Explore Liverpool Music Writer and local Author, Matthew Jacobson interviews singer/songwriter, John Power.
“Everything, that is worth anything in this country is given pittance to survive.”
As Liverpool entered Tier 2, Liverpool band Cast announced two gigs at the Grand Central Hall. It may well be seated and socially distanced, but it’s been greeted with huge excitement. And let’s be honest, its socially needed.
Originally formed in 1992 from the ashes of two of the most legendary and lauded Liverpool guitar bands of the time, The La’s and Shack, Cast have released a plethora of albums including the top 10 platinum releases ‘All Change’ and ‘Mother Nature Calls’. Since they formed, they have also enjoyed a string of top 20 singles, from the debut ‘Finetime’ to ‘Beat Mama’.
After the band’s split, John Power released a series of solo albums, but reformed Cast in 2010 and they continue to produce new material full of the anthemic, melodic and beautifully written songs for which they have always been known for, along with a formidable live reputation. And it is this live reputation that is welcomed back in Liverpool.
Substantial rock and roll meal anyone?
I interviewed singer songwriter John Power about lockdown frustrations, venues closing around Liverpool and the idea of playing live with a scotch egg in the pocket.
Does it feel like a huge relief to be back on the stage again – is it almost reason to celebrate?
Yes, I think it will be once we get up on the stage. It’s been a long drawn out year for lots of people for many different reasons. And as a musician, I’ve been performing for 30 years. It’s been a big chunk of my life, so it will be great to see the band and get on the stage and play songs to a live audience as it’s a two-way thing, it really is. And for the people attending the gig, it’s also a bit of a release for them. We are really looking forward to it… it’s a huge positive….
Do you feel you belong on a stage?
Well, you don’t realise until someone takes its away from you. I have played for so many years now and played many shows; you take it for granted. Usually, at home, I’d do the normal things, like make the dinner, do the washing etc. but my release is usually at weekends when I’m away gigging, so when it’s taken away from you, I started to notice and feel it. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t getting a little bit of cabin fever. But playing live is something that I thought I’d always do, so when I was sat around twiddling my thumbs, I realised I have missed the buzz and the connection because it’s what we’ve been doing all our lives.
In terms of lockdown, has it restricted the flow of creativity, or helped it?
I found it personally a hindrance. If I was younger, I’d have been a bit angrier and wrote a song or two about it. But I was right on the cusp of something – I was producing demos and I was envisaging a new album. I had about seven of the songs ready to go and I was focused. I was talking to the band and management about direction and then lockdown came in. And if you remember the first one, it was summer, everyone was sitting in the garden, probably having a glass of wine thinking, is this what retirement is like?
Then I started slowly to lose interest. I realised I wasn’t going to release a record so why get all het up over it. So, I slowly felt deflated and less interested. For me, I must have my foot on the accelerator and be focused, but I felt the focus fading. It’s still simmering, and I know when I’ll be ready to go. When its amber and green – its go, when its red – I think, well why release it? It must be fresh. But we are talking about recording next year and hopefully we will be out playing in the spring.
Some artists have told me because they were not travelling or meeting people, they didn’t really have the inspiration or influence from people or places, so like yourself they felt flat….
Yeah, that’s right and some artists also tried different things, like the Zoom gig and they seem very comfortable in their digital world based at home. But I found it all a bit… well, they become a parody of themselves. But some bands like all that and the social media world suit some but not all. I’m not knocking it, but for me, I like to feel the earth beneath my feet. I’m not motivated for all that. I’m traditional, you know, valve, amp, rock and roll pop melodies. Give me an acoustic guitar, or the band and a live audience and I’ll react to that.
In lockdown, did it give you time to reflect on your career and do you reflect much in general on your career?
Well, it’s funny when someone reminds me, I may think about it. I get sent footage of early La’s gigs or early Cast gigs and I notice this young lad with a bass, curly hair with the whole world ahead of him. People remind me all the time and I do know there’s a legacy and I’ve been part of it, but I don’t sit back and think about it because I’m also looking forward. I don’t think any artists who is still writing would put their feet up and say it’s all over.
