2022: The year of the Hollow Heart

Say It With Garage Flowers chooses its favourite albums of 2022 and takes a closer look at the stories and influences behind some of the best Americana records released this year.

2022 was better for me personally than 2021, when I experienced some tough times following the death of my dad, but, on the socio-political side of things, it’s been a difficult 12 months, with chaos in government, a cost of living crisis and general uncertainty casting a long, dark shadow across the country.

Music is always there to get you through the bad times, as well as the good, and the album I kept coming back to in 2022 was Hollow Heart – the fourth offering by London’s cosmic country kings, The Hanging Stars, so I’ve chosen it as my favourite record of the year.

The Hanging Stars

It was uplifting musically, but lyrically it was often tinged with sadness, and it wasn’t afraid to comment on the state of the country – the ‘60s-garage-rock-meets-The-Byrds song, I Don’t Want To Feel So Bad Anymore, was written about being completely helpless at the hands of the Tory government, while the West Coast psych-pop of You’re So Free concerned itself with anti-vaxxers and how Brexit and Trump’s presidency created social divide.

Speaking in February 2022, when he gave me the first interview about Hollow Heart, ahead of its release, the band’s frontman, Richard Olson, said: “There was a lot of sadness. Our default setting is fairly optimistic, but I think the lyrics are the darkest I’ve ever written.”

I think the new record is their best to date. It’s even better than its predecessor, 2020’s A New Kind of Sky, which was a mix of cinematic sounds, psych, jangle-pop, folk and country-rock. Released in the wake of Brexit, thematically that album dealt with the idea of escaping and getting away to a better place.

‘There was a lot of sadness. Our default setting is fairly optimistic, but I think the lyrics are the darkest I’ve ever written’

To make the follow-up, the band and producer/musician, Sean Read (Soulsavers, Dexys Midnight Runners) decamped to Edwyn Collins’ Clashnarrow Studios in Helmsdale, in The Highlands of Scotland, which overlooks the North Sea.

Edwyn offered us the use of his studio – it felt like being anointed – and Sean is one of the two engineers who he lets work there – the stars aligned,” said Olson.

“That happened during the pandemic, so we had to find a window when we were allowed to do it. It was quite a project, transporting six people to Helmsdale, with a bunch of instruments.”

He added: “We drove in two cars and we set to work – we grafted and we were so focused. It was magical from start to finish. When you’re standing in the studio, and the sun’s setting over the bay, and you’re singing Weep & Whisper, that shit makes you think that you’ve made it! We got given this chance and we had to deliver the goods.”

And deliver the goods they did. Opener, the slow-building love song, Ava, is stunning – it creeps in with some gorgeous, haunting pedal steel and twangy guitar, then blossoms into magnificent, blissed-out and anthemic country rock.

Second single, Black Light Night, is irresistible – pairing a seriously dark and foreboding lyric with music that evokes vintage R.E.M – guitars are set to jangle and the harmonies wing their way down from (near wild) heaven.

The dreamy Weep & Whisper – “There’s a girl I used to know. She wore her hair long in an endless satin bow” – is much more subdued – a folky shuffle that Olson describes as a love song to youth. It sounds like it’s been hanging out at Scarborough Fair with Simon & Garfunkel.

The majestic and shimmering Ballad Of Whatever May Be could be The Stone Roses doing country rock, and first single, Radio On, melds the best of Big Star with The Velvet Underground.

Hollow Eyes, Hollow Heart – one of the album’s heavier and darkest moments – is brooding psych-folk in the vein of Fairport Convention.

You’re So Free has Ethiopian jazz piano and echoes of ‘60s West Coast pop group The Turtles, while Edwyn Collins guests on the moving and filmic, Rainbows In Windows, providing spoken vocals inspired by The Velvet Underground’s The Gift.

Opening with a great, jangly guitar riff that Roger McGuinn would’ve killed for back in the day, the sprightly I Don’t Want To Feel So Bad Anymore nods to The See See – the band The Hanging Stars came from – but throws in a unexpected, baroque-space rock mid-section.

“This is probably the most traditional record we’ve ever done – in the sense that we had some songs, we went to the studio to finish them off and we had x amount of time to make the album,” said Olson.

“It was good for us and it was a joy to see everybody flourish in the studio in their own way. It brought out what we’re good at. We also wanted to think about the sonics – Sean came into his own and we had so much fun doing it. We threw the rulebook out of the window – we had to.”

