Moseley Souls

Daniel Rachel and Simon Fowler, back in the day, at The Jug of Ale, Moseley, Birmingham

It’s that time of year, when websites and magazines publish their Best Of lists – ours is coming soon.

When it comes to music books, one of the best and most entertaining we’ve read in 2022 is One For The Road: The Life & Lyrics of Simon Fowler & Ocean Colour Scene.

Written as a series of conversations between Simon Fowler, the frontman and chief songwriter of ’90s Britrockers, Ocean Colour Scene, and the author, Daniel Rachel, Simon’s former flatmate and lifelong friend, the biography, which centres on his lyrics from 69 songs, but weaves them into Simon’s life story and the highs and lows of the band – by the way, there are a lot of highs, and that’s just the drugs and booze – is a fascinating read.

Often very funny and sometimes poignant, it’s a very honest book that doesn’t shy away from documenting the excesses of the ’90s Britpop scene, but also deals with some serious issues, including Simon’s outing at the hands of The Sun newspaper. 

It reveals the stories behind the songs, as well as the people and the places that inspired them, like the music scene in Moseley, Birmingham, where both of the authors lived.

There are also over 200 personal photographs, lyrics to 13 unreleased songs, memorabilia and handwritten song words, as well as an exclusive 7in single featuring two songs recorded by Simon in 1986, The American Way of Life and I, captured on a portable tape recorder.

To celebrate the launch of the book, Daniel and Simon invited Say It With Garage Flowers to The Hawley Arms pub, in Camden, North London, for an exclusive interview.

One for the road, anyone?

Simon Fowler, Sean Hannam and Daniel Rachel at The Hawley Arms, Camden – December 2022.

Q&A

Was the way you approached the book, with it being based on song lyrics and how they relate to your life story, inspired by the McCartney book, The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present?

Simon Fowler: It was, because the idea of doing ‘In the beginning…’ – we wouldn’t have been able to collaborate on that, because of my memory… There’s a lot of memorabilia in the book, too…

[To Daniel]: You have a good memory and you’ve collected a lot of stuff from Simon and Ocean Colour Scene over the years, haven’t you?

Daniel Rachel: That’s how it’s turned out, but I don’t remember doing it as systemically as that. I can remember Paul Simon saying that he went round to Bob Dylan’s house and Bob was walking around while Paul was just picking everything up and saying to himself, ‘Maybe I’ll find out the answer…’

To be honest, I thought it was really amazing what Ocean Colour Scene were doing as a band, and seeing the process happen during all the different stages. I always loved the music. The memories were imprinted on my mind because it was incredible what was happening in-front of my eyes. When you have those moments, you get photographic memories of them.

We were living together, and I’d said to Simon: ‘Have you got any tunes?’ He’d pick up a guitar, play me Get Blown Away and say, ‘What do you think?’

Your friendship goes back a long way – pretty much 40 years…

DR: Simon knew me when I was five, but I didn’t really know him – I knew his dad.

SF: Their family lived about three doors down.

 

[To Daniel]: There’s a story in the book where you say you can remember Simon staying up until the early hours of the morning, getting stoned and writing songs…

DR: That’s what everybody did in Moseley – Simon was one of quite a lot of people.

Was there not much else to do in Moseley?

DR: That’s why you’re in Moseley – because you’re into music, going down the pub, taking drugs and going to clubs. All the people that liked those things congregated and then they’d come back to our flat and everybody would pass around the guitar and play tunes. It just so happened that Simon was the best of the lot.

‘The book isn’t just about me and my songs. It’s also about our friendship and all of our gang. It’s a story’

When did you start working on the book?

DR: Simon phoned me up this year and said, ‘Do you fancy doing a book? I’ve read Macca’s one – why don’t we do it like that?’

SF: I think it was February.

So, it’s come together really quickly?

DR: Amazingly quickly – in the publishing world, that’s unheard of. My original idea was for it to just be Simon’s words.

SF: But it developed. The book isn’t just about me and my songs – that wouldn’t be as interesting. It’s also about our friendship and all of our gang. It’s a story.

It’s turned about being an autobiography, but via the songs…

SF: It has.

Why did you choose 69 songs?

DF: That was completely coincidental.

SF: [To Daniel]: Was it? I thought you were giving me a hint.

