Simon Fowler, (seen here on the right), an English singer, songwriter and acoustic guitarist, best known as the front man with Ocean Colour Scene, chats with Kevin Cooper about supporting Oasis on their 1996 (What’s The Story) Morning Glory Tour, the support that Ocean Colour Scene got from Paul Weller and Chris Evans, their first time on Top Of The Pops, and Simon and Oscars forthcoming intimate and acoustic tour of the UK.

Simon Fowler is an English singer, songwriter and acoustic guitarist, best known as the front man of Ocean Colour Scene.

Simon Fowler commenced his music career as the lead singer and songwriter for Birmingham band The Fanatics, which consisted of Simon Fowler (vocals and guitar), Damon Minchella (bass), Paul Wilkes (guitar) and Carolyn Bullock (drums). Future Ocean Colour Scene drummer and former Echo Base band member Oscar Harrison replaced Bullock on drums.

The Fanatics released one record in 1989 before splitting, and later that year Fowler, Minchella and Harrison teamed up with guitarist Steve Cradock to form Ocean Colour Scene. Originally signed to Phffiitt Records in 1990 they released their first single, Sway, during the indie era. When their record label was swallowed up by Phonogram, their eponymous debut album was remixed against the band’s wishes, which was largely deemed a failure.

With no real direction and no outlet for any new music, it was not until 1993 that things improved for them. Paul Weller invited the band to support him on some of his tour dates and they were suddenly in the public eye. Weller also asked Cradock to play guitar on one of his singles and asked Fowler to sing on his album, Wild Wood. With the money that Cradock made from touring with Weller, the band was able to keep afloat.

There were other supporters of Ocean Colour Scene such as Noel Gallagher, who heard a demo that they had made and invited the band to play with Oasis on their 1995 tour, which resulted in a record deal.

Moseley Shoals was released in 1996 and reached number two in the UK albums chart. Other albums followed such as Marchin’ Already in 1997, One From The Modern in 1999, Mechanical Wonder in 2001, A Hyperactive Workout For The Flying Squad in 2005 and On The Leyline in 2007, which continued their trend of releasing new material every two years.

Several live albums were also released as well as Saturday in 2010 and Painting in 2013.

In addition to being kept busy with Ocean Colour Scene, Fowler has toured with Oscar Harrison performing intimate acoustic tours for the past twenty years. They are touring the UK later this spring to celebrate twenty years of performing together.

Whilst busy preparing for their twenty five date tour, Simon Fowler took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Simon, good morning, how are you today?

I’m fine thanks Kevin, I’m just getting into my car with my dog Cooper (laughter). My partner and I have got a Cockapoo called Cooper (laughter).

Really (laughter).

Yes, he’s actually named after a new Australian lager (laughter). I found out when we were in Coopers Bar in Melbourne Airport, and they had a sign on the bar welcoming a new brand of Coopers saying, ‘welcome to the new edition to the family’ and I immediately thought, ‘that’s it, that’s his name’ (laughter).

I have got family who actually live out there in Alice Springs.

Blimey O’Reilly, they really are in the middle of nowhere.

Exactly, we have tried to visit them on no less than three times, and every time the trip has been cancelled because the runways in Alice Springs have been too hot for anything to land there (laughter).

Really (laughter) well that really does sound like Australia.

Anyway, before we move on to the more important things, let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s alright and let me thank you for being interested in just what it is that we are currently up to.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

Yes, life is treating me really well thank you for asking. More to the point how are you today?

Well, what can I say, I could complain but who would listen (laughter).

I know exactly what you are saying (laughter).

So, tell me, how did you manage to stay sane during lockdown?

You probably won’t believe this, but I am actually quite used to not doing a great deal (laughter). I used to just go and do some shopping for our elderly neighbours, who live in the village just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, so I got to know the shelves in Waitrose intimately.

I once spoke to Fish and I asked him what he hated about touring, and he said that every time that he was away on tour, his local Waitrose would move everything around so that he couldn’t find what it was that he wanted when he got home (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) I know exactly what he means.

Right, joking apart, you and I have got to talk about An Evening with Simon and Oscar.

Yes, we have, haven’t we?

Are you looking forward to it?

Yes, I am, it will be really good although I have to be totally honest with you and say that something like twenty-five dates is rather daunting.

That’s right, with twenty-five UK dates you are certainly not pulling any punches.

I can’t remember the last time that we did a tour that big, but at least Oscar and I can sit down.

I have to tell you that I first saw you and Oscar at The Venue in Derby back in 2007.

