Regulation curly Scouse hair now lapping longer over his ears, he is (perhaps surprisingly) looking the picture of health in a jogging pant wearing, Evian-sipping way. He has more or less been on the Wagon since January - save for a daily puff on his beloved "chong" - when Cast's last tour finished.
"Decadance with a capital D," he explains in his phlegm-loosening Scouse accent, before sagely adding, "but it's like anything. You stay too long in the sun, you're gonna burn mate. I'm applying factor 12 right now."
As he plays through the tape, the moments where he's not loudly singing will be filled with feverishly delivered descriptions of his creative motives, oblique terms like "Russian voodoo" and images of "African tribesmen". At one stage, he gets to his feet and performs an improvised "Dance Of The Invisible Spear" to enhance the slow-winding rhythm of Soul Tied.
The new album, it appears, is designed to broaden Cast's musical parameters: the rockier material now sounding looser and cockier in a Stonesy or Faces-ish - or as Power himself puts it, "skaggy" - fashion; the moodier tracks awash with melancholic atmosphere. A new recording of tour-favourite Mirror Me even cuts between the two, it's multi-layered guitar assault giving way to A Day In The Life textures. Another track, which the guitarist is currently unsure whether to call Tell me What To Do or Revolution, is a call-to-arms protest song and a continuation of the rallying spirit apparent in much of his material. Another, the possibly classic I'm So Lonely, can only be described as a soul track, effortlessly summoning up the twin spirits of John lennon and Marvin Gaye with Cast's most enduring melody yet.
Two years ago, Cast recorded All Change at the most legendary residential studios (now tragically disassembled), The Manor in Oxfordshire. At the time, the recently signed Power was relentless in his enthusiasm and confidence, banging on - seemingly without pausing for breath - about his unstinting belief in his own cababilities. Little, it seems, in spite of his new-found wealth and popularity, has changed.
"It's not like we keep all the royalties under our beds," he insists, "and we come in from the studio, skin a big spliff of skunk, and throw the money in the air going, Wahey! Money takes the weight off some things, like. Y'know, I don't have to worry about paying me bills now. But that's not what I worried about anyway. I never gave one fucking iota of my brain cells to thinking "How am I going to paly the 'leccy bill? All I've worried about for the last decade is the music."
By his own admission, John Power (born September 14, 1967) was a hyperactive kid.
"I was, yeah. But see, I didn't realise what hyper was," he reasons. "It's only as you get older that someone says to you , You're fucking mad will you shut u? You pace the room for two hours and (incredulous high-pitched laugh) you're talking to yourself."
Born into a working class Liverpool family, his father a worker at the Ford motor plant ("He'll probably be getting made redundant soon") who turned him on at an early age to the rock'n'roll 45s of Chuck Berry and The Beatles, Power was seven years younger than his studious class-topping twinbrothers who have since gone on to become, as he vaguely explains, "chartered accountants, vice presidents of banks and shit like that". However, Power did not entirely share his siblings' academic zeal, and thus, as a teen, he felt a certain inadequacy.
"Oh fucking hell, yeah," he exclaims. "I got battered, man, because of them two. I never had brothers like me mates had, who'd back you up. My brothers would snitch on me for smoking weed wheareas other brothers would back you up. But it's because they thought, this lad's a fucking loon, he's doing nothing. Which is a fair assumption because I suppose everyone was worrying about me. Y'know, You stay in bed all day, you're out all night, what are you going to do? And I'm like, I dunno, I'm gonna listen to some tunes and skin a spliff. What are you gonna do about it?"
On leaving school at 17, Power concocted a move to London to be near one of his brothers. He thought he'd sign on ("You get more dole money down there, la") and waste his days merely puffing away and playing records. His brother, having none of it, arranged an interview for him for a temporary job in the Home Office which - by lying about his exam results - Power landed, after having to sign the Official Secrets Act. Finding himself in an office full of "these great old women", he frittered away two months constructing a huge elastic ball out of rubber bands (which oddly, he still owns). Woth his wages, he bought a bass guitar and moved back to Liverpool. The first tune he learned to play was The Rolling Stones' Get Off My Cloud.
I used to think it would be so beautiful to be able to play music," he enthuses. "I used to say to people who had a guitar, Ah, just go on and play. And you could see them laughing because it would be just a little blues thing they were playing and I'd be going, Aw. I'd love it, man. When I got the bass, I was literally shit, like. What I mean by that is I've always understood music, the feeling, but not the mathematics of it. It's like, I know the answer, not the sum. I know what it gives you, I just can't give you the equation of how to do it."
In 1986 his fortunes would take a fateful turn when, involved in a scheme at a local community recording studio, Power met Lee Mavers, as well as a fellow named Mike Badger who was trying to form a band called The La's. Within weeks, Mavers and Power had joined the group and, more significantly in the former's case, effectively seized control of the outfit.
"Mike Badger had the name The La's, and we were like, what, The La's? As in alright, la'? And he was like, no (sings) La, la, la, la. The first La's following was basically about forty of my mates. I still had this big crew, and so I'd phone them up and it was like, I'm fucking playing a gig. And it was like, Wha'? It was real news, one of the ldas being in a band."
What were your first impressions when you met Lee Mavers?
