“That was a unique experience,” says John Power of two concerts that he and his band Cast recently played with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in his home city.
The shows were intended to mark the 20th anniversary of the band’s classic Britpop album All Change “which in itself seems a slightly strange thing,” Power says, “because we’re playing all those songs now and it feels so fresh and easy and good to play – I can’t believe it’s 20 years”.
Performing with a classical ensemble proved “a completely different experience” to a regular Cast gig. “We had the orchestra behind us, the show was split into two intervals, it’s a great, ornate hall, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and it was a great experience. We approached it differently and it was a great way of celebrating the album in a unique fashion.”
Later this year Cast, who reactivated in 2010 after nine years dormant, will release their sixth studio album. To help cover some of its costs, they’re running a similar fan-funding campaign via the website Pledgemusic to the one they ran for its 2012 predecessor Troubled Times.
“It’s just to keep people involved,” says 48-year-old Power. “The album has all been self-financed and the Pledge thing is something that we have done in the past and if people want to get involved they can help support the band.
“The album is actually recorded and finished, it’s going to be called Kicking Up The Dust and it’s going to be coming out in the autumn.”
People have got to get over the media viewpoint that everyone on the street is a user and a bum; there are a lot of people there that fell behind with their rent or lost a job or fell out with a partner.
They’re giving fans a taste of the new record on their current British tour. “We are playing on this tour four or five tracks off the new album, which have been going down pretty good,” Power says. “That’s kind of the highlight of the show for me, it’s really good playing them. I understand for the audience everybody loves songs that they know but they’ve been really appreciative, giving them a warm reception, which is a good sign.”
Power has described the sound as “more mature”.
“We’ve learned as musicians how to take our foot off the pedal whilst we’re gaining ground,” he elaborates. “We can let the throttle out and ride it a bit easier. The whole process of recording the album was different. Normally I’d been working on finishing songs and going in and have a block of songs that we were going to record, we’d have a defined vision of how it was going to go, but the process of this album came out through circumstance.
“We did a song called Baby Blue Eyes in the latter part of 2014. In the week leading into Christmas we went into the studio and did this song, played it on tour and it went down great and we released it as a free download on Soundcloud.
“Then in the new year I did have a couple of songs that were finished and I said, ‘Let’s try these’, so we did that and before you know it we’d got three tracks and it’s the end of January. We were working through the year and people were doing different things as well but when we did have an opportunity we’d go into the studio for three or four days, or whatever we could grab, and we did that all year.”
Power kept writing verses and choruses but rather than completing songs on his own, this time he’d work on arrangements with the band. “The majority of the backing tracks were recorded with just me, Keith [O’Neill, the band’s drummer] and Jay [Lewis, Cast’s new bass player, who replaced the band’s co-founder Pete Wilkinson in 2015]. We really could work on the rhythm and the structure and then Skin [Liam Tyson] and myself did all the electric guitars later.
“It kind of freed me up from having to have 11 or 12 finished songs before you can think about going into the studio. I literally was going in off the cuff, some of the songs were completely written a week or two before, some of them have been simmering all year and maybe one or two of the choruses have been knocking around for longer than that, they’d just been in my back pocket or I’d forgotten about them or didn’t know what to do with them and we’d been doing that all year and finally finished an album.
“I didn’t think we’d have time to do an album. Skin was on the road with Robert Plant, Keith was tour managing, I was doing solo stuff, but last year we made a real concerted effort. Maybe 20 years from All Change was a reason to get stuck in with each other. There’s a real warmth and recognition of each other now, the band are really having a good time, we’re really in a creative vein, the gigs are going down great and we’re performing something special at the moment. There’s a looseness about us. Maybe 20-odd years down the line we’re changing gear.”
The band are now managed by Alan McGee, founder of Creation Records and the man who famously discovered Oasis. Power says he’d known the Scotsman “on and off” for years. “He’s a pioneer and quite a character and someone who actually makes things happen.”
In September Cast will help launch McGee’s campaign, Musicians Against Homelessness, with a gig with The Farm at O2 Academy Leeds. Proceeds from the show will go to the charity Crisis.
“It’s generally to bring awareness to an ever-growing problem,” Power explains. “It’s part of a bigger picture, there are a lot of things going on today, a lot of dismantling of the welfare state, a lot of forced school academies, NHS and this and that – all of these things are going on and homelessness is just part of that.
“But the whole thing about working with Musicians Against Homelessness is it’s something that we can get involved with, that we can bring attention to.
“Just talking to people from Crisis, it’s not the stereotypical thing. People have got to get over the media viewpoint that everyone on the street is a [drug] user and a bum; there are a lot of people there that fell behind with their rent or lost a job or fell out with a partner, circumstances change and before you know it without a support network you’re on the street.
“I think a lot of people are only one rung away from it. What I’m trying to say is it’s not just a stereotypical viewpoint that certain parts of the media would have you believe. I was always brought up to believe that this society would give a little bit back to those less fortunate than ourselves but I think that unfortunately that mentality seems to be getting chipped away, we’re being encouraged to not think like that and to demonise people who are less fortunate than ourselves.
“I’m just a musician, I sing and write songs, but if we can do something to bring attention to these things then I’ll always get involved.”
Cast play at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on Saturday April 23, Apollo Festival in York on June 25, Summerfest in Doncaster on August 6 and at O2 Academy Leeds on September 18. For details visit http://www.casttour.com/
For more on Musicians Against Homelessness visit https://www.facebook.com/mahgigs