Blimey, really, well that is a long time ago now. Having said that, Oscar and I have been doing this now for twenty years. The forthcoming tour is to mark the twentieth anniversary of Live On The Riverboat, which obviously we will be re-releasing, with a couple of new songs on it. The new songs were recorded in Glasgow, which seemed quite appropriate really.

You are doing your best for the independent record shops by releasing Live On The Riverboat for Record Store Day. How do you feel when you see an item on eBay five minutes after it has been sold for twenty pounds plus, now selling for a hundred pounds plus?

(Laughter) perhaps we shouldn’t sign them, or perhaps sign them with the wrong names (laughter).

Looking back, whose idea was it initially for you and Oscar to go out on the road together?

To be totally honest with you I can’t really remember. I think that the impetus was that we would do that when Steve (Cradock) was away on tour with Paul (Weller). Oscar and I found ourselves with all of this free time and so we thought ‘why don’t we go out and do our version of the songs’ and it all started from there really. I am more at home doing that because that is more of a reflection of how I originally wrote the songs. The only thing is that we won’t be playing Riverboat, simply because I can’t play it (laughter). I’m not joking either (laughter).

So, if Steve hadn’t had the relationship with Paul, could it have easily been Oscar and Steve?

I don’t know, I don’t think so. I don’t really think that Steve would want to put himself in the centre spot quite like that; he is Britain’s best side man, isn’t he really.

Steve is most certainly a gun for hire.

He most definitely is and I have to say that he is one of the best in the West.

You were recently quoted as saying, “this tour gives me a great chance to look the audience in the eye and interact with them.” Is that really how it makes you feel?

Well, yes, it is because it is more a sort of theatre set and we are obviously playing venues which are a lot smaller than the venues that we usually play. I have always regarded myself as being a semi-professional raconteur I suppose. There are always a lot of stories for me to tell, and to be honest, I quite like that. I recently watched a documentary about Noel (Gallagher) and he does very much a similar thing; he tells stories that are related to the songs and then plays them. As long as you don’t turn the show into too much of that, I really do feel that people enjoy that. I can actually remember seeing Billy Bragg years and years ago, and it was near to when he had first started. I think that it was somewhere in Birmingham, and he was such a brilliant raconteur, he really was naturally funny. I enjoyed the show enormously and I thought ‘what a great performer he is’.

There is a very thin dividing line between it being funny and it turning into a toilet break.

(Laughter) there is absolutely no danger of that because if I do start to go on a bit, Oscar starts playing the piano (laughter).

Do you prefer playing the more intimate venues?

To be honest, and this is not me sitting on the fence, I really do like both. They are both different experiences. I think that the best sort of venue for us as a band is something around a three thousand capacity. I really do like that. Before the pandemic, we played a gig up in Glasgow at The Hydro in front of fourteen thousand people. We managed to sell it out, but Jesus Christ and I think that it is like that for the audience as well, although nowadays you tend to have screens. I remember going back years ago seeing people at The NEC in Birmingham, and it really could be difficult to get any sort of atmosphere going there. The first band that I saw who managed to pull it off was U2. The atmosphere on that particular night was so good that we could have been at Croke Park to be honest. U2 really are that good at playing that type of show.

It’s funny that you mention The Hydro because everyone who I speak to about it really doesn’t have a good word to say about it. They tell me that it’s cold, it echoes and simply that it’s too big.

I have to say that it is pretty impressive when you stand on stage (laughter). I think that, from a punters point of view, I suspect that it is about as interesting as The NEC (laughter). The place that I have always heard that is truly awful, which we have never played, is The Alexandra Palace in London; I am told that the sound really is diabolical.

Whenever you come to Nottingham and play The Royal Concert Hall, we spoil you as it really does sound fantastic (laughter).

Well thank you for that Kevin (laughter).

Back in the day I always wanted to see Ocean Colour Scene and a friend of mine wanted to see Oasis. So, I got us a couple of tickets and we went hurtling across to the NEC only to find the car park deserted. A security guard came over and asked, “are you looking for Oasis” to which I replied “yes, that’s right, has it been cancelled?” to which he said, “no you daft bugger, they are on at the Birmingham Arena in the centre of town”. So, we hot footed it across Birmingham, took our seats, just in time for me to hear you announce to the audience “thank you very much, goodnight” (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) I remember us supporting Oasis; in fact, I remember it quite well but obviously not quite as well as you do (laughter). Oh, dear me.

The last time that I photographed you was on Saturday 5th August 2017 when you played an After Race event at Doncaster Racecourse.

Oh god, I remember that. You would never have imagined that you were in Doncaster would you. It really is such a beautiful setting (laughter). I really do like those racecourse events. We have also played one of those at the Wolverhampton Racecourse. They really do have the very best back-stage facilities in the world. I really did enjoy those; they are really good.

