Liverpool in the 1990s… A simpler time when television still only had four channels, Sonic was going head to head with Mario as the SEGA Mega Drive and the Super Nintendo battled for supremacy, Chris Evans and TFI Friday were the only way to start the weekend, smartphones were a pipedream that only Star Trek was aware of, and cassette players were championing either Oasis or Blur as Britpop swept the nation.
As households around the country signalled which side of the What’s the Story (Morning Glory)/Parklife divide they were on, John Power, the former bassist and banking singer with The La’s, formed Cast, one of the real gems of the Britpop era. Signed to Polydor, their first album All Change would go on to be the label’s biggest-selling debut of all time.
On Friday night, 20 years on to the month that All Change hit the shelves, Cast are back in business. The slogan for a famous drink on these shores tells us that ‘good things come to those who wait’ – and the gig was no exception. They may be a little more mature than back in 1995, and the line-up has experienced one or two changes along the way, but Cast are back, and sound as brilliant as ever.
First up was Belfast’s Echo Raptors. Despite being an early support act, hitting the stage at 7.20pm, a decent crowd had made its way into Limelight 2, and a good number were familiar with the band’s infectious sound. A group who wouldn’t have sounded out of place in Cast’s heyday and a band that thoroughly deserve to thrive judging by this performance, their bouncy blend of indie rock warmed up the ever-swelling crowd up nicely ahead of the main event.
Comebacks and/or reunions are often viewed suspiciously from the outside. It’s fair game – no fan wants to see the legacy of their favourite bands ruined. And if comeback tours are on the agenda, then the group in question has to have everything together to make it a success. Thankfully, that’s never in doubt with Cast.
Time Bomb, from 2012’s comeback record Troubled Times set the tone for what was to be a triumphant return to Irish shores. Jumping from the recent track to Fine Time and Sandstorm, two timeless hits from All Change, ensured that the crowd were fully onboard, with each word being sung back at Power as he thrashed around the stage – seamlessly switching from acoustic to electric guitar – talking to the crowd in between songs in his unmistakable Scouse accent, which is surprisingly a world away from his singing voice.
A set packed with hits – all of them received gratefully by a capacity crowd – continued to delight and excite in equal measure. Not another person could have squeezed into Limelight 2 – not bad for a band who were in there heyday two decades ago – and you’d fancy that if Editors weren’t playing next door, in the larger Limelight 1, Power and co could have easily sold enough tickets to justify bumping the gig into the bigger room.
Power took the time out before Baby Blue Eyes to explain that the band have been back in the studio, and that their recent gigs have inspired them to want to write and record more music. The track is the fruit of their experimentation so far, and though it is the result of a more mature band, it has a Cast ‘feel’ to it, and will whet the appetite of fans as he claims that a new album should be on it’s way in the new year.
Flying again created a mass singalong, while Guiding Star was a complete triumph. The band took a second to look at each other as it ended, the crowd singing ‘ole‘ in response to hearing a firm favorite, and Power pumped a fist, seemingly absolutely delighted by the reaction. It’s tremendous to see that, even after all these years, that connection between artist and audience is still there, and that he visibly gets a buzz from doing what he does best. Live the Dream cemented this as a real ‘greatest hits’ section of the show, if it’s possible to distinguish that from the rest.
Even a broken string during the first few chords of Walkaway couldn’t dampen spirits. It’s a song that just transports you back to the middle of the 90s. Ask any English football fan and, upon hearing the opening few words of the song, they’ll be able to shut their eyes and see Gareth Southgate missing a penalty at Euro ’96. It became an anthem for a generation in England, albeit one associated with sporting failure and heartache. Featured on many a nineties’ compilation album, it sets up History, which is transformed into a behemoth of a song thanks to an incredible energy in the band. As they all drip with sweat, it featured wailing guitar solos, a pounding melody and a drumbeat that had the whole room bouncing. As the band members filtered off the stage, one by one, we wete treated to an epic drum solo to announce the interval, and the place was in raptures as the stage emptied.
On what would have been John Lennon’s 75th birthday, Power (who has played the Beatles star in a stage production) returned to the stage on his own to perform Lennon’s Working Class Hero, a stripped-back number that set up the grandstand finish.
As Free Me reached its climax, there were limbs everywhere. People were hugging. There was dancing on a table. The band, and Power in particular, were absolutely drenched from head to toe. The crowd the same. Every single person was invested in the gig, and when the opening chords of Alright rang out, it sparked one last mass singalong. From the people touching the barrier at the front, to those stood right at the back, each and every fan there sung the words back at Power – it was the perfect end to a what was a special gig.
Noel Gallagher once compared watching Cast live to a spiritual experience, and while that may seem a little over the top in some people’s eyes, they are most certainly a special band, and we are lucky that they put the problems that caused them to split way back when behind them and reunited. Twenty years down the line from All Change, a hugely important album in the Britpop movement of the 90s, Cast feel as relevant as ever. Beards and the occasional grey hair may have replaced fresh-faced arrogance, but none of the enthusiasm has gone. This is arguably the band flying as high as they ever have.
A couple of years ago Blur came back onto the scene in the UK – suggesting that, despite what we were told, Britpop may not actually be dead after all. Tonight’s gig just proves that, while it may have been in a coma for a few years, Cast have dragged it, kicking and screaming, from its hospital bed to take its place, rightfully, in the music scene. The genre’s far from dead, it just needed someone as tremendous as Cast to push it back into the limelight. Dan Williams, GiggingNI.com