As Cast pulled into Middlesbrough on the second night of their current UK tour, Louder Than War caught up with John Power once more to discuss the band’s current reformation, Lee Mavers, The La’s and playing John Lennon in a recent theatre production. Part one of this interview is here.
John Power: Hiya la, we were just finishing the sound check then, so I was just getting back to you.
Louder Than War: How did it go?
Sound. A couple of little things we had to work on today but it was all good.
How are you finding Middlesbrough?
JP: It’s alright, you know what, we played here, Middlesbrough Town Hall, on numerous occasions. We had some crazy gigs here. I think we actually played seventeen years ago to this date and we did one in ’95 or ’96. There was one where I think Keith (O’Neill, Drummer) jumped into the audience. Keith definitely went missing one gig. He jumped into the crowd and we didn’t see him for a while!
I must say, we are in Middlesbrough, and I tell you man it rocks! Every night of the week!
After ‘Free Me’ you carried on having a few more top ten hits, ‘Guiding Star’, ‘Live The Dream’ and you released I’m So Lonely…
I spoke to the crowd last night actually, it just came into my head, I remember the week it was due to come out, Princess Diana died on the Saturday night and then the whole world and radio was that…and I always think, “If it wasn’t for Princess Di getting bumped off by the fuckin’ British establishment, we’d have had a good hit there!”
The airplay just kind of went, everyone was sobbing, and it all went nuts didn’t it. It’s like the Secret Service robbed us of one of our biggest hits! (Tongue in cheek)
So that whole period then from ’95 to say ’99 – what are your best memories?
Do you want to know the truth? I have great difficulty in pinpointing moments of things like that. The rest of the band have all these things where they remember the timescale and the incidents a lot better than me. I feel like I was always, within the partying and within the mechanics of the whole thing, working. Obviously it was a big thing at the time, the band and all that; I seemed to be always fuckin’ working. I don’t mean grafting. It wasn’t a job. I just mean I was always trying to write the song or I was always doing something.
One of the weirdest things about that era is that I didn’t really take advantage of it or enjoy it as much as I should have … in hindsight I should’ve relaxed and enjoyed it a bit more.
Anything that sticks out? Obviously, we played some big gigs, you did all the festivals, Knebworth…and we were touring. We did three nights at Brixton Academy, the band were big and things were happening but it’s a funny old thing. Part of me was having a great laugh because I was on the road, I was with the band. We lived in this life in studios, we didn’t want for anything. We were fed, we were given money. We partied, we were up late, we were getting high, you know, but to be honest with you, it was balanced out with a strange sensation of not being as fulfilling as maybe what on the outside people expected it to be. Especially someone like me who thinks too much about things and is a bit of an idealist or someone who think, “Actually, this matters!” It mattered to me.
I’ve always said we were trying to say something, no matter how small and we were trying to be a piece in a jigsaw that was going to be a bigger picture going on…so I had all of that going on as well. So, I don’t know what stood out really.
My memory fades apart from late nights, saving my voice…looking after my voice because we had a gig the next night. I had to write the songs…so within all the fun and partying and so-called success, I think deep down there was a lot of things I had to do myself. I had to do a lot of growing up in them years but looking back, like most bands I was just a kid. I’ve changed so much since them days.
Because you were the singer, because you were the front man, because you were the songwriter, do you think you felt the pressure to keep the whole thing going?
Definitely. Definitely subconsciously. I mean I was paying everyone’s fuckin’ mortgage wasn’t I? I mean that sounds like a really cold-hearted thing because it was the band. It wasn’t a solo project you know. Everyone was worth their salt and worked their corner. I mean I probably did think, it was me that did all the writing. I was very closeted in the sense that I didn’t let anyone else kind of into that world because I didn’t know how to. I didn’t know how to express myself amongst other people, other artists or other guitarists so I pretty much wrote the songs on my own and it was a twenty-four-seven thing. It’s an energy, you’re bearing it out. It’s emotional…and if you give a shit about what you’re doing it’s bound to take effect because you care deep down.
