Victorious Festival 2021: Britpop stars Cast to play the main stage
Twenty-five years ago this month Cast found themselves looking across a vast sea of people as they played on the bill at one of Oasis’ era-defining Knebworth concerts.
Now widely seen as the high-water mark of Britpop – 2.6m people applied for the 250,000 tickets – it left a lasting impression on those who were there.
Cast’s debut album All Change had been released several months earlier and was on its way to going double-platinum, aided by hits like Walkaway, Alright and Fine Time. The Liverpool-based four-piece were riding the wave.
Frontman John Power recalls that day in August 1996: ‘The crowd was as deep as the horizon and as wide as the eye could see – it went right to the curves of the earth with people.
‘But you get on stage and you do your thing. Looking back you think “I should have made more of the moment”.
‘But isn't that the way with most things in life? It was a great thing to be a part of.
‘Oasis did a great show, and all of the bands playing were great.’
While Victorious is a touch more humble than those glorious Knebworth shows, John can’t wait to play here – Cast are on the main stage on Sunday.
‘We're looking forward to coming – we haven't had that many opportunities to play recently!
‘I'm sure I speak for more bands than just mine, but to be able to express ourselves on stage, and have that connection again – and the audience haven’t had that opportunity either.
‘We're really looking forward to getting back on stage and blasting away.’
While many bands of that period often try to disassociate themselves from the Britpop tag, John has no such qualms – seeing it as a period when people-power put rock bands at the fore.
‘People put the bands at the top of the charts and there was a national kind of connection.
‘Nearly everyone of a certain age was following a band or two... and they were really behind them. And we found that sort of connection with our audiences.‘It seems to be a kind of historical thing as well – every generation from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, you always had a culture or subculture of young people following bands, and now everyone does their own thing.
‘You've got so much opportunity now to dip in and out of bands. I wonder whether there's that real connection with a band that represents “me,” where you say: “I'm going to follow them and I'm going to buy all their albums...”’
Looking back on the time, he adds: ‘It was quite an eclectic thing – there were a lot of different bands, it wasn't all just northern grit, working class bands. There were a hell of a lot of different bands and different emotions.
‘Pretty much everyone could find a band or two to represent themselves within that few years where everything seemed to explode.’
While the band had a good run in the ’90s, diminishing returns kicked in and they split in 2001, two weeks after releasing their fourth album Beetroot.
But they reunited in 2010 and have remained active ever since, albeit at a less frenetic pace than in those early days. And they still have three-quarters of the line-up from the glory days.
‘Your younger selves, you're on a different median line, aren't you?’ John reflects. ‘You're more focused on yourself – your responsibilities are different.
‘We obviously change, but some of the roots and the primary colours haven't changed – you never lose the fire.
‘You learn and you take on board experiences, about being in a band and connecting with people.
‘When you're younger you're keener to really ram it, and fly your flag… Now, I allow the songs to have a slightly looser vibe, I'm not trying to squeeze everything through the hourglass. That's something you can't tell a young musician – it's something you learn by being on the road for 25-30 years.’
If anything John reckons age has improved them as musicians.
‘I enjoy playing – when I'm on stage now, I'm a bit looser and a bit more relaxed, I'm playing better.
‘I think that's the way it's meant to be with bands, a lot of bands don't have the opportunity to stick around that long and improve – like old jazz musicians who get better with age, y'know?’
He is also quick to acknowledge the enduring power of The Song.
‘Music is the wonder that connects the people – it's ageless. I listen to songs that are 70 years old and I listen to music right up to day, if it's doing something to you, that's the unspoken magic that you can't describe.
‘You can't buy the history that a song has with people. I might write songs like Walkaway – it's not just about writing a great song, it's about being at the right time, and having the right connection – people have memories for whatever reason and they interpret that and put the wind in its sails and send it right across.
‘They're singing Finetime or Sandstorm, like they've been doing since when they were back in uni, or it might have been their first gig, and they've held that feeling with them and they're still with us.’
Before Cast, John was in The La’s – the legendary Liverpool band which released one album in 1990, featuring the timeless classic There She Goes. Eccentric frontman Lee Mavers’ impossible-to-satisfy quest for sonic perfection meant a follow-up never emerged.
John left the band to form Cast.
‘The La’s were something special. Lee was a gifted songwriter of a generation, I was in that band for six years and I was a youngster when I joined. I learned to play within that band.
‘It was a kind of amazing experience, but when you were in the moment... It's only now I can stand back and be thankful for all of those experience, the good the bad and the ugly.
‘There were some amazing days with The La’s, and some very frustrating times.’
Many of the songs on All Change began life while John was still in The La’s.
‘At one time many of them would have gone towards a La’s album with Lee. But through the frustration and disintegration of The La’s, it made me realise that maybe I had to go do it for myself.
‘And now the pressure was on – I was bass player and backing vocalist and all of a sudden I had to step up!’
The band are heading out on tour this winter, for a Covid-belated 25th anniversary celebration of All Change. They’ll return to the south coast with a date at Engine Rooms in Southampton on January 28.
But John is also working on a new Cast album, the follow-up to 2017’s Kicking Up The Dust, which he says will bring things ‘full circle.’
‘It will be the space between Cast and The La’s – it’s an album I've been writing for a couple of years. If I get it right it will be the last record I make with Cast because I won't need to make another one – I will have said everything I want to say.
‘We're going back to our roots, we're going to make a rock'n'roll record that's up-tempo and positive.’
He’s also working on solo material too – a solo single Grounded Truth emerged last month, described as ‘an antidote to all the noise around us.’
‘The confusion with all the words and slogans that have been going on,’ says John, ‘everything's just all over the shop.
‘And it's all polarised opinions – that rational reason, the middle-ground seems like no-man's land now. You're not allowed to walk through there any more, everything has to be either black or white.
‘While all that is going on, all the facades, all the lies and the BS, there's a grain of truth that is immovable. Truth isn't something you can coerce, or change – the truth is what it is. If we can tune into that, then we've got a chance of seeing through the smoke and mirrors.’
Victorious Festival takes place on Southsea Common over the August bank holiday weekend. Adult day tickets from £40, £135 for the three days, plus booking fees. Go to victoriousfestival.co.uk.
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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