This December Liverpudlian Britpop legends Cast embark upon a national UK tour. Louder Than War caught up with the band’s singer, songwriter and all round good guy, John Power to talk about the possibility of new Cast material, how touring has changed for the band, those halcyon days in the mid-90s and The La’s.
This is part one of a two part interview. Stay tuned for more!
Louder Than War: How do you feel about this tour you’re about to embark on. Are you looking forward to it?
JP: I am indeed. Yeah. We’ve done a couple of sporadic shows this year, so I’m looking forward to doing a good little stint on the road with Cast. I think it’s about 12 shows in all, and I think it’s due actually. I think were due to spend a bit of time together and I’ve got some tracks that I want to run by the lads.
There’s talk of popping into the studio in the New Year, so it’ll be a good time to get out and celebrate the end of the year and maybe also the coming of the next one. Also, it’ll be fun. Play some great songs and all that.
Louder Than War: Has it changed much in the band since the mid 90s? Has touring changed?
JP: Yeah, I think it has, just the actual content of touring has changed in the sense that we were different people then. There was different things going on and I suppose we were young and more arrogant and immortal and you burn the candle and all that and I suppose in those days it was the height of something. It was a great era really and now I’m enjoying playing much more than I did, that’s kind of a stranger thing and I feel more of a connection with the songs actually, because I put them down for a long while. I didn’t play a lot of Cast stuff really, apart from the odd occasion for a good few years and I think coming back to them has given me a sense of affection for them. A connection.
It’s more of a celebratory thing for the anthems…sort of classics…and just as a musician. I mean we really could just step onstage and just look at each other and go ‘1-2-3’ and just play. We will be doing some days rehearsals but it’s reaffirmed our love for each other really. We’ve got a lot of history and I think I didn’t realise what a great band we are live and we can just roll into it now. There’s a real sense of togetherness. When I’m singing some of the classic hits and everything all goes a bit slow motion and the audience is getting on them and were getting on them and it’s coming out of me, I’m listening to them as well. It s a strange scenario because I have realised that I’ve spent half my life maybe singling some of these songs.
They’ve reached that point now where they feel ageless and that a connection with part of me and part of you and a part of us all that is ageless and doesn’t get older and has always been and its a reaffirming sort of place to be.
Louder Than War: Do you feel like you’ve evolved musically since the mid 90s? Obviously, you’ve all got another fifteen or twenty years playing under your belts.
JP: Yes, totally. As a guitarist and as a singer and on a personal level. It’s like all good things. It’s like the old jazz players and the old rock ‘n’ rollers and blues players. Those guys went on and they got better with age. When I first started writing ‘All Change’ or being in the La’s or the early days of Cast….I don’t want to go back to that manic focus and drive. I wouldn’t want to. I couldn’t go back. It was all encompassing. It was everything I thought about and everything that I did.
We’ve got that track we did called ‘Baby Blue Eyes’. It’s very much Cast but its a little move on as well. It’s not so uptight and were not strangling each other to get where we’ve got to go. There’s looseness about the playing now but that makes it more intense and more dynamic and gives it more energy. I think when we were younger it was speed thrills and you think that’s the intensity. Whereas now it’s a looser groove and with that it’s got a heavier weight behind it.
Louder Than War: I think on ‘Baby Blue Eyes’ that the productions changed.
JP: Well it has indeed. I love working with John Leckie. We get on very well and he’s a good bright spirit but I wouldn’t want to go back and make something that sounds like ‘All Change’. I think ‘Troubled Times’ (2012 album release) has got that Leckie feel to it but the mix of ‘Baby Blue Eyes’…I gave it to North and South and they probably went, well, “It’s got the Cast sound” but the drums don’t come straight in and I wanted there to be a bit more space in the verses…and guitars have to be important but I didn’t want layers and layers of guitars on it. I’d rather have one guitar doing something that’s exceptional and recognisable with its riff and its shapes. The acoustic’s are big and the bass is just underpinning things, I certainly didn’t want to go back and make a static sounding track. I hope that’s a good thing in your observation and I’d like to go down that avenue a bit more. Less is more – giving things a bit more space.