"We got on straight away - it was all very natural. It was weird. Mike, Lee and myself, it just felt like part of the plan. I can't explain it to you. If you believe in the future and something that's brewing in you, then finding people like that is just great. I learned to play in that environment. I wasn't a player who joined a band, I was just a lad with enthusiasm. They recognised it in my eyes, which were probably twirling about a hundred miles an hour in my head. They must have thought, Well, he's got everything apart from the fact that he's never played a bass in his life. It wasn't just attitude, it was like I knew the power of music more than anyone. Apart from Lee, of course."
The dawning of The La's seems to have been a hugely inspiring era for all involved. Drummer Chris Sharrock, who - between his long period with The Icicle Works and his current position in The Lightning Seeds - joined the grou for a year, recalls a visit to The La's rehearsal room where, "John and Lee just played acoustic guitars, kind of at me, and sang these amazing songs in these amazing voices. It was gose pimple time."
Sharrock also remembers being impressed by the sheer unharnessed bottle of the young John Power, then 19.
"One time I met him in this pub in Liverpool, The Grapes," the drummer remembers. "One o'clock in the afternoon, nd John goes to skin up in this boozer. I couldn't believe it. It was the first time I'd ever seen anyone skin up in a pub in the afternoon. So I was like, Yeah, great."
The incredible potential of The La's (a strong influence on the nascent Oasis) would be thwarted by Mavers's single-minded determination to create a sound akin to the earthy "vibe" of The Who's I Can't Explain. This would lead to a six-year period where the group would attempt to record their debut album four times with different producers, each to be subsequently scrapped by their mercurial singer (allegedly battling with a heroin habit throughout the entire period), forcing Go! Discs to issue an eponymous album with the discarded tapes - without the band's permission - in 1990. Sharrock claims to have spotted the creative warning signs very early on.
"The first time we went in the studio, a was a bit suspicious because Lee wanted to do all the recording in the kitchen. And then it was, like, Nah, that sounds wrong and don't dust the guitars they sound better with dust on them. So I realised all was not right. The best recordings we did were with Mike Hedges, because he's got the old Abbey Road Studio Two desk. The version of the album done on that was amazing. Lee was kissing everyone, going, That's it, we've done it. This was, like, the third attempt."
To celebrate the supposed completion of The La's album, Sharrock and Power took their girlfriends on a nice cut-price holiday to Hawaii in 1988, with a £400 cash bonus that Go! Discs boss Andy Mandonald had gifted each band member. On their return, they were met at the airport by their tour manager, who sheepishly informed them that Mavers had once again abandonned the tracks.
"I just remember this really depressing journey back from Manchester Airport," Sharrock says, "and that was it, really. My heart wasn't really in it. John was very frustrated by all that, more so than me, because he'd been with Lee fr a good while before I joined. And Lee's a genius and you can't argue with that, you can't really argue with him on any point because you're not gonna win."
Disagreements winthin the famously insular group had now begun to spill out onto the stage, most dramatically at a key date at London's Town & Country Club in 1990, where, only minutes in, Power and Mavers were seen to be physically squaring up against one another.
"We'd just started and a second song in, it was guitars down and head to head between me and Lee," Power grimly recalls. "It was always, y'know, If you're not going to sing on my song, I'm not gonna sing on your fuscking song. Just schoolyard shit, like. That night we'd put a new song of mine in the set and he decided that because it was my song, he wasn't going to sing. So I just started shouting into the mike. Sing the fucking backing vocals, and then we stopped and it all went off."
Following a draining US Tour in 1991, Power finally decided that after five years, he'd had enough, quitting the group to begin sowing the seeds of what would become Cast. Since then, despite the occasional sighting of Lee Mavers, there has been no real activity from The La's. Q contacted Mavers's management in an attempt to talk to the reclusive singer, only to be informed that he had "better things to do". Power, for his part, has only occasionally bumped into Mavers since The La's.
"I don't see Lee. The last time was probably walking down the road. he's a funny . . . he's a funny cu . . . y'know. I leave people to it. leave people to their own devices."
There were always widespread murmourings of heroin use within The La's. Ever dabble?
"No. No, I don't touch scag. I'm not really a big hard drugs man. I'm nearly thirty and I'm here - there's lots of people who lost the plot and who are mad. See the thing with me is that I don't live for drugs. You think that you can control something, and it's a big thing, like. I don't really want to go delving into other people's problems. We've all got our problems, like, and we get on with them. I don't fucking judge other people."
With the benefit of hindsight, would you say Mavers had a strong influence on you?
"Oh yeah, you've got to remember I'm the oldest in this band, but I was always the youngest in The La's, I was the puppy running around. When it came to conversations with Lee, it was good. Of course it was very inspirational for me. It all just flows into the stream, like."
Have you heard what he thinks about Cast?
"No and I don't really give a shit. Really don't give two flying fucks to be honest. And that's not meant to be nasty. But I stopped worying about what he thought when I left the fucking band."
In 1992, Power moved into Bruckley House in Liverpool, a dilapidated Victorian block where students and scallys lived communally and, more importantly, cheaply, since their dubious landlord would take eight months to drop by for whatever rent money the residents could scrape together on the day. It was here that the bassist began to teach himself guitar, and encouraged by the recently self-penned Alright, began to write songs. "I thought I'd better, because I'd left the fucking La's, like."
Since he was still legally contracted to Go! Discs, the label put up funds for the now singer/guitarist and an early line-up of Cast (bassist Peter Wilkinson, officially The Quiet One, is the only one left, save Power) to record some tracks with former Who soundman Bob Pridden. Dissatisfied with these first recording efforts, Cast began to fall apart before they'd even begun. Power took advantage of a negligent clause in his contract to release himself from a deal with