And did Olson think it’s their best album? “Of course it is. You wouldn’t be making records otherwise,” he told me.  “With this album, we had to be The Hanging Stars and I think we did a pretty damned good job of it.”

It’s hard to argue with him.

One of my other favourite UK Americana albums of the year was Leo, the third solo record by former Case Hardin frontman, Pete Gow.

The trademark orchestral sound he debuted on 2019’s Here There’s No Sirens and its follow-up, The Fragile Line – from 2020 – was bolstered by some impressive, rich and soulful horn arrangements courtesy of his producer, multi-instrumentalist, Joe Bennett (The Dreaming Spires, Bennett Wilson Poole, Co-Pilgrim, Saint Etienne).

Leo felt like the natural successor to Gow’s previous two solo records, which were also created with Bennett (bass, piano, organ, vocals, strings, horns) and drummer, Fin Kenny, who, like Gow, are both workhorses of the UK Americana scene.

Photo of Pete Gow by David Cohen

Reviewing the album for Americana UK earlier this year – I gave it 9/10 – I said: ‘Leo is Gow’s most accomplished and ambitious album yet, with Bennett taking his collaborator’s wry story songs about barrooms, booze, rock ‘n’roll and record collections and turning them into widescreen epics, the orchestral and brass arrangements perfectly complement these lyrically deft tales and the lives of the characters that inhabit them.’

Leonard’s Bar, which is the centrepiece of the album and where the record takes its title from, reminds me of one of those Springsteen story songs, written about people and their small town lives, but with a hint of Nick Cave about it, too.

It’s about a former criminal who’s fallen on hard times and finds himself caught up in a difficult situation – one last job – thanks to his brother-in-law, Leo.

Telling me about the track, Gow said: “That song was written about my first trip to the States with my partner and my first trip back to her hometown, which is Baltimore, or thereabouts. I had a notebook with me the whole time and I was jotting stuff down. At the time, her brother was going through a divorce and living at his mum’s – that’s where I met him.”

He added: “The barman in the song with ‘This’ and ‘That’ tattooed on his knuckles was just a guy that served me, my partner and her cousin drinks one afternoon in a Baltimore bar. I saw it and wrote it down.”

Another UK Americana artist with a knack of writing great story songs is Michael Weston King – the record he released this year, The Struggle, was his first solo album in 10 years.

A stunning collection of moving, well-crafted and wonderfully arranged songs, recorded in rural Wales, with producer, engineer and musician, Clovis Phillips, the record saw Weston King stepping away from his day job, as one half of husband-and-wife country / Americana duo, My Darling Clementine (with Lou Dalgleish), and, instead, mining a rich seam of late ’60s/ early ’70s singer-songwriters, like Mickey Newbury, Dan Penn, Jesse Winchester, John Prine, Bobby Charles and early Van Morrison.

Michael Weston King

Mixed at Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield with Weston King’s long-time collaborator/producer, Colin Elliot (Richard Hawley / Jarvis Cocker), musically, it explores country-soul, Celtic folk and jazz, and lyrically it tackles subjects including the Trump presidency, mental health issues, loneliness, death and the tales of a wayfaring singer-songwriter.

Two of the songs were co-writes. Sugar was penned with US singer-songwriter, Peter Case, while Theory of Truthmakers sees Weston King putting music to unused lyrics by his friend, Scottish songwriter and musician, Jackie Leven, who died in 2011.

Telling me about the idea behind the album, Weston King said: “If I’d had the budget, I wanted it to sound like Mickey Newbury in 1970, but that would’ve meant an orchestra on every track.

‘I certainly wasn’t trying to make an Americana or country record, but country-soul was always at the heart of it’

“One of the songs, Another Dying Day, was the starting point – it was the most Newburyesque song. We put strings on it and approached it in the same way that he’d recorded a lot of his stuff, with a lot of nylon-strung guitar. Some of the other songs happened organically and went off in other directions.”

He added: “I certainly wasn’t trying to make an Americana or country record, but country-soul was always at the heart of it –  a bit of a Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham vibe. We have some Wurlitzer on there.”

There were also some Americana moments on Breaking The Fall, the first solo album by singer-songwriter, Matt James, who was formerly the drummer with ’90s Britrockers Gene.

