Interview: AfterDark Talks with Cast's John Power

AfterDark’s Dean Hodge spoke to the Cast frontman before their performance at The Globe in Cardiff on July 2. (Photo: Kate Swerdlow)

This year sees Britpop titans Cast hitting the road once again, twenty years on from the release of their 1995 magnum opus All Change. To mark this special anniversary the band are currently embarking on a forty-date UK tour, which will culminate in a special live performance with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra onSaturday 5th December 2015 at the historic Liverpool Philharmonic Hall – tickets for which are currently on sale now. Frankly, such a music milestone merits a finale of fitting finesse.

Their recent performance at The Globe in Cardiff (with Houdini Dax on support duties) came on the eve of the 20thanniversary of their debut single Fine Time being released – a mantra to the unbounded positivity and invincibility of youth , laced with the melodic hooks that would go on to make Cast one of the shining lights of the burgeoningBritpop scene.

Due to the busy summer traffic on the same day as their Cardiff show, the Liverpudlian group arrive later than usual and pull up outside the tiny venue just as rain showers give way to sun, and a heatwave begins to seep into the confined setting of The Globe.

Despite having to rush to unload their gear and prepare for their soundcheck, lead singer and chief songwriter John Power finds enough time to invite AfterDark’s Dean Hodge into the backstage room for a cup of tea and a quick chat. Read the full interview here in which John talks about reforming Cast, the band’s breakthrough at the peak of the Britpop explosion, the release of All Change and what fans can expect on the upcoming tour.

DEAN: First of all, how does it feel to be back on tour and what can fans expect over the next few months?

JP: It’s a great feeling to be back and we’re looking forward to this tour in particular because this time we’re trying to do the places that we hadn’t played much before in the time we’ve been in the band and since All Change first came out.

Everybody in the band does their own things as well as being part of Cast. For instance, I’m doing a number of solo gigs in between touring with the band, and guitarist Liam ‘Skin’ Tyson also performs with Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin). So we all tried to make sure we can put as much time into this as possible. As well as touring, in between we’re currently writing material for the next album. We’ve already got seven or eight backing tracks done, so if all goes planned we should have a new album out by March next year.

DEAN: How are the new tracks sounding so far, and how would you describe the current sound of them?

JP: Most of the songs have been written very recently, and a couple of them are old tracks I wrote a while ago which I’ve recently rediscovered, yet feel relevant in the present moment. I’ve always got lots of ideas that I’m constantly jotting down on my phone. I end up going through hundreds of different tracks I’ve laid down which don’t have a title, and I’ll stumble across one and think ‘hold on, that could kickstart something’. Baby Blue Eyes is just one of a handful of songs I’ve written in the past year. The songs just come out of whatever works at that moment in time really.

We were actually in the studio the day before yesterday and working on a track which if I played it now would sound like it’s ready to go, but we were all struggling to find the ‘dynamic’ in it. Then that morning, I just found an idea on my phone and when I listened to it back in the studio, it had all the lyrics and all the parts. We added the lyrics to the track and it sounded brilliant. You don’t know where these ideas come from or how they form. It’s just organic.

DEAN: Your last album Troubled Times reflected a slightly darker, more mature tone in your sound. Would you agree with people who say your sound has evolved in recent years?

JP: Maybe so, or maybe that’s just how sounds have changed in the last twenty years. We recorded Troubled Timeswith John Leckie and I do think working with him added a new dimension to our sound. You’re right in a sense that both Troubled Times and Baby Blue Eyes are very acoustic-heavy in comparison to our earlier material, and I have noticed that whereas I used to write songs on the electric, I mainly compose tunes on an acoustic now. I do wonder if I played Baby Blue Eyes electric, if that would take it into a different realm.

DEAN: Will you possibly be performing an electric version of Baby Blue Eyes at some point during the tour, maybe for the first time in Cardiff tonight?

JP: Very easily I could! Even the slower, more acoustic-centered songs like Walkaway and Four Walls I used to often play on the electric, and it does completely lift the dynamic of the track. I do wonder how different Baby Blue Eyeswould sound if played electric so maybe during the tour I might do so.

DEAN: Your gig in Cardiff tonight comes just a day shy of twenty years since the band’s debut single Fine Time was first released. What inspired the choice to release that as the lead single and the introduction of Cast?

JP: To me, it was pretty obvious from the minute we heard them that tracks like Fine Time, Sandstorm, Alright andWalkaway were all going to be singles. I always remember just walking through town after Cast had been signed, and I bumped into Ian Broudie in the street who stopped me to say he just listened to the finished recording ofFour Walls and that it had to be the first single.

I never forget that conversation, but there were so many tracks on the album that were vying for a single release. When I picked Fine Time, I just went with my gut. Sometimes when you go with your gut you get it right and sometimes you get it wrong, but for me Fine Time was the perfect way for us to announce ourselves and make our presence felt.

We were touring our arses off then and whenever we played Fine Time, it went down a storm. Even before people had heard of us, we were doing all these big venues. We were a hard gigging band, and we were supporting all these other bands that were making waves in the scene at the time.

We used to go to John Entwistle’s studio a lot where we recorded the bulk of our B-sides for the All Changesingles. We were there all summer and I think Keith [O’Neill] and Pete [Wilkinson] came back to the studio from the garage nearby to say they just heard Fine Time played on BBC Radio 1 for the first time which was a massive deal for us. It ended up entering the charts at number seventeen which was fantastic for us.

