Simon Fowler: ‘We do kind of forget how big we were in ’96’

Ocean Colour Scene
Ocean Colour Scene
Jerry Williams playing at Victorious 2017.  Picture by Paul Windsor

Portsmouth singer-songwriter Jerry Williams calls on her fans to help her realise her dream of playing in America

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Ocean Colour Scene are headlining the Seaside Stage at the Victorious Festival on Sunday. Frontman Simon Fowler spoke to Chris Broom about hitting 25 years together.

In their full pomp during the ’90s Ocean Colour Scene were one of the biggest bands in the country.

Their Moseley Shoals and Marchin’ Already albums were ubiquitous, yielding hit singles that have since become classic rock radio staples, including The Riverboat Song and Hundred Mile High City, netting them millions of sales along the way.

And now they have chosen to mark their silver anniversary year by playing their only show at this weekend’s Victorious Festival.

Frontman Simon Fowler told The Guide: ‘This the only gig we’re doing this year.

‘We did so much last year and the year before – we did two big tours and the festivals so we decided to give everyone a break from us.

‘This is our 25th year as well, so we’ll celebrate and have our party in Portsmouth.’

While OCS are obviously still very much a going concern, the band’s members have their own outside interests. Guitarist Steve Cradock has been Paul Weller’s right-hand man since 1992 – before his own band cracked the big time. Simon and drummer Oscar Harrison are often to be found on the road as a duo, and Simon also has his band Merrymouth with sometime OCS bassist Dan Sealey among others.

‘These days Steve is pretty busy with Paul and then he’s busy with his son driving around Europe in a camper van,’ explains Simon with a dry chuckle. ‘He says he’s a Mod, but I suspect he’s a hippy.’

Merrymouth have so far released two albums, including this year’s Wenlock Hill.

‘Merrymouth has been very enjoyable. We did an album which we recorded at Dan’s house and then we took it on tour and it was really good.’

The project has been described as more folk-oriented, which Simon elaborates on: ‘It is, to a degree. The first Merrymouth album is much more of that in as much as it was a deliberate take on the folk revival of the ’60s and ’70s. This new one we just kind of allowed to happen really and see where it went.

‘It’s a folk band in the same way that I would say OCS can be – The Riverboat Song is an acoustic song, we’ve always had that side to us.’

In a previous interview Simon described his main band as being ‘a folk band that got lucky,’ and he laughs when reminded of this: ‘I’d say we’re a folk band who used to be able to dance, There are two good things about Merrymouth - I get to sit down so I don’t have to dance and I can grow a beard.’

But now that Merrymouth have been put back on the shelf for the moment, the beard has been shaved off and it’s back in to OCS mode.

The band came together in the Birmingham suburb of Moseley in 1989, but it was several years before things took off and it was starting to look like they were doomed to cult status – their debut self-titled album in 1992 failed to attract much attention.

‘We never thought it would take off the way it did, not really,’ the singer recalls. ‘We kind of forget how big it was in ’96 – we were the second biggest band in Britain for two years.

‘That’s not strictly true – we were actually the third biggest selling band, after Oasis and the Lighthouse Family, but I’m not going to count them,’ he laughs again.

And it was actually the patronage of the then-media wunderkind Chris Evans, during the period when he could do no wrong, that helped boost the band. They were the first-ever act to perform on his early evening Channel4 show TFI Friday. The song was used after that as guests made their entrance on the show.

Simon now is effusive in his praise of the DJ: ‘Oh God yes. People always bring up our close association with Oasis and Paul (Weller), but none of it would have happened if it hadn’t been for Chris. At the time he was also the breakfast show DJ, and he made Riverboat Song record of the week for two weeks running, and then when the album came out it went straight in at number two and stayed there for six months. And there’s no way on God’s earth that would have happened without Chris – he made us.’

Last year, the group revisited Moseley Shoals, playing the whole album on tour: ‘It went down an absolute storm and it did kind of bring home that it was the soundtrack to a lot of people’s lives at the time.

‘We were too busy to grasp that when it was happening – we were so busy that we never really reflected upon anything, but it was good to be busy at that point.’

But despite the love of the masses, they were never widely loved by the music press, even during the height of Britpop.

‘We’ve never been embraced by the press,’ says Simon. ‘I think that we were seen as retro people by people who didn’t think Oasis were retro – which is amusing – or didn’t think that Blur sounded like the Kinks.

‘I think we annoyed a lot of people, we didn’t really play ball with the press.

‘To be honest, I think everyone reads their own press. They just don’t admit it.’

As to another album from OCS, Simon is taking a relaxed approach: ‘I’m not driven to do that particularly at the moment, but I don’t know about the future.

‘Me and Oscar have done a few festivals this summer, and then OCS are going out in the new year with a string quartet. It will either be really interesting or dreadful.

‘I don’t know what we’re doing for the rest of the year as Steve’s going to be busy with Paul – Paul’s got a new album coming out, I think in the spring.

‘I’m not in a hurry though.’

Simon on...


I don’t get to many gigs these days –the last one was Neil Young about a year ago, and he was cracking, on great form.

...being a 
journalist before OCS

I was a general reporter for the Birmingham Post for five years - court reporting, tree stuck up cat, all that kind of thing. I hated it – no, I don’t miss it at all.

...his listening and viewing habits

I have the radio in my car tuned to Radio4 these days – it’s because I’m getting old. And I love watching Have I Got News For You and QI – they’re hilarious.