Sunday, 12 May 2013

Revisiting Moseley Shoals live after 17 years: Ocean Colour Scene's Simon Fowler

UPDATE: A revised and expanded version of this post 
is included in the new Radio To Go ebook, Survivors 

What makes a band go large? What makes them last – albeit with the odd hiatus – over twenty years, despite managerial problems and some pretty solid contractual brick walls blocking them from playing and recording?

When you try to tot up those Birmingham bands who went REALLY BIG for a sustained period in the past twenty years of so, you get quite a short list. But right up at the top of that list you’ll find Ocean Colour Scene

Interestingly, they're still going, with much of the original line-up. It's an gripping tale of solid songwriting and playing, battling through obstacles, and coming good. Good luck? I wouldn't say that.. Good judgement? Yup, give them that. Hard work? Without a doubt. Good friends along the way? Yes - they played a big part.

As far as most people were concerned, Ocean Colour Scene - OCS - emerged (and how) in the mid-90s. But in fact they were already a big noise in Brum at the end of the eighties. Then it all went quiet, with individual members forming impressive alliances which stood them in good stead when the time came for their proper breakthrough.

Remember the Lounge Music craze? All through the summer of 1996, I was driving to work at Radio 2 in the old BBC Pebble Mill studios, where I was producing the overnight shows. I listened to Chris Evans on Radio 1 as I went, to see if he’d pinched any of the lounge tracks we slipped into Alex Lester’s Radio 2 show at 5.45 am (quite a few migrated onto Evans’ Radio 1 show, as it happened). Evans, who was then at the peak of his Radio 1 powers, absolutely championed Ocean Colour Scene. Of course OCS were a bit rowdy for poor old Radio 2 at the height of Brit pop; but changing times and audience demographics means they fit right in now. And all those OCS cuts Evans played came from their breakthrough album: Moseley Shoals. 
Simon Fowler: Yes, he was a great champion, was Chris. He broke the band. We’d been together for seven years by the time Moseley Shoals was released, with not any success, really. We’d scraped the top 50 with an early single, and suddenly, the album went in at #2 and we were pop stars for the next three years. He was a good friend to the band. 
So let’s start with the fact that you are playing the Moseley Shoals album in its entirety, on your 2013 summer tour, which takes in Moseley Folk. But that material will have been two or three years in the making. So you’re talking about a gap of close on twenty years between the writing and this year’s performance. You’re not the same person you were. How do those songs sit with you? 
It’s very difficult to answer that, because obviously I know them so well. But I don’t really know them off the album. I haven’t listened to the album for 17 years. They’ve evolved as live songs, really, and some of them aren’t actually like the record… 
I see that. There’s quite a trend to revisit whole albums live. Paul Simon did that with Graceland, but famously delivered new arrangements which took off in all sorts of directions. So it’s tapping into people’s perceptions of those old songs – which were arranged and sequenced on the album for all sorts of valid reasons presented in a fixed format. And that album goes out and is absorbed by audiences in particular way. But then you’ll have taken all those songs on to other places. 
It’s strange, because on the album ‘The Day we Caught The Train’ is the third song – but it’s the finale of most of our gigs! So there’s always the danger that things could go downhill from there. 
I doubt that. So, old songs, new arrangements, and of course the personnel has changed a bit. 
Not in the last ten years! 
Not a lot of bands last anything as long as you have- especially given the grief you had back in the day (Wikipedia has some of the gory and, I understand, redacted details) … 
That might be what saved us actually. It was a struggle in the early days. And being in Birmingham, as opposed to the epicentre, down in London, that made us outsiders. They called us a Britpop band, and we never were. I suppose having Chris Craddock as our manager (Steve Craddock’s father) did make us a bit of a gang. That’s probably the reason that bands form. 
Think back to when you put the band together. What did you want to do in 1989? 
What we did. And possibly we succeeded beyond our expectations. We never expected to be at #2 in the album charts for six months in a row. And by that point we were a pretty good live band. Still are, although there’s less dancing. 
It’s also really interesting to see how many members of the band have gone off to collaborate with other musicians. I thought at one point that that might be the end of your operation, but in fact it seems to have strengthened things all round. 
I don’t know why that came round. I think a lot of it had to do with us having our own studio. People came down who we got to know. We got to know a lot of people through Paul (Weller). That started happening in '93. Steve started playing with Paul then, and I went out as the support act. So by the time we played the Albert Hall, I’d already played the Albert Hall on my own. Knew where the changing rooms were, knew that was Bob Dylan’s piano… and it was a great apprenticeship. So when it did hit us, in 95/96, it didn’t hit us the way it might have done. That was obviously down to Paul, and Oasis. Another guy who put things together at the time, but on a much more local level in Birmingham, was Paul Murphy, with his Songwriters CafĂ© sessions. 
BBC4: The Day We Caught The Train: with Paul Weller on keys on Jools Holland's 'Later' 
Tell me about the Moseley Shoals studio. 
That was where we retreated to from Phonogram after our first deal in 92, when it all went wrong – we simply didn’t get on with the guy who was running the company, putting it politely. And just… recorded, for three years. That’s how the Moseley Shoals album emerged. 
It’s not there anymore. 
No, the building got knocked down; it’s probably apartments by now. 
Coming back to the album - which you will play at Moseley Folk – I’d expect you to have some more material, say from ‘Painting’, the current CD? 
Well the whole album takes about 55 minutes to play, so almost certainly. We could have an interval! That would be nice! 
You mean in between sides 1 and 2? Or possibly an extended version of ‘The Day We Caught The (local) Train’ which takes a lot longer cos it stops everywhere? 

Ocean Colour Scene site
Ocan Colour Scene's spiffy SoundCloud page
Simon Fowler's Merrymouth

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