John Power. Formerly of The La’s and front-man of the legendary Cast, still going strong. One of the great songwriters of his generation. Cast’s aptly named seminal album, All Change (1995), became the fastest selling record on Polydor of all time, surpassing even the likes of Jimi Hendrix! John steered them to numerous accolades, but more importantly established them as a live act that were utterly revered and for a time peerless, by many accounts.
Now, with a string of solo albums behind him too, John continues to make Cast as relevant as they always were. It’s so easy to turn to nostalgia when even mentioning some groups and their music. This is, of course, understandable, given the iconic status of Cast and their place in the history books of British music and cultural associations. However, Cast aren’t simply there to be living time machines. LTW caught up with John Power, to talk about where they are now (as well as faith, football, the future . . .) and what to expect from them at their up and coming gig in Leeds on August 2nd, (tickets still available!) and beyond that.
Benjamin Francis Cassidy (LTW): John, tell me about Cast and what’s happening with you lot at the moment.
John Power: We’re still playing together and loving it. You have to, or why bother? Playing live is where we’re at right now, so we’re focusing on that. We’ve a big gig coming up in Leeds on 2nd August, with Black Grape and Dodgy. Really looking forward to that. It’s funny because sometimes it’s like everything else in between playing gigs to a crowd is a stopgap, and being up there in front of the fans, that’s the real bit of being alive, do you know what I mean? Saying that we have got new material in the pipeline, our next album, like. No dates yet or anything, but it’s coming. It will happen when it’s ready.
BFC: How about you, personally. Are you still enjoying being a working musician, say, as much you did during your earlier career?
JP: Yeah, absolutely. Creating – in my case songs – is an important part of being a human being. I think we all try to come to terms with the wonder of everything; you know, being alive. It’s a way to make some sense out of some of it, for me. as I said, I feel most alive when I’m there, in front of the crowd. It’s amazing and I’m blessed to have the opportunity. To have that experience though, you need to write the songs.
BFC: So many people have different approaches to song-writing, can you tell me a little about your own? Specifically, how does the process work for you, have you any advice to others about writing songs.
JP: Advice? Keep at it! As long as you do that, I don’t think there’s anyone way to get them coming thick and fast or a single method that will work for everyone. Sometimes, I get bits. A chorus, verse, or whatever. Sometimes that expands into more, right there; not always, it might just hang around in my head for a bit. Sort of like doing a jigsaw, over a long period of time. I have all these fragments. A lot of my time is spent being really frustrated, getting stuff shaped. It’s about as unglamorous as you can get, not the image a lot of people seem to hold about being a professional musician. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m blessed, to get to do what I love freely as a living, I just don’t think that many people realise what it takes, and what goes into it. I know one thing though, if an idea is worthwhile then it’ll get written sooner or later, definitely. I can’t just sit and write a song from start to finish. I’m just not wired that way. I don’t worry about it too much. There’s no point. They’ll come. You have to keep faith; I do, anyway. Faith in what you’re on about and belief in yourself, too. That’s crucial.
BFC: Has What You Write About Changed, John?
JP: It’s funny. I tend to think “have I said this before”, or, “Is this like this . . .”, know what I mean? It’s hard to try and express something, to capture a mood or a feeling. There’s no point in making it any harder. I just listen to that voice inside that tells you you’re on to something, or you’re not. Sometimes a bit of a song I started ages ago will come back to me and fit in as a chorus to something I’m currently working on. That happens. We all change, every day, in lots of ways. The “big” stuff, who you really are, what you care about, etc., that doesn’t change; at least it doesn’t in me. I’m still me. What I find fascinating is an ongoing need to answer these great classical questions, like why we’re here and what life actually means. That’s what drives my creativity, wondering. Often, until my head hurts! That’s why creating helps, to let us at least try and make sense of things. The getting there can be tough, but you need to trust in yourself, in that inner voice. Your instinct.
BFC: John, you’ve mentioned faith a few times. How important is that as an aspect of who you are, and how you live?
JP: It’s vital. It really is. Not in a traditionally religious sense, for me. I mean I’ve no problem with anyone who is, or goes to church or mosque, or whatever. Faith is deeply personal thing, I’ve always found. That something that buzzes inside you, and tells you about certain circumstances and situations. You need to listen to it, and keep listening to it. It will tell you when to get out, or when you’re on to a winner. Sometimes it’s like you get a tint cord and you just need to follow the trail. It’s there, that voice, in all of us, I think that some people learn to tap into it more. Instincts are powerful things. They aren’t all right, one hundred per cent of the time, but I’ve learned to follow them, at least until the trail goes cold. If it doesn’t then carry on to where it takes you. You’ll find doors open for you . . . That’s been my experience, anyway.
BFC: As someone who has seen the change to digital, from CD, did the way music is consumed dramatically impact upon you, or give rise for financial concerns.
JP: No. Looking back, maybe it should have; possibly, if I was more focused on the business side of things it would have. I’m not and never have been. I didn’t start playing music for those reasons. If you worry about things you can’t so much about too long then you’re finished. You just have to get on with it, I think. In terms of financial concerns, there’s been periods when I had nothing, but I got through. I still played, just not publicly. I had time away from the industry, and when I felt ready, I started back. In terms of financial worries, I think we’ve all had them at one point or other. You can feel like you’ve no choice if you’re in a job you hate and have bills to pay or a family to feed. The thing is, you do have a choice. I’m not saying it’s easy or simple; far from it, in fact. You can follow what you really want to do. All of us can be anything we want to be if we want it enough. I believe that, genuinely, I do.
