INTERVIEW: Simon Fowler – Ocean Colour Scene

Brit-pop legends Ocean Colour Scene return to Australia for a five-date tour this November. The band who made their first journey Down Under in early 2016 after more than 25 years, obviously enjoyed themselves enough to return rather more quickly, palying the first date at The Metro Theatre in Sydney on November 11th. The band also takes in Brisbane, Adelaide, Fremantle and Melbourne. We caught up with Simon Fowler to find out when the new OCS album will be out, boyhood subbuteo commentary and the meaning of life!

Mark: Hi Simon how are you?

Simon: I’m very good thanks Mark.

Mark: Thanks for taking the time to talk to the Rockpit today Simon. We covered your tour of Australia last time round and it’s great to see you back so soon. They were some pretty sweaty gigs in nice tight venues but the shows were packed from Coast to Coast so it’s great to see you back and playing some bigger rooms this time around.

Simon: That was in February was it when we came to Australia the last time. God it was so hot I thought I was going to pass out! We’re not used to that sort of heat over here (laughs)

Mark: So what do you take away from that first visit apart from the searing heat?

Simon: It was just so hot, and so humid, I didn’t realise it got so humid, but most of all I was just really surprised that people had come to see us! We just didn’t know what to expect at all. But by the time we got home I think we’d just about got over the jet-lag! (laughs)

Mark: (laughs) It is a bit of a trip, and taking in those  bigger venues this time around we should be able to pack in a few more people for you this time and maybe even make it a bit hotter!

Mark: What’s it like playing a new country for the first time? Was Australia somewhere that was on your bucket list?

Simon: Yes it was, and it always had been, and we could never work out why we’d never been, or why we’d never been in the ’90’s because all of our contemporaries all had. I just don’t know why it never happened and it’s a shame it didn’t really, but it was good to finally get there. I guess it’s like going to The States and Japan, when you’re in a band those are the places you really aim to get to and sometimes that’s at the expense of others.

Mark: From what I’m told our reporter had a great time at his first OCS show and he made a lot of new friends in the crowd, though he wasn’t sure how many Australians there were in the audience!

Simon: I think most of them were Scottish! (laughs) I think it was in Perth that they had the saltire flags all around the audience! But we do also play in Scotland so it would be nice if a few Australians came to see us! (laughs)

Mark: (laughs) Last time you were over the Mosley Shoals album was having an anniversary what are you going to be doing differently for us this time?

Simon: Do you know what, I don’t know to be quite honest. I’m not sure what set we’re doing, but I better find out – it’s in a fortnight! But this has come up quickly, it’s strange, for so long now this trip had been “Oh no that’s at the end of the year”, or “It can wait it’s at the end of the year” and suddenly here we are at the end of the year – now its the “in a fortnight tour!” and time travels more quickly I think as you get older.

Mark: I think you’re right. It certainly does. This week I’d been delving into your Merrymouth albums,  which I’ve particularly enjoyed. Are you thinking of doing more?

Simon: Not at the moment, I really need to write for Ocean Colour Scene now, that’s what I really need to do this coming year because we really want to be able to record another album as soon as we can really.  But Steve’s been busy with Paul Weller and The Specials and Oscar’s been busy with The Beat and we’ve done quite a lot of Festivals so we’ve had a busy year but we’ve got a quiet year coming up so that’s when I hope to write really. I’ll maybe get in a studio within the next six months, give or take a few months.

Mark: Do you find the process of writing difficult? Is it something that you have to set time aside for?

Simon: I haven’t written for a while to be honest. I used to write when I was a kid every day. But now I need to sit down and actually do it.  Sit down after Country walks to the pub.

Mark: Do the songs come naturally? Just sat there with the voice, an acoustic and a melody?

Simon: Yeah, yeah they do I just sit down with an acoustic guitar. I have a tape player and I just warble away and eventually, hopefully something just starts poking its head above the surface, you know, and you can work with it. And then things come kind of quickly, but sometimes they don’t and sometimes they’re dreadful!

Mark: (laughs)

Simon: Sometimes you just write as they are sung. Really verbatim, and you think where the hell did that come from?

Mark: Do you listen to a lot of music? I know that you’re an acoustic guitarist and you can hear a lot of influences at play especially on the Merrymouth albums, and I know you’re a big Neil Young fan as well, but do you find that the way you write has changed over time as you’ve taken more on board?

Simon: No I don’t think so, I still listen to the same music that I’ve always done. I’m really into Joni Mitchell at the moment and Steven and I are planning to do a Joni Mitchell EP at some point. So no I’m afraid I haven’t kept up at all with modern music, in fact there’s just been a feature on the morning television featuring a band called… no I’ve already forgotten what they are called (laughs) and they’ve just scored the longest number one in England  presumably since that one from Robin Hood (The Bryan Adams hit – ‘Everything I Do’) and I’d never heard it!

Mark: That’s news to me too!

Simon: It’s not really the type of music I’d listen to anyway, it was just pop music for kids, but that’s what it’s meant to be I guess. But no I haven’t kept up with music trends really at all.

Mark: Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I think that most of the best music hs probably already been written.

