On Sunday 19 August, Don Valley Bowl will play host to a day-long Britpop extravaganza, featuring a bounty of indie favourites and including a headline appearance by none other than Ocean Colour Scene. Ben Jackson sat down with OCS frontman Simon Fowler for a good old natter.
Welcome in advance to The Steel City. When were you last in Sheffield? And is it a place that you have any memories of, fond or otherwise?
I can’t remember to be honest, I haven’t got fond memories of many things. (Laughs) I mean, we have played Sheffield, sure we have, but I can’t remember to be quite honest. I’m trying to think of a place that we played at in Sheffield…
I imagine it might have been The Leadmill all those years ago?
Sheffield Leadmill! My goodness! Yes, we would’ve played there in the early 90s.
On that point, you’re coming up to thirty years as a band so major congratulations there. What do you think it is that’s kept you going when so many of your contemporaries have drifted apart?
Well, it’s always been a family sort of business, really. Chris Cradock used to be our manager and Steve Cradock met his wife at the record label. Also the lady who manages us now, has been with us for the best part of thirty years. And, we’re not very good at doing anything else. Well I’m not, the others are. They can go off and be musicians around the world with Weller and The Specials and The Beat, but I can’t (laughs).
I suppose as a counter to the point about bands drifting apart, we’re experiencing a real resurgence of British acts that started out in the 90s, who are playing festivals, doing their own shows and tours, and of course reaching new audiences. How much do you put that down to the standard twenty year retro trend-cycle, or do you think there’s something lacking in the British music scene?
I think it’s that some of the acts are still going and they’ve gotta pay for their kids to go to university. (Laughs) And yeah, there is an obvious lack of guitar bands, and that’s what defined the 90s, didn’t it? Then the 90s got too exciting for everybody so they invented Simon Cowell and pop music.
Pop music came back because the acts that we were contemporary with and the record label people were basically taking too many drugs. I think the pop industry thought, ‘Sod this, let’s get people we can control a bit easier.’ The other thing of course, is that with record sales in decline from us acts, it’s easier for solo artists to be signed because, you know, not only do they do what they’re told a bit more, but there’s less of them to pay.
Also, the people who were kids when they were coming to see us are now bringing their kids to our gigs so there is a sort of recycling element to it which is great.
It was such a purple patch for British bands at that time, if you look at who was around and you talk about your contemporaries, it’s hard to see a scene like that emerging again.
Yeah it is, looking back on it, it was like our version of the 60s.
On the contemporaries point, you’re playing at Don Valley with a lot of other bands that took off at the same time as you did. Do you know them well and do you get along with them?
Who’s playing? Are Embrace playing by any chance?
They’re not this time, no, but The Bluetones are.
The Bluetones, god! Mark Morris, yeah!
Again, they’re a band that have stopped and started…
So have Shed Seven. We played a couple of gigs with them last year and they’ve got a new album out. They’re a really good live band. I didn’t know a lot of their stuff but we went on after them and I thought, ‘Christ, we’d better be on form tonight.’ (Laughs) Rick’s a great frontman.
So when you play in Sheffield, naturally people will be expecting the classics but how does your set list look? Will you be playing any recent or new material?
We’ll play a lot of the singles but we’re also writing at the moment. I’ve been writing today and I’m hopefully going down to Steve’s this month to start recording with the idea of putting out an EP before Christmas, perhaps at the start of November. That’s the plan because we’ve got an important tour at the end of the year.
I was actually thinking to myself today, do people still release CDs? (Laughs) So we’ll probably stream it and do a vinyl version of it as well. I should imagine a lot of our older fans would really enjoy the vinyl, it’s always been a much nicer package than anything else.
In terms of the evolution of Ocean Colour Scene over the years, you’ve seen some changes to the original line-up, with Andy Bennett and Dan Sealey leaving and Raymond Meade joining a few years back. How did the dynamic alter in terms of playing and writing when those changes took place?
Well, not a great deal, to be honest, although Andy and Dan could both sing really well so we lost that. But Ray’s a singer and now Dan’s principally our piano player but he also plays banjo, electric and acoustic guitar. The clever sod!
But yeah, we’re very quiet on tour and now as a band we’re a lot better behaved. We’re probably the only band in Britain that has non-alcoholic beer on the rider. (Laughs) A promoter once came in and said, ‘Is this right?’ And I said, ‘It is I’m afraid.’ (More laughs). We drank our minds to death. It was very excessive but great fun though.
In a career spanning three decades, you must’ve had some amazing experiences and I know it’s almost impossible to do, but if you had to nail on one particular high point over the years, what would it be and why?
Well, I suppose the album going to Number 1 was pretty good, knocking Oasis off! That whole Riverboat era, hanging out with Chris Evans, that was brilliant. And also, the first time we played The Albert Hall, that was something. And playing the NEC, which isn’t called that now but you know what I mean. Knebworth will always stick out too. But yeah, I think when we walked onstage at The Albert Hall, we thought, ‘Blimey O’Reilly, we’ve done it.’
I feel obliged to apologise in advance for how many times you must’ve been asked this question but if you’ll bear with me. If you could collaborate with any other artist either living or dead, who would it be?
Oh, I don’t know, I met Neil Young not long ago and I’ve met Paul McCartney. I’d be too frightened to record with Dylan. I don’t know, let’s be really pretentious and say Tchaikovsky, darling. (Laughs) Actually, I’m working on a tune at the moment that I ripped off him, Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, so yeah, he could produce our next record.
You can catch Ocean Colour Scene at Don Valley Bowl on Sunday 19 August along with The Coral, The Bluetones, Dodgy & more. Buy tickets here.
Interview by Ben Jackson