Proud Teessiders Cattle and Cane enjoyed a fantastic year in 2015 and look forward to hitting even greater heights this year. In fact, just like the football team they support. I asked singer and songwriter Joe Hammill a few questions about the band and for his thoughts on the Boro. These answers were actually received at the start of December, straight after Boro’s win at Ipswich. Things have moved on somewhat since then of course. But here is in the interview in full, an abridged version was printed in Boro fanzine Fmttm Issue 561 v Birmingham City.
Q: It has been a massive year for Cattle and Cane – you must have been delighted to finally get the debut album, Home, out? It is a fantastic album too were you knocked out by the reaction of fans and critics alike?
Joe: Thanks Rob, I think by the time we released it there was more a sense of relief than anything else. It felt like now we can properly crack on and getting moving with it all. The previous few years before the release were quite sporadic and frustrating (finishing uni degrees etc!
Q: Can I ask you about the album launch gig at the Uni. It was an amazing atmopshere on the night. Did it feel to you like a really special event?
Joe: Looking back on that night I can say it was really fantastic and something we’re all proud of. To have people there and singing along, really getting into the whole experience was really great to be part of. It is sometimes hard to fully appreciate nights like that when they’re happening but we tried to soak it all up as much as we could. It was the most nervous we’d been for one of our own shows – it’s a big adjustment going from playing rooms of 300, 400, and 500 people to 1000. It’s a much different environment for the band in terms of engaging with the audience. The intimate banter of smaller rooms doesn’t really work so well in a bigger venue with a lot of people. It was a big learning curve for us and we’re excited about playing more shows like this.
Q: What other highlights stood out for you – Deershed was special I thought with everyone joining in your songs?
Joe: Yeah Deershed was a brilliant day. It’s reputation as a really credible festival is increasing every year and we were delighted to be part of it. The best outcomes in life generally are the ones when you don’t have expectations aren’t they. That’s what it felt like that day. It was like a turning point for us as a band too because we played some new material for the first time and as you might’ve noticed, Rob, the new musical direction was on show! So for the first time really we had a crowd dancing and singing to these new songs and that felt great. Of course, we got plenty of Boro chants from the crowd!
Q: This is for the Boro fanzine – it was originally – so I simply must slip some Boro questions in – did you enjoy taking part in the build up to the play off final? Your George Friend song really struck a chord didn’t it? How many hits did it get and did you get any feedback from the Boro?
Joe: Ha! The George Friend song was just a bit of fun really. It was after the Brentford home leg and everyone was on a massive high afterwards. We went home and had a few gins and all we were talking about was the game, the season as a whole, and how we were feeling confident about the final having played Norwich a few weeks before (urgh). I’d learned fingerstyle guitar for Isn’t She Lovely that week actually and thought about turning it into a Boro themed song. Choosing the player was easy because George has so much love from both men and women (Helen is a big fan, George.) I think the song and video got around 100k views or something (we actually got a request to play it when we played a show in Exeter recently) – “if we get promoted” is normally my go to answer.
Q: The final was a let down but the pre match build up epic. Did you enjoy the party the night before and being a big part of it?
Do you think that has brought us together in a way and given us something to build on this season?
Joe: The whole day before the final was a buzz at the Middlesbrough Supporters South party. As a child of the 90’s I didn’t know too much about the Boro in the 80’s. I knew that the gates had closed and Gibbo had rescued us. It was pretty spine tingling hearing the Q & A’s with Bruce Rioch and Bernie though about that time; how committed the players were to the club – unreal really when you consider how football is today. Looking around the room you could feel the emotion and pride the fans felt about that era and how the club survived.
Q: Do you think that the sad closure of SSI and all the other challenges here has made Infant Hercules all the more poignant? I had a lump in my throat when Joe sung it solo at Tees Uni and then again when you played it at the Transporter Bridge.
Joe: Yeah, I mean when I wrote that song I wasn’t thinking specifically about the steel industry. I was trying to write about Teesside as a whole (it’s culture and history both past and present). I am really proud of the song and I’m glad it means something to people. To be really cheesy and quote one of the lyrics ‘The warm orange glow of our industry at night’ was a theme I’d always liked (When you’d been away from home for a week on your holidays or whatever and you come back and see the industrial works – it’s that sense of belonging somewhere I think is what I’m saying). I’m not sure there are many other places that produce such a strong connection for people.
Q: Next year is shaping up to be a big one for you – are you looking forward to the tour? Are the signs there that you are going to make a really big impact away from home?
Joe: Next year is exciting for us absolutely. We have a three week UK tour in February which will be a good chance to road test new material as well as the first album. There are festival dates already confirmed and a plan shaping up to go over to Europe to play shows out there.
Q: You have been playing a few songs lately from the next album. It sounds like it could be a shift in direction in some ways is that true?
Joe: There is definitely a shift in direction for the next album. Over the last few months I’ve been writing for other artists in Europe. A lot of the artists have been dance producers and it has really opened my eyes in terms of songwriting and production. I’m learning a lot about production and sounds and how important they are to get a great sounding record. It’s also helped me become much more productive and efficient (working to deadlines is something I hadn’t really done before). So I’d say I’m understanding and developing a lot more in terms of the song writing and hopefully that will show through in our next record.
Q: There is a long way to go but how do you see the season going for Boro?
Joe: I am quietly confident. I staked a bit of money on winning the league when the Downing rumours came out (we were 10/1 then!) The other week though when we lost to Hull I was pretty worried – one of my mates is a Hull fan so you can imagine my sheer delight when texting him a screenshot of the updated table after this week. The main positive for me is that apart from the second half against Ipswich the team haven’t been playing that well but we’ve been winning games and are right up there. I think that’s such a good sign. When you look around the side defensively we’re unbelievable (I think we’ve conceded two goals all season at home!). Clayton is looking superb; then you have Stewy who I think is really coming into form. Stuani oozes class too. And then everyone keeps talking about the return of the prodigal son, Bamford – personally I’d love to see him in a Boro shirt again!