[Everyone laughs]

DR: I chose all the songs that I thought should be in it, then Simon said, ‘What I think is my best lyric isn’t in there.’ I said: ‘Oh dear – what’s your best lyric?’

He said it was Men Of Such Opinion. So that was added to it, and I think we lost one or two songs and the fact that it ended at 69 was arbitrary – there wasn’t a plan as to how many songs we’d have. What dictated it more was that the book was always going to be 288 pages. Also, I was born in 1969… when The Beatles were still going.

‘I couldn’t be arsed to be a mod. I just used to dress like Neil Young – jeans,  a Millets shirt and a leather jacket’

SF: I was born while The Beatles were still going and before we won the World Cup.

In 1965?

SF: Yeah

Picture: Featureflash Photo Agency, via Shutterstock.

[To Simon]: Growing up, you liked Bowie, Neil Young, Dylan and The Beatles, and you were into folk music, but Ocean Colour Scene got tagged as mods…

SF: Yeah – we did have that influence… Are The Beatles or The Stones a mod band? The Who weren’t really a mod band – The Small Faces were. The Who’s management turned them into a mod band. My first incarnation as a lead singer was stolen directly from The Who video, where there’s a lad who looks like Jean Seberg – I fancied him. It’s one of those single like I Can’t Explain… He’s wearing a Breton top, white trousers and desert boots.

DR: It’s when The Who are at Shepherd’s Bush in ’65 and there’s a lad dancing. The funny thing is, neither of us have ever been mods.

SF: I couldn’t be arsed to be a mod. I just used to dress like Neil Young – jeans,  a Millets shirt and a leather jacket.

DR: Simon was into The Kinks and The Who and those kind of bands – he just wasn’t dressing like a mod. The mod thing was how Steve Cradock [Ocean Colour Scene guitarist] dressed.

SF: He got that from Paul Weller.

In the early days of performing on stage, you were quite camp, weren’t you?

SF: I got that from Bowie.

DR: And Jagger.

SF: I was looking for some kind of release. I think the definition of camp was defined by George Melly. He said something like, ‘It’s a lie that tells the truth.’ In fact it’s in one of my songs…

DR: That’s from My Brother Sarah.

How was it going back through your memories and putting the book together? Was it fun or cathartic?

SF: It was great. What we did was Daniel used to come and stay at my house, which is in a village just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, and we’d get up at 10ish, have a cup of coffee and then at 10:30 we’d do two or three hours, then say we’d had enough. We’d go to my local boozer, where I’ve got my own table, and we’d do another two or three hours.

Structurally, it’s like Craig Brown’s book, M’am Darling [biography of The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret], where you can just read one chapter a day. Read it in the morning, have a cup of tea and bore everyone for hours.

It’s a conversational book…

DR: The conversation isn’t strictly the way it appears – it was more just freewheeling, with our thoughts and memories. And then I crafted it afterwards to fit in certain themes.

[To Daniel:] There’s a nice moment in the book when you and Simon talk about a tape you’ve got of him, singing and playing some of his earliest songs in his bedroom, in 1986.

DR: I’m glad you picked up on that. There were about 20 songs on it. Inside the cassette, there’s a piece of paper that’s almost like tissue paper, and on it,  Simon has written a description of what he thinks each song is about, in blue Biro. The comments are in the book and you get a real insight into the way he was thinking. What’s really interesting is that I think his approach to songwriting and the subject matters are completely different to what he’s become known for as a songwriter.

‘I was aged at least nine when I wrote my first song, because that’s when I got a guitar’

When you listen to a lot of the songs, it sounds like he’s having a conversation with himself about what’s going on in his mind. It’s almost like a diary – an outlet for it. I don’t know whether he agrees, but that’s how I hear it.

It’s fascinating because if you’re into Ocean Colour Scene, or any band, you want to know the genesis of them. When you hear In Spite Of All The Danger [Paul McCartney – the first song recorded by The Quarrymen] it’s utterly joyous because you can hear the first manifestation of what they’re going to be like. As a fan of Ocean Colour Scene, to hear these songs with such formulated and intelligent ideas and lyrics is really amazing.

[To Simon]: What was the first song you wrote?

SF: The song I was the first significant song I wrote. It was from when I was about 20.

