Steve Cradock, an English guitarist notable for founding Ocean Colour Scene chats with Kevin Cooper about the part Chris Evans played in the success of the band, working with P.P. Arnold, appearing on Top Of The Pops and their forthcoming December 2023 UK tour.

Steve Cradock is an English guitarist who is most famous for forming and playing in Ocean Colour Scene. He also plays guitar in Paul Weller’s band having appeared on all of Weller’s solo records. He has also released a self titled solo album and also began playing lead guitar for British Ska band The Specials in 2014.

He formed his first band in 1988 called The Boys with school friends from Solihull, who went on to play at various mod events around the Midlands. They released their first three track vinyl EP, Happy Days on their own label. Despite catching the attention of Polydor and CBS the band disbanded and Cradock went on to form Ocean Colour Scene with Simon Fowler, Damon Minchella and Oscar Harrison in 1989.

In the late 80s Cradock met his idol and future mentor Paul Weller. They became friends and Ocean Colour Scene were invited to tour with him. In 1992 Cradock joined Weller’s band and has appeared on all of his studio albums. They still continue their musical relationship and Cradock has co-written material with him.

Within two years of forming Ocean Colour Scene they released their self titled debut album which unfortunately did not reach its full potential and because Cradock had then finished his first full tour with Weller, he was able to self fund their second album, Moseley Shoals, which went on to sell over three million copies worldwide.

Cradock’s other collaborations include The Smokin’ Mojo Filters who released the Help Album which also involved Paul McCartney, Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher, Steve White, Carleen Anderson and Damon Minchella. Other collaborations include P.P. Arnold, Liam Gallagher and Amy MacDonald.

He has also had a successful solo career releasing albums such as The Kundalini Target, Peace City West in 2011 and Travel Wild – Travel Free in 2013.

Whilst busy rehearsing for Ocean Colour Scenes’ forthcoming tour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Steve, good afternoon, how are you today?

I’m good thanks Kevin, but more to the point, how are you?

I’m very well thanks and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It is okay, you are very welcome.

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

(Laughter) well, what can I say, life is great. In fact, I am trying to think how I can answer that in one sentence (laughter). Life really is big isn’t it? I am currently rehearsing with my boy, Cas, who is now the keyboard player with Ocean Colour Scene, so we have literally been at the coal face so to speak for the last couple of weeks practicing every day for the forthcoming December tour. Life really is something to be grateful for.

You have mentioned the tour, are you looking forward to being back out on the road with Ocean Colour Scene?

Yes, I am, always. If you are a musician that is kind of where it all happens really. It all comes down to the joy of playing. Number one; getting together with your gang and two it’s all about playing your music to people. That should never be overlooked I don’t think.

I personally feel that when you stop getting that buzz from touring, then perhaps it is time to call it a day?

Yes, but really, that’s not for me to say. I personally feel that is where the magic happens, the interaction with the audiences. All of the work behind the scenes, I feel, is industrial and I have to say that it is sometimes like pulling fucking teeth, but it is the thing that needs to be done because there needs to be a confidence within the musicians so that when you play you are never in a position where you have no idea what is going on. Then, you get to that point when you go past thinking and you can feel the music.

It should be a special night when you play at the Tramshed in Cardiff on New Years Eve.

Yes, the Tramshed, that is going to be a fantastic night. After the main gig we are going to do an after show there; Alan McGee is going to be DJing, I will be doing some DJing as well. So it really does sound like it is going to be an all-inclusive evening.

Wouldn’t you rather be at home with the family?

Well, to be totally honest with you, all of the family is going to be there. I always travel with my family as much as I can. My daughter is a make-up artist in London, but she comes out for a lot of my gigs. We all hang out together with the rest of the family as well. Thank God we all enjoy being with each other (laughter). So that’s bollocks that question (laughter).

Ocean Colour Scene are now ten studio albums in. Does that make putting together a set-list for the forthcoming tour that bit harder?

Not really because only five of those albums are great (hysterical laughter). To be honest with you it actually makes it fun. I always put the set-lists together and I find that it is always good to include a few different tunes. I think that this time around we are going to be playing a tune called Huckleberry Grove which is a B-side I think, although I’m not sure which single; but it has got a beautiful trombone solo on it from the late Rico Rodriguez, and he played on the original recording.

Huckleberry Grove, ‘Shirley was a lady whose teeth were made of gold; she danced before the music and everything it told, Huckleberry Grove’ (laughter).

