Déclassé imprint… hindsight, eh? A wonderful thing.
So with something worth celebrating, he marks the ‘… Ether’ anniversary in considerable style. This new version comes as a luscious colour-coded six-disc set. While the original album was extensive, 24 tracks over two discs, this new version clocks in a double that. The original sets, ‘Cracked Emerald’ and ‘Sapphire’, are here remastered across two discs and sound as fresh a daisy.
Then things get really interesting. Cobby initially intended to just remaster the original album, but to find the tracks he had to trawl endless DAT tapes unearthing in the process a ton of unreleased material. Discs three and four make up ‘Unearthed Ether’, while disc five contains the “mother” versions of the shorter edits that appeared first time round, while disc six hoovers up a bunch of cuts that didn’t make the Solid Doctor’s debut outing which was culled from the, count ‘em, four ‘Losing Patients’ EPs.
Highlights? The whole of disc three is worth the admission price alone, how tracks like the super squelchy ‘Hippolyte’ or swirling banger ‘Ketjak’ have remained unheard for 20-odd years is mind boggling to say the least. There’s a thumping beated version of the insane ‘O Say Krevlon’, the original of which sounds like the inside of a very messy head, while you can really lose yourself in some of the extended cuts. The seven-minute groove machine of ‘Bye Bye’ from the original album is a scorcher, while you suspect that the super ambient pulses and blips of ‘Slipping Into Another Dimension’, a smidge over 15 minutes, is what Cobby’s studio probably sounds like when it’s at rest.
The thing is, when you consider it took a six-CD set to cover the output of effectively one album, his studio is clearly a place not likely to be at rest for that long. In his fourth decade as a music maker he’s still, unquestionably, thankfully, got rhythms he hasn’t even used yet.