The Festival Experience with... Ocean Colour Scene

Henry Lewis caught up with frontman Simon Fowler to talk about Dion Dublin's musical prowess, being petrified at Glastonbury and more.

Henry Lewis

Last updated: 27th Mar 2018.
Originally published: 25th Apr 2017

Image: Daniel Quesada PhotoSpace

Easily one of the biggest acts to emerge alongside Blur, Oasis et al during rock and roll's Britpop years, Ocean Colour Scene were a bluesy, Beatles loving behemoth of the genre, delivering anthem after anthem during a truly hedonistic period for guitar bands. In seminal 1996 record Moseley Shoals, the band stepped away from their Madchester sounding eponymous debut to lodge themselves firmly within Britpop folklore in numerous ways. 

It peaked at number two in the charts with opening track 'The Riverboat Song' famously popularised via telly smash TFI Friday, while a slew of other arms aloft anthems such as 'The Day We Caught The Train' and 'The Circle' were also crammed into the record. Couple this with a slot out Oasis' legendary Knebworth swansong and their place in the rock and roll history books was all but confirmed. 

Since then the group have released a tonne of albums, adhering closely to a release every other year rule between 1997 and 2007, and a further two have followed since then. Naturally, a band with such critical acclaim as themselves continue to enjoy massive main stage slots throughout festival season, and this year is no different. 

Ahead of their headline slot at Highest Point festival on Saturday 19th May, we revisited our chat with Ocean Colour Scene lead singer Simon Fowler. 

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Hi Simon, what are you up to at the moment?

I'm just in Stratford upon Avon - I'm off to find a cafe and read the paper.

How's life in Ocean Colour Scene at the moment?

We had a really busy year last year which culminated with us playing at the Hydro in Glasgow, I think there was about twelve and a half thousand people - so that was good. Steve's been off a bit with Paul (Weller), Oscar's off with The Beat and I'm just off to a coffee shop and then the pub.

I'm meant to be writing really but I haven't written for a while. I just lead a really quiet life to be honest, I've had enough of the staying up all the time. I've actually just given up smoking, it's going ok actually. I thought it would send me up the wall, but it's been alright.

If you don't mind I'd quite like to ask you about the 'staying up all night' if that's ok? How good was it when Britpop was at it is peak?

It was great, it was as good as you would imagine. I'm glad I was younger because you needed the constitution of an ox really, which I had. I was quite good at staying up all night, we all were. Too good. 

I find it difficult to remember to be honest. Probably the biggest one that we played was Knebworth with Oasis. That was like 125, 000 people. You know what I can't remember loads about festivals. I think the other thing with festivals is you tend to do them, and you're hanging out with loads of other people who are playing, and then you go home. You don't normally go to a hotel where these type of things happen. If we were playing Glastonbury, we'd more likely play our set then go home.

The first time we played at Glastonbury was 21 years ago, we were on before Joan Armatrading. That's 26 years ago isn't it, Jesus Christ yeah it is [laughs]

And was that the first festival you'd been to?

It was our first festival experience yeah, Steve and I went and stayed over there, we camped with someone it was fantastic. The concert I was terrified of, absolutely petrified. I'd never done anything like it. I remember playing the guitar and going to say something and all the words came out in the wrong order, it was horrendous.

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I did the festival experience with... Shaun Ryder a few weeks ago and believe it or not, he said he couldn't remember a lot about festivals either...

[Laughs] I bet he can't. We played a festival with Shaun in Dubai a few years ago and the strict rule was, no smoking and no drinking beer on stage, so Shaun walks on with a fag and a can in his hand. I don't know what happened to him but it's not the type of place you'd want to piss around to be quite honest.

When you look a lot of line ups, yourselves and bands like James and The Lightning Seeds are really high up the bill, it seems like the class of the '90s lives on ....

If you look at the age of festival goers, it seems to cover everyone so there's going to be a lot of people who want to go and see these type of bands. People who love their Fred Perry normally. We get a huge cross section at our concerts, from people who are about 13 up to people who are about 70. Our crowd has been really loyal to us which is one of the reasons that we're still here.

You were talking about writing before, is there a plan to get new music out soon?

I really want to yes, we don't want to become Status Quo just playing the old ones. I need to write this year really and release something next year. Something like that.

In the meantime, will it be a greatest hits set this festival season?

We've got about half a dozen festivals in England this year and then we go to Dubai, Australia and New Zealand at the end of the year so yeah we'll be bringing out the big guns for all of those shows. We know what to play now to get everyone going.

Did you saying the Lightning Seeds are playing Hope and Glory in Liverpool? I've known Ian Broudie for years.

He used to produce Alison Moyet and Steve and I are massive fans of Alison. He played and sang with her, Steve sang with Alison at Glastonbury actually before he joined Weller's crew back in about '92.

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Something I've been very keen to ask you about is your connection with Dion Dublin, he's joined you on stage before hasn't he?

I've known Dion for years because he used to live in Stratford Upon Avon and I regularly bumped into him. We got to know him better because he was in a band and Steve produced them. I can't remember for the life of me what they were called now. Anyway, Dion invented this instrument called the Dube which is like a four sided electronic drum that has a different sound on each side of it and he's trying to get it patented.

There's quite a few people using them. We were down in Norwich and he was doing a football TV show on a Monday night so he came along and set up at the gig, he brought three so he was playing one, Steve was playing one and Oscar was playing one. He's a good lad Dion, and now he sells houses on the TV.

The Establishment they were called

That's it that's it, they were brothers. They used to do acoustic sets. Dion's a musician as well though, he plays the saxophone.

So do you and the Lightning Seeds go way back then?

Well it just through Alison that we met them. Although the last time we saw them was at Top Of the Pops and I think Steve had a fallout with Ian and was going to have a fight with him, so that cold be amusing. [laughs] It was back in the 90s so hopefully he'll have forgotten about that.

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