If and when we go into do these new recordings, which I’m getting focused about and that’s the intention to go in in January and February and get a new album done. Or at least an EP…that’ll be more of the same really. Verses and rhythms adding light.
People like to hear the rhythm, the electric guitar…and when it comes in it’ll do something, and because it’s doing something, you’ll be able to hear the difference and the shape of its riffs but were not trying to take off.
Louder Than War: Have the audiences changed from what they were like in the mid 90s?
JP: Well they’re gonna have to aren’t they? I mean I hope to god they have because otherwise, I mean…there’s no growing old gracefully. A lot of the audience will have been with us for 20 years. There’s a younger generation discovering us and that’s a beautiful thing to see because they come and they’re kinds like “wow!” It’s more like a historic rock or pop band. Like, “John was in the La’s, Cast were this” and there’s a bit of legacy going on. You’ve got younger hipsters getting on it and younger guitar bands coming to check that out. They wont have experienced the moshing to ‘Free Me’ and ‘Sandstorm’ and they’re all laughing thinking its great but there’s an audience that’s been there and they will have changed. Life will have dealt them blows and more experiences and good experiences that they may never have seen coming and there is a celebration within the halls and the venues that we play and these songs are a backdrop to our lives.
I was singing ‘Alright’ with Jay Lewis (Guitarist in the 2005 incarnation of the La’s) the other day and people had their eyes closed, they were punching the air, and one thing I saw had me just laughing to myself, but in a very nice way. There was a guy in between two people and he was kissing both their heads and I just laughed my head off and thought, “this is what it meant to people.” As a songwriter, it doesn’t get much better than sheer ecstasy standing before you.
When I’m singing them, I’m on that vibe as well. Just because I’m singing them doesn’t mean that I don’t get off on what they’re getting from it because that’s what it meant to me. That’s why I wrote the songs. I was trying to capture a little moment.
So it’s a big celebration and it’s something that I’m very aware of. I don’t mean proud of because that sounds a little bit ‘euuuuwww’ (makes noise to imitate a pretentious person) but I’m very happy to be that conduit and draw them emotions in people.
Louder Than War: When we got to the mid 90s and there was all of the Britpop thing going on. Did you feel like you were a major part of that?
JP: I did because we had that grass roots…the people. The people in the audience and the power off the songs is what gave us our strength.
We meandered in and out of journalists either bias or appraisal. There’s still a lot of stick that Cast get for whatever reasons. We weren’t like an Oasis or Pulp or Blur. We weren’t too big to not knock but we weren’t too unsuccessful enough to ignore.
We were in this land where you couldn’t ignore us but we could take a bit off whoever or whatever for whatever reason. My strength always came from the power of the songs that have proven to be classics. I knew that anyway…and the good will of the unfashionable. There’s something about Cast that ropes in the people. The disheartened. Our people are on the streets. They were never hipsters and in one way, that makes me quite proud. They weren’t fads. Our audience has stayed with us and our songs don’t need to be proven to someone.
We were much bigger than the music press would have you believe. It’s like a kind of a divorced family! (Laughs) They’d rather us has just fucked off out of the children lives!
We made a big big impact on that scene and it was all down to the songs and the dynamics. Of course, looking back 20 years ago, I can understand why we ruffled a few feathers. We were northern Liverpool scally lads who came down (to London), I mean we’ve all changed and softended. Living in London now, I can see how certain parts of the press would have thought we were uncouth. I’m not saying that we were not guilty. I mean I carried a certain something…but life is a journey and I’ve moved and moved on. You keep moving, you keep learning, you keep growing. I was never too proud to look in the mirror. I know when I’ve been a dickhead in life and because of that; I can look at myself and say ‘Okay, well I don’t want to be like that anymore.’ Life is an ongoing change.
I was talking to a young lad yesterday and it’s a constant state of flux. There’s nothing static. There is no now. It’s a constant change. Everything is continually expanding and moving and that’s a bit like myself.