That became Foxy’s Folk Faced, by Ocean Colour Scene, didn’t it?

SF: Yeah. Steve named it that because it was a good description of me at the time. I was aged at least nine when I wrote my first song, because that’s when I got a guitar.

[To Simon]: I think you’re underrated as a lyricist. When people think of Ocean Colour Scene, they tend to remember the riffs, rather than the words…

SF: Yeah. It’s because the band is basically seen through The Riverboat Song and The Day We Caught The Train, but, for all of those, one of my favourite Ocean Colour Scene albums is B-sides, Seasides and Freerides. And, also, what a great title that is.

DR: It’s natural that an audience knows the band by their singles, but the B-sides and album tracks give you more scope.

SF: I think The Circle is one of my best songs, but it’s better as a ballad. [Recorded as Outside of a Circle on the compilation album, B-sides, Seasides and Freerides]

[To Simon]: You trained as a journalist, but, before that, you wanted to become a football commentator, didn’t you?

SF: That’s right. I wanted to be John Motson.

There’s a quote in the book where you say, ‘Wanting to be a pop star seemed a stretch too far. It seemed daft enough to want to be John Motson, let alone John Lennon…’

DR: I love that quote.

SF: I didn’t come from a highfalutin background. Match of the Day was my favourite programme and I was obsessed with football.

‘From the very first day I started hanging out with Simon, in ’85, it was an unwritten thing that he was going to be famous’

Did you want to be a pop star when you were growing up? 

SF: I think I did. It was probably Bowie, really – if you’re into Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, they’re not really stars… My favourite band were – and still are –  The Beatles. I remember The Beatles when I was four.

DR: From the very first day I started hanging out with Simon, in ’85, it was an unwritten thing that he was going to be famous. It was a given. He could sing and he could write songs and he had incredible charisma.

How did you feel when he got famous?

DR: I thought it was unbelievable and everything that I’d ever hoped for for Simon and for Steve and for Damon [Minchella – Ocean Colour Scene bassist]. I desperately wanted it to happen. I was joyous. Steve had an absolute drive that he was going to make it. It wasn’t like they were arrogant or going on about being famous – it was an assumed thing and they were trying to find the portal or the path that would get them to the next level. They knew it was going to happen – if they played that gig, got this review, or recorded that… They climbed the ladders and there was an inevitability about it. So, when it happened, it wasn’t a surprise, and when it doesn’t happen, it’s a set back and everyone else is wrong. I always believed in them being right.

SF [To Daniel]You knew Steve before I did.

DR: Yeah – we were mates at junior school.

Was it due to the use of The Riverboat Song as the soundtrack to Chris Evans’s TV show, TFI Friday, that Ocean Colour Scene really made it big?

DR: I think it was Radio 1 more than TFI – Chris Evans on the morning show. He used to play a promo version of You Got It Bad before Riverboat. Then Riverboat was released as a single and Chris really played it and made it Single of the Week…

SF: For two weeks in a row.

‘We started to learn how to deconstruct music and make records, instead of standing there, like a cross between the Velvet Underground and Buzzcocks’

After your debut album, Ocean Colour Scene, you reinvented yourself for the follow-up, Moseley Shoals, didn’t you?

SF: That was down to being at Bob’s [Lamb – record producer]. Steve and Damon started to learn how to use the [recording] desk, so suddenly we started to learn how to deconstruct music and make records, instead of standing there, like a cross between the Velvet Underground and Buzzcocks.

DR: What happened to Ocean Colour Scene isn’t dissimilar to what happened to Blur, but Blur had a nightmare tour of America and Ocean Colour Scene had an amazing one.

But Ocean Colour Scene didn’t crack America…

DR: No, it’s curious that.

SF: It’s because we were too English and we just said, ‘Thank you.’

[To Simon]: There’s one bit in the book where you reflect on playing TFI Friday on New Year’s Eve 1997 and doing three nights at Stirling Castle the year after – you acknowledge that Ocean Colour Scene have done it on your own merits. For a while, did it feel that you had made it thanks to the patronage of Chris Evans, Paul Weller and Oasis?

