Words by Jake Mitchell and Arlo Cooper
As we entered the backstage area of Academy Three, we were greeted by the sound of strumming. Serenading us, sitting opposite the door, relaxed – shoes off – sat John Power: frontman of Cast and bassist of The La’s. Today he joined us in the capacity of a solo artist, mid-tour, about to play in Manchester. We found him in good spirits, talkative and amiable, as he told us about Cast’s new album, Liverpool’s music scene, and his relationship with Lee Mavers.
To kick things off, we asked Powers how he felt the tour was going. He was immediate and effusive in his praise and thanks for the audiences who had joined him so far, saying he was “very humbled that people come to watch me play and sing … it’s such a blessing.” He explained how he had been enjoying the experience of just playing acoustic sets again after touring with Cast, how there was “nowhere to hide – the songs do all the talking.”
The conversation moved on to Cast, the band Powers formed after leaving The La’s in 1992, and their new album – Love is the Call. Power described it as the best thing the band have made in 25 years, saying “this record is the record I want to make, it’s the record Cast was yet to make, and it’s liberated me.” In Power’s words, “The idea I had was to capture the energy of a debut (and combine it) with the journey and experience of the band.” Continuing, he said, “we’re not wet behind the ears – we’ve had highs, lows and we’ve been on the road for years.” So, the idea was to take the 21 years of experience, add the debut album energy, and if Power is correct… prepare ourselves for the best Cast album yet.
John Power certainly seemed very confident and happy in the project. In his words – “the idea was to make a seminal record.” Produced by Youth (Martin Glover of Killing Joke) who Power described as a “really arty: proper beatnik, bohemian, cosmic type of guy,” the band were knocking out the backbone (guitars, drums, main vocals) of a song every day in the studio. Purportedly a “psychedelic pop album” – Powers reckons he has got “probably the best” pop song he has ever written on it – Love is the Call is scheduled to be released in early 2024.
It’s six years now, and will almost be seven by the time Love is the Call comes out, since the last Cast album (2017’s Kicking Up the Dust). Power described this as “a fine record,” but felt it was lacking somewhat in the framework that makes a bonafide hit album. He recounted an interaction with Alan McGee (Creation Records) after the release of this album where McGee told him to “just go and write a great record, you know you can, just ignore the bullshit.” Power certainly felt he had done that this time, even if it may not stray too far stylistically from other Cast albums. He elaborated thus: “It’s got a slight psychedelia within it – everyone knows where I’m coming from – I could have done an avant-garde record, made everyone think I’m really out there but what good would it have done?” As Power says, “who would it have made happy?”
Power told us how the record wasn’t originally meant to be called Love is the Call, and he actually had quite a few different ideas knocking about. Youth told him that had to be the name and Power kept looking but couldn’t “find a word that is stronger” than love. He elaborated “What is the call? What do we need to hear today more than anything? We need to hear the word love collectively and individually too – for your own benefit regardless of us as a society.”
So, love is an influence, another influence is going back a few decades to when The La’s split and Cast was formed. Power explained “when Cast started you didn’t really want to talk about your old band – it’s like a new relationship where you don’t want to talk about your ex.” Revisiting the period now however, he obviously felt there was something to talk about then, as he stated “I’ve had a feeling there was a space between the end of The La’s and the beginning of Cast – a fertile land musically – that was yet to be ploughed.” This theory inspired Power and was one of the formation points for the new LP – perhaps given this context it isn’t surprising that he has ended up playing some bass again on this record for the first time since being in The La’s.
As previously mentioned, psychedelia is another theme within the new album. Liverpudlian music from The Beatles and earlier, through the Bunnymen and The Coral, has often had more than a hint of psychedelia about it. We asked Power what he thought the cause for this was – and he had a rather blunt answer for us in return. “We probably spent a lot of our youth doing drugs, do you know what I mean…” (No John, we don’t!). In all seriousness, he attributed this theme to the Mersey and all the different cultures, influences (and maybe drugs…) which came down it and through Liverpool during its period as the UK’s busiest port.
Power also reckoned there are some certain characteristics that make a Liverpool band – “you’ve got to have someone with curly hair in the band – do you know what I mean?” However, he also feels the scene is diversifying somewhat – we discussed bands coming out of the Liverpool scene with a lot of hype – such as The Red Rum Club (he wrote some songs with them), The Mysterines and Stone (His son – Fin Power – is the lead singer). He said, “I wouldn’t limit it – there’s young bands coming out now who are punky, spoken word bands, 80s-esque bands – it’s eclectic.” He does feel he no longer needs to “know the next hip band to be cool” but regardless, still has plenty of time for Liverpudlian bands.
