Ahead of the band’s Belfast gig at Custom House Square on 25th August, GiggingNI’s Kristen Sinclair caught up with Ocean Colour Scene’s vocalist and guitarist, Simon Fowler. Ranking high among the bands most synonymous with the Britpop era in the 90s, the Ocean Colour Scene frontman has rubbed shoulders with the likes of the Gallagher brothers and even collaborated with Paul Weller, the Modfather himself.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of their magnum opus, Moseley Shoals, the Birmingham natives are taking their album on the road to play it in full. Boasting 92 weeks on chart and four Top Ten singles, it’ll make for a show not to be missed. Simon Fowler talks 90s antics, nostalgia and the music industry today…
GiggingNI: What is your earliest memory of music? What inspired you to start a band and become a musician?
My earliest memories of music would be from very early family singles, which would be songs from the late fifties and sixties. Songs like ‘Speedy Gonzales’ [Pat Boone track from 1962] and ‘Seven Little Girls (Sitting in the Back Seat)’ [1959 single by Paul Evans and The Avons] – and I remember popular children’s songs from the time, too. But my first proper love of music came from The Beatles as a child, and I’ve loved them ever since. I’ve always wanted to be in The Beatles! As for starting Ocean Colour Scene, I simply wanted to be in a band and I liked the idea of it. I got really into The Beatles, and Neil Young was a huge influence on me as a young guitar player, as well as The Velvet Underground and David Bowie.
GNI: You play Belsonic festival in Custom House Square on 25th August, and you last played here at the Limelight last year, so what are you looking forward to most about coming back? Do you have any particular memories of playing Belfast?
A pint and a bowl of stew at The Crown, it’s one of the most beautiful pubs in the world. We’re playing an outdoor gig in Belfast, aren’t we? I like playing those sorts of concerts – outdoors in city squares – they feel less pressure, in a way. We’re supported by The Coral, a Liverpool band.
GNI: How have the Moseley Shoals anniversary shows been so far? There have been sold out gigs and it’s also the band’s first time playing in Australia and New Zealand.
We’ve been doing the Moseley Shoals thing for the past year, and it’s great. People really do like it, and it takes them back twenty years to school or college, their girlfriends are now their wives. It’s quite an important thing for people; they’ve really gone for it, out enjoying the concerts. That’s what we’re there for really, isn’t it?
GNI: The band rose to fame in the 90s at the height of the Britpop phenomenon, with Moseley Shoals having sold a million copies by the end of 1996 and later reaching #1 – what was it like to be among the most iconic bands of the era, along with Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Suede? Does the album feel 20 years old?
It was fantastic – it really was! [laughs] I mean, it was all illegal and naughty, but it was great. It was one of the great times together really. But like all parties, it has to end and you have to come back to earth and there’s a stain on the carpet. Does the album feel twenty years old? That’s a really difficult one – how did it feel twenty years ago? How does something twenty years old feel? [Pauses] Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t, it’s almost too hard to say.
GNI: Having played to crowds of 250,000+ supporting Oasis at Knebworth, yet also headlining shows such as your upcoming one at Custom House Square, how do massive stadium crowds compare to smaller festival venues?
I like audiences of about 3,500, those are the venues I prefer. I’m quite used to going out in front of huge crowds, whether it’s Glastonbury or Knebworth. You just concentrate on the setlist and occasionally look up and think, “Christ! Look how many people are here!”. To be honest, I’d probably be more nervous playing in front of ten people. I still get nervous for gigs sometimes, normally if it’s in Birmingham or London, or some sort of iconic place. But I’m usually not too bad. In fact we’re playing a hometown gig in Birmingham next month, at another open air venue, like in Belfast.
GNI: You’re playing Moseley Shoals in full at your Belfast gig; is there a favourite track the band loves playing from the album? Do you arrange any of the songs differently?
I like a song called ‘Downstream’, which is a ballad we don’t normally play. And the last song [‘Get Away’], I quite like that. We play the songs as we did at the time. To be quite honest, whether they’re like the record or not, I don’t know – I haven’t listened to the album in twenty years. You listen to your own stuff for a bit, and then it’s like, “This is me! This is me!” [laughs].
GNI: Some artists avoid re-visiting their best-loved material live in favour of focusing on new music, but do you think that a bit of nostalgia is a good thing, for band and fans alike?
I do, yeah. When you play live, the most important aspect is the crowd – because if the crowd wasn’t there, you wouldn’t be playing, would you? I like the idea of giving the crowd what they want. The idea of being obtuse, boring, introverted… stick it up your arse, I think! We’re there to make the crowd jump up and down, simple as that. The album [Moseley Shoals] takes about an hour to play, so if we’re playing for longer, we do some other songs that people know.
GNI: Ocean Colour Scene have released previous live albums, most notably Live: One For The Road in 2004 and some limited edition vinyl pressings for Record Store Day – what do you feel is the appeal of a live album, and live music in general?
To be honest, I don’t like live albums; concerts are there to be seen. Some of them are good – there’s a great live album by The Ramones called It’s Alive, but I’ve had to stop listening to that in the car because it makes you drive too fast! I’m inspired to release Ocean Colour Scene’s live albums as they’re something the fans love and they can come and get them signed. However on a personal level, I don’t think they’re a great idea.
GNI: As pioneers of British alt-rock and guitar music in the 90s, Ocean Colour Scene have undoubtedly inspired many young UK bands today – are there any artists you’re listening to or have your eye on at the moment?
I still listen to The Beatles and Neil Young, I’m afraid! You’re talking to the wrong person as I don’t really know many new bands at all. I don’t follow the modern music scene, it doesn’t really mean anything to me anymore – not when you can have nine singles in the Top Ten all by Ed Sheeran [laughs]. What’s happened to the romance of the 45”? It’s all changed and, quite frankly, I don’t think the scene is meant for me anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I quite like and admire Ed Sheeran, though I don’t really know his stuff – but there’s one song they play in every single pub, every day of my life! So I’m beginning to feel like I actually want to hit him [laughs].
GNI: Finally, Ocean Colour Scene’s last studio album was Painting in 2013 – can fans expect any new music in the pipeline?
That’s what I’ve gotta do: I’ve got to write. I want to write and hopefully record an album at some point next year – but we’re touring at the moment and I’m far too lazy!
Above & Beyond, Walking on Cars, Emeli Sandé, Timmy Trumpet, Foy Vance, Oliver Heldens, Kasabian, Stiff Little Fingers (with The Stranglers) and Carl Cox all join Ocean Colour Scene at Custom House Square between 11th and 27th August.