Louder Than War: Which Cast songs are you most proud of?
JP: That’s a hard one that. To be honest with you, sometimes I catch myself out when we run through some other songs. I mean we’ve got the big guns that we can just drop in and they just blow the auditorium away. I love ‘Live The Dream’ and ‘Tell It Like It Is’ and ‘Four Walls’. I could go through all these songs and tell you why I’m fond of nearly all of them. I love ‘Bow Down’ on ‘Troubled Times’ and ‘I’m Not Afraid of The World from ‘Troubled Times’. I think that’s an absolutely fantastic song. We’ll do that live.
It catches me out the back catalogue and the sheer volume of work that we’ve recorded and been a part of. There’s a lot of songs that mean something to me in little glimpses and nuances and there’s just little parts of emotion and little part of my life and other peoples lives and it still catches me out that I’ve caught them and can continue to try and catch them on the fishing line or in the butterfly net…You receive them. It’s a bit harder these days. I can’t spend 24 hours of the day just strolling across the ether with my frequencies trying to receive a message….receive the songs because they’re out there. I do it now in not such an intense way because I’d probably just fracture and fall apart!
Plus life has changed. I’ve got teenage kids and I’ve got a young kid. I just haven’t got that freedom and I wouldn’t think I’d want to live that life sitting in the bedroom smoking a spliff just playing a guitar just constantly, constantly, constantly….intensely focused and on fire. Now it’s a bit of a different way.
Louder Than War: Do you mind if I ask you about a few Cast songs? Is it all right if we start with ‘Finetime’? To me it’s linked to that glorious summer of 95. I was 18, life was great. What is it linked to for you?
JP: It was the debut single. It was where it all started for Cast. I have great fondness for the song because it was also a pivotal part in me as a songwriter. I wrote verse while I was in the La’s and I wrote a couple of the early Cast things then. I had that, ‘Sandstorm’, a bit of ‘Four Walls’ and ‘Alright’.
I had the verse (To ‘Finetime’) “So what’s it all about, do you really wanna know?” and I remember just writing that in the dressing room on tour somewhere. I just kind of said it and I just kind of did it once or twice and a roadie or someone went to me “That’s really catchy” and I’d keep getting people going “That’s really good” and it kind of confirmed what I was doing. I was just strumming a guitar. I remember walking the streets in summer evenings constantly throwing the idea round my head. I did the same with ‘Alright’, I did the same with ‘Sandstorm’. I mean I’d be talking to people and I’d be throwing it around my head. I can remember getting the middle eight in my mums and I can remember getting the chorus here and I can remember putting all three parts together and going “right okay its finished.” That…and the same with ‘Alright’.
All them early songs. I had a capacity to be turning them over whilst also walking down the street whilst also talking, whilst also rehearsing while also touring, they were just on the backburner in my head.
With ‘Finetime’ its funny because it was our first big hit…and when we used to play… but we were still unsigned…people were really starting to get the songs and I remember in Scotland and places and people really starting to mosh and throw their arms about and we were like “were onto something here man.”
I mean personally the song ‘Finetime – to make a change’. A lot of the songs were about that at the time. I mean I’m talking to myself a lot of the time and I was going through a big transition. I was probably asking myself whether I was capable of doing it on my own – coming out of the La’s and starting Cast.
Those songs were the currency and those songs were the ammunition and the whole reason why I did form Cast because I had no intentions to ever leaving The La’s. It was not on the agenda. I was in and that’s where it was gonna be.
I was writing them songs, ‘Finetime’ and ‘Alright’ and they were initially written to be in the La’s. It was only when things started getting in a cul-de-sac that they started to become my vehicle to move into something else.