Fucking hell man, leave me your number as we really do need you on our pop quiz team (laughter). There is a song on the Marchin’ Already album called Half A Dream Away which I don’t know what you would describe it as, maybe a Ska backbeat to a Blues guitar thing with some really fantastic lyrics. Go on then smart arse (laughter).

Are you sure (laughter).

Yes, go for it.

Okay, ‘we’re just half a dream away, sitting on our fences, building up defences, making up the rules by which we play.’ Well you did ask (laughter).

(Laughter) you really are either fucking amazing or possibly fucking annoying (laughter). As you can see, we try to do things that are slightly different as well, so I think that we are going to be playing another B-side, a song called Free On The Wind, which before you say anything, it is the B-side to Mechanical Wonder (laughter).

Free On The Wind, ‘Free on the wind, blow, she never feels that way, she hides behind her one mistake’ (laughter).

Enough! (laughter). We try to do something different while also including the favourites which the people want to hear. This time around we are going to have a different stage set; we are going to be using screens for the very first time. So, that’s going to be very different for us.

At least you aren’t doing what everybody else seems to currently be doing, going out on the road with an orchestra.

Is that the new thing, is it?

It appears to be the in thing at the minute.

Simon (Fowler) is doing the guest vocals on the forthcoming orchestra thing, with John Power, together with a couple of the Britpop singers. As you most probably know, I personally like classical music, I really love Bach, I really am into it, and I love it whenever I see a group playing with a string quartet. But we are not doing that, you are right (laughter).

On the subject of music, are there any signs of a new Ocean Colour Scene studio album?

Yes, there is, and we have already started work on it. To date we have demoed three songs, so the ball is currently rolling and hopefully we should be in a position to record it next year.

Have you any idea as to when you will want to be releasing it?

No, we are not too sure as yet. So, the simple answer is, I don’t know (laughter). What’s next year, 2024, in that case I would imagine that we would be looking to release the album in early 2025.

In that case, you will be rubbing shoulders with Mick Hucknall then (laughter).

Really, oh my word. I know that he has announced a tour in 2025. I really don’t want to sound rude against anyone, but I really am not a fan of Mick’s stuff.

Whenever he plays The Motorpoint Arena here in Nottingham, if he is walking down the corridor, I’ve been told that the staff have to turn around and face the wall. They are not allowed to look at him.

Well, there you go. That is the sort of person that I would imagine him to be. I mean, what the fuck is that all about (laughter).

Swiftly moving on, are you and the rest of the Ocean Colour Scene boys currently in a good place?

Yes, we are, we really are.

I recently spoke to Simon, and he told me that his one regret was not having Damon (Minchella) in the band, now that Ocean Colour Scene are moving forward picking up fans along the way. However, I understand that you might just have a different perspective on that?

Listen, we recently played alongside Richard Ashcroft at a large outdoor gig this summer and we saw Damon and he was friendly, really friendly. So, from my point of view, that is all good. I don’t have a different perspective at all, I speak to him, but the problem is, he keeps doing stupid little Facebook things. He really should know better. He had this silly habit of calling Simon and Oscar (Harrison) “the other two” or “the singer and the drummer” and when he does silly things like that then it shows that there is still some bitterness there.

But, having said that, that was before I met him when we were playing with Richard Ashcroft and he was really nice, I have got to be honest. Personally, I don’t feel the need to have him in the group; we have a great bass player called Raymond Meade, a Glaswegian lad so I don’t know why Simon thought that, had he been drinking? I personally wouldn’t want Damon in the group.

(Laughter) I hope not as it was 10.30am and he was in Stratford Upon Avon shopping. Anyway, I personally feel that the band now really is a tight knit five-piece unit.

Yes, it is, now that we have my son Cas on keys and second guitar, we will now be going out as a five-piece. I totally agree with you, we are a very strong five-piece unit so why even think about disrupting that, it’s crazy. We have got everything covered musically, and the set is going to be banging. There is a different intro to the set than we normally play. I don’t know how to expand on it really, but what I will say is that we are all really looking forward to it.

You must have been asked this a thousand times but how did you feel when you got the call to join Paul Weller?

Well, it was my dad who took the call actually; I have no idea where I was. At the time my dad was going through a rough patch, and the four of us used to rehearse in our garage at home. So, my dad tells me, he was sleeping in the garage so he could feel if the vibes of the group were strong enough for him to continue; he was going through one of those moments. That really nicely surprised me that he was into that flow really. He tells me that he was kind of expecting it; it really was amazing to hear from Paul especially as I wasn’t really that good on the guitar.

