Cabbage, police dogs, Area 51 style security and an irate farmer. The fun of band photography.
Listening materiel - Cabbage - Necroflat in the Palace...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3PIlfkaKP4
I first saw Cabbage play at Cosmosis Festival in Manchester. They weren't very well known at the time but me and my mate Keith knew the bassist, Stephen, so decided to give them a look.
To be honest, we were actually wanting to go and see Wire on the other stage and were just waiting for their set to start.
Within the first song me and Keith looked at each other, knowing we were seeing something very special. The crowd were flying all over the place, the band were filling the room with an incredible noise, agitating the security, banging into each other but they were so tight and the songs were so good! They also knew how to play up for my camera while keeping the audience as their main focus...
Turned out the band liked the shots and we got quite friendly. I saw them a few more times and every gig seemed a bit madder than the last. There was climbing up scaffolding, rolly-polly's over hand-saw's, nappied man-babies, a gimp, shared saliva and various falls and collapses that you never quite knew if they were performance stunts or sheer clumsiness.
With each gig my camera was getting more and more damaged. I was in a lunatic pit, covered in beer and frenzied fans, in front of a band that were always quite willing to chuck all sorts of liquids and powders at us. As much as I loved Cabbage, I'd be back on the dole if I lost my camera. There must be an easier way to photograph them!
Me, Lee and Eoghan met up to discuss a possible photoshoot. There was an abandoned theme park in Lancashire I'd been wanting to use for a band shoot. It would ideal for Cabbage. At the time they were playing on a kinda yokel, country-bumpkin type theme.
The ideas got more and more peculiar as we talked. The premise was a group of fellers who were all related in strange and concerning ways, running this run down amusement park that nobody came to, either because it was in the middle of nowhere, or just out of fear. Actually, maybe people did go to the theme park but no one would ever know because they would never leave.
We decided the props were going to be dead fish, dog meat, dungarees and a sign that I can't remember the wording for. I wanted Lee to be upside down/standing on his head in the shots, with the rest of the band paying no attention, as though that was just his natural position and they'd all grown up being used to that. In the end, we decided it would hurt Lee's head too much, although he was still willing to do it.
When I get a migraine I go blind in one of my eyes. So that was my situation now, half blind on the way to photograph a band, sat between the two most talkative mammals that ever existed and then, out of nowhere, before we'd even gone through Stockport, the sky turns an apocalyptical black and directed a monstrous roar of thunder at our little van. Suddenly the van sounded like it was being peppered in bullets as the heaviest of rains fell on us. Every few seconds the darkness was broken by a bright white from vicious lightening strikes all around us.
I was OK shooting them in such a storm. I like the drama of that but I am always very aware that I often take bands close to being killed. Sometimes by buildings (Plumadores), street violence (The 99 Degree), Toxins (Slow Readers Club), Animals (Nat O'Brien), Ghosts (Mani of The Stone Roses and Primal Scream) and in this case Weather. If I am going to end up killing a band (and at this point it seems quite inevitable) I'd at least like it to be at the end of my career and preferably a band I didn't like very much.
We decided to continue. The band were still up for it (though to be fair, Cabbage isn't the best band to make sensible choices about dangerous situations) and I'm generally not concerned about putting myself in danger if a good shot comes from it.
Of course plans were going to have to change to an extent. The picture we'd all left Manchester with of what the shot would look like would now be impossible. I was hoping it would light up a bit. I would be OK making the shot darker than we originally imagined but this was stupidly dark.
We continued our drive North...
As we got into Lancashire and near to the theme park my migraine and the weather started to lift. I was feeling optimistic and excited.
That optimism was short lived though, as we went down a few windy, forest roads we laid our eyes for the first time on the theme park. It looked incredible from what we could see. Big towers stretching up from the treeline, rusty roller coaster tracks peaking through gaps, black 4x4's with blacked out windows! Hang on! They weren't in the Urban Exploration videos we watched as research!
Black 4x4's with blacked out windows! Some parked, some just pottering around the perimeter, all looking completely ominous, like something from Area 51.
"This is on top to fuck!" someone said and it was, it was on top to fuck indeed! But what were they going to do? They can't shoot us. They can't beat us up. The very worst they could do really is just... say stuff at us and we all agreed that we could all live with people saying stuff at us, so we continued to try and find a way in.
We drove and drove but there was nothing that wasn't surrounded by SUV's or just completely blocked off. The only way to get in was through the front gates but the front gates had 2 SUV's parked menacingly (by menacingly I mean at an angle) out front.
We pulled up at the front gates, in our white van that now felt 5 times the size it did in the storm, and we discussed what escapades we'd need to put in place to get inside.
Why we didn't, y'know, park around the corner and away from the watching security to discuss this I have no idea but it seems our downfall was our shoddy parking and upon noticing that a big, white van had parked in some kind of weird, unexplained restricted area a security man got out and started saying stuff at us.
We weren't getting in. Not that way anyway. It just wasn't happening. The only thing we could do would be try and find a gap in the fence off the main road.