DEAN: After Fine Time came Alright which became another UK Top 20 hit, and then you hit the UK Top 10 for the first time with Sandstorm and again with Walkaway.

Walkaway was released just a few months before the Euro 1996 tournament in England, and was featured in the end credits after England were knocked out of the semi-final against Germany. Does Walkaway resonate in some way with the band and with fans for that reason?

JP: I remember were actually touring in America at the time of England’s semi-final match against Germany at Euro 1996. To be honest, because we were touring at the time we didn’t fully get on the vibe of the Euro championships, and we missed Walkaway being used in the TV coverage, but when we mention Walkaway everyone still talks about that moment.

DEAN: Did you manage to catch any of the Euro 1996 matches while you were touring in the US?

JP: Me and our friend Alan McKenna – who was our guitar roadie on the tour – did manage to catch a bit of the England v Germany semi-final. We were in some hotel in Dayton, Ohio and watched it in our hotel room at 2:30 in the afternoon. We were trying to watch it in the hotel bar I recall, but the staff weren’t aware of the football happening. But we missed the whole vibe that was going on back home around the England team.

DEAN: Cast broke through just as the Britpop scene was in full swing and the rivalry between Oasis and Blur was at its peak. Do you think the timing of that was a fundamental factor in Cast’s success?

JP: That’s all hypothetical really. Even before we were signed, all of us possessed a staunch belief and vision in our ability. I think both the Britpop movement erupting and our own success was the result of the coming together of a lot of different dynamics. The funny thing about time and circumstance is if one thing drops, everything else drops.

We were playing for a long while before we hit the charts, and even then we knew we were on to something, and perhaps the likes of Oasis or other bands possessed the same feeling when they began to make a break through at the same time. It wasn’t one thing really, but that movement lifted the whole roof of the nation. Every man, every woman, every child and every dog was aware there was something going on musically and there was. You couldn’t turn left, right and centre for the amount of clubs and labels and bands coming through.

We weren’t all of the same ilk either. There was a lot of different musical styles and identities. I think the one common ground we had is we were just arriving around this big happening. I believe though regardless of theBritpop explosion, we would still have made some form of impression upon the times.

DEAN: Cast were among the support acts for Oasis at one of their two legendary Knebworth gigs on 11 August 1996. Does that moment still have fond memories for the band to this day?

JP: Knebworth was a massive event, but I supposed for us it didn’t really feel like an one-off. I don’t mean it in a cocky sense but for all our young bravado, these were the type of shows we were expecting to be a part of then.

Before we played there, I think we may have just come back from recording some B-sides with Brendan Lynch, possibly for our next single Flying which came out later that year and reached number four. I remember tooNoel [Gallagher] jumping in the car when I was playing him the B-sides we just recorded.

It was a massive thing but I was slightly removed from it in a way, because when you’re playing shows on a regular basis you just get on and do your thing really. It was great to be a part of what is renowned as such an iconic event to this day. But I don’t look back on things like that all the time, I’m always looking ahead to the next day or the next big thing.

DEAN: Fast forward to the band’s reformation and the release of Troubled Times, what was the key factor in the band reuniting?

JP: It was just timing really. A few years before that, for the first time in a very long time, I dropped Sandstorm, Alright and Fine Time into a solo gig I was playing, which I hadn’t done for about eight years then. I was driving up to the gig and just out of the blue decided to drop them into my set. I did it and it went down a storm, then I started writing a few songs and the idea of reforming Cast just started creeping into my imagination.

We started messaging and eventually met up, and we realised we all changed a bit and our egos weren’t what they used to be. It’s hard to watch yourself documented during those earlier years, because you’re just young and full of shit half the time. When we got back together, playing in Cast meant something different to us, and I rediscovered this deep affection for everyone and for playing songs again.

Playing all the old tracks felt different for me and felt more like a celebratory action for me to take. I sing these songs now with as much love and verve as I ever did. That’s why I didn’t sing them for such a long time, because I wouldn’t even dream of playing them half-hearted.

DEAN: What can we expect from the setlist for much of the tour? Obviously much of the album tracks from All Change will feature heavily – is there a possibility any B-sides from the All Change era, that have rarely been played before, will feature?

JP: I’ve never thought of that really. We’ve got a setlist that we did the other day that we’re likely going to stick with for much of the tour. There’s a lot of tracks from Troubled Times, along with new ones like Baby Blue Eyes, and then a lot of tracks from All Change and our other albums.

It’s hard because we’ve had so many songs down the years that we’ve got to somehow condense into one 90-minute set. We often get people saying we should have played this or that, which in a way is a great thing.

DEAN: Supporting you tonight are Houdini Dax from Cardiff. Have you listened to much of them prior to tonight?

JP: They’re quite witty I thought, and they have a really good vibe about them. Someone sent me a link to their tracks the other day, and there was a track called Get Your Goo On which I thought was a really well-crafted tune with a great football chant-feel to it.

I’ll definitely check out Houdini Dax tonight and listen to more of their stuff now you’ve mentioned it.

DEAN: John, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. It’s been a pleasure for me to meet you, and best of luck with the whole tour!

JP: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for a nice chat!

Tickets for Cast‘s performance with Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra on Saturday 5th December 2015 atLiverpool Philharmonic Hall are on sale nowListen to the new single Baby Blue Eyes here.

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Interview by Dean Hodge:

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