I have to say that one of the best gigs I have seen was when you played here at Rock City a few years ago now. That was very up-close and personal.

It’s a strange venue isn’t it, Rock City, simply because it really isn’t very big.

The people who I speak to always refer to the lack of height when you are on stage and the fact that they cannot bring a decent lighting rig with them simply because it will not fit inside the venue.

Yes, that’s right; the ceilings are pretty low in there aren’t they. And being perfectly honest with you, the place is not one of my favourites (laughter).

I get shot down in flames whenever I say this, but you look at the musical heritage of places like Birmingham, London, Manchester and Liverpool and they all have produced some fantastic bands. However, when you look at poor old Nottingham, what do you find, Paper Lace and Jake bloody Bugg (laughter). That’s the extent of our musical heritage.

(Hysterical laughter) Billy Don’t Be A Hero and the song that they wrote for the Nottingham Forest division one champions (laughter).

You must be talking about We’ve Got The Whole World In Our Hands.

That’s it, that’s the one with Cloughie, O’Neil and Spider, that’s the one. I remember it well (laughter).

When Paper Lace first toured here in Nottingham back in 1974, hundreds of people would turn up expecting to see Carlos Santana. They had expected him to fly over from Miami to tour with Philip Wright and the rest of the boys. The only problem was that this was Carlo Paul Santanna (laughter).

Crikey, that would have been a show wouldn’t it (laughter).

(Laughter) swiftly moving on. The more albums you release, does it cause you a headache when you are trying to put together a set-list for a tour?

Well, with this set-list that Oscar and I are going to be playing we are going to base it upon the original performance of twenty years ago. With any other set-list when we tour, I have to say that at least half of it actually writes itself. We wouldn’t be able to leave the venues if we didn’t play certain songs (laughter). But yes, we now have a hell of a lot to choose from, that’s for sure.

Whenever you are putting a set-list together, for an acoustic tour, are there any crowd favourites that you feel don’t quite work?

As I said earlier, we don’t do The Riverboat; in fact, we don’t really do any of the electric guitar rock and roll stuff, simply because we can’t do them. Oscar and I don’t feel that we are able to do them justice. Apart from which, do we really want to play The Riverboat again (laughter). We have just finished playing it on the end of the year tour (laughter). I think that it’s good to be able to show a different side to us because people tend to think of us as that Brit Pop band who play The Riverboat and You’ve Got It Bad. I personally have always thought of us as being a folk-rock band really.

Will certain songs on the set-list change as the tour progresses?

They might do, it depends. If we don’t enjoy playing a song, then it will be a case of ‘let’s try something else’. I have been doing this long enough to basically know my way around the set (laughter).

Do you have a favourite Ocean Colour Scene song to sing acoustically?

Well, what can I say, Robin Hood is always good fun, and I can do that almost as a story. That is also one of those must do songs on the night. Also, I love playing The Circle as a ballad, rather than as it was recorded on the record.

I’m an old soulie at heart and I have to say that I really do love For Dancers Only.

Really, ah right, a Paul Weller song.

I think it’s fantastic.

Do you know what, someone was recently talking to me about that track, and I honestly had no idea that Paul and Graham (Coxon) had changed a few things around, and that the song had later developed onto This Old Town. So, what we had in fact was Paul Weller doing a cover of one of his own songs with Graham Coxon (laughter).

The title is actually taken from a Kent label compilation of old Northern Soul tracks.

Really, well, knowing Paul as I do, that makes sense doesn’t it.

So, who is the soulie in Ocean Colour Scene because there is also that connection with Moseley Shoals?

I have to say that we all like that sort of music. However, having said that, Steve is most probably the closest to that part of the band. As you know, we all lived in Moseley and to be honest, it was just a play on words that worked. In all honesty, it doesn’t really sound anything like Muscle Shoals music does it (laughter).

I can’t talk to you without mentioning Ocean Colour Scene, can I?

Of course not, go for it (laughter).

You formed the band back in 1989 some thirty-three years ago now. If someone had told you back then that you, Steve and Oscar would still be together, writing, recording and performing as Ocean Colour Scene, would you have laughed at them?

No, not at all. We all knew that we were in it for the long haul. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sure about thirty-odd years, simply because we have all graduated from other bands, and to put it bluntly, we were the last four standing (laughter). Everyone else had packed it all in; gone off and got jobs. We all knew that we were all in it for good; we had all made that decision. I was a journalist, and I left my job, blimey, about two years before the band had even started in fact, in order to pursue music.

Do you think that what has helped you continue is the fact that the spine of the band, yourself, Steve and Oscar have never changed, and the fact that it has remained solid throughout all of those thirty-three years?