‘Paul Weller’s always been our fifth Beatle’

SF: Paul and Noel were great, but it was Chris who made us break through – quite frankly, it wouldn’t have happened [without him]. We did that first biggish Oasis tour – Leeds Town and Country Club, Newcastle Riverside… That wouldn’t have happened. When we became well-known, bands would use to say, ‘We’re backing Ocean Colour Scene.’ One of those bands were Coldplay…

Paul’s always been our fifth Beatle. We enjoyed our time with that lot enormously.

The music press always gave you a hard time, didn’t they? Why do you think that was?

DR: Because they changed so much and they became something that they weren’t originally.

And there was the whole dadrock thing…

DR: If I remember correctly, I’m sure dadrock happened after Moseley Shoals, in 1998 – it was retrospective…

Blur went from being a baggy band to listening to The Small Faces and The Kinks and changing their image, but they didn’t get the same flack as Ocean Colour Scene…

DR: That’s absolutely true.

Why do you think that was?

SF: If someone says, ‘What’s your band?’ I say, ‘We’re traditionalist.’

DR: I think that’s what more important is that Ocean Colour Scene became a people’s band – they had the record buyers, who decided their popularity, regardless of what the press said.

SF: We weren’t part of the zeitgeist, but the problem with the zeitgeist is that after a while it becomes like a new jumper in the shop – it becomes old hat. Being fashionable is maybe not  great, because how long does that last? Especially now.

You did well as a band, though…

SF: Yeah, but we were dreadful at making videos and doing photoshoots – basically we hated all of that.

DR: I was always baffled ultimately as to why Ocean Colour Scene were so severely slagged off. There were so many contradictions in the ’90s – contradictions are good, but you can never understand them. It’s like the Britpop battle. You had Blur, who were Britpop – Damon invented it – and Oasis, who weren’t Britpop. Then you get into semantics and it doesn’t add up. The sound of Blur was nothing like the sound of Oasis. It’s a strange one.

[To Simon]: One of the parts in the book that really struck me was when you talk about being outed by The Sun. That must’ve been awful for you. And you ended up meeting the journalist responsible for breaking the story… 

SF: It was horrendous – hideous. All my pals knew – the only people who didn’t know were my family.

But you then go on to say that it was the best thing that’s ever happened to you…

SF: It was. I went out on the town with the **** from The Sun, with Steve and Ian McCulloch, trying to score cocaine, and all we did was meet Bobby Charlton. We were in Lyon, because I’d done the World Cup song [ (How Does It Feel To Be) On Top of the World –  England United, 1998]. Ian told me that I sounded like Roy Orbison.

There’s a lot of drink and drugs in the book. At one stage, you tell a story about when you’re in a hotel, on tour, seven floors up, you’re all on coke and Steve jumps off the bed and bounces off the window. The next day, you have a meeting and agree that you might need to calm things down. Was that the peak of the craziness? You were really into coke, weren’t you? I always saw you as more of a drinking band. One For The Road and all that…

SF: We were big coke fans and a big smoking band. And acid – Steve and I were really into acid, well, it was more me, really.

Do you have regrets about any of the things you did in the ’90s?

SF: I regret the fact, perhaps not in the ’90s, that I didn’t carry on writing songs in the same volume. When I lived on Westfield Road, [in King’s Heath, Birmingham] I used to write songs in the evening so that Steve and I would have something to do the following morning.

You were a hardworking band, though…

SF: If we weren’t touring, we were on the radio, doing TV shows and interviews.

How was it when you became famous? Did you enjoy it?

SF: I did.

And how was it after you became less successful?

SF: After the Moseley Shoals and Marchin’ Already albums, One From The Modern didn’t do quite as well. Unless you’re U2 or Oasis… new bands come along, but I enjoyed every moment of it.

DR: Brendan Lynch [music producer] made a good observation at the time. When he came up to Birmingham, he said there was a scene around Ocean Colour Scene. And there was. It wasn’t just Moseley – it was a wider thing.

Everything they were and who was around them, doing drugs and writing and singing about your lifestyle, was there before the fame – they just carried it through into what they were doing. It was just magnified by the press.

The more pertinent thing was that when they eventually got the PRS and the money, they moved away from one another and Moseley, which had been an inspiration  – particularly Simon and Steve. Simon moved in with Robert, the man who he loved, and found happiness in being outside of the Birmingham scene.

SF: Steve and I used to live out of each other’s pockets.

