ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MARCH 25, 1993
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about little round pieces of glass with pretty colours inside. I’ve got marbles on the brain, and it’s all because of Kevan Byrne of Guelph, Ont., who had to go and name his band King Cobb Steelie.
Now, for those readers who’ve forgotten what marbles were all about, a little explanation is in order. As far as I can recall, you had your tiny marbles, called pee-wees, and then you had your regular-sized marbles, called marbles. The next step up was a big marble, called a cobb. A big cobb was called a king cobb, and these were very cool to have, but the real prize marble was the metal version of the king cobb—the great and powerful king cobb steelie.
If you managed somehow to acquire a king cobb steelie, you could make the other kids shoot at it from as far away as you wanted. You’d set it down between your splayed legs, shout “No bullfudgin’!”, and hope to heck nobody hit it, though even if some lucky bugger eventually did, you’d still go home with enough off-the-mark marbles to make you feel like a winner.
Now do you remember marbles?
“I sure do,” says Byrne, on the line from snowy Toronto and the offices of his label, Raw Energy Records. “I remember the day I was cleaned out by a guy that lived down the street from me. He took every one of my marbles. It was a very sad day.
“But the thing about the king cobb steelie was—although it was like the death star of marbles—it was a very sort of lumbering, awkward thing. You couldn’t really control what it was going to do, and I think that’s why I like the name so much.”
Byrne makes other references to childhood in several of the songs on his band’s new, self-titled CD—especially the tune “Talking G.I. Joe with lifelike beard and hair and kung-fu grip”.
“Generally, they’re my song titles and stuff, so it’s basically my childhood,” he admits. “But I guess I relate to something of that naïve quality and innocence of when you’re a child.”
Musically, however, King Cobb Steelie’s funky hybrid of dub, reggae, hip-hop, and indie guitar-rock styles is as grown-up as you’d want—which curious locals can find out for themselves when the band plays the Town Pump on Saturday (March 27), on a bill with the Enigmas and the Bottom Feeders.
Although Byrne spent most of his marble-playing days growing up in Vancouver, he moved east at 15, and Guelph has been his home ever since. With such Guelph-based bands as War Wagon, Burn 51, Tank Top, and Billy Butt starting to get known, the town is making a name for itself as a hotbed for indie rock bands.
“Oddly enough,” says Byrne, “for a place that’s only got 80,000 people, there’s five different clubs to play. And there’s a great cultural community in general—lots of arts happening there, theatre, galleries. And you’ve got the university. So it’s ripe for a scene to happen.”