BFC: But, you do alright? You get by John . . .
JP: Yeah, I do; I’m fortunate with what I have and the opportunities with my music. I mean I don’t want to call doing the thing I love, that I’d do anyway, work. It makes it sound a bit lumbering. More than anything, I’m happy with who I am, and where I am. That’s what matters in the end, doesn’t it? Nice things are great, but you don’t need too many. Spending on things just for the sake of it crass, Really classless, actually. If they weren’t known by anyone, my songs, like “Fine time” and that, I’d still be playing them in my bedroom.
BFC: What was it like being in The La’s, at such a young age?
JP: It’s funny, that question. I only know now and didn’t then. It was happening then, I was “in” it, so had no real reference point. Like you say, I was a kid, really. The first two bass lines I ever learnt were ‘Get off my Cloud’ by the Stones, and ‘Son of a Gun’ by The La’s. I was lucky to be surrounded by so many great musicians and wonderful people, like Lee (Mavers). It was so sudden. The explosion. There was a real feeling that this is happening and we’re going to be big. It’s not easy to explain that, as it wasn’t easy to understand, except that we just sort of knew. You ride that wave of energy and just keep going where it takes you, sort of like you’re guided by what you’re doing, heading to your destiny.
BFC: Did Coming from Liverpool make you feel You Had Big Boots to Fill?
JP: I felt part of a legacy, so I think it sort of helped, in a way. Obviously, The Beatles and all that. I went to the same school as John Lennon, actually. We just did our thing and it took off. As I mentioned, when I joined The La’s I was still learning to play bass – I mean learning to properly play it. But I had a feeling. You have to follow them, really you do. We quickly became the best band in Liverpool and then probably the world! It was incredible. I was only a kid, don’t forget. I don’t mean it to sound arrogant. I know they’re strong claims, but that’s how it was, that’s what happened. I can’t fully explain it, but we just knew. We knew.
BFC: Which of those bands influenced you, and in what way?
JP: All of them. Not just The Beatles, but of course, them. Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Captain Beefheart. The Rock N Roll got a hold of me. I just adored how it sounded, and still do. That’ s what I listened to mainly. A lot of the sort of punk stuff seemed to pass me by, for whatever reason. The post punk stuff, too, like OMD. We were doing our own thing. I do remember being about for the arse end of Echo and The Bunnymen, and all that.
BFC: Any Albums, Songs or Artists You Listen to More Than Any Others, That Spring to Mind? (I’m trying to avoid the dreaded, what’s your favourites . . .)
JP: Erm. Forever Changes, Love. I reckon I listen to that a lot. I find myself always going back to Dylan. Bob Marley’s early stuff too, that’s hard to beat. The Doors, you know, the greats I’ve said already. As a kid my dad would put me on to blues artists. Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, B.B King. I’d scoff a bit and say it was all a bit “last week”. You tend to do that when you’re younger, don’t you? Now, though, I know what he means. It’s brilliant, authentic, true music. I love it and listen to all that stuff. The other day I listened to Sergeant Pepper’s, my daughter’s doing something about it at school. I sort of forgot what a truly brilliant fucking album that is; I mean from start to finish. It’s just fantastic.
BFC: Before I go, tell me about Liverpool winning the Champion’s League. I know you’re a great fan of L.F.C and have been involved in supporting various projects with your music, etc. You contributed to the 2009 version of ‘The Fields of Anfield Road’, as well, right?
JP: Yeah. Music and footy, they just go, don’t they? The ceremony of it all is so powerful. There’s something in that, for sure. The unity it brings is a phenomenal thing to experience and it never stops being that. I remember legends, like Kenny Dalglish, playing. Wow. I mean he was one of the best –maybe, maybe even the best. It was great to meet him. People like that really sum up what the whole club is about; and what the whole city is about, too. Jurgen Kopp gets that. He really does. He’s one of us. You can feel that. To win another European trophy is incredible. Th thing is, though, he’s won it now and wants to move on. Of course, you have your moment of glory, fully deserved, but he’s building something. You can sense that.
BFC: Based on that John, any predictions for next season? Will Liverpool finally win the league again? As a Liverpool fan myself, I certainly hope so!
JP: Last season we lost one game. One game! City lost four! I know we’ll give it everything and that’s what matters. We’re capable of winning the league; whether or not we do is hard to say. I just feel cool as a cucumber, being a Liverpool fan right now. It’s so great, being champions of Europe again. We’ll be up there. There, or thereabout. I can’t wait. Exciting times!
BFC: Thanks John, from myself and LTW. It’s been an absolute pleasure chatting to you. Everyone here wishes you and the group all the best with the Leeds gig on 2nd August. Take care.
JP: Ok, nice one Ben, Cheers fella. Bye.
All words by Benjamin Francis Cassidy. For more of his writing for Louder Than War, visit his Author Archive. You can find Benjamin on Facebook, as well as emailing him. Photography courtesy of Duncan Stafford, not to be used without permission.