Those people who try and express their art…there’s got to be a love for it…a deep love and also a vulnerability I imagine. For all the bravado and all the excesses and that, there was probably a very vulnerable side of me but when I say that to my mates they say ‘oh bollocks!’ you know!
The truth of the matter is, a lot of things that people deem you to be are just habitual reactions that you’ve learned to put up in front of you throughout life. From a very early age you learn what works and what doesn’t to get you through your life. So, sometimes your stuck with things, they’re not really you, its just a character that you can’t stop playing because people expect you to and that’s something that you’ve got to deal with yourself.
Deep down, for all the bravado and the scouse front man and all that stuff…there was probably a very vulnerable side of me as well. There was a conflict going on within myself and I’m trying to make sense of it whilst being the figurehead of the ship.
It sounds like it was a pride in what you did?
Well pride like I cared. I deeply cared about what I was doing in whatever way I could care. It might have been a naive care, it might have been a young care but in my own little way, in my way of growing through the music, I was always trying to care about what I was doing.
Its sounds similar to Paul Weller when he was in The Jam, or Pete Townshend when he was writing ‘Tommy’ or ‘Quadrophenia’.
It’s an all-consuming thing and I don’t think anyone’s every achieved anything in the field that we are in if it hasn’t consumed them inside and out. So you do things that compensate. You’re maybe smoking, you may be drinking, you may be doing that but you’ll feel isolated in a room full of people because you’re inevitably left with yourself and it’s you that’s putting yourself on the line to write these songs.
It sounds like the tortured artist but it’s probably very true that sort of cliché.
So when we got to the ‘Beat Root’ album it took a different direction didn’t it?
I was bored shitless by then, I really needed a change, and it probably, with hindsight, should’ve been a solo thing. The band hate me for it. It’s very hard for me to mention that album because I got off and did a lot of that with a programmer. I still stand by a lot of the songs though. They’re fuckin’ cracking if I play them on the acoustic.
I used to say, sort of half-heartedly, “it was ahead of its time” What I was trying to do was inject all the things that I’d experienced…raving and getting stoned and also as a guitar band but inevitably it’s very hard for those things to come across. It should’ve been a solo (album) probably with hindsight but I still stand by it. ‘What You Give Is What You Get’, ‘Dessert Drought’ the flutes on that and there’s loads of great songs on it. It’s just the band didn’t like the way in was recorded and I understand that actually with hindsight.
We were coming to the point where we’d spent probably too much time together, probably too much intense time, too much burn out time as well. We were probably, subconsciously sick of ourselves. There was paranoia encroaching probably…and tiredness and frayed edges and short tempers and everything that goes on with that. Remember we’d just been on the road in a band and you’re living the life of what bands get up to and so it was inevitably going to self implode and come crashing in.
Beat Root was the thing that kind of brought it too a head.
Do you mind if I ask you about the La’s reunion in 2005? Did it ever get to the point where you started recording anything new?
Well, yeah. We were rehearsing a whole new album. We recorded them in bits and bobs in the room, in the studio we were in but it never really got beyond that. It was good because it kind of completed the circle because inevitably there was unfinished work. I still believe there is really with Lee (Mavers – La’s singer/songwriter) you know…to go back and make my peace. In my own head. At that time I needed to go back and play those songs again after the way the La’s petered out or ended for me.
It’s a funny old thing because you go in a room after twenty-odd-years and sometimes nothings changed an iota. The best thing about the La’s…and very few people have experienced it…would be sitting in the room. If you’re in that room with me and Lee and whoever was playing with us…there’s a magic and a wonder because that’s really where they need to be heard and that’s why its so hard to capture whatever it is.
There was optimism in them days but inevitably, with all La’s projects, it’s countered with the opposite. It’s a kind of tightrope walk between just getting anything to happen. It’s alright when its relaxed and were just having a cup of tea and rehearsing and things like that…there’s no real pressure…but I think when it gets closer and closer to the dawn and it’s going to have to been seen in its full light, then I think Lee inevitably sometimes will shut up shop and look for reasons why it shouldn’t happen…but I also do see now, much further down the line, the frustrations he’s had to deal with by trying to get other people or whatever it is, to play the way he hears it and demands it. I do understand and I’m very sympathetic to it. I actually understand the whole process a lot more now.
