Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Day I Caught A Bus To Meet Simon Fowler Of Ocean Colour Scene

To be published in Brig, March edition 2010

The Day I Caught A Bus To Meet Simon Fowler Of Ocean Colour Scene

In 1998, Stirling Castle was just one of thirty-six stops on Ocean Colour Scene’s arena tour of Britain. Their arena tour became the biggest selling arena tour of any UK band in that year.

They played three consecutive sold out nights in the grounds of the castle off the back of the unexpected success of ‘Moseley Shoals’ and ‘Marchin’ Already’ on the way to becoming one of Britpop’s greatest gems.

Six studio albums later and twelve years on, the band returned to Stirling to play the Albert Hall whilst promoting their latest album ‘Saturday’.

As I waited patiently through the Birmingham act’s sound check to meet with Simon Fowler, lead singer of the band, the significance of their latest tour struck me.

In a world of declining CD sales and ever youthful chart topping acts, here was one of the 90’s best discoveries, 21 years after their emergence, in the words of fellow ‘Britpoptorian’ Liam Gallagher just ‘f**king havin’ it”.

Although their three consecutive sold out nights at Stirling Castle might have epitomized the height of Ocean Colour Scene, when reminiscing, it certainly wasn’t all it was cracked up to be in their eyes.

“What I do remember is when we got there is that we were bitterly disappointed. I don’t know what we had imagined, but when you playing Stirling Castle, what you are actually playing is Stirling bloody car park! I don’t know if we thought we’d be playing ram parts or what!”

Despite this, the gigs marked what had been a dramatic change in fortunes for a band that just eight years prior, had been dropped by their record label and forced back onto the dole.

Things had originally started out well for the band with the release of the single ‘Sway’, however, when their record label was bought by the larger company Phonogram, conflicts sparked.

At the time, Phonogram were looking for their singed artists to be conforming to the then popular Madchester music scene which had been fronted by bands such as the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays.

It was here that issues arose as the band had their own ideas they wanted to pursue, leaving their debut album a culmination of directions.

The album was critically and commercially deemed disappointing and the band fell into disrepute with Phonogram, leaving them with little to work towards and no outlet to project the songs they were writing.

However, there was never any doubt in the mind of Flower that they would eventually make the break through and 1993 saw the year it all changed for Ocean Colour Scene.

Paul Weller invited the band a support slot on some dates of his tour and then asked OCS guitarist Cradock to play on one of his singles. He later asked Fowler to accompany him with the vocals on his album Wild Wood.

This was the start of something big for the Birmingham band.

“He (Paul Weller) was a huge influence on us in the fact that he gave us confidence and made us realize we had more than just a hobby. Steve (Craddock) has been playing in Paul’s band since 1993 and I was the support act”.

With the money made by the support slot and Fowler and Cradock’s income, they were able to finance an outlet for their music.

Noel Gallagher, then lead guitarist and backing vocalist of a working-class Manchester band known as Oasis, was wrongly cited by the media to giving the band their break through when he invited the band to play a support slot on their tour as they exploded onto the Britpop scene having heard a tape of the band.

However, when I quizzed Flower over the early days of the band, he was quick to attribute any success to Chris Evans and Paul Weller.

“Chris Evans broke the band, it was almost 100% down to him. When we went on that tour with Oasis, no one came to watch us at all. Chris made us record of the week two weeks in a row and got the Radio One morning show and that was it. The album went in at number two (in the charts) and stayed there for 6 months”.

Although Flower was in little doubt the band would eventually make the break through onto the scene, he admitted the success of Moseley Shoals was unexpected.

“It was a complete surprise. We were making it for a Japanese label called Ponycannon and it fell threw at the 11th hour. There was only 15,000 albums made”

With songs such as ‘The Riverboat Song’, and ‘The Day We Caught A Train’, it was never impossible for people not to sit up and notice the band.

By the end of 1996, Moseley Shoals had sold 1.3million copies in Britain and the rest as they say is history.

The band went from strength to strength, following up their initial success with ‘Marchin’ Already’, and playing a supporting role at Knebworth in front of 250,000 people, a now iconic moment in British music.

The band have since added another six albums to their discography and still turn out to strong crowds.

Although the Britpop era made famous by the likes of OCS and co is but a lingering memory, the band’s popularity hasn’t wavered as they recently added a second night to Edinburgh Picture House having sold out so quickly.

In a career that’s spanned 21 years, produced six studio albums, seen the band play the likes of Knebworth and headline Stirling Car Park, it’d be hard to pick a particularly high point, but Fowler did his best.

“The Albert Hall (London, not Stirling!). Top of the Pops should have been one of our highlights but it wasn’t. The others mimed and I had to sing it live. We got there about 10.30am to sound check and then basically everyone else got off their face whilst I had to nervously try not to drink more than two pints. There’s about forty people in the audience and all your childhood dreams are crushed in front of your eyes!”

Fowler had just one piece of advice for hopeful musicians.

“Don’t listen to anyone older than you!”

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