[To Simon]: You were the main songwriter in the band, but there were some songs, like The Riverboat Song and 100 Mile High City, that you all came up with together, weren’t there?

SF: Yes – the more rock ‘n’ roll ones. About 75 percent of the songs on Ocean Colour Scene albums I wrote on my own.

The band shared the writing credits, though…

SF: I always thought that without Riverboat, we wouldn’t have gone anywhere, so that seemed fair enough. I joined the band because I wanted to be in a gang.

DR: What Simon’s saying is that because they were a gang, the music wouldn’t have been Ocean Colour Scene unless all four of them were on it. He made that decision right at the very beginning to share the money. There are very few bands that have done that – it speaks a lot about Simon’s personality. That comes out in the book – he’s a very generous person.

SF: Steve could work machines – I couldn’t have put those songs together myself. It was just me and an acoustic guitar.

[To Simon]: What’s your songwriting process like? Do you sit with an acoustic guitar and come up with something?

SF: I’ve got an old Sony tape player – like you’d get for Christmas in 1972. I have about four of them, but only one of them works. The problem is that if you leave them on at night, and don’t turn off the power, the motor fails and you can’t rewind the tape.

So, what’s next? Is there a new Ocean Colour Scene album on the way?

SF: Hopefully.

There’s a 15-CD retrospective boxset coming out too, Yesterday Today 1992-2018, with all the studio albums, plus bonus discs of B-sides, etc, and a 72-page hardback book, with notes by Daniel. And there are vinyl reissues of the first three studio albums being released, and you and Oscar [Harrison – drummer] are going out on tour as a duo. It’s a big year for Ocean Colour Scene in 2023…

SF: Me and Oscar are going out in May.

DR: And we’re doing an evening with Simon Fowler in Notting Hill, in March.

How does it feel…

SF: [sings] To be on top of the world.

[Everyone laughs].

How does it feel to be celebrating over 30 years of Ocean Colour Scene next year?

SF: I don’t know really.

It’s not the original line-up, but what’s kept the rest of the band together?

SF: I don’t know how to do anything else, to be quite honest. I’ve never used a computer in my life.

DF: He hasn’t even got one.

Do you still enjoy it?

SF: I do when we go out on tour – recording has never been my favourite thing.

DR: With the book, Simon is celebrating what he has done – he’s never done that before. It’s really important to recognise – there are so many songs… There are only 69 in the book, but there are hundreds that he could be celebrating. There’s great humour but also pathos – you get two sides of his personality. It’s an incredible thing to have done and to reveal in print. Over the last couple of hours, you’ve probably realised that one thing you can say about Simon is that he’s very honest. A lot of pop stars aren’t. He’ll invite you into his world and he should be admired for his openness.

SF: I don’t know what my parents will do when they get the book for Christmas.

One For The Road: The Life & Lyrics of Simon Fowler & Ocean Colour Scene by Simon Fowler and Daniel Rachel is out now. You can buy it here. It retails for £50.

The 15-CD retrospective boxset, Yesterday Today 1992-2018, is released on February 24 (Edsel/Demon Records) as part of a year-long campaign marking 30 years of Ocean Colour Scene. You can pre-order it here.

The band’s first three studio albums, Ocean Colour Scene, Moseley Shoals (2LP)and Marchin’ Already (2LP) are being reissued on coloured vinyl on the same day.

https://www.oceancolourscene.com/

http://danielrachel.com/

 

‘I don’t set out to make psychedelia… I like making music that’s a bit 3D’

Steve Cradock has been busy during lockdown. The singer-songwriter, producer and guitarist for Brit mod-rockers Ocean Colour Scene, Paul Weller and The Specials used the time to revisit his 2011 solo album, Peace City West, which he has remixed and remastered for its first ever vinyl release.

Not only that, but he’s also played on Weller’s brand new studio album, Fat Pop (Volume 1), which was recorded at the Modfather’s Surrey studio, Black Barn, last summer, when Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.

Fat Pop (Volume 1) is due out next month. Say It With Garage Flowers has had a sneak preview of it and we’re pleased to say that it’s brilliant –  a worthy successor to last year’s On Sunset, which, alongside 2018’s True Meanings, has seen Weller hit a purple patch.