If we ever got back in a room together I’d probably feel what it is he needs but then he needs a band around him who can do that.
Would he ever go into the studio and just record it (an album)? I don’t know if that would ever happen. Would Lee record his stuff? That would be the best way I suppose, with a sidekick.
I do often think about the stuff that still hasn’t been fully grasped and glimpsed by people. I think the world could do with listening to some of them songs because they’re very inspirational but also sometimes maybe that’s how it’s meant to be as well. One of those things that can never really be captured. You know, catch a fire, catch a flame or a shadow or a glimpse of the light but it’s a very real thing when you’re there. I know it. I know it very very well. It’s very close to me but if I’m talking about people who want to hear the La’s and want him to do his thing….I want him to do his thing as well but I couldn’t tell you if that would happen in a physical sense like, “Here’s a CD” or “Here’s a download” or “Were going on tour.” It still lives and it’s very strong and I’m sure Lee is working on it as we speak.
Do you have much contact with him now?
I don’t have much contact with anyone and what I mean by that is maybe a good thing because that way I don’t loose contact with people. If I see Lee…and there’s been many many times recently when I’ve thought….(’cause I don’t live in Liverpool) but a couple of times when I’ve been up there I’ve thought, “maybe I should pop round” and I should…and vice-versa…but it hasn’t happened yet…but that doesn’t mean to say it won’t happen. Who knows what the future holds.
So how did Cast actually get back together a few years ago because you had a period where you weren’t playing any Cast stuff in your solo sets didn’t you?
I did ‘Stormbreaker’ (2nd solo album) and ‘Willow Weeps’ (debut solo album) and all that and I think I just started writing a song like, ‘Timebomb’ and the rhythm of ‘Timebomb’ is slightly La’s-ish. It’s got that kind of rhythm and I was writing that and I just got this new sort of rhythm for me and there’s quite a bit of it on ‘Troubled Times’ beneath the guitars. You’ll find it on ‘Silver and Gold’ and ‘The Sky’s Got a Gaping Hole’ and ‘Not Afraid Of The World’. Its like a stones-ey sort of acoustic thing and I just started writing and I just thought “right, okay” and you know what had happened, I’m gonna tell you now actually. I was in Middlesbrough, or Stockton, or somewhere like that. There was a little festival and I was driving up and I had Jay (guitarist on John’s solo tours) and a little lad on drums and we were doing the kind of acoustic stuff and I just thought “fuck it” and I just got the feeling. I played ‘Sandstorm’, ‘Alright’ and ‘Finetime’ and I just kind of went, “Wow! yeh!” and that got me thinking about Cast again.
I started writing these songs and I started really writing them in the middle of the night…up at seven o’clock…eight o’clock on mY little 4 track. All day every fuckin’ day and you get that feeling when you’ve stopped and you can’t even talk to people! You feel like you’re brains fuckin’ crazed you’re standing outside the asylum.
I’d sit and have a half outside the boozer or something somewhere and I couldn’t have even made a conversation, I was literally like, “Fuckin hell!” because you’ve thrown yourself into them. I really focussed on writing an album and I knew it was going to be a Cast album and then I started to get in touch with the lads.
I think I rang Peter (Wilkinson – Cast Bass Player) or ‘Skin’ (Liam Tyson – Cast Guitarist) I think it was a bit of a shock at first like, “What d’yer mean? urrgghh” and I was like, “Well, you know, I’ve been writing something” and when I met a few of them and all that, obviously there was a few things needed to be said because maybe it ended……well, everyone’s got their own story to tell haven’t they….but inevitably we kind of got together and decided to do it. As I said there was a couple of things that needed to be said between each other but as in now, I don’t think there’s any real big egos. We still might have a couple of problems left here and there to deal with but there’s no real ego’s I think. We have to leave them at the door. I mean who wants a fuckin’ ego at this age?
Do you think that has to do with growing up as well?
