Interview: Simon Fowler – Ocean Colour Scene
I never saw it as the start it’s more a change of heart.
Back in the mid-nineties, I was living in Tunbridge Wells and up to my elbows in music and all things mod related.
The town is home to a legendary music venue “The Forum”. Their tiny beer-stained stage has graced many a famous and up-and-coming band over the years including lots of “Soon to be but never was” types acts such as Oasis, Nirvana, and Sid Vicious to name but a few.
I must have seen hundreds of gigs there over the years, one night in particular sticks in my mind for several reasons. A cold February evening in 96′, at the height of the Britpop madness we heard through the grapevine about this amazing band that was going to be playing that everyone had been raving about.
I had a feeling something great was going to happen, (Mind you I’d had that feeling a lot back then, call it youthful enthusiasm) A roadblock of a crowd made bucketloads of cheap beer-tinged sweat pour off the walls, as they moshed excitedly (Remember how much fun moshing used to be? not any more not with my knees…) to a blistering guitar-heavy set, as we were introduced to songs like this.
(The other reason I remember that night was that a near riot was narrowly avoided when word got out that the God that is Paul Weller himself had turned up in the audience to support them).
Two weeks later “The Riverboat Song” was belting out of radios and TV’s up and down the country. With their Mod-inspired look and infectious hooks, they swiftly became my drug of choice. The name of the band? Ocean Colour Scene.
Over the next few years, the band have notched up five Top 10 albums and six Top 10 singles, and in those year’s I must have seen them play 20 or so times. Those gigs have etched themselves into part of my history with the insanely catchy and instantly recognisable songs firmly becoming part of the soundtrack of my life.
Fast forward twenty years.
So why am I writing about them now you ask? Well, recently I discovered that lead singer Simon “Foxy” Fowler and Drummer and Chief Percussionist, Oscar Harrison were back on the road and I was asked would I like to interview them… Well, what the flippergibbert do you think I said?
Below is part one of an extended interview I had with Simon. Part two will be published this time next week. So sit back, roll a number or a cuppa more likely and remember when you used to go “Stepping through the door like a troubadour”.
Don’t forget to check out the Hype’s interview with Foxy’s Ocean Colour Scene bandmate Steve Cradock in the Funk section.
When Foxy met the Hype.
So, Simon as the enigmatic, hip -shaking singer-songwriting frontman of a wildly successful band how did it all get started for you?
SF “It started, I mean, with me at a time when I was 9 and learning old English and American songs with my dad. Then I suppose I grew up with the Beatles and a wide knowledge of contemporary music of the days you know the 60’s and the 70’s. I guess the thing that changed me was when I was young and getting into music then”.
ME: So what age were you then?
“Up until then, I was just into you know general music, the same as most people my age would know. I knew that I wanted…and you know all the great American, England and Canadian music really and then I can’t remember whether I always wanted to be in a band or not. I can’t remember that sort of leap to “Oh I’ll have my own band”. I was in a band at school, and then I think the Velvet Underground was a catalyst to sort of we will get a band together and then”.
The first time I saw you play was at The Forum, which is a small proper established legendary music venue that can fit about 400 people, 12 months later I saw you at The Albert Hall.
SF:” Is The Forum in Tunbridge Wells? Is that the converted public toilet?”
That’s the one!
As I said I saw you play at The Albert Hall 12 months later, I just wondered how that felt for you? Was it a bit of a headf*ck for want of a better word?
“Well it was pretty incredible but I think it ended up that the excitement was always hampered by the fact that we were always pretty busy, we were always doing something you know, whether it was interviews, writing, recording, rehearsing, travelling, so the actual sort of you know, the actual realisation of it didn’t quite hit as much as you would imagine it would have done really.
“The Albert Hall was my idea, I said it as a joke, I can’t remember whether we were in London and we drove past it, and I said, “Oh we should play there”, and I just said yeah we should, I’ll sort it out. I thought at the time that The Albert Hall at the time was a 20,000 plus venue, I didn’t realise that it is only 5,000. So yeah, we played it, and when we played it I think we were making a video, we were making a video where those minis are racing one another in it, and that was part of the video that was going around The Albert Hall and when we got there our name was written in lights around The Albert Hall, and that was pretty cheesy if I’m honest”
ME: Did you think you had arrived?
SF: “Yeah, yeah we had”.
Okay, just going back to that sort of time. So what was it really like “Walking around the Groucho singing sucking on number 10”. Are there any stories you can tell us without the lawyers getting involved?
SF: laughs, “Yeah, that’s not easy! In the recording studios, we used to number our joints, and if it had a number 10 on it, you used to have to stand up on the end independently like Groucho Marks, that’s life that’s just in the studio”. (Note: I always assumed it was referring the Groucho club and an Embassy Number 10 ciggy, you live and learn eh..)
You and the band were always known for dressing really well so how does that work now that you are all getting a bit older, it’s not very flattering for chaps of a certain age to wear figure-hugging slacks.
“I have never really been that arsed about clothes. I think that just came from Steve (Craddock, legendary lead guitarist) the whole mod thing you know. I can’t be arsed to be a mod, but I think a lot of it would be that we would get free clothes, I don’t remember going out and spending loads of money on them. We had a 60s/90s style, but I have just turned 50 now, and you have to dress appropriately! Yeah, you really mustn’t be wearing converse! I am a big believer in that!”
ME: I am in my forties, and it was starting to hit me, and I thought I don’t want to end up like Clarkson, but I don’t want to end up as mutton either. It’s shaky ground for a lot of us!
You have spent years playing gigs and learning your trade the hard way, how do you think it is different for bands today who can just upload a track, have it go viral or worst fear, appear on the X-Factor? Do you think they miss out on it?
“I think so yeah, I think, I don’t really follow current music at all really. It’s a completely different thing; I mean the idea of getting into a van and being crap and learning how to play the bass and things for me that was all part of it. I don’t know if that sounds ludicrous now to today’s 15–year-olds you know things that happened in the 30’s and 40’s to jazz bands and you know early DJ’s and church halls. They might see what I see as being quite exciting as being kind of nonsense”.
“I mean it doesn’t really matter to me you know I’ve seen it, I’ve done the apprentice bit but I mean I know that the first opportunity that we thought we had to become well-known was the first time around in about 91′ and our single called “Yesterday today”, went into the charts at about 49, and then it sort of faded for us. We went back to the ground and wrote loads of stuff, and I’m glad that we did because if we had if that first opportunity we had seen had been more successful I don’t think it would have lasted.”
“We weren’t good enough; it is as simple as that. We weren’t good enough at playing and constructing albums you know, well why would be? We had never done it before so that was our adventure and also Paul (Weller) was very pivotal at this point because our apprenticeship included playing The Albert Hall. I mean when we played at The Albert Hall in the February of that year, 97′ I think it was, we had already played there, Steve and I. I was the support act for Weller on my own, and that would have been in 1993/94. I suppose so by the time we went to The Albert Hall as Ocean Colour Scene to headline it I knew where the changing room was, and I knew all the photographs, you know, I felt at home. But yeah, I’ll tell you, Paul was pretty inspirational in all that”…