Speaking of Liverpool – Power told us how, if not a Mersey theme, there is a maritime theme running through a lot of this coming album and a lot of prior material. Indeed, on this tour Power is playing a solo acoustic track called ‘Mariner’. Power explained some of the reasoning for this theme as the ocean – being such a “vast and deep” place – mirrors our soul in it’s infinitude. As such gazing into it is both “inspiring” and “really fucking scary”. This property has found its way, subtly, onto the Cast and La’s albums new and old as well as into the solo material that John Power has written in the past and is writing now – with the aim of recording another album soon.
On that topic, while we did spend a lot of time talking about Cast during this interview, Power was there on a solo tour and, as previously mentioned, is considering releasing some new music soon. As such, we wanted to ask him whether there is a process of distinguishing a Cast song from a John Power song. He told us “A lot of the early songs (on the Happening for Love album) such as ‘Small Farm’ could have been Cast songs – I often think the band should record ‘Small Farm’.” It appears that album could well have been a band one in a different life.
However, Power felt himself limited by those tracks – he felt he “could do more” and “really couldn’t sing the Cast songs anymore, fell out of love with them” after their split in the early noughties. In his words he was “a bit uninspired and didn’t want to repeat” the kind of work he’d already done. Having said that, one of his big sources of inspiration was going back out on tour with the reformed La’s in 2005. Power began to get ideas again stating, “being in a room with Lee (Mavers, frontman of The La’s) is always inspiring,” and went back to roots/folky material which led to LPs such as Stormbreaker (2008) which Power describes as “an amazing record.”
On the topic of Lee Mavers, we asked whether his and Power’s relationship was rocky after The La’s break up, however Power quickly quelled this rumour stating “I don’t think we have a fractious relationship at all. If you look at the people who came and went in The La’s, then our relationship was pretty solid.” He went on to say, “I don’t know if Lee will like me saying this, but he was like a mentor … if it wasn’t for Lee, I wouldn’t have been writing songs or singing backing vocals – it was his idea.” Power appeared very understanding of what he sees were the frustrations that faced Mavers and The La’s and had a lot of praise for Mavers, describing him as “a master” and his songs as “lifechanging” for Powers, Mavers, and countless other’s who have heard them.
Former resident of Liverpool, 30 miles up the M62, Power is no stranger to the Liverpool–Manchester rivalry and had this to say about it. “There’s a lot said (about the rivalry) and to some extent it exists – but I’m beyond being limited by a 30-mile radius.” Power mentioned the quote – misattributed to Ian Brown – “It aint where you’re from – it’s where you’re at” explaining how both cities have “great art, great bands, great history …” and “both cities are rich for mining.” However, he did say he thought there was a point at which Liverpool was being left behind by Manchester, “art had to be an anchor as we were by the sea, while Manchester was getting it on,” but that Liverpool has once again woken up and has just as much cultural might as Manchester.
To end the interview, we thought we would give the eloquently spoken Power an easy question to finish off, as it turned out it was our only question of the night to have him lost for words. What is John Power’s favourite venue? His answer varied on the context of the occasion upon which one finds himself inside a venue – for example “There’s places like the Barrowlands (Glasgow) that if you have the right crowd are stunning, you’ve got your academies and such all around the country that are great when you’re rocking out, but I prefer anything that’s got an ambience and a little bit of something about it as opposed to the cow shed warehouse venues.” For example, Power mentioned the Leeds Variety Theatre (describing it as “Like a ships galley”), The Royal Albert Hall (“However t’s probably not the best acoustically”), or the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. He bowed out of giving us one categorical favourite but stated “I should – and if I think of one, I’ll get in touch” – John, if you’re reading this – we’re still waiting.
It’s hard not to feel slightly overawed in Power’s presence. A thoughtful, well spoken and wise individual who has been in two of Britain’s most important bands since the late 1980s – from what we saw of him, he is, as he would say, a “cosmic” dude with a fascinating and broad perspective on life. His new album with Cast, Love is the Call, comes out early 2024 and the first single (also ‘Love is the Call’) is available to stream from Thursday the 26th of October.