Although it’s a debut record, it sounds like a best of collection – 10 memorable, varied and, at times, very personal and emotional, songs that embrace folk, country, soul, indie-rock, Spaghetti Western soundtracks and ’60s pop.

Occasionally it recalls Gene –  the country-soul of A Simple Message and the anthemic ballad Different World – but most of the time, it’s the sound of someone experimenting with different styles and enjoying being in the studio again after a long time away. James left the music industry for several years.

Speaking to me about the record in August 2022, he said: “I’m sort of trying everything out – I have thrown it all in there. Perhaps on future albums I’ll take more of a single direction.”

Stepping out from behind the drum kit to put himself in the spotlight for the first time, he relied on some old friends to help him out.

Former Gene band mates Steve Mason (guitar) and Kevin Miles (bass) were along for the ride, as was keyboard player, Mick Talbot, (The Style Council, Dexys Midnight Runners), who played live with Gene and on radio sessions.

I’m sort of trying everything out – I have thrown it all in there. Perhaps on future albums I’ll take more of a single direction’

Production duties were taken care of by former Gene associate, Stephen Street, (The Smiths / Morrissey, Blur, The Cranberries) – sonically, the album is rich, colourful and diverse – and there was some guitar work by James’s friend, Peredur ap Gwynedd (Perry for short), from electronic rockers Pendulum.

Photo of Matt James by Embracing Unique: Laura Holme.

 

Low-key first song, From Now On, is a gorgeous, acoustic folk-country campfire ballad, with an accordion keyboard sound, but it’s followed by the powerful, extremely personal and upbeat Champione – a moody indie-rocker written about James’s father, who was blighted by mental health and addiction issues. Once again, there’s a slight country influence, thanks to the atmospheric slide guitar.

The emotional title track, which is another ballad and sounds quite like one of the more reflective moments by his old band, sees James contemplating his time away from music and creativity: “Don’t leave me in the dark – just take me straight back to the dancing.”

And, on that note, Sad is a big, infectious Northern Soul-style floor-filler, like late Jam or The Style Council, and, appropriately enough, it features Mick Talbot on organ.

The mighty Born To Rule has triumphant Spaghetti Western / mariachi horns on it, the twinkling Snowy Peaks is a festive-themed love song that scales dramatic heights – the choral middle eight sounds like The Beach Boys in church – and the dark, yet ultimately optimistic, High Time, recalls life-changing events, including a near-fatal car crash and a chance encounter that led to the formation of Gene.

From Americana to Canadiana… singer-songwriter, Jerry Leger, describes his latest album, Nothing Pressing, as his ‘deepest artistic statement yet’.

It’s also one of his strongest and darkest records. Largely written and recorded in the wake of a close friend’s death and with the shadow of Covid hanging over it, Leger said it’s an album about survival – mental, physical and artistic.

Some of the songs, like the stark, stripped-down and folky Underground Blues and Sinking In, were recorded in his Toronto apartment, using two SM58 microphones fed into his vintage 1981 Tascam four-track tape recorder.

“I spent a lot of the lockdown writing and demoing using the four-track,” he told me. “I wasn’t writing with the pandemic in mind – and some songs were written before it happened – but the album does have a feeling of isolation, reflection, longing and gratitude.”

He added: “It was spring of last year that I unexpectedly lost one of my best friends. I think it’s unavoidable that things like that seep in. It’s a surreal feeling losing someone close. I wasn’t consciously writing with him in mind, but I can now hear traces of me dealing with it in a few of the songs.”

The raw and punchy Kill It With Kindness,  upbeat rocker Have You Ever Been Happy?, the Neil Young-like Recluse Revisions, the classic country-sounding A Page You’ve Turned, and the Beatlesy love song With Only You were laid down in the studio with his long-time producer, Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies), and Leger’s band, The Situation (Dan Mock (bass/vocals), Kyle Sullivan (drums/percussion). There are guest contributions on the album from Tim Bovaconti (pedal steel) and Angie Hilts (vocals).

‘I wasn’t writing with the pandemic in mind – and some songs were written before it happened – but the album does have a feeling of isolation, reflection, longing and gratitude’

The song, Nothing Pressing, which opens the record, and the tracks Protector and Still Patience are solo acoustic, recorded live in the studio with few embellishments, save for Mock’s overdubbed harmony vocals and, on the title track, Timmins’s ukulele.

