Steve Cradock has just played two sold-out shows at the Royal Festival Hall with his long-time friend Paul Weller when we catch up with him, and the 49-year-old guitarist appears to be still buzzing from the experience.
“They were off the scale,” he enthuses about the concerts whose setlist incorporated songs from The Jam and The Style Council as Weller’s now lengthy solo catalogue and involved multiple musicians.
“They were just incredible. I think they were the best thing I’ve ever been involved with.”
Having been at Weller’s side thoroughout the last 25 years, Cradock has perhaps a unique standpoint on the Modfather’s long musical journey. While he says you “can’t compare” his own experience to Weller’s, he observes: “Paul has always kind of done what he wants to do, obviously, but I think it’s been accepted now. Since 22 Dreams, 10 years ago, that started what people call a ‘re-birth’ or that ‘purple patch’, but he can do what he wants to do and people just love him enormously. I couldn’t compare myself anywhere near that.”
With Weller currently basking in the critical and commercial triumph of his latest album True Meanings as well as the career-spanning shows, now would appear to be the best of times. Cradock firmly agrees. “I think it’s the best thing I’ve heard Paul do,” he says. “I’ve been a fan of The Jam since I was a kid, like a lot of people, and I think [the Royal Festival Hall shows were] truly breath-taking, the whole thing was a spectacle. It was f****** hard work to get there, though – in that respect I’m kind of pleased it done and gone. We knew it was going to be a short, sharp travel up the hill and then it would soon be over, and that’s what it was, and it was amazing.”
Weller has contributed a poem that became the lyrics to Standing In The Place That You Used To Do, one of four new songs on Ocean Colour Scene’s new EP, released to coincide with their UK winter tour.
It wasn’t written specificially with Cradock’s band in mind, the Birmingham-born guitarist admits – “He’s always got notepads on the go” – but nonethless he gladly accepted it when Weller offered to him. “He said, ‘Do you want to do anything with this?’ and that was quite a few years ago now, maybe three or four years, and then I wrote the vocal melody to it. I didn’t write a song around that, actually, I already had the chorus refrain, ‘standing in the place that you used to do’, and I just made those words fit.”
While lead track Another Bard May Chant might appear to comment on recent political turmoil, Cradock says its origin goes back much further. “I used to sing ‘Blair’s got bloody hands’, it would’ve been that long ago, and all the bull**** of a Labour leader that people trusted in and were happy with was practically a f****** criminal and led us up the garden path, so that’s how that started.
“I don’t know if it’s political. I don’t know, I was just trying to write a song, really.”
Across the course of the EP, OCS manage to cover quite a lot of musical ground in just four songs. Cradock says as band they’ve always thought nothing is off-limits. “We’ve always been a rock band who plays acoustic songs, we’ve always been that sort of mash-up of things, ever since we started nearly 30 years ago. I guess it’s the same, we haven’t changed in any way, really, and I think it would be too late to change.”
As a band we haven’t put anything out I think for six and a half years, which is disgraceful. Hence we’ve been doing these album tours because we’ve just been waiting for things to happen.Steve Cradock
In recent years the band have devoted tours to revisiting their biggest selling albums, Moseley Shoals and Marchin’ Already, to commemorate various anniversaries. Cradock sounds slightly frustrated that there hasn’t been much new music until now. “As a band we haven’t put anything out I think for six and a half years, which is disgraceful. Hence we’ve been doing these album tours because we’ve just been waiting for things to happen.
“Simon [Fowler, the band’s lead singer] obviously hasn’t been in the writing mode.”
On their UK tour OCS will be supported by Martha Reeves and The Vandellas. Cradock sounds delighted to have the Motown legend along for the ride. “I still can’t believe it’s going to happen,” he says. “It’s just beyond exciting, I can’t wait. And also you could go and see an artist like that I guess whenever they tour but it was just put forward to us that it was a possibility and I just thought it would be a wonderful idea. If you like us you’re going to like Sixties music, aren’t you? It just sounded like it would make for a great night out for everyone, myself included.”
OCS are due to celebrate their 30th anniversary next year. At the moment, Cradock says, they have no special celebration planned. “It would be awful if we didn’t but I haven’t heard any proposals as of yet. Who knows?
“I’d like to go and play Stirling Castle again – having said that you can’t just play one Scottish show and that’s it. But I’m hoping that we’re going to be working on an album next year. I think maybe this has given Simon a feel for getting back into a studio and creating again. I’m frustrated, definitely. Six years is a long time not to have new material out but I guess it’s the always same with our band, we just go with the flow, it becomes part of our character, laziness. There’s not a lot you can do about it, you have to wait for things.”
Another Bard May Chant EP is out on November 16. Simon Fowler plays an acoustic set at Pretty Green in Leeds on November 22 at 7pm, in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. Ocean Colour Scene play at O2 Academy Leeds on December 5. www.oceancolourscene.com