The initial idea would be Lee (Mavers – La’s singer/songwriter) sitting on my shoulder going “you’ve gotta write some songs John, you’ve gotta write some songs! Me and you, we’ll write some songs!” and he had these amazing fuckin’ songs! and I was very young and he was like a mentor. So, I suppose initially I’d be writing for some sort of collaborative second or third…whatever album. Whatever we were doing and that’s the way I would have seen it but then things…circumstances went a different way and then you realise “right I’ll have to finish these ideas. I’ll have to write them coz only I can give them justice. Only I can give them a life worth living and nurture them and bring them up and give them what they need.” These things need love. Only I could give them the love that they needed.
Louder Than War: Was it frustrating for a while knowing that you had songs like ‘Finetime’, ‘Sandstorm’ and ‘Alright’ but not really having an outlet for them?
It was. I can remember one morning, it was a Saturday. We’d had A&R men involved in Cast and Cast were really playing quite full little venues like the Princes Charlotte in Leicester and places in Leeds. There was kind of a tour that you did prior to breaking through and getting signed. We were doing King Tuts (legendary Glasgow venue) and they were full. People were getting it but the industry were all geared up for a band like Marion. It was all slightly more Goth. I don’t know how you’d describe it but the record companies they just weren’t quite getting what we were doing or what was about to happen. I don’t think Oasis had broke either but obviously Oasis breaking all of a sudden was the confirmation that what we were doing was bang in time and in with the artery of what was going on with the youth. There was a real movement going on. That’s what I’m saying. We were filling out places and people were getting it but I can remember watching a Saturday morning show and I think it was like Yazoo or something that were on the TV singing some crap song and I think my manager had said to me, “You know John…maybe what your doing isn’t what people want.” I remember for the first time taking a deep breath and saying to myself, “Maybe its just the wrong time. Maybe what I’m thinking isn’t going happen and isn’t true” because I had this real feeling that something was happening but I remember thinking for a morning, “maybe the record industry and the times aren’t aligned with what were doing.”
We did an A&R session for London Records…demos. Their A&R man was dead keen. He was trying to convince his boss or something. Oasis had just broke, ‘Supersonic’ came out about a week before but they were still contracted to do a little tour and I went to see them in the Lomax in Liverpool and it was rammed! I met Liam and I got chatting to Noel and he went, “Why don’t you come and support us in New Cross next week?” and when we were playing with them there was an A&R man from Polydor who was an agent of the La’s previously and I just knew that if he seen us…..and he seen us and we did a blinding gig and he couldn’t believe we weren’t signed. It all started just after that despondency.
You kind of hit the lowest point, or…if you know what’s what and if you’re true to what you’re doing and you are connected to whatever that energy is…you know that you’ve got it. It all started again from there. It was like the rebound of kinetic energy. It was great.
Louder Than War: ‘Sandstorm’ was your first top ten hit. Did you think in those terms? Did you think, “We want to be top 10?”
Yeah, we were ambitious. I’ll have to be honest with you. I still believe the band should have been bigger than what they were. There was a couple of key moments, with hindsight…things that we should’ve done and I think things would’ve moved.
It came with the territory. We were signed. We were cock sure and there was a big happening going on and we were at the forefront of it to an extent. I think we got a number 4 single and a number 2 or 3 album or something like that. So I probably was ambitious because it just came with where I was at at the time.
If I wasn’t ambitious, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get the band together and pushed on through and wrote all them songs. I was also aware I suppose of being like every idealistic youthful person. Y’know. We were kind of at the forefront of a happening we thought. We thought we were discovering things for the first time and all that. That’s the beauty of generations. They reinterpret an ongoing ancient feeling. People fall in love for the first time. I mean, you can’t have your grandparents going, “Oh, that’s no good, we did that years ago!” People reinterpret love with poety and music or whatever. People reinterpret anger and frustration and idealism…”were gonna change the world. Our generation aren’t going to put up with all this shit. Bigotry, fuckin debt and unfairness and war and shit like that” and you think you’re a part of making that picture clear.
I’m not saying we were gonna do it on out own but in out own way we were talking about change. Simple as that.
Louder Than War: ‘Walkaway’ will be forever associated with England’s Euro ‘96 semi final won’t it?
Ironically, I wasn’t there! I was in America! I missed it but every one says this to me.