Simon: I agree with that.

Mark: One of the things that always intrigued me about someone who writes such distinctive songs is your involvement with the England song for France ’98.

Simon: (laughs and laughs again) We got a letter from the FA inviting me to do it with Ian McCullough from Echo and the Bunnymen. We were in Japan at the time on tour and I spoke to Ian on the phone and we got on like a house on fire. So I went up to Liverpool and before I got there I found out that The Spice Girls were going to be involved and they were great (laughs)

Mark: And it did rather well so you must be pleased with that, sadly far better than the team did.

Simon: Oh thanks for that, yes. (laughs)

Mark: (laughs)

Simon: At least we made the Top 8!

Mark: One of the things that always intrigues me about musicians is where it all began for them. Are you able to take it all the way back for us? Was there a defining moment of realisation or a gradual realisation that music would be your life?

Simon: I think from very, very young.  From a very young age I grew up listening to The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel. And I could always sing and so could my brother and so could my father. So I always knew there was something but I initially became a journalist because I wanted to be a football commentator, and I was a journalist for about 4 years.

Mark: You’ve got a great voice for a commentator, I can imagine you commentating on some of those City games.

Simon: (laughs) I used to commentate on my own subbuteo matches!

Mark: (laughs) and I thought that was just me!

Simon: (laughing) That’s great! I always used to play England against someone and I used to keep details of the players. And England won every game – and this was playing myself!

Mark and Simon: (both laughing)

Simon: I must have cheated myself every game, oh my Gd how pathetic!

Mark: Don’t be too harsh, it’s the result that counts not how you play the game!

Simon: (laughs)

Mark: So the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel led you astray, when did you take your first steps into music?

Simon: I got my first guitar when I was nine for my ninth birthday and then just kind of learned to play, and I think that the real catalyst was Neil Young. I was 14 at the time and I was off school ill with the flu and my bother had this Neil Young album at the time from a family member, called ‘Decade’ which was like the Neil Young compilation album. And I just listened to that and within days I was hooked. I was also very much into David Bowie and Lou Reed, you know the Velvet Underground, and that kind of thing. And I think Lou Reed is a kind of influence on the way that I play the guitar because we’re kind of strummers.

Mark: Both of course have sadly left us now, I was reading an interview where you said I think that you’d turned the radio on and they were talking about Bowie and you came to realise that he’d left us after a while?

Simon: Yeah, I was sick, physically sick when that happened. It was the radio actually, I’d turned it on because I always put it on in bed in the morning and I thought ‘this sounds strange’ because I presumed that they were talking about the release of his new album which had happened about two days previous, and I thought ‘this is weird’ as it was starting to sound like a tribute or something and at the end they said that music had lost one of its greatest stars and I was instantly sick, it was such a shock and the whole day in Britain went into lock-down really. It was David Bowie day, or David Bowie week really, all the radio stations went into mourning, it was strange.

Mark: It’s been a horrible few years for deaths of musicians but I think Bowie is certainly right up there with the biggest there will ever be. You’ve played a lot of huge gigs, a lot of small rooms, what do you prefer being on stage, in Knebworth in front of that record-breaking crowd or being in that club in Perth with your Scottish fans?

Simon: I like about 3000, three and a half thousand those sort of classic rock venues that we have in England like the Hammersmith Odeon those type of venues.

Mark: You must have hundreds of highlights throughout your career, is there anything that immediately springs to mind when people ask you that question?

Simon: Well I guess Knebworth was pretty good supporting Oasis. Top of the Pops was a bit of a milestone and I think the first time we played the Albert Hall, that was when we knew we’d arrived, that we’d done it.  That was good.

Mark: Has the backstage rider changed much over the years?

Simon: Yes it’s far more grown up I think, very, very few alcoholic drinks, no women…

Mark: (laughs)

Simon: No slabs of coke, nothing like that anymore! It’s rubbish! (laughs) It’s good actually, but it has taken me about 25 years to realise that it’s far batter to go on stage sober! And it is! (laughs)

Mark: If you could have been a fly on the wall in the studio for the creation of any album just to see how all the magic happened, what’s that album for you?

Simon: I guess it would be Sergeant Pepper, but having said that I know so much about the making of that album I probably know it all already! I’ve seen so many books and films on it but that has to be number one I guess.

Mark: It did change the world in so many way, not a bad pick to make. And we traditionally end with the easiest question – what is the meaning of life?

Simon: Oh I think probably to get to the end.

Mark: (laughs) Any any message for the fans before the shows?

Simon: Tell the Brits who are involved, could they bring an Australian friend with them please! (laughs)

Mark: (laughs) I think we can pass that on. Great to talk to you Simon and great to see you back especially so soon.

Simon: Well thank you very much.

Mark: Take care, safe trip.



November 11: Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW
November 12: The Triffid, Brisbane QLD
November 14: The Gov, Adelaide SA
November 15: Metropolis, Fremantle WA
November 17: 170 Russell, Melbourne VIC
November 19: Opera House, Wellington NZ
November 20: Powerstation, Auckland NZ

About Mark Rockpit 555 Articles

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