Louder Than War Interview: Steve Cradock of Ocean Colour Scene
Louder Than War’s Martin Copland-Grey caught up with Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Cradock at one of his live dates in London touring Marchin’ Already, the third of said band’s albums and the follow-up to the successful Moseley Shoals.
Oh oh la la, Oh oh la la, Oh oh la la, Oh oh la la… the refrain continues long after the band have left the stage, as the faithful make their way down the winding stairs towards the exit of this fabulous old venue.
As it slowly but happily dies away I remind myself that it’s a measure of success when a band can tour an album that was released over 16 years ago. More importantly, it’s also a mark of a band’s popularity with the erstwhile British record buying public that they will still turn out in droves to support an outfit that produced three of Britpop’s finest tunes.
The Riverboat Song, Hundred Mile High City and The Day We Caught The Train, are defining entries in the Britpop canon and yet when the rest of Ocean Colour Scene’s back catalogue is taken into consideration the Britpop title seems to fall by the wayside and become something less lad mag and more heartfelt.
But back in ’97, at the height of the phenomenon that grabbed hold of the country and produced a fervour not seen since the days of Beatle-mania, Ocean Colour Scene (next to Oasis and Blur) were seen as the leading lights of this Parka wearing, Scooter riding, Vee flicking and Live Forever chanting movement. That summer it was all about bucket hats, roundel t-shirts, Christoff Lambie Pie on Radio One and drugs … lots of drugs!
Sat in the confines of a tiny dressing room at Shepherds Bush Empire, the man in charge of all the best guitar riffs, Steve Cradock, sneaks a drag from his cigarette and smiles at the memory of Noel Gallagher christening OCS the second best band in the world. Wasn’t there a plaque that he sent you, I venture? “No he just signed something in our studio” he says “It was the night when he bragged that all of the government was on Heroin!”
It was also Simon Fowler not Steve that provided the witty riposte to Noel’s declaration by saying ‘well that must mean that we are better than you lot (Oasis) because The Beatles are the best band in the world!’
Sitting in front of me in his Parka he cuts a relaxed figure – attentive, but at ease with himself. Coming off the back of a tour with Paul Weller and then his own headlining tour to support his latest solo album Travel Wild, Travel Free, this is a busy end of year for the guitar virtuoso from Solihull. Tonight is the first night of two here in London and there’s still several more dates to go before he can relax with the family over Xmas at home in Devon.
Louder Than War: What made you decide to tour Marchin’ Already?
Steve Cradock: It would have been something our agent probably gave to us as a suggestion because we did Moseley Shoals a couple of years ago and it is nostalgic, but we’ve kinda enjoyed it and I think the fans have enjoyed it. It gives a different sort of layout to the tours and gigs. It brings some identity to it. There’s enough time passed on since its release in ’97 for people to hear it as a whole.
How have you found it going back to those songs from 16 years ago?
Stuff like Tele He’s Not Talking we never played live. I think we did Big Star on an acoustic tour once maybe. There have been a few songs that we’ve never played before which has been quite nice. I can really tell that it doesn’t fucking work as a running order for an album cause you’ve got Hundred Mile High City, Better Day, Traveller’s Tune and then the arse drops out of the album big style with the acoustic stuff. So whoever planned it, I think it was Brendan (Lynch) and Mac’s…or maybe it does work I don’t know. It doesn’t work as a live fucking gig though I don’t think!
What was it like working with Brendan Lynch (Producer of Moseley Shoals & Marchin’ Already)?
He was great on those two albums. Cause we did all the demos for Moseley Shoals and we took it up to Oxford when he was working at the Manor with Paul on Wild Wood and I played Paul & Brendan the demos and Brendan said listen I’ll come up when I’ve finished this and we’ll start going through it all and mixing it. So he was quite, really helpful and he was obviously I guess at the top of his game, producing then. They worked really hard and really well in our little studio in Birmingham to create Moseley Shoals and indeed Marchin’ Already. But then it kind of…I don’t know…we was off our chops a lot of the time to be honest with you. But it was kind of…it started to go downhill from then, from that album I think. I don’t know why, maybe they’d had enough. Which is fair enough isn’t it?
Brendan has a very distinctive electronic sound and you can hear that on this album.
He’s got a certain drum sound as well hasn’t he? He used to have this recording thing, like a cassette recorder. He used to use that as a microphone and you can kind of hear his drum sounds and he would put it next to the drum kit and it would give this distorted monophonic sort of sound.
What sort of sound did he bring to the demos you already had?
On that first album Moseley Shoals I think the defining track that they did and worked really hard at was Get Away because it was I guess like an eight minute kind of loose jam. I mean the song was there and we’d jam it out, but they way they edited it and mixed it I thought was the stand out track with their signature sound really.
Where does the title Marchin’ Already come from?