I wouldn’t say that I am now, but Paul told me that he wanted me, but I had to go down and audition for him. So, off I went to the audition and, as you know, I got through all of that and then from then onwards, I started to become a better guitar player. I had to learn a hell of a lot very quickly. Thirty years later I am still playing with Paul for which I am really thankful. I really do love Paul; I think that he is incredible. He really is truly a one-off.

Ocean Colour Scene, Paul Weller, The Specials, solo artist, DJ, do you sometimes have to take a step back and pinch yourself?

It is kind of what I have always wanted to do but I do realise that I am very fortunate, I do realise that. I just wanted to play music and I still go out and buy records, I really am into my thing. I look at it this way, I have put the work in, and I am still infatuated by it all.

You have been in the music business for over thirty years now, are there any regrets?

Regrets, no, no, no, no (laughter). No, I haven’t, no.

When Ocean Colour Scene were finally beginning to break, just how big a part did Chris Evans and TFI Friday play in that development?

Chris played a huge part. It is often mentioned about Noel (Gallagher) and Paul (Weller) and various other people who were also really helpful but in actual fact it was Chris who broke the group. Chris, as you know, was a BBC Radio 1 DJ long before TFI Friday’s and he played The Riverboat Song twice straight after each other because he really loved that tune. After that he A-Listed the record and every time that we released a single, he would invite us back onto the show. So, Chris Evans is the man who spread the sound of the band throughout the nation.

From your personal point of view, what was it like for you to finally get to work with P.P. Arnold?

That really was a beautiful experience for me. Patricia and I had worked together quite a while ago; she sang on Travellers Tune and obviously Beautiful Thing, and she toured with us back in 1997. After that I didn’t speak or see her for quite a while, for well over ten years maybe. I don’t know why, that was just the way that things panned out. I moved house down in Devon about ten years ago now and I found a box full of old demos that me and Patricia had done back in the Moseley Shoals studio back in the day.

So, I digitised them, sent them over to her saying ‘do you want to pick up where we left off’ and thankfully she said yes. So, she came down here to me and we worked on The New Adventures of…P.P. Arnold. It must have been close to a year demoing, working the songs, seeing exactly where we wanted to go with it. The album was finally released in 2019 and I am really proud of that album. P.P. really is amazing. I think that she is going to be joining us at the London show to perform Beautiful Thing and Travellers Tune as well. She has lived a long road, but she has still got her chops. She really is an amazing singer. She really is charismatic.

I was fortunate enough to photograph P.P. a couple of years ago now at the Cornbury Music Festival and Mavis Staples stood with me and watched her set.

Wow, that really is quite amazing; I would have liked to have been there. .

Needless to say, P.P. stayed behind and watched Mavis’ set. They both were truly amazing. Now I have no doubt that there have been many but, putting you on that spot, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

As you say there have been quite a lot, but I would say that playing Main Road supporting Oasis, I thought that was just spectacular. Even more than Knebworth I think. Doing Top Of The Pops I’ve got to be honest because that was a big thing back in the day, so for me, one highlight would be us playing The Riverboat Song on Top Of The Pops. It was like, ‘what on earth are we doing here’ (laughter). It was so funny seeing how the whole thing worked. It was more theatrical than musical if you know what I mean (laughter).

On that Thursday night Top Of The Pops was a very important show. We would go back home to Birmingham after performing on the show and everyone would be like, ‘oh fucking hell it’s them’ (laughter). Top Of The Pops really was a big social thing back in the day. For years the BBC really did hold the hierarchy on it all, which the more that you get to know exactly how that worked the more I kind of think, ‘well you know, fuck ‘em’ (Laughter).

What was the first record that you bought?

Beat Surrender by The Jam.

Who did you first see live in concert?

That was A Flock Of Seagulls, UB40, and The Style Council. There you go that’s my top three.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

I’m currently producing a band called Burgh Island and they have got a song called Mother and I have to say that they really are incredible. They are a folk duo, and their song Mother really is exceptional, truly amazing.

What is currently on Steve Cradock’s rider?

Just water, coffee, and that’s about it really. I don’t turn up to drink or eat, I turn up to play. So, not so much these days unfortunately (laughter).

What would be your ideal Christmas?

Simply being with my family, the people I love. For me, every Christmas is ideal, I love it.

Steve, on that note let me thank you once again for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been absolutely fantastic, and I will see you at The Halls in Wolverhampton.

Nice one Kevin, it’s been lovely to speak to you. Please make sure that you come by and say hi wont you. I will make sure that you have a couple of passes. Take care and speak soon.