Coincidentally, Cradock’s Peace City West, which was the follow-up album to his 2009 solo debut, The Kundalini Target, started to take shape when he recorded the first song, Last Days Of The Old World, at Black Barn, shortly after the sessions for his first album. That track, which features Weller on bass and backing vocals, inspired him to make the rest of the record.

Cradock recruited fellow Weller band member/ The Moons frontman, Andy Crofts, to assist with some of the songwriting for the record. They demoed the songs while on the road and then recorded the album in December/ January 2010 at Deep Litter Studios, on a farm, in rural Devon.

The album, which features drummer Tony Coote (Ocean Colour Scene/ P.P. Arnold, Little Barrie), and actor James Buckley (The Inbetweeners) on guitar and guest vocals for one track, I Man, is a lost gem. It’s a collection of 10 really strong and highly melodic songs, from the infectious and jangly, Beatles and Jam-like power-pop of opener Last Days Of The Old World, to the ’60s psych of The Pleasure Seekers, the pastoral cosmic pop of Kites Rise Up Against the Wind, the gorgeous and folky ballad Finally Found My Way Back Home –  co-written with Crofts and ’60s soul singer P.P. Arnold, who Cradock produced a solo LP for in 2019  – and the country-tinged Lay Down Your Weary Burden.

‘Peace City West sounded bad because of the mix. It was time to re-do that, get rid of the interludes, make it sound like it should’ve done and put it on vinyl – those were the three things that were missing’

After Peace City West came out, Cradock decided he wasn’t happy with the final mix of the album, or the psychedelic instrumental interludes that he’d put in-between the songs, so, 10 years later, he decided to do something about it.

“We mixed it badly on a laptop in January 2011 and then it was finished, but listening back it just sounded bad because of the mix,” he says. “It was time to re-do that, get rid of the interludes, make it sound like it should’ve done and put it on vinyl – those were the three things that were missing for me.”

Working at his home studio, Cradock set about the task of giving the album a new lease of life. “The first track I tried mixing was The Pleasure Seekers, which is the second song on the record, and as soon as I heard the proper drums in it that’s what made me think it’ll be worthwhile doing it,” he says.

Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Cradock, who was at home in Devon, where he has his studio, Kundalini, to find out more about the album, and also gain an insight into his recording process, his influences and his collaborations with P.P. Arnold and Weller.

Q&A

I listened to the new version of Peace City West and then the old one. I think the psychedelic interludes on the original release detract from the songs a bit…

Steve Cradock: That’s what I think – the new version gives it more focus. I like the fact that it’s now simple – it’s just the songs. Hearing the vinyl test pressing made me smile, which was good.

There was a lot of meandering nonsense on the old version, but, at the time, that was where my head was at – I thought it was interesting. There were bits of road music on it, from when I was in Egypt. I recorded a guy saying a prayer. I was enjoying that self-indulgence, but, in 2020, I wasn’t.

Until you came to remix Peace City West, had you listened to it recently?

SC: No – I can’t remember the last time I listened to it. That’s why I was so shocked by the quality of it when I did. I thought it if was going to come out [again] it needed to be put into its own space.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. The opening track, Last Days Of The Old World, has a power-pop feel and it reminds me of The Jam…

SC: Musically, I was maybe copying a bit of Elephant Stone [The Stone Roses]. It’s also quite Beatlesy – it’s got a 12-string Rickenbacker on it. The last chord is like The Jam, or it could be a Beatles thing.

Lyrically, it talks about how the rise of social media and smartphone culture has affected society and how we communicate with each other. Are you a reluctant user of social media?

SC: Not – not at all. I wrote the chorus lyrics and the melodies, but Andy Crofts wrote the lyric in the verse. I like social media – I like Instagram and Twitter’s alright.

I guess if you’re a musician who’s stuck at home during lockdown, social media is crucial for getting your music and message out there, although, I’ll be honest, I think there are too many online concerts happening…

SC: Do you know what? Even when they first started, I thought: ‘there’s no way I’m going to be doing any of that shit!’ There were people doing it in their kitchens and the sound was shit. I haven’t done one and I won’t be doing one.

The Pleasure Seekers was the first song you remixed for the album, wasn’t it? It’s got a good drum sound on it. Was that key? I think the track sounds a bit like The Who at times…

SC: The Who? Really? Oh right – the fast acoustic guitar… Yeah – it is a bit Who-y. It has Chris Griffiths from The Real People singing on it and his brother, Tony, sings on the chorus, which sounds really nice. Do you know the history of The Real People?

