After headlining Lancaster’s Highest Point festival, Britpop icons Ocean Colour Scene are set to return later this summer for Kendal Calling, giving MALCOLM WYATT an excuse to quiz singer Simon Fowler
Simon Fowler was walking Cooper the cockapoo down by the river at Stratford-upon-Avon when I called, a day and a half after his band, Ocean Colour Scene, headlined Lancaster’s Highest Point festival.
That Shakespearean link seemed apt, as I associate Williamson Park with summer performances of the Bard’s plays. But Simon’s merry band were hardly promenading. That PA gear would take some shifting.
“Ha! You could have a moving stage, I suppose … or play on the back of an artic like the Rolling Stones.
“It was really good, though, a spectacular place, and we had some old mates there, like John (Power) from Cast. We go a long way back, and a young band called Stillia, who toured with us in Australia and New Zealand last year. The crowd was really good, and we stayed and rehearsed in
Clitheroe. I’ve always quite liked playing outdoors … although it was cold. I could barely move my fingers to play some of the chords … and I’ve only just learned them! It had been a lovely day, but we didn’t go on until half nine. But Kendal Calling is next and gives us time to learn all the words!”
Simon lives in rural Warwickshire, but spent his early years in Moseley, as referenced in their best-selling album, a play on legendary US studio, Muscle Shoals, the first of five top-10s, including a 1997 No.1.
Review: The Highest Point Festival, Lancaster
They’ve also scored 17 top-40 singles, six making the top-10. But these days, band meets are fairly rare.
“We practically lived together and were in the studio every day at Moseley Shoals. Now we’re scattered around the country, with Steve (Cradock, guitar) in Devon, Oscar (Harrison, bass) in Birmingham, me in Stratford, and the two guys who play with us in Glasgow.
“But it’s a bit like riding a bicycle. As long as we get together a few hours, we’re alright. And the idea is to start writing a new album. It’s going slowly, but it’ll speed up soon.”
It’s been five years since LP No.10, Painting. But 2019 promises to be big, marking 30 years of OCS.
“Do you think we could get parole? But we’ve always been close. In the ’90s we worked hard and had a lot of fun. Now, we’re practically all tee-totalers, sort of … all grown up.”
As if to prove that, he tells me he’s going to his parents’ house in Solihull – where he moved to, age nine – ‘for a sandwich’ to mark his 53rd birthday.
Among this year’s dates there’s Cool Britannia at Knebworth, 24 years after an Oasis support there.
“Terrifying. The only time I’ve almost frozen on stage. I walked out with a cine camera, up to the crowd, they reacted, and my nerve just melted, looking at 125,000 people.”
That reminds me of Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook freezing on stage during one of his best-known songs, wondering if he’d left the grill on
after just having beans on toast.
“I do that all the time. I’ve forgot the words to ‘The Riverboat Song’ before now, singing the second verse first, then again, knowing I’ve made a prat of yourself, that song officially ruined. A hundred thoughts sometimes go through your mind. The thing is to be in the moment – a zen thing. But then you’re back with the beans on toast!”
It’s 22 years since Moseley Shoals broke, yet all those festival headlines and recent Australian, New Zealand and Japan dates suggests major interest remains. Not bad for a Brummie lad and ex-journalist.
“My hero was John Motson. I wanted to be a football commentator. Uncle Trevor was picture editor of the Birmingham Post & Mail, with his first job in Norwich, with ‘Motty’ a reporter, so that was my plan.
“But within a fortnight I realised I’d made the biggest mistake of my life. I didn’t like being shouted at by middle-aged, balding, short blokes … especially when they were so much better than me at their job!”
Nineties icons back together and making new music
After a false start with their self-named debut LP, there came the Britpop explosion, and OCS clicked.
“Oasis basically kicked open the door. When we started, you almost had to justify liking bands like The Beatles. When Oasis got trendy, we’d been telling them all that for the last seven years.”
Does he recall his first fateful meeting with the Gallagher brothers down his Moseley local?
“That was brilliant. I’d never met anyone like Liam in my life … and still haven’t. I met Noel prior to that, during a Paul Weller video shoot for ‘Hung Up’, at a hotel in Oxford.
“I asked, ‘Where are you playing in Brum?’ They told us The Jug of Ale, supporting Whiteout, a bunch of scallies from Greenock who had supported us. We went down to see them as much as Oasis. Sitting in the changing room, someone threw a piece of paper at Liam. Probably a note from his Mum! He caught it mid-air and I thought, ‘I wanna be like you!’ Ha ha! He was so cool! We introduced Noel to Paul (Weller). Liam was a bit resentful. Suddenly, instead of wearing trainers, Noel was wearing penny loafers, so Liam starts going (he tries a Manc accent), ‘Eh, Weller fella!’ The irony of course is Pretty Green (the fashion brand founded by Liam in 2009). Ha ha!”
Meanwhile, 22 years after Moseley Shoals truly broke them, OCS have had plenty of time to reflect.
“When we did it in full again, live, that was one of our most successful tours since 1998. You realise how important that album was to so many people. We kind of missed that, working so hard. I don’t think we quite understood the significance to that generation.”