Whenever I set up an interview it seems to involve someone making a dash from the railway station to meet me. That was the case this week with Steve Robertson when we, along with Gary Thain, met up at Hootananny to chat about the reformation and progress of KOBI. At least it proves one thing – the trains run on time.
KOBI consist of Gary Thain on vocals and guitar, Steve Robertson on bass guitar and Dave Smith on drums. Tonight it was just the pairing of Gary and Steve that I met with.
First of all we went back, way back, well seven years ago, to what KOBI were all about back in the noughties. Steve is brutally honest in how he puts it, “We were just young guys wanting to be in a band and play music. There’s nothing really special to it, and it wasn’t really defined. We felt quite serious about it and everything felt quite intense. Looking back on it though I don’t really think we knew our arse from our elbow. The music would change all the time, there were some strong melodies and some nice ideas here and there, but everyone fought their own corner a bit too much. I couldn’t have had anyone say, just play this on the bass as I would have seen it as knocking my abilities as a musician which is an absolutely ridiculous way to have been. I know that everyone else feels that from their corner. These days it’s just like, let’s just get this together and make a song, and if the public like it then alright”.
But when they got back together seven years later, Steve says “I had to relearn the bass guitar, Dave had totally given up the drums, and Gary hadn’t played the guitar in about three years”. Although Gary believes that it was slightly longer than that. Gary adds that he learnt the cello, the piano and classical singing in the seven year hiatus.
The impetus that brought it all back together was, in Gary’s words, “Steve sending Dave and myself a text, a drunken text, just after New Year. He’d obviously been partying a little too much. It was a bit like texting an old girlfriend when you were drunk, but we all agreed to it.” That may have been what kicked it all off again, but reality sunk in at their first jam in Dingwall as Steve admits, “I literally had to borrow a bass guitar and Gary had a guitar that didn’t work. When we came out afterwards we all felt a bit shaky and thought that would be it, but we did have a jam the next week, but even in the first jam we put out some new musical ideas.” These new ideas were as KOBI put it, more driving and edgy, and more heart on the sleeve.
As much as KOBI has reformed they are still a man down from their original line-up with guitarist, Stevie, Gary’s brother unable to commit to the project. Up until now KOBI have brought in a couple of outsiders to fill this space. Initially, Iain McLaughlin, and for up coming gigs they will be utilising Paul Elliot. Asked about a permanent fourth member Steve is quite clear on this. “I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with the people that I’ve managed. The longest band that I’ve ever managed was Shutter, that was 4 or 5 years, and I believe the longevity in that was because they were 4 friends. Once you start auditioning and bringing in so and so, and so and so doesn’t like what someone says, then they are off, and then you have to get someone else again. I would rather ask a friend to help us out short term than ask a stranger.”
After seven years away from the scene, music promoter Steve admits, “We don’t find it really hard to get gigs. If anything I’m turning up at jams going let’s do this, this, this! But the boys are saying let’s settle down and do some songs.” To which Gary adds, “Last month, we had plans, and we really want to focus on the plans, and we agreed no gigs, and he comes back with I can get here, I can get there! It’s like, no Steve, calm down!” Steve had the final word on it saying “It doesn’t mean that this stuff won’t happen.” On a serious note Steve goes on, “There might be some bands that read this that know me better as Steve Robertson promoter, and say that it is hard to get a gig in Inverness, but I don’t think it is because I’ll give pretty much any band at least one shot. If you don’t get a stage to play on, you won’t get any better.”
Reminiscing about the old scene, Steve recalls “I remember the first time round we played some really crap gigs, some really awful places.” “Truly memorable”, interjects Gary, “for all the wrong reasons. Jimmy the Hat will always live in my mind. We were playing at the Shandwick Inn, Jimmy the Hat came on, he played this song, I think it was called ‘The Vase’, he was so drunk that after playing it, and it was six minutes long, he said I’m going to play a song called ‘The Vase’! The same song again!” Steve chuckles at the memory and remembers “He had his guitar strapped to him so that it wouldn’t fall off. It was crazy!”
As much as the boys lament the closing of a couple of venues recently that catered for different genres of music, they look to the positives within the local scene. They are upbeat about Hootananny/Mad Hatters having its own PA system and engineer. “In the past you wouldn’t have got that. You would have gone into a pub and carted your own stuff in” states Steve.