Yes, I do, I totally agree with you on that. I have to say that it really is a damned shame that we didn’t continue with the original four members, in my book. I look back at that as our purple patch really. Don’t get me wrong, the other people who have been in and out of the band, we have enjoyed working with them too and their company. That has also helped Ocean Colour Scene add different dimensions to the band. Now that we are no longer the original four-piece there are musically more options, but yes, I still rue the day that Damon (Minchella) and Ocean Colour Scene split.

Have you enjoyed the ride so far?

Yes, it’s been my life. So, I guess I have. I’m pretty happy and I’m pretty content. I’ve been with my partner for thirty-four years, we live in a nice place in Stratford, and we have got a dog called Cooper. What else could I want (laughter). We also have three pubs in the village (laughter).

Let me take you back to 1996, Knebworth and Oasis. How was it for you?

(Hysterical laughter) well, I can’t remember a great deal about it in all honesty. However, what I do remember is standing at the side of the stage, waiting to go on, being totally petrified. I looked over and Chris Cradock, Steve’s father who was our manager at the time, had what we used to call a cine camera (laughter). I said to him, “just what do I do with this” and he smiled and said, “you just press that button” (laughter). So, I grabbed it off him, walked up to the front of the stage, and filmed the audience, who all went absolutely mental. I thought to myself, ‘thank Christ for that’ (laughter). The next part that I can remember really is all the hands at the end of The Day We Caught The Train, and everyone singing the chorus. The rest of the gig is a total blur, a total blank.

Just how did Hundred Mile High City come to be on the soundtrack to the Guy Ritchie movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels?

I have absolutely no idea (laughter). I have absolutely no idea at all. I really don’t know to be honest (laughter). I actually thought that it was a bit of a farce, to be honest with you. That particular track was used so much; like Lust For Life was used at the start of Trainspotting wasn’t it. I think that it finally ended up with someone running into a car (laughter). They really were almost identical but thanks. They even used our song July when Lock Stock moved over and turned into a TV series. We actually made a video for the song with some of the cast from the TV series (laughter). I really don’t know just how those came about. Perhaps Guy Ritchie liked us; perhaps Madonna had turned him onto us (laughter).

You have mentioned Paul, just how much has he influenced you and the band?

It was Paul who gave the band some self-respect, that what we were doing just wasn’t pissing around, you know, and that we had the best hobby in the world. Apart from which, we really have had some fantastic fun with him over the years, dear me, we really have had some fun with Paul (laughter).

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

Oh, Christ, I really wish that I could say going onto Top Of The Pops but it really was so incredibly boring (laughter). I guess that I would have to say something like Moseley Shoals just suddenly exploding and us becoming residents on the Chris Evans TV show TFI Friday, that really was great. It was Chris really who broke the band, without a shadow of a doubt. Ocean Colour Scene would most definitely not have happened without all of the help and support from Chris. On the subject of Chris, let me tell you that he is another good party guy (laughter). Chris and I actually became good friends, and I have to say that was lovely.

So, in answer to your question, perhaps it would have to be the very first time that we played at the Royal Albert Hall. That was funny because we got to the Albert Hall and our name was there above it. I just looked at it and thought, ‘oh bloody hell’ (laughter).

Taking you back to your time spent on Top Of The Pops, just how bad was it?

(Laughter) well, because we were the new boys, we had to get there at eight o’clock. The first sound check was at ten o’clock and then there was another one in the afternoon. Back in those days you did two sound checks before the show had started. However, what you have to remember is that the rest of the boys would be miming, whilst I was singing live (laughter). Everybody could get on the piss and enjoy themselves, whilst having a walk around the Eastenders set. Then, what did they do, they mixed the lead vocals far too high and made me look like a right twit (laughter).

What was the first record that you bought?

That’s easy, that was Yellow River by Christie.

Who did you first see performing live?

Oh Jesus Christ (laughter). Do you know what, I really don’t know. I really cannot remember.

Swiftly moving on, what was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

(Laughter) I don’t usually cry at any sort of music to be totally honest with you. I know what, let’s be really pretentious and say Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in B minor, which is also known as the Pathétique Symphony. I love that piece of music.

You mentioned earlier that you have just finished a big Ocean Colour Scene tour, are there any thoughts on a new studio album at this moment in time?

To be quite honest with you I think that I will just allow that to happen. At the moment, I am just concentrating on the forthcoming tour, and then I think that the band will be doing something towards the end of the year. I honestly don’t know at the moment but let’s just say maybe next year.

On that note Simon, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been a pleasure.

Thanks a lot Kevin, I have enjoyed that so much, you take care and I hope to catch up with you when we get to The Palace in Newark.