The follow-up to his 2019 studio album, Time Out For Tomorrow, Nothing Pressing is a great collection of songs – and often painfully honest. On Still Patience, over a sparse backing of guitar and Wurlitzer, Leger sings: “I go drinking by myself, when I got nobody else, for misery is company.”

At times sad and reflective, it’s an album that doesn’t shy away from tackling personal issues, such as mental health, depression and seeking solace in alcohol, but it’s also a record that believes a problem shared is a problem halved.

“I really hope that this record is given the attention it needs. It’s not really an undertaking [to listen to], but it requires a little more work than Time Out For Tomorrow, which was very inviting,” he said,

“It could be very helpful for a lot of people – it’s one of those records that I would go to for a different type of comfort. I need to know that other people are going through all these crazy feelings too.”

It was certainly an album that helped me get through 2022 and, on that note, here’s the full list of records I’ve enjoyed over the past 12 months, with an accompanying Spotify playlist. I hope you can find room in your heart for some of these songs – hollow or otherwise…

Say It With Garage Flowers: Best Albums of 2022

  1. The Hanging Stars – Hollow Heart
  2. Arctic Monkeys – The Car
  3. Matt James – Breaking The Fall
  4. Pete Gow – Leo
  5. Michael Weston King – The Struggle
  6. Jerry Leger – Nothing Pressing
  7. Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band – Dear Scott
  8. Nev Cotttee – Madrid
  9. Johnny Marr – Fever Dreams, Pts 1-4.
  10. Beth Orton – Weather Alive
  11. PM Warson – Dig Deep Repeat
  12. Daisy Glaze – Daisy Glaze
  13. The Magic City TrioThe Magic City Trio
  14. The Delines – The Sea Drift
  15. Nick Gamer – Suburban Cowboy
  16. Duke Garwood – Rogues Gospel
  17. M. Lockwood Porter – Sisyphus Happy
  18. Thomas Dollbaum – Wellswood
  19. Vinny Peculiar Artists Only
  20. GA-20 – Crackdown
  21. Wilco – Cruel Country
  22. Andrew Weiss and Friends – Sunglass & Ash
  23. Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler – For All Our Days That Tear The Heart
  24. Morton Valence Morton Valence
  25. M Ross Perkins – E Pluribus M Ross
  26. The Lightning Seeds – See You In The Stars
  27. Monophonics – Sage Motel
  28. Andy Bell – Flicker
  29. Spiritualized – Everything Was Beautiful
  30. Leah Weller – Freedom
  31. Pixy Jones – Bits N Bobs
  32. The Boo Radleys – Keep On With Falling
  33. Gabriel’s DawnGabriel’s Dawn
  34. Alex Lipinski – Everything Under The Sun
  35. The Gabbard Brothers – The Gabbard Brothers
  36. Triptides – So Many Days
  37. Ian M BaileyYou Paint The Pictures
  38. Gold Star – Headlights USA
  39. The Chesterfields – New Modern Homes
  40. Kevin Robertson – Teaspoon of Time
  41. The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness – The Third Wave Of…
  42. Elvis Costello and The Imposters – The Boy Named If
  43. Nick Piunti and the Complicated Men – Heart Inside Your Head
  44. The Senior Service – A Little More Time With
  45. Bangs & Talbot – Back To Business
  46. Monks Road SocialRise Up Singing!
  47. Electribe 101 – Electribal Soul
  48. Ricky Ross – Short Stories Vol.2
  49. The Low Drift – The Low Drift
  50. The House of Love – A State of Grace
  51. Foxton and Hastings – The Butterfly Effect
  52. Graham Day – The Master of None
  53. Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio – Cold As Weiss
  54. Mark E Nevin – While The Kingdom Crumbles
  55. Paul Draper – Cult Leader Tactics
  56. Liam Gallagher – C’mon You Know
  57. Teddy and the Rough Riders – Teddy and the Rough Riders
  58. Brim – California Gold
  59. The Haven Green – To Whom It May Concern
  60. Steve Cradock – Soundtrack For An Imaginary Film

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 went from listening to Radio 6 to Radio 3 – I was listening to a lot of classical music…’

 

Steve Cradock

The last time Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Ocean Colour Scene, Specials and Paul Weller guitarist, Steve Cradock, it was during lockdown last year.