But looking forward, Steve freely concedes that he is not the manager of KOBI, but equally each member plays to their strengths. Steve sets it as “Gary is the main songwriter, but me and Dave have some input in the arrangement. Gary does most of the photography, and I head up most of the bookings and Dave does some of the simple stuff like getting us from A to B. It’s a weight of everybodys mind. Its a real pull together.” Gary agrees, “It’s a collective effort”.
The first gig back was in Thurso at the Newmarket Bar. That was part of the plan as Steve explains “No one wanted to go straight to Glasgow or Edinburgh until we had a few gigs under our belt, nor Inverness”. Part of that plan is also of being more focused on the music. As Gary puts it, “I enjoyed myself a little too much! I don’t smoke, I hardly drink, certainly everything has to do with the music now, rather than having fun. I can’t remember the last time I had fun!” Steve follows on on this approach “The last few gigs we’ve done, I might not have been sober afterwards, but we’ve done every gig this year sober.”
Talk then turned to KOBI’s first hometown gig in 7 years at The Greenhouse in Dingwall at 2pm on 17th December. Steve sets out the purpose of the gig “It was originally aimed at friends and family. So that our families can come. Dave has got two kids and they’re not going to come to a night time gig.” As much as the guys believe that there is the lack of a Dingwall music scene, Steve has had some interesting feedback from not the most obvious place. “My dad is convinced that he has to come down really early to get a space! My dad works in the Pefferside Park in Dingwall, he’s retired but he looks after the park, and he is speaking to so many young ones that are excited about it. The guy from the Greenhouse thinks its going to be packed too.” Gary is a little taken aback by this. “It’s not as if we’ve been putting posters up!”
If there was one big question, it was the Shaun Ryder support slot. Steve is a promoter and the cynical would see this as blatant opportunism. So quite simply, I put it to Steve, how did he land that gig? His response was very open. “I put a bunch of local bands forward and I put us in. They came back and at that point I told the guy that I play in that band. I’ve even been told a lot of people hate me off the back of that.”
One of the highlights in the local scene this year were the Showcase events at the Ironworks. Steve talked in glowing terms. “That’s my favourite gig so far. To me that was the night I played to my friends and family, or close friends. So I’ve done my hometown gig as I’ve been here so long, well I’ve been working here five years.” Gary agrees. “The Summer Showcase was very,very good. It was the first gig that I felt good, because at the start of the gig we didn’t really have too much interest, too much engagement from the crowd. But by the end of it you could tell that they were highly appreciative. That hasn’t always happened.”
Although it hadn’t always happened for the band, and in particular they referred to Thurso, recent trips to the central belt have led to more appreciation coming their way. Gary goes on “It kind of happened in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and this gave me the impetus to carry on.” Steve was keen to add further to this point. “I thought as an actual band, we had practices both days, it felt like what it would be like to do this full-time, getting a practice, getting a gig, doing a gig. I did really feel that we were clicking as a band. Without being arrogant, I felt we were a good band.”
To round off our chat we turned to 2012, and KOBI’s plans for the year ahead. Gary was upfront on the future. “Its no secret that we are going to be recording.” Steve with his big vision is itching to get in the studio. “I would like to make an album, but we could end up with a mini album or two EPs. We’ve got ideas to do about 8 songs at the moment, but that will all change! At the moment, and that may all change, we are looking to go out to Spain to do something in a studio there, and we’ve got the time allocated to do that. It’ll be the three of us going. For me,and Dave, I’m not so sure about Gary, it will take me away from Scotland and focus on just that and not anything that is going on here, and for me that is a big bonus. Gary tempers this by adding “Depending on how disciplined you were it could have a negative effect!” On that point I suggested that we might see the old KOBI if the studio were near one of the party centres. Their creative thoughts and excitement of this project are such that they do not foresee this as a problem. The old KOBI looks to have been left well and truly back in the mid-noughties.
One aspect that came through when speaking to Steve and Gary was the overwhelming amount of creativity that is pulsing through them at this moment. Gary summed it up when he said “Our main problem is trimming our songs because we’ve got songs with sections in it, how we’re going to split them up, what meaning the songs are going to take and whether its going to be like one entire entity or several things coming together to make something. We’re not 100% sure but I’m a firm believer, what happens, will happen, but we’re certainly going to aim towards having a shitload of material.”
Kobi’s return in 2011 is not quite over yet. If you can’t catch them at the Greenhouse in Dingwall, they are shipping up at the Ironworks Winter Showcase on 29 December. Into next year and 2012 brings a support slot at King Tuts supporting Aerials Up on 11th February.
Written by Frank Finlayson
Thanks to Steve Robertson and Gary Thain of KOBI