They were almost Oasis before Oasis, weren’t they?

SC: They wrote some great tunes and they helped to demo Oasis when they first got together. I think Liam Gallagher sings like Tony Griffiths because of that. Without being controversial, I don’t think Liam sang like that before they worked together. I know he tries to sing like Lennon but… anyway… blah-blah-blah.

‘When online concerts started, I thought: ‘there’s no way I’m going to be doing any of that shit!’ There were people doing it in their kitchens and the sound was shit. I haven’t done one and I won’t be doing one’

Like several of the songs on the album, The Pleasure Seekers has ‘60s flute sounds on it…

SC: Yeah – it’s that ‘60s Mellotron sound, but I also love a real flute. At the time of the album, I had a new digi-Mellotron called a Memotron – everyone had one. Listen to The Moons from that time – it was everywhere, like a bad rash, because it was new. The title of The Pleasure Seekers  came from a ‘60s film poster at Weller’s place.

Kites Rise Up Against The Wind has more ’60s psychedelic flutes on it and it’s pastoral…

SC: That song was originally a backing track that Charles Rees, who is the engineer at Black Barn, recorded for a bit of fun. That was around 2007. We would play it and love it – there was something about it. He gave it to me to write a tune for it.

‘I tried to put a really pretentious middle part into it, where you leave Earth and go to some other planet and then you come back to Earth. It was an experiment. Whether it worked or not, I’m not sure’

There was a guy called Davo [Paul Weller’s keyboard tech] who had a typical Scouse wit. He used to say [puts on a Scouse accent]: “Kites rise up against the wind, la.” I was like, “fucking hell – say that again!”

It was borrowed and I tried to put a really pretentious middle part into it, where you leave Earth and go to some other planet and then you come back to Earth. It was an experiment. Whether it worked or not, I’m not sure.

Little Girl is a very pretty song, with acoustic guitar and a really nice string arrangement, and Lay Down Your Weary Burden has a country feel, with pedal steel…

SC: On Little Girl, I was trying to go for an acoustic Neil Young thing. The lyric for Lay Down Your Weary Burden came from a poem Weller gave me – I put chords to it and then wrote a vocal melody. It’s kind of a dark, bitter tune, but hopefully the melodic chorus gives it some light at the end of the tunnel – there’s something beautiful about it.

The last song on the album, Ring The Changes, is a lullaby. It has snoring at the start and your daughter, Sonny, sings on it…

SC: She is horrified about it now. My son, Cass, was sleeping and we mic’d him up. It’s a nice little ending to the album. The middle eight is in F-sharp. When we were recording, we visited the local church when the bells were being rung. I spoke to the guy who was ringing them – the bell master. He told me they were in F-sharp. I said: “no fucking way! Can I record them on my phone?” He said:  “Oh yeah – of course you can.” It was luck – right time, right place.

And right key…

SC: Right fucking key! You can’t put a capo on church bells, can you?

The album is a lot more psychedelic than I was expecting it to be. When you’re doing solo records do you feel you can afford to be more self-indulgent than when you’re playing in a band, like Ocean Colour Scene?

SC: No – there’s no difference really. I like making music that’s a bit 3D – I love using delays and reverb. I don’t set out to make psychedelia. Some people have a spliff and it opens everything up – I try and make music like that. You don’t get it all from the first listen.

‘I’ve been recording with Weller’s daughter, Leah. I’m working on an album with her and it’s starting to sound really mega’

You have your own home studio, Kundalini. What’s the set-up like?

SC: It’s in a double garage at the back of my house. It’s sweet, man. I’ve got a drum kit, a grand piano and timpani drums in there – there’s a vibe. I do it all in a box – I use Logic and UAD. It’s so good these days. I’m not a big fan of MIDI – I play everything and then record it in a box. That set-up works for me. I’ve been recording with Paul Weller’s daughter, Leah – I’m working on an album with her and it’s starting to sound really mega.

 

I love the 2019 album you made with P.P. Arnold – The New Adventures of P.P. Arnold. Any plans to do another one together?