Used to being on the road, he’d kept himself busy during those weeks of confinement in 2020 and early 2021 by remixing and reissuing his second solo album, Peace City West, which came out last year, and working on a new instrumental record.

“Everyone has got their own stories about those strange couple of years – I had more time than I’ve ever had before. It was liberating in one way and it went on for so long it became like a dream state, didn’t it?” he says, speaking to Say It With Garage Flowers from his home studio, Kundalini, in Devon. “We could still work on music, so it was really hopeful.”

The instrumental album he was crafting has just been released –  it’s called A Soundtrack To An Imaginary Movie and it soaks up influences including jazz – Cradock was reading Ashley Khan’s book about John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme while he was making the record and he immersed himself in that classic album –  as well as folk, Easy Listening, soundtracks and classical music, but, he says,  “ultimately, I could play most of these tunes on an acoustic guitar or piano. I loved the melodies. The second side is quite piano-led.”

Guests on the record include Cradock’s wife, Sally, on gongs and Tibetan singing bowls, UB40’s Brian Travers (saxophone),  Jess Cox (cello) the Stone Foundation’s Rob Newton (congas) and, from The Specials’ touring band, Nikolaj Larson (Hammond B-3 organ) and Tim Smart (trombone). Cradock’s son, Cassius, plays piano too.

“I went from listening to Radio 6 to Radio 3 – I was listening to a lot of classical music. That was around me all the time,” he says. “Some of the tracks on the album are indie-classical. Two pieces of music came together on the same day – it just sort of happened. I played the melodies on acoustic guitar and I thought, ‘There’s something there.’ ”

He adds: “I had a couple of tracks before that, including the one where Brian Travers plays saxophone [Sarcoline].”

Travers, who died last year, recorded the sax parts for Sarcoline 10 years ago, and Cradock had it as a demo.

‘Lockdown was liberating – it went on for so long it became like a dream state’

The track, which also features Hugo Levingston on flute, is haunting and moody – it sounds like the theme for a ‘70s TV show about a private detective who lives and works in a shadowy city and hangs out in a jazz club in his spare time.

“The idea was that it’s in a jazz club and you’re walking between each floor, which has different music or a different take on the same melody – that was the vibe. You hear an acoustic and flute version and then you walk into another room and you hear the same track playing, but with loads of reverb,” he explains.

So, has Cradock always harboured a desire to make music for films? “I’ve never thought about it – the album title was meant as a joke,” he says. “I’ve always worked on pieces of music… Back in the day, with Ocean Colour Scene, those became Hundred Mile High City, The Riverboat Song or You’ve Got It Bad.”

‘Dragon’s Blood is a bit strange. I played it to my dad and he said, ‘You’re taking that off, aren’t you?’

His wife, Sally, is on the eight-minute, meditative and minimalist mantra Dragon’s Blood – she is credited with playing Nibiru gongs and Tibetan singing bowls. “She’s a gong master and she’s into hypnotherapy,” says Cradock, adding: “A Love Supreme starts with a gong… I was having lots of gong baths and getting into it – the healing of the hurts.

Dragon’s Blood is the first song on side two – it’s a bit of a strange one. I played it to my dad and he said, ‘You’re taking that off, aren’t you?’ I wanted to have different flavours on each side, so that’s what I thought should start side two because it’s been transcending me, without sounding up my own arse. It was an energy or a power. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but give it time and get into it – if it’s the right moment, I think it will really take you somewhere.”

‘I was having lots of gong baths and getting into it – the healing of the hurts…’

So, is he a spiritual person? “I wouldn’t know if I am or not. I think everything’s spiritual, so that would be a ‘yes’ probably.”

Some of the tracks on the album, like the opening composition, Lapis Lazuli, which has some beautiful cello on it, are quite melancholy and pastoral… “Yeah – it’s reflective,” says Cradock.

On the other hand, there’s Cochineal, which is groovy loungecore, with Hammond and congas – lift music goes vintage sci-fi. “When I first heard it, it reminded me of the Wurlitzer that I used to hear playing when I went ice skating,” he says.

The final track, Gunjo, has some Bacharach-style Easy Listening brass on it, courtesy of Tim Smart from The Specials. “I love the melody line, which I think is really memorable, and the way it has time signature changes – I don’t normally do that,” he says. “It goes from a 3/4 waltz to a 4/4 thing. It is a bit Bacharach, I suppose.”