Dan pulled up in another totally precarious place and me and Lee jumped out to investigate. Lee in his Chainsaw Massacre Dungarees (no shirt) and me carrying a camera, looking perplexed in post-migraine beffudlement.
Eventually we found a hole! "We found a hole!!" we shouted to the van! "The Police are coming!!" The passengers shouted back to us.
Maybe he's one of those cool Police that you hear about and he'll let us in. He might even, I dunno, use a special tool to make the hole wider for us before driving off and shouting "death to the corporations!" into the night.
So Lee in his Chainsaw Massacre Dungarees (no shirt) and I, carrying a camera, looking perplexed in post-migraine beffudlement tried to explain to this Police-Cop what we were doing. For some reason Lee invented a scenario to tell him. I think he probably thought it'd make it sound more innocent but it didn't, it just made it sound a bit homo-erotic and the Copper was having none of it. So after threatening to set the Police Dogs on us if we set foot on the premises and telling us that the private security were an unknown quantity and he couldn't vouch for the measures they might take finding us in there, he went on his way, shouting absolutely nothing into the night, not even a "good bye".
For the first time that night the van doors were opened and Joe, Stephen, Eoghan and Asa were let out for a debrief. The van was partitioned, so they'd had absolutely no idea what had been going on for the previous hour.
I was beginning to feel like a right idiot as I was explaining that all these big ideas had gone to pot because we had relied too much on faith instead of trying to approach the owners, but for a group of lads who had been cooped up in the back of a van for an hour and were now being told that it was for pretty much no reason, they were remarkably easy going about it all.
Dan wasn't quite so laid back. We were in his work van and it is illegal to contain a drummer in the back of a van with normal people for more than 1hr, or something, so we needed to get moving before the Police decided to investigate further.
So off we went. The new plan being... well, not much really. We'd have to play it by ear. Drive deeper into the countryside and see what turns up (apart from just countryside). We did need something though, so at the first opportunity we pulled up, got the band in the back of the van, arranged them a bit, got Dan to spin some light around the inside and "click"....
It wasn't enough. I wanted more. It got used. BBC used it a lot. It was even on BBC News, weirdly. It was used for some festivals like Reading and some mags and so on but for me it wasn't the promo shot I wanted to do. So we kept driving.
Just then what was left of the sun started creeping through some of the dark clouds and there was the most amazing light across the sky. It isn't often you get a sunset like that and we had to use it! We just couldn't find any kind of Muse in our beautiful surroundings. Not something fitting and different anyway.
"There's a bath in that field!"
"A bath? Should we get in it?"
"Well it's not there for nothing!"
There was the Muse. A bath. In a field. A strangely clothed, unwashed band full of characters and a beautiful sunset. If we didn't get a shot just at that moment we would have lost the chance and would have either had to do a pub shot or a shot back at the rehearsal studio.
Out we all jumped and clambered over the fence. I pulled the bath further into the field, hurried the band around it - telling them we need to get done before the police come back, gave Dan the flash, telling him where I want it and started getting some shots.
At first everything seemed a bit too busy and static. We'd brought in the old guitar as it was meant to play a part in the original idea but it wasn't adding anything to this shot so it could go. The sign is of their hometown Mossley, which is thought of as a bit of a backwater of Tameside and Manchester. Again, it would have worked with the original idea but it just wasn't happening in this shot. On top of that, I just wasn't getting the character of the band. On stage they are wild, all over the place, fun and full of energy, character and charisma. None of that was showing after that weird van journey and it was down to me to bring that out.
Luckily it doesn't take much to bring that out of Cabbage and with a couple of suggestions the personality came out completely.
At some point during this, the owner of the field looked out of their window and saw the above sight. 5 lads in rags attacking each other in a bath. His bath. In his field. And he must have thought to himself at that moment, "I'm not having 5 lads in rags attacking each other in my bath, in my field! Not without asking for permission first!"
So we had to deal with someone saying stuff at us again! Stuff like "I did NOT give you permission to get into my bath in my field!!" and "how would you like it if I came into your backgarden and got into a bath??!!" to which bassist Stephen said he'd like it very much and he'd always be welcome and if he was ever round Mossley he should go round for a brew"
The Farmer/Lord of the Field wasn't interested in making friends. He was angry that we were in his field in his bath and you can't blame him, really. If everyone decided to go in his field and get in his bath then, well, it'd be chaos really. The queues for a start would be massive!
Anyway, we apologised and we were respectful. We didn't actually know the etiquette of entering people's fields. Despite the bands uniform on the day, to be honest, I think they're quite ignorant of country ways.
Now we just had to get out of the area before he phoned the police and we got pulled for having a van full of musical bath disrespectors.
I still wish we'd got a chance to do the Theme Park shot but maybe we can do something similar another day.
This shot went down really well, though. It was used all over the place. Front page of NME, front page of Louder Than War, in all the music mags, newspapers, tour promo etc.
If I have to say I learnt something from that shoot, it is to get in touch with owners before hand. We didn't because we presumed they wouldn't have allowed it but they may have done and even if they hadn't then we could have still tried all the daft things we tried that night. Also, always have a Plan B!
final shot by Keith Higgins...