It was March time and it was a joke. It’s March-in-already! He’s March-in-Already! Just one of those really!
Tell me about the guitar work on Hundred Mile High City. How many guitars on are the go on that track?
Well the actual main riff sounds like two guitar parts anyway. That’s how I wrote it. I kind of wrote it to sound like two guitar parts going on. You’ve got the main riff and you’ve got the sort of fire-starter sound. There’d be two guitar tracks on it and there’s maybe acoustic in the verses.
What did you think about it being used for Lock Stock…?
I thought it was cool. It’s nice to be in a film isn’t it? It works great (being at the beginning of the film), whoever edited that, it just works perfectly doesn’t it? It was a great moment. We all went to the premiere and living not your normal life, being posh for a few days!
Can you remember much about how the song writing came together for Marchin’ Already?
Simon wrote all of it. We had most of them I think…Beautiful Thing was written when we were all on the dole before Marchin’ Already between ’92 and ’95 I guess. Hundred Mile High City was a new one. Better Day was written in that period when we was all back on the dole. Beautiful Thing I think was written on Simon’s 25th Birthday in Kings Heath. Get Blown Away was written in 1990. So we had these …sort of about…we had a lot of songs that Simon had written and we demoed together that ended up on Marchin’ Already.
That’s how we ended up with the B-Sides, Seasides & Freerides album cause we had so many fucking B-Sides that there was enough to make an album. It seemed to make sense!
Tele was written in the studio. I think Hundred Mile High City was written in the studio. I had it as an instrumental backing track. I’d written it all and it took quite a while to write over it I think. It didn’t come easily.
So when you come up with a riff, does Simon find it easy to come up with something to go on top of that?
I don’t think he does, no. He did the same with Riverboat and You’ve got it Bad. I think it’s difficult but you know, get over it (laughs)!
Even though you were there at the height of Britpop you almost seem, perhaps because of your folk influences, something more than that.
Well we didn’t live in London also. That’s a big thing. Cause all the Britpop bands, they were all hanging out their arses in Camden weren’t they, slowly getting Heroin habits and we was always in Birmingham. So that’s one reason why I don’t think we were part of Britpop. But we had two of what were probably the biggest selling Britpop albums didn’t we?
And yet in many of the books we are written about as being a part of it, and you know what, I don’t think we were. It was all a press thing. I’m sure we could’ve done better for ourselves if we would’ve have played the game. But when you get to know it, when you see it happening, everyone’s so contrived. It’s bollocks, you know what I mean?
What was it like working with PP Arnold?
It was great while it lasted. We first met her me and Simon, she was at the Rep Theatre in Birmingham and I bought her a big bunch of flowers and asked if she’d sign a record. Our studio was just round the back of it and I said we’ve got a studio round the corner, we’re in a band…blah blah blah…would you come and sing? She was a bit like…these fans are coming on a bit too strong and the next time I bumped into her I was working with Paul and she came down to do backing vocals on Broken Stones and she was like … Oh it’s you!
Then she lived at my house for the best part of a year. She kind of moved in and we worked together on stuff. We were trying to get an album together and I had about six or seven really fucking great demos which I no longer have unfortunately. I don’t know where they’ve gone to…fuck knows. Different Drum was the first kind of one and that’s the only thing we have got from that session and that time really. Then we ended up falling out magnificently. It happens doesn’t it?
Was working with PP like a homage to Mod & Northern Soul. Almost like ticking a box perhaps?
Yeah, she was with the Small Faces wasn’t she? Definitely and she had a really good vocal on her, she could still really sing. Definitely about ticking a box.
Later that night the band tear through a thoroughly well received set split in two between Marchin’ Already in its entirety and a ‘hits set’ full of crowd pleasers like The Circle and the anthemic Profit in Peace that has the crowd on its feet with arms aloft in unison. There’s also a nod to current events when Simon dedicates a tune to brave Tom Daley and his Swimshorts! And then of course there was that wonderful moment of togetherness with The Day We Caught the Train that sent the faithful singing off into the cool December evening.
Over the years a lot has been written and said about Ocean Colour Scene and some of it not particularly friendly. However, as I sit in the pub next door amid blokes of a certain age with ‘that’ haircut, sporting Pretty Green T-Shirts, Tootal Scarves and sharing a bowl of chips with their attractive girlfriends (Mods always ended up with the best looking ladies – I should know – I have!) I’m struck by the fact that in this country of ours where we seek, need and have to be labelled that if you are a musician of talent with the wherewithal to write songs such as Profit in Peace or Better Day that have entered the public consciousness, then it’s infinitely possible to transcend that moment in time when the lad ruled the world, X Factor was a nightmare yet to come and Tony Blair courted Noel & Co. for his own ends and reach a place where your songs are received with genuine warmth, real emotion and there’s not a bucket hat in sight!
All words by Martin Copland-Gray. More writing by Martin on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.