Yeh, I mean, how could it not be? If we’d have all got back together and I’d have been uptight…because I probably was very uptight…I probably was a bit, on people’s shoulders when we were recording. Especially when we were recording the first album ‘All Change’ because that’s how it was…but if we’d have all turned up and been the same fuckin’ arseholes. then it just wouldn’t have happened…but you don’t get this far through it all without learning something. I mean you’ve got to change, otherwise you’re fucked!
What it like playing John Lennon earlier in the year? (John Power played John Lennon in Rob Eaton’s Musical ‘Lennon’ at Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre) Didn’t you go to the same schools as John Lennon? Dovedale Primary and Quarry Bank High?
Well everybody fuckin’ loved it and it was a like homage to a great icon. You feel very close to him and I’m sure that’s the beauty of Lennon – everybody thinks he’s with them. I suppose growing up in the part of Liverpool I did and what I’ve done and all that. I mean, I didn’t do any sort of character revision and all that and you know what?…they got in touch right out of the blue…I never even seen it fuckin’ coming over the horizon and I was like, “Well, its a bit of flattery in a way” and I thought, “That’s a good idea” and then I thought “Fuck! I’m not doing that!” but then I realised that you don’t not do things through fear of whatever. Everything that comes along is an opportunity to reaffirm your existence. I mean what is life without experiencing things, even the bad experiences. I mean life is going to be full of suffering as much as whatever, so you may as well be malleable and see where it is.
So anyway, I did it and I must say it was probably the biggest challenge I’ve ever fuckin done because I’ve never acted in my life and the Royal Court Theatre’s a big theatre and you’re on with real actors. All of a sudden I was like, “What the fuckin’ hell am I doing…!” In rehearsals because I did not know if I could do it. Deep down I was like, “I really don’t know if I can do this” and for about 2 days I literally thought I was going to fuckin’ die! It was like I was going to have to go to the doctors and say, “Give me some Vallium or I’m going to die” but with fear you either pull back into comfort or you stand and you hope there’s another gear and I went trough the gears and I got into another place…but it was never complacent.
It was a great experience and I’m very thankful for doing it but I had no plans to be an actor or anything…a couple of PA agents said, “diddly diddly dooh dah” but I’m like (jokingly) “maybe do a Ken Loach Northern gritty drama”
When you were at school, with the John Lennon link, were you aware of the fact that he probably walked the same halls and all that?”
Definitely. It was inspiring When I was a kid I remember being really little and realising the Beatles were from Liverpool and I mean like little and thinking, “I must be from somewhere very fuckin’ special” and then Bill Shankly and Liverpool at the time. I mean this was like to a three or four-year-old kid and I just thought, “This is amazing.” “Liv-er-pool” Even the word ‘Live’ and ‘Pool’ and all that. It was kind of dead romantic and something special and then obviously, “JOHN LENNON went to MY fuckin’ school,” “JOHN LENNON lived round here…THE BEATLES” so all that was in the ether. All that was in the ground and the turf, as you say, it was in the corridors. I mean some people maybe walk around the fuckin’ streets and all they ever think about is, what are they going to have for their fuckin’ dinner?
But if you’re tuned into it, it’s different isn’t it?
Yeh, well it starts adding to the myth and the belief, thinking, “This is real -I can do this.” You take your inspiration from people like that, and then luckily through life you find yourself. Like artists…you tend to take other people’s styles when you first start getting going and somewhere along the line you become a master of your own thing without realising it and you can’t even remember it happening.
You just start doing some work and all of a sudden, all of that information and inspiration has been absorbed and then all of a sudden you’re putting it out in your own way.
Nothing’s really original is it? It just reinterpreted. Even that’s not a new saying! That’s not original! (laughs)
CAST live in December 2014:
- Monday 15th Bristol, The Fleece
- Tues 16th Reading, Sub 8g
- Thurs 18th London, Electric Ballroom
- Fri 19th Leeds, Brudenell Social Club (SOLD OUT)
- Sat 20th Liverpool, 02 Academy
- Sun 21st Manchester, Academy 2
Buy Tickets here: seetickets.com/artist/cast/550911.
‘Baby Blue Eyes’ will be the first track from the next – as yet-untitled – Cast album, due for release in 2015 and you can download it for free here:
All words by Michael Halpin. More from Michael can be found at his Louder Than War Author Archive.