For Folk’s Sake Interview: Cherbourg

There’s something quite exciting brewing in the London folk scene, Laura Marling, Noah and the Whale and Johnny Flynn have hit the big time and by doing so they’ve blazed a path for their contemporaries to do the same. Cherbourg are the latest band to emerge from the pack, and they’re not afraid to admit that they want to be a household name.

FFS: You’re now Cherbourg, how long since you changed your name?
Kev: Couple of months…
Phil: Either a couple of months or a week depending on how you want to judge it. We did our first gig a week ago in Edinburgh at the start of this tour, and before that we recorded our first record. It’s out in January on Chess Club records.
FFS: What’s that called?
Kev: The last chapter of dreaming.
Phil: It’s on vinyl so nobody’s going to be able to listen to it, but it’s download as well.

So what prompted the change?

Davie: Davie Fiddle and the lucky egg was a bit wordy and perhaps a bit more folky and a bit less of a band we were more individual within it Cherbourg is far more collective… unifying… awesome!
Phil: There was no musical direction really with DF&TLE it was pure folk music completely based around the song. The song comes in and we used to add stock parts to everything and it came out sounding sort of cool but it was nothing interesting and certainly nothing to listen to twice so we thought what are we actually trying to do, and channel our influences and sort it out

Can you define this new direction that you’re now going in?

Davie: Hell no! We haven’t got a clue!
Davie: For everyone involved it’s a far more enjoyable experience to be a part of and I think that definitely comes across, and for the audience it’s far more interesting to see everyone really into our parts. As opposed to going meh drums I guess, it’s a collective, as he said
Phil: It’s been described as Fleet Foxes meets Kings of Leon, which is very complementary
FFS: A very hirsute combination, What have you added to and taken away from the mix?
Phil: We added rock.
Kev: We’ve added a broader base of influences and just a much wider and more epic if necessary…
Davie: I don’t think hands come across well on tape…
Kev: I do that a lot don’t I?
Davie: you could be an air traffic controller…

You’ve said it’s more of a collaborative thing does that mean you’re all writing songs together now, does that mean you weren’t before?
Chris: Davie wrote the songs before. When me and Kev first joined Davie Fiddle and the Lucky Egg what we did was take his songs and orchestrate them. But now Davie writes the words most of the time, but Phil wrote the words for Crooked Tracks. But it’s not like I’m only in charge of drums or kev’s only in charge of bass or whatever but it’s more like if I have an idea for a bass line or kev can show davie guitar parts or whatever, it all happens really organically.
Davie: That’s definitely true The songs come out really bare, I mean they are songs in their own right I guess but there’s so much space with them that we can completely change things and mix things up
Kev: Would it be fair to say that we start at an earlier stage with the songs as well?

So you all get input from an early stage?
Davie: Yeah and I think that’s been really helpful
Chris: I think that’s a good thing we don’t have any restrictions like ‘we are that style so we can’t use…’
Kev: Calypso vibes
Chris: exactly, we don’t have to stay in one genre. If we come up with a really strange sound we can still keep it in the set. And not say oh no it doesn’t sound like the ones before, although you have to have some connection between it…
Davie’s mum appears having travelled down from London to watch the gig
Davie: This is my mum… this is my dog! This is pretty surreal, can I be excused for a bit?
FFS: Yeah of course
Kev: No! You can’t!
Davie: One minute, one minute
Kev: One… two…
FFS: you can say what you really want to say now…

How are things changing in the London scene?
Phil: Our musical crew if you like was Laura Marling, Noah and the Whale, Mumford and sons and King Charles, and us we’re the last to go but we’re kind of all coming out of that scene now. So we’re not really part of it now.
Chris: I think that was one of the major reasons why we changed style and the name and stuff, because we didn’t see ourselves playing Davie Fiddle And The Lucky Egg in big stadiums. But now we can see ourselves playing small and big venues.

Why did you choose Cherbourg?

Phil: Lots of reasons, it’s the first stop the Titanic ever took…
Davie: There’s a song by one of our really big influences Beirut called Cherbourg it’s a really beautiful song.  We just thought it was one of the few band names that we came up with that didn’t sound like we were trying to think of a band name.
Chris: We were really under pressure because we were in Devon to record and we didn’t have a name so at the end of the second last day we all wrote all our names down and they were all shit. Basically Cherbourg was the only one that didn’t sound like we were trying to come up with a band name.
Davie: We had to convince Kev a bit.
Kev: I didn’t have a better option or anything. Anyway I like it now.
Phil: it’s not a particularly romantic place
Chris: it’s a shitty port
Phil: But the word sounds romantic and big at the same time. We can make it whatever we want in our heads.
Chris: also nobody’s been there – well loads of people have been through it – but we can kind of make it what we want.

How did you all meet each other?

Phil: The first gig I ever played in London was with Davie and Kev…
Chris: what?
Phil: Not you… was Marcus Mumford’s possibly first proper gig.
Davie: Ages ago when I was playing bass and you were playing ukulele and he was playing violin.
Kev: Oh yeah that’s weird. It was a real one off, I don’t think I’ll be called back for my ukulele playing…
Davie: There were loads of people in the band weren’t there? And I did a big guitar solo.
Kev: Yeah cos I used to play for Marcus a bit when he first started out, on electric bass. In the old days, have you heard about the Bosuns locker?
Davie: That’s where most of our friendships with these people were built.

The Bosun’s Locker tour had an incredibly good line-up, tell us how it came about.
Kev: There was a place called the Bosun’s Locker on the Kings Road, it was underneath a Cornish pastie shop, the kind of place you’d never see unless you played there or something. But we all met there.
Davie: I must have been in the same room as you about forty times without knowing you.
Kev: That’s where Noah and the Whale, King Charles and Mumford and Sons were spawned from there and I suppose we were as well.
Chris: I came in really weirdly, I used to play sessions with a guy called Example, a rapper from Fulham, I played pretty big tours with him and I remember playing the Great Escape festival, not the one in Brighton, the one in Kent and we headlined the festival. He was on with Hot Rocket and that was when I first got to know these guys. About a year after that they text me and said we need a drummer do you know any one who’s interested, and I said actually I’m interested myself and I got into Hot Rocket and played with them. That’s how I met Kev.
Kev: Ben from mumford and sons was in that band as well.
Chris: Later Hot Rocket split up and Kev and I joined these guys.

How do you feel about journalists grouping you together with the rest of the London folk artists?

Davie: It’s quite easy to clump people together with other people. When it comes to establishing yourself, I think people think ‘Why am I listening to my record, you know what’s my reasoning, oh it’s connected to this…’ you know. But I think we also want to stand on our own two feet, but with the sound of the band now you can’t really group it. It’s all come from the same place. If you really think about it what that means is that it came from loads of singer songwriters a few years ago writing and encouraging each other, but as bands have been put together they’ve gone in different directions. I don’t think we sound like any of those guys.
Phil: Also, I think we have a different mentality, because the folk thing can be associated with being scared of success, like it’s not cool to be mainstream, whereas we just play our music. We certainly don’t want to stay underground. I think journalists will clump us together for a while, but I think it will be fairly evident that we’re actually something else.
Davie: I think for us it would be really lovely if loads and loads of people heard what we were doing rather than a few people just ‘tastemakers’.

Interview: Lynn Roberts