I caught that semi-final game in a hotel lobby, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Me and my guitar tech caught it at like half-ten in the morning. They didn’t even know what was going on and we were like “got that match?” and we watched us miss it. Everyone told me what a big poignant moment it was. It kind of summed up the disappointment in the nation.
I’m very much aware of it but I wasn’t there to experience it. Maybe that’s the way it’s meant to be. I do remember Linford Christie getting disqualified in the Olympics and they played ‘Walkaway’ then but I think the football one really captured the moment.
Louder Than War: It’d already been a hit though hadn’t it.
JP: Of Course. I remember it being played actually at half time during that amazing Liverpool v Newcastle 4-3 game. The first one…which blew their title hopes. I remember it getting played really loud around the ground at half-time but the England one, people still ask me about it. That song itself lives in a lot of people’s experiences and lives. It’s funny; when we used to sing it it used to be lighters but now its all little mobile phones.
Louder Than War: I think personally, that that was the point where you became more of a household name.
JP: ‘Walkway’ went into the charts, then it started going down the charts and then it came back up and just stayed in the top twenty for ages. It was one of them songs that didn’t just go in the top 10 for three weeks and then go out. It just stuck around. Like the album. It went in, rolled down and then went back up and stayed around for ages.
Louder Than War: Put it this way. My Mam actually said to me, when I told her I was doing this interview, “Cast? Aren’t they that band who had that song at the end of Euro ’96?”
JP: There you go! Even the mothers! even the parents! God bless ’em!
Louder Than War: Just one more question on ‘Walkaway’. My brother-in-law’s got a theory that it’s about Bill Shankly. Is it?
JP: Fuckin hell! You know what; you tell him it fuckin’ is because to me that’s a great shout! Between you and me…no its not but I think that from now on when I sing it I will have a little picture of Bill Shankly amongst all of the other pictures that come into my head because Bill Shankly is an iconic figure in all our lives if you know his history. He was a great socialist and a great motivator and a great believer in the unit of ourselves as a common people and as a common man. That’s fantastic that.
Louder Than War: His theory behind it is…you know when there was the story that Shankly had retired as Liverpool manager but he was still turning up at the training ground…
JP: Yeah, it all makes sense actually! I dig it! Tell him I dig it!
Louder Than War: Flying got to number 4 didn’t it?
JP:…but it wasn’t on any of the albums…
Louder Than War: That’s what I was going to say…why wasn’t it on the album?
JP: I don’t know (laughs) Stupid! It was one of those things. We were in between doing the second album. We thought we were so cool we wouldn’t even put in on the album. Obviously it’s a stupid thing to do because it was the biggest hit and it would’ve made the album sell more but we always thought there were greater thing ahead and I still think like that. I still think there’s something just ahead of me that I’ve yet to discover or yet to reach and maybe I’m right.
Louder Than War:..and sometimes bands, they just like to have a stand alone single don’t they?
JP: Yeah, well that’s it as well. We were at the beginning of things.
Louder Than War: Would it be fair to say that when ‘Free Me’ came out, it was a lot angrier than the previous singles?
JP: Totally. ‘Free Me’ was a subconscious response to the shit we were starting to get. Probably a personal factor. There was a lot of time in Cast where I wasn’t freewheeling. It was a lot of hard graft and I don’t mean graft in a sense of 9 to 5, I mean you put yourself on the line and I was probably feeling it then. It wasn’t just a good time.
‘Baby Blue Eyes’ will be the first track from the next – as yet-untitled – Cast album, due for release in 2015.
Download ‘Baby Blue Eyes’ (streaming up the page) here.
CAST live in December 2014:
- Tues 9th Hull, The Welly Club
- Weds 10th Middlesbrough, Town Hall
- Thurs 11th Glasgow, Garage
- Fri 12th Edinburgh, The Liquid Room
- Sun 14th Birmingham, The Library at The Institute
- 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: http://www.seetickets.com/artist/cast/550911
All words by Michael Halpin. More from Michael can be found at his Louder Than War Author Archive.