‘I sent the record to Weller – he listened to it all the way through and said, ‘Wow – it’s a journey’ ‘

Does he think this album will surprise people, as it’s very different to his other solo work? “Yeah – that’s good, isn’t it? I sent the record to Weller – he listened to it all the way through and said, ‘Wow – it’s a journey’.”

So, we’ve got the soundtrack to an imaginary movie – now someone needs to make the film…

“That would be fucking hard to do.”

A Soundtrack To An Imaginary Movie is out now on Kundalini Music: CD, digital and vinyl.

 

Fat’s Entertainment

 

Paul Weller
Photo: Sandra Vijandi

Paul Weller’s latest album, Fat Pop (Volume 1) – his sixteenth – is one of his best. A collection of short, sharp and instant songs, its influences include soul, funk, Krautrock, synth-pop, dub and punk. Say It With Garage Flowers gets a sneak preview of its ever-changing moods.

When Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Paul Weller’s long-term guitarist, Steve Cradock (Ocean Colour Scene, The Specials), earlier this year, he’d just emerged from Black Barn Studios in the village of Ripley, Surrey, where the Modfather and his band had been rehearsing a bunch of new songs.

“Weller’s made an album during lockdown – it’s called Fat Pop and it’s coming out in May,” he told us.

It’s fair to say that lockdown has been good for Weller. In just under 12 months, the elder statesman of Britpop has released two albums – the summery and soulful On Sunset and now its follow-up, Fat Pop (Volume 1), which, like its predecessor, is one of the strongest records he’s ever made.

In fact, it’s the latest in a purple patch that started with 2018’s True Meanings – his stripped- back and orchestrally-aided, introspective folk-rock album, which coincided with him turning 60. That was a career highlight and, along with his self-titled solo debut, from 1992, it’s easily one of our favourite Weller records.

Work on Fat Pop (Volume 1) began in spring 2020, when he needed something to focus on after his tour dates were postponed due to Covid-19. He had plenty of ideas for new songs stored on his phone, so he started to record them on his own, with just vocals, piano and guitar.

These were then sent to his core band members, Cradock, drummer Ben Gordelier, and bassist Andy Crofts (The Moons), who added their parts. “It was a bit weird not being together, but at least it kept the wheels rolling. I’d have gone potty otherwise,” says Weller.

When Covid restrictions were lifted, the group reconvened at his Black Barn Studios to finish the work.

Highlights of the new album’s predecessor, On Sunset, included the shimmering disco of Mirror Ball and Old Father Tyme; the uplifting, radio-friendly pop-soul of Village; the Kinks-ish Equanimity and the Bowiesque Rockets.

Some of Fat Pop (Volume 1) is cut from the same [three-button mod suit] cloth as the album that came before it. There’s a strong soul and funk feel to a few of the songs, but there’s also plenty of, er, fat pop.

“After True Meanings I thought I wouldn’t have any acoustic guitars for a little while, so I’ve largely avoided those with On Sunset and with Fat Pop,” says Weller. “But more than anything I wanted something vibey – something we could play live. God knows when that will be, bearing in mind where we are with the virus. But in the imaginary gig in my mind I can see us playing all of the songs on Fat Pop live, along with the songs from On Sunset, blending them with some of the old favourites too. What a great set that would be.”

He adds: “On Sunset was quite lavish in places, whereas with this one I wanted to limit it in some ways – make the production less expansive.”

It’s a rich-sounding and eclectic record – vibrant and colourful – and, considering the wide range of influences and styles, it hangs together really well. It feels like a complete piece of work, rather than just a collection of songs.

‘Some of Fat Pop is cut from the same [three-button mod suit] cloth as the album that preceded it. There’s a strong soul and funk feel to a few of the songs, but there’s also plenty of, er, fat pop’

Fat Pop (Volume 1) sees Weller continuing his working relationship with producer Jan ‘Stan’ Kybert, who’s been at the helm since 2012’s Sonik Kicks album.

Sadly, the album’s first single and opening song, the psychedelic, synth-pop-meets-Krautrock of Cosmic Fringes,  isn’t about lockdown haircuts, although Weller is sporting long locks at the moment. Lyrically, it concerns itself with a keyboard warrior: “I’m a sleeping giant, waiting to awake/I stumble to the fridge/then back to bed”, but to be fair, that does sound a lot like lockdown…

 

Weller says the song was written about a person who is constantly brainstorming ideas, but never gets around to doing them. With two strong albums under his belt in the past year, that’s not something you could accuse him of.