But in music or art you can’t sit back and rest on your laurels and think ‘I did this, and I did that’. You know, the next album that Cast do, I really have a vision for it. I want to go back to my roots, that uplifting rock and roll beat and make this one a defining album, so I’m still hoping and believing that’s ahead of me. I don’t live rock and roll the way I used to, you know 24/7, I couldn’t keep that energy going. When I was in the La’s or when I wrote “All Change”, that energy couldn’t be maintained. But I’m still holding tight, and I’ve still got hold of the coat tails of believing that there’s still music that’s relevant to write. I haven’t put my feet up yet, but lockdown makes you feel like you’ve retired!
I do understand the journey I’ve been on. The older you get your perspective changes. Experiences and scars can make the older you – maybe with a bit more wisdom.
We seem to be hearing more about venues closing in Liverpool, I and many find it heartbreaking as creatives need a platform, what are your thoughts and feelings on this?
I think this is a national problem too. I was reading Parr Street is closing or in danger. And I was then remembering the venues around town. But now, all venues are having a tough, tough time. Whether that’s councils selling them off for flats, or to other major developers…
But how do you run a music venue when there are no bands playing?
It’s a shame because those independent venues and I remember them massively from my days in the La’s or Cast, you would play all around the country bit like a huge circuit, but over the last decade or more many have fallen by the wayside. It’s a bit like independent music and the demise of it.
Venues are where it started, and people had the opportunity in a very haphazard way. You put a band together and get up and play to like minded people. But now, before you know it everything will be a certain size or a corporate venue or run by a big promoter.
Cast play as a band, but I also go out with my acoustic and I play loads of little venues and people wonder why I’m playing there and can’t believe I have turned up, you know – the back room of a boozer, but its important people see music at that level, where music started. It’s a shame and Liverpool has been suffering with that problem as much as anyone …I don’t have a solution to it, it’s just sad…
In many ways, the back of a pub is slowly becoming a venue now…
Yes, the venue usually came naturally after playing a pub and would hold a few hundred people, be murky and dirty with a stage, but they seem to be reducing and going. Is it down to councils and funding? All arts funding is suffering as much as other things like the welfare system.
Everything, that is worth anything in this country is given pittance to survive!
I don’t have the answers, but it doesn’t make sense. And as for these illogical restrictions, well, maybe if we all keep a scotch egg in our pocket, we can do a gig! Or we can go grouse hunting but then we can’t see our Ma’s in the garden! It’s just ridiculous and I don’t know whether it’s there to confuse us?
Maybe if they confuse you, you forget what they have taken away and what was once yours….
Well this is it, once you lose your rights and your civil liberties it’s so difficult to get them back, it becomes the norm. And I was really concerned with this at the beginning in March. And the debate has gone – and gone to extreme polarisation, you are either completely compliant or you are an extreme conspiracy theorist. There’s a healthy place in the middle for sensible questioning for debate. But most people keep their mouth shut and it started with Brexit, everything these days is meant to be black and white, but life isn’t like that.
Returning to Liverpool to play live, have you worked out the setlist for it – what can we expect?
It’s an opportunity to play so it will be a mixture of greatest hits and uplifting album tracks that people will know! We are rehearsing soon, and we will be ready. It will be a solid gig with great songs and great hits.
And the last question, in my series, “On the Streets I Ran”, for Explore Liverpool, I interview creatives from the city and the last question is, can you name three Liverpool Streets that mean the most to you and why?
Well, I’d have to say;
Penny Lane, because I grew up around that area and especially because it’s a legend of a song.
Anfield Road, because of Liverpool FC.
And I’ll have to give you a couple more –
Bold St and Lark Lane. They were both independent and had a bit of history behind them with The ALBERT and KEITHS down the Lane. and in the late 70s it was a bit more bohemian and Bold St had cafes and alternative and second-hand shops and record shops.
John, thank you so much for your time from myself and all at Explore Liverpool. The city has missed gigs and what a way for them to return.
Thank you, Matt!
Cast play the Grand Central Hall on Saturday, 12 December
Tickets available at www.castband.co.uk/tour
Check out the series, “On the Streets I Ran” and more interviews at: