INTERVIEW: Cast legend John Power “Playing live is the ultimate celebration of our friendship and our music.”

Britpop legends CAST Greatest Hits Tour is coming to Belfast at The Limelight 1 on Friday 23rd November 2018. Cast released two new ‘vinyl’ only packages in November 2018 and are hitting the road to celebrate, performing their greatest hits.

Originally formed in 1992 from the ashes of two of the most legendary and lauded guitar bands of all time, The La’s and Shack, Cast released four albums, the second ‘Mother Nature Calls’ also went platinum (three of them top 10), and had ten top 10 singles, before disbanding in 2001. ‘All Change’ became the biggest selling debut album of all time for Polydor Records. After the band’s split, John Power released three solo albums and played intermittently with the reformed La’ s. A decade later in 2012, the bands’ original line-up reunited with original producer John Leckie (Stone Roses, Radiohead, The Fall) for ‘Troubled Times’. The reinvigorated band produced an album full of the anthemic, melodic and beautifully written songs for which they have always been loved by their fervent fanbase.

Mark Millar caught up with Cast frontman John Power to talk about the new vinyl releases, the upcoming live shows and encores.

 cast kicking up the dust


Cast was born from the last word of the final song on The La’s self-titled one and only album. How long was it from The La’s ended that you began to think about starting your own band?

J. Power: I was thinking about starting Cast while I was still in The La’s only when there was a significant dose of inertia when we got to the point where we weren’t going to move on. I had already written some songs that would end up on the first Cast album All Change. I had Sandstorm, Fine Time and Walkaway written in a basic form and we were already playing Alright at La’s gigs. Initially, the idea was that those songs would be part of The La’s, but I think deep down Lee Mavers decided that he wasn’t going to do anything more with The La’s because he wasn’t happy with the situation. I guess The La’s had become a weight on all our shoulders, unfortunately.

So I started writing songs, and I was really excited about them. It wasn’t premeditated, but obviously, if you are writing songs you begin to think they are good, and you get excited and want to complete them. We wanted The La’s to change gear so much to find the sound and for Lee and the band to be happy and to have some positivity. But year by year, the positive side within the group started diminishing. So I left The La’s and was instantly working on Cast.

I had to find my footing going from playing the bass and having some bloody good song ideas to finding a band that was exciting and that took a while. Peter Wilkinson (bass guitar) was first on board. I went to him with the concept and said to him, “I’m putting a band together. It’s going to be called Cast, and I’ve got these songs already written.” He was interested because he had just left Shack so he was at a loose end as well, so it made perfect sense for him to join Cast. Peter was around through the various lineups until Liam ‘Skin’ Tyson (lead guitarist) and Keith O’ Neill (drums) joined and that’s when the band became definite in its shape and form. We knew then we had something rather special.

Were you comfortable having to become the frontman as well as the songwriter in Cast?

J. Power: Lee Mavers was the front man In The La’s – and still is! I suppose he was more like a mentor to me, and he is the most naturally gifted songwriter of his generation, there is no doubt about that. But when I started Cast, it wasn’t a big deal to become a frontman. I didn’t think, “I want to be a star.” It was just I had the songs and if I’m not going to sing them then nobody else is. I didn’t overthink about it, really. I had been singing one or two songs live with The La’s, and I felt comfortable to a degree singing the songs (laughs). Whenever I have taken something on that looks terrifying to other people I don’t think too much about it, it’s just something that I do.

Success for Cast seemed to happen quickly. Were you surprised at that?

J. Power: There was a lot of work behind the scenes, but when we released All Change, we were ready. We had done a lot of work, and it looks like it happened overnight for people, but behind that was a couple of years of frustration of hard work not getting the breaks and being told it wasn’t right by record companies who were into other things. But when we got it right and got signed to Polydor Records I wasn’t surprised by the success we had because it’s been proved 25 years down the line that All Change was a seminal record for our band and for the people who were involved with it. It has stood the test of time. In hindsight, if the band and management had had more experience, I think we could have been bigger than we were. We never quite found our footing in territories away from Britain and looking back we should have done, but that’s all hindsight. I always had a firm belief that it would happen for Cast because we had a lot of musical gems on that record and in our pocket and the band were great musicians. Each of those boys in the group had something unique to offer. It wasn’t just John from The La’s who had some great songs.

Now I’m so relaxed playing that I can put more into it, but at the time I was still finding my way. Cast was great songs with outstanding musicianship. In fact, technically I was probably the worst musician in the band (laughs). I still probably am, but I play a different way to everybody else, and I play a slightly different style to a lot of other people. I can pick the blues, and I can play a bit of folk and that’s what I do, but the rest of the band are more technically adept as musicians and same with Jay Lewis (bass) who has now stepped in for Peter. Jay is another stunning musician; he’s a wizard on the guitar and bass. So I’m surrounded by good musicians – myself being one now (laughs).

Cast ‘Singles – 1995-2017’ has just been released on vinyl: each song is a classic. One of the most popular songs on the record (and one of my favourites) is Walkaway. What can you remember about writing that song?

J. Power: Walkaway was part of the era where I could walk to my mum’s, and I could walk from my mum’s to my mates’. I could walk all day to band practice or wherever I was going, and all I was thinking about was writing songs. With Walkaway I remember being aware of that classic major scale that’s in classical music and in soul music – I heard it all my life, and I always wanted to write a song upon that terrain and shape of the chord sequence. I remember writing it in my bedroom then going downstairs and singing it to my dad. I remember taping it into a little Dictaphone and listening back, it was quite high at that point – it sounded like an old soul song or something. Then I played it to a mate of mine, and he didn’t realise it was me. He raised his eyebrows and said, “Is that you?” I suppose I was always trying to get people’s reactions to songs like Sandstorm, Walkaway, Four Walls and Fine Time because I thought they were really good – not that I knew what I was doing, but they felt really good.

I don’t know whether Walkaway is about my inner turmoil with The La’s – people have asked me that a lot but what I do know is you probably do take on board your situation and your circumstances and tune in to everything that is going on around. I don’t specifically have an incident or instance where I think; “I know I’m going to go home and put these emotions that I’ve just experienced now into a song.” I think it’s more a constant build up – like a dynamo and generator of emotions, which go around and around until they create something that needs to be expressed.

Looking at the tracklist on the record, it’s full of classics. What songs mean the most to you?

J. Power: Sometimes I maybe am more favourable to certain songs because they remind me of where I was at, at that time of my life personally as opposed to the musicality or the melody of the song. I think all the songs are extremely strong. Those songs were the pioneers of Cast; they were the vessel that took us across to the shores. I am very fond of Live the Dream as a song, Magic Hour is probably not my favourite to sing and play just because it is so dreamlike but it’s the perfect song in that classic sense. I think Free Me was a song that needed to be written at that time. We had come out of All Change and it was a very powerful song full of frustration and recognition of something, and it was a great song to come back with. We went from All Change into our second album Mother Nature Calls, and I thought we should do different things.

People have said we should have carried on with the intensity of All Change and maybe Free Me still has that. I’m So Lonely is a fantastic soul song to me that never quite got the recognition it deserved. I think it was to do with the timing of when it was released – I think we released it the week that Princess Diana died, it was something mad like that when nobody was arsed about singles coming out for a few weeks. Beat Mama had a little African riff on it that I really loved. I kind of love the rock ‘n’ roll side to that song. Time Bomb is closer to some of the rhythms that I played with The La’s – I love that song. The most recent song on the record, Do That is a disco classic (laughs). It’s got the foot to the floor beat and the chorus just lifts. If anything, looking through our career and me as a songwriter, I’m glad that I am still able to write a song with a lifting chorus – it really kicks off, and I love playing that live, and I love playing Paper Chains which unfortunately isn’t on the record, maybe that’ll be on volume two. (Laughs) I am very fond of all of the songs.

Cast Singles – 1995-2017 is a vinyl only release. Why did you choose to release in that format only?

J. Power: Personally, I’ve rediscovered vinyl. I’ve just got a little record player, and I’ve been buying a record every month and building up my collection. I think vinyl is excellent, and it always was the best sounding, and it continues to be. I don’t know if we are going to release the record on CD. It’s possible we might, but initially, it’s all vinyl. But who knows, if it goes well the record company might think about releasing CDs. I like the way the vinyl record is packaged. It looks stunning with the clear white vinyl and white sleeve with the red writing – it is a beautiful, clean record and I think that counts today. I do think vinyl is the way forward because it’s a great product and great to hold and to put on a record player. I’ve got rows and rows and boxes of CDs, and they are just in a box because I can’t be arsed with them.

Cast begin a 13-date Greatest Hits Tour in Belfast in November supporting the new release. Are you looking forward to getting out on the road again?

J. Power: I am because we are really close as a band now and we look forward to spending time in each other’s company, and playing live is the ultimate celebration of our friendship and our music. We always represent some of the hits, but this will be the first we will be playing all of them in the same show. The idea is to perform one or two tracks that we haven’t really played as often as we do at shows, so we are going to play album tracks, too. It’s going to be great singing them all because I don’t think I have ever done that on a show, so I’m looking forward to it. It’s a true expression of the band and we seem to be getting better with old age.

The last time the band played Belfast in 2016, you left the stage and didn’t return for an encore leaving fans confused. What happened?

J. Power: Yeah, we did, and everybody made a big fuss about it. It is nice to actually talk about what happened now because it became an issue with some of the audience in Belfast. We have always loved playing there and we always go on for an encore but people have to make some sort of noise. They can’t let the band walk off and not make any noise and think that we are going to come back on because that’s wrong for the band. When we went off we thought the crowd didn’t really want it. The gig was great and we would have come back on, but there comes a moment once it crosses that unspoken time limit where the energy in the band has gone. Then it feels a bit false to go back on. I remember it specifically because it was the only night on the tour that we didn’t go back on.

It was nothing to do with Belfast. We weren’t thinking, “We’re not going back on because the crowd were rubbish.” Because through the show the crowd was great. I just think the whole thing with doing an encore is if someone doesn’t start shouting for more, then we’re not going to come back on, and that’s something that we have done around the country.

We have done it in Glasgow once where once something technical happened and the moment passed. I would say 99% of the time we come back on stage because the audience want it and that’s the way it goes. If you’re too busy nattering to your mate or you think, “Sod this, I’m going to go to the bar because they will be back on in five minutes.” Then we are not coming back on and that doesn’t just apply to Belfast, it will be the same for any night of the tour. If we don’t catch a wave of momentum we won’t be back on stage. Every time we’ve played Belfast apart from the last time, we have come back on and had a great show. So I’m looking forward to having a “raucous” encore in Belfast – we might not even leave the stage, there will be no encore ‘cos we’re not finishing the gig – it will be an eternal show.

Have you been writing new songs to follow up Kickin Up The Dust?

J. Power: I have indeed and it comes in intense moments. I have got some really good ideas. I want to keep it simple and I want to make sure that everything the band plays is notable. Kickin Up The Dust was just a fine accomplishment and it’s got some great songs on it. We went in there with a couple of ideas, and then we thought maybe we would do an EP and then, all of a sudden, we decided to do an album so Kickin Up The Dust came out of nowhere. But what it did was to strengthen our togetherness and solidified the band and its connection with our audience to have some new music out there. We are a band. We’re not just going out touring and playing All Change every night, it’s very important to keep the freshness and the keenness to create new music. Doing that album was great. It was a springboard. The band had done a lot of work, and we had reconnected at a grassroots level with all our fans.

I’m writing now but I would like to start recording next year, whether it’s to release a few EPs then put them all together for an album I don’t know, but I definitely want to get some new material out. The band won’t be touring as much next year. I think we will do more festivals instead, but I want to keep writing.  I have got an idea and I want to keep it simple, but I want to keep it so that it’s just undeniably fucking good.

 

Cast ‘Vinyl – 1995-2017’ is a 4LP vinyl box set containing the 4 Polydor albums ‘All Change’ (1995), ‘Mother Nature Calls’ (1997), ‘Magic Hour’ (1999) and ‘Beetroot’ (2001). All are to be pressed on 18GM Heavyweight coloured vinyl. ‘Mother Nature Calls’, ‘Magic Hour’ and ‘Beetroot’ are being re-issued for the first time.

‘Singles – 1995-2017’ – Tracklisting

A1. Finetime

A2. Alright

A3. Sandstorm

A4. Walkaway

A5. Flying

A6. Free Me

A7. Guiding Star

A8. Live The Dream

B1. I’m So Lonely

B2. Beat Mama

B3. Magic Hour

B4. Desert Drought

B5. See That Girl

B6. Time Bomb

B7. Do That

November / December tour

Fri 23 Nov    Belfast Limelight 1

Sat 24 Nov   Dublin Academy

Thr 29 Nov   Oxford O2 Academy*

Fri 30 Nov    Bristol O2 Academy*

Sat 01 Dec   Birmingham O2 Institute*

Thr 06 Dec   Southampton Engine Rooms

Fri 07 Dec    Cardiff Tramshed

Sat 08 Dec   London O2 Forum Kentish Town*

Thr 13 Dec   Manchester O2 Ritz*

Fri 14 Dec    Glasgow O2 ABC*

Sat 15 Dec   Newcastle University

Fri 21 Dec    Leeds O2 Academy*

Sat 22 Dec   Liverpool Mountford Hall *

Tickets on sale now from www.limelightbelfast.com,  www.ticketmaster.ie  Katy’s Bar & Ticketmaster outlets nationwide. Northern Ireland customers 0844 277 44 55 & Republic of Ireland customers 0818 719 300.

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