SC: I don’t know – we haven’t really spoken about it. That record took us a long time – we were working on it from 2016 to 2019. It wasn’t continual, as I was out on the road, but… it’s a double album. Anytime she asks to work with me, I would, of course.

How did you end up working with her? You were obviously a big fan, as she was a mod icon…

SC: Ocean Colour Scene had a studio in Birmingham that was close to a theatre that she was working at. As a fan, I took my copy of her album, The First Lady of Immediate, to get it signed, and I gave her some flowers. I told her we had a studio down the road and I asked her if she fancied coming to do some singing. She gave me a look and said [he puts on an American accent]: “Well, actually I’ve got to get back…” I was thinking ‘oh fuck.’

The next time I bumped into her was when I was playing guitar with Paul and she came to do a backing vocals session – it might have been for the Jools Holland show or something. She came in and went, ‘oh – it’s you!’ She remembered me.

She sang on Traveller’s Tune and It’s A Beautiful Thing for Ocean Colour Scene – she’s great and she’s still got a really fantastic voice.

Talking of collaborations, is there anyone you’d like to work with?

SC: I’d like to work with a rapper called Leaf Dog – I’ve spoken to him quite a few times. I got into him through my son, Cass. I think he’s really inventive – the way he uses loops and puts it all together. He’s really out there. I’d like to be in a room and see how he does his shit – it’s only four or eight bars and that’s it. It’s not like my generation and where I come from, which is all about songs and arrangements: intros, verses, bridges, middle eights and codas. He has a different take on it.

What music have you been enjoying during lockdown?

SC: There were two tunes. There’s a group called The Innocence Mission who have a song called On Your Side, which really resonated with me – I just think it’s so beautiful – and the other one was a track called The Poison Tree by The Good, The Bad & The Queen. I couldn’t stop playing it, like 20 times every day.

During lockdown, a lot of us have had time to reflect. How do you feel now about the height of your success with Ocean Colour Scene during the ’90s? Your album Moseley Shoals sold over 1.3 million copies around the world. Do you get nostalgic for that time?

SC: No. I don’t even think about it – the heyday. I’ve not listened to the record for many years – I don’t see the point really.

When did you first learn to play guitar? Were you self-taught?

SC: I’m self-taught. I was originally a bass player, from the age of 11. I had a really shitty classical guitar and I used to listen to the UB40 album Signing Off a lot. I’d pick up the saxophone melody parts, or the guitar parts that Robin Campbell would play. That’s what started me trying to play.

What other music were you listening to when you were growing up?

SC: My first three albums were all Greatest Hits : Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Booker T and the M.G.’s, but the first record that really did it for me was the B-side of The Jam’s The Bitterest Pill (I Ever Had To Swallow) – it’s a song called Pity Poor Alfie. I listened to that tune every day throughout my teenage years and I still listen to it a lot now. It totally blew my mind.

I liked The Jam, UB40, Elvis Costello and Blondie, and I really liked pop stuff, like Marc Almond and Soft Cell – I thought they were great. It wasn’t until later that I started to get into Motown.

 ‘I’d like to work with a rapper called Leaf Dog. He’s really inventive – the way he uses loops and puts it all together.  I’d like to be in a room and see how he does his shit’

You’ve played on almost all of Weller’s solo albums, haven’t you? That’s 15 out of 16 records, if you include the forthcoming one, Fat Pop (Volume 1.) You weren’t on his first one – the self-titled album. How did you first meet him? Didn’t you used to hang around his Solid Bond studio in London? 

SC: I did, but I don’t know about ‘used to’ – I went down once and managed to get in. I played him a demo of a group I was in called The Boys. He said: “It sounds like The Jam, don’t it?” I was like: “Ahhhh – yeah….” He was getting into house music. I went on a pilgrimage from my home in Birmingham – that’s the reason I did it.

Why and how have you managed to stay playing with Weller for so long? What’s the, er, solid bond, that you have?

SC: I don’t know. That would be a question for him, wouldn’t it? I do feel lucky that I’m still involved. He’s always been really lovely to me. He must like what I bring to the table.

 

The remixed and remastered version of Peace City West is out now on Kundalini Records – to find out more, visit http://www.stevecradock.com/.

Paul Weller’s Fat Pop (Volume 1), featuring Steve Cradock, is released on May 14 (Polydor Records).