The voice of Ocean Colour Scene, Simon Fowler, talks to Alison Jones about returning to his musical roots, Britpop and John Motson.
Ocean Colour Scene frontman Simon Fowler has taken a time out from the band to reinvent himself as a folk singer this year.
It is the fulfillment of a dream he has nurtured since he rolled in after wild nights out in Moseley and wanted to wind down with music that wouldn’t upset the neighbours.
“I used to live in flats and you couldn’t get home and put Zeppelin on. You needed something that was quiet.
“That was literally how I discovered Fairport Convention and what Martin Carthy termed the folkscare.”
The elements to make him a folk player have always been there, since he was a teenager playing down at The Boggery, the legendary club set up in Solihull by Jasper Carrott.
“I have always naturally been an acoustic player. I can’t do much on an electric guitar to save my life so I’ve always been a strummer.
“I started off when I was 16 down at The Boggery. At that point Jasper had left and Malcolm Stent had taken over so Malcom gave me my first break.
“He is best friends with Dan’s dad (fellow OCS member Dan Sealey) who was in the band Cosmotheka, Dan grew up steeped in that type of music.
“I played at Ian Campbell’s club (folk singing father of the three Campbell brothers who made up part of UB40) years and years ago.
“The brothers’ grandparents would be singing as well. They’d get up and perform 13 verse Scottish ballads unaccompanied and my band and I would get up and do Velvet Underground. It was very eclectic.
“It is very small, the Birmingham music scene. Everyone tends to know each other.”
When OCS got their break back in the 90s, after being invited to support Oasis on tour, they were tagged with the Britpop label, something Simon admits he was ambivalent about.
“We were very snobbish about being linked to Britpop but, in essence, it was just a shorthand for popular and British music in the mid-90s.
“We always thought that was a game being played by Blur (who engaged in public battle for Britpop supremacy with Oasis).
“Ocean Colour Scene has always been a folk rock band. It is just that Steve Cradock wears suits so everyone thinks we are mods. I can’t be arsed, too much like hard work. I consider myself a hippy.”
His album, Merrymouth, which he worked on with folk icons John McCusker and Andy Cutting, was released on Monday.
The Merrymouth tour starts at Birmingham’s Glee Club on April 17.
“It is just a small tour,” says Simon, who plans to be back in the studio with OCS by the summer.
“I want to do sit down venues, little theatres and churches. Places with a good atmosphere where you could hear a pin drop.
“I would like to play Moseley Folk Festival (which takes place in Moseley Park at the end of August).
“It’s my old stomping ground. I was the nightmare of Moseley. I didn’t get to bed for about six years. I had a fantastic time.
“I don’t miss that lifestyle,” says Simon, who turns 47 this year. “It is great fun when you are young.”
His nights on the lash may be a thing of the past, however, he puts his hands up to leading others astray – notably Birmingham City FC.
“I support Blues. We actually played at their end of season party last year. What a disaster! Fancy having a party before you know whether you are going to be relegated or not.
“I think it was our fault they got relegated. They went out on the town afterwards and all got into trouble.”
It was his enthusiasm for football which led him, temporarily, down another career path, working as a journalist for the Sunday Mercury.
“I wanted to be a football commentator,” he explains. “My uncle, Trevor Roberts, was a picture editor for the Birmingham Post and Mail but he started off as photographer for a newspaper in Norwich. The journalist on that paper was John Motson and he was my hero.
“I spoke to Trevor about it and he said that was the route – local papers, local radio, sports department, all that. So that is what I planned to do.
“Within a fortnight I realised I had made a mistake and I didn’t want to be John Motson, I wanted to be John Lennon.
“When I was a kid, wanting to be a football commentator was stupid enough. The idea of wanting to be in a rock band on Top of the Pops was just absurd. That didn’t happen to people who were born in Acocks Green... but it did!”
* Simon’s gig at The Glee Club is already sold out. For details of returns try calling 0871 472 0400 or click on to www.glee.co.uk. For details of the Merrymouth project go to www.oceancolourscene.com.