Shelley Carter caught up with Ocean Colour Scene’s frontman, Simon Fowler ahead of their Midlands gig next month and found he’s revelling in the quiet life, but nothing compares to playing live
It’s more than 20 years since the release of Ocean Colour Scene’s second album and the one that set the Brummie band up for stardom, Moseley Shoals. The glorious Riverboat Song was snapped up by one of the band’s early champions, Chris Evans, for hit show TFI Friday at a time when it was winning in the ratings stakes. With its unmistakable riff, the track made a massive impact – a perfect storm if you like.
The band went on to produce nine albums – three of which went top five – and had a run of nine successive top 20 hit singles. They supported Oasis at Knebworth, played the Royal Albert Hall and completed the biggest arena tour of any band to date. They’ve enjoyed a phenomenal career, toured the world and are still happiest when playing live.
THREE BLIND MICE
Back in the day, and like millions of kids across the land, Simon started strumming Three Blind Mice aged nine during a childhood in Brum which he describes as ‘extremely happy’. Clearly he progressed from nursery rhymes and some years later was in a band with bass player Damon. Oscar then joined the duo followed by one of his drinking buddies Steve and Ocean Colour Scene was complete.
The band could be found in the Barrel Organ or Northern Sweat at Birmingham Institute. In terms of influences they were an eclectic mix. Simon remembers: “When I was a kid it was all hard rock – Sabbath and the like – which I never got into. Then punk and new romanticism happened and that wasn’t my thing either. I grew up listening to the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, The Kinks, Bob Dylan.” He adds: “That teamed with Steve’s sixties Jam and Weller influences came together in our sound I suppose.”
It wasn’t exactly an overnight success though. The first album flopped spectacularly in 1992 followed by years of hard graft before the triumphant breakthrough in 1996. Simon recalls: “We were holed up in a studio in King’s Heath writing loads of songs. Chris Craddock – Steve’s father – pretty much bankrolled Shoals. We lived off beans on toast.”
WELLER AND OASIS
Simon was a journalist for a spell at the Birmingham Mail and Post among other local titles, however it wasn’t the dream. He says: “I didn’t like being told off by balding middle-aged men who were better at their job than me.” Music was always the goal.
Meeting Paul Weller and supporting him on his 1993 tour boosted the band and gave them the confidence they needed. Then when Noel Gallagher heard a demo tape that was doing the rounds and invited the band to tour with Oasis things really took off and they signed to MCA records. Supporting Oasis at Knebworth still remains a massive highlight as was knocking the Gallagher brothers off the UK album chart number one spot in 1997 with Moseley Shoals’ follow up, Marchin’ Already. Playing the NEC for the first time to a home crowd was special too.
Over two decades is a lifetime in the music industry and I wonder what the secret of the band’s success is? “I think it’s because we grafted and we didn’t have overnight success. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.” Not that he’s knocking programmes such as the X Factor that offer instant success – depending on what your definition of success is. He explains: “I hate knocking other people’s fun. That kind of show is an entertainment programme aimed at children. One of the criticisms they get is that the acts are too groomed. Well what was Motown? They were manufactured, they had stylists and had fantastic songs written for them. It’s not so different.”
Playing live is where the band is happiest and their schedule of gigs is pretty full, however there’s enough downtime for Simon to enjoy the quiet life walking his beloved daschund by the river in Stratford-upon-Avon. He says: “I’m 53! I’m glad we did what we did 30 years ago. I wouldn’t want to be doing it now.” So, what’s next? “There’s more touring on the horizon and we need to start recording and make an album.” He adds: “Mind you I’m such a luddite in the studio! Steve’s great at that stuff and has a studio at his house in Devon.”
DAY AT THE RACES
Next month’s concert at Wolverhampton Racecourse will focus on singles. Simon says: “I’m amazed at how many singles we wrote!” The trend for gigging at racecourses is on the rise and having seen James at Worcester racecourse I can see it makes total sense. From a band’s perspective it’s pretty awesome too. Simon adds: “The facilities are the best! Basically, your dressing room is the hospitality suite, which is nice.”