The punky True features an unexpected jazzy sax break, as well as guest vocals by Lia Metcalfe of Liverpool alt-rock band The Mysterines, while the dramatic, soaring and symphonic Shades of Blue was co-written by his daughter, Leah, who shares vocal duties on the song.

‘Sadly, the album’s first single and opening song, the psychedelic, synth-pop-meets-Krautrock of Cosmic Fringes, isn’t about lockdown haircuts, although Weller is sporting long locks at the moment’

The title track, a paean to the power of music, has a heavy, dubby bassline – Weller describes it as “Cypress Hill doing something that sounds like a DJ Muggs production”.

He adds: “It’s a celebration of music and what it’s given us all. No matter what situation you are in, and we’re in one now, music doesn’t let you down, does it? It’s my favourite song on the album, I think – it’s about all the times music’s been there for me.”

Glad Times is beautiful and melancholic  – space-age soul with strings. “It’s been around for a while  – it nearly made it onto On Sunset, but I didn’t quite fit,” says Weller. “I really liked it, though, so I’m really glad it made it onto this album instead.”

Testify, with guest vocals by Andy Fairweather Low of ‘60s Welsh pop band Amen Corner, is a great, ‘70s-style, funk-soul strut, with flute and sax supplied by acid jazz veteran Jacko Peake.

“We had actually done it live two or three years ago,” says Weller, “but while I loved the groove, I never really got a grip on the song. Then I did this charity gig in Guildford, one of the last things I’ve done probably – some Stax songs with Andy Fairweather Low. Our voices sound so good together and he’s such a lovely fellow, so I sent him the backing track. As soon as lockdown was lifted, he came down to the studio for the afternoon. We cut it live and that was it.”

 

Pastoral and acoustic guitar-led ballad, Cobwebs/Connections, which could’ve come off True Meanings, features a lovely string arrangement by Hannah Peel, who worked on that album. She also scores the gorgeous closing song, Still Glides The Stream – another reflective moment that was written as a remote collaboration between Weller and Cradock.

If it’s angry Weller you’re after, don’t worry, as he hasn’t completely mellowed with age. On the choppy, ska-tinged rallying call, That Pleasure, which was written as a reaction to the Black Lives Matter campaign and is swathed in lush, ‘70s Marvin Gaye-style strings, he urges us to “Lose your hypocrisy… lose your prejudice, lose this hatred,” adding, “It’s time to get involved.”

Photo: Sandra Vijandi.

Fat Pop (Volume 1) – Weller is keeping his options open for a second volume – is aptly named, as each of the 12 tracks is instant and any one of them could be a standalone single.

“That was a conscious design,” he says. “I even thought about putting every song as a single first then gathering them all on an album, but that wasn’t practical. They all have that strength and immediacy, I think, and they’re all short – three minutes or so maximum.”

Apparently, producer Kybert was so taken with the concept that he half-jokingly suggested that the album be called Greatest Hits, but, wisely, Weller decided against it.

“I quite liked the idea and every song does stand up as a single, I think,” says Weller, “but no, we couldn’t do that really.”

Ahead of making the album, Weller set himself the same task as he does before any recording. “Whenever I make an album I’m always just trying to at least match what’s gone before because each time I think the bar’s been raised. If all goes to plan, sometimes I manage to go over that bar too,” he says.

He’s done it again. Here’s to Volume 2 and plenty more fat pop content.

Fat Pop (Volume 1) is released on May 14 (Polydor Records). It’s available in a variety of versions and formats:

  • Standard CD
  • Individual exclusive cassettes for Indie Record Stores and Paul’s artist store
  • Individual exclusive coloured vinyl for Amazon, Indie Record Stores and Paul Weller’s artist store
  • Black Heavyweight vinyl
  • Exclusive picture disc vinyl
  • Deluxe Formats which include Fat Pop, Mid-Sömmer Musik (the live special from November last year) and bonus tracks:
  • Three-CD Box Set
  • Three-LP Box set – heavyweight black vinyl

www.paulweller.com

Please note: part of this review, although heavily edited, originally appeared in the May 2021 edition of Hi-Fi+ magazine, which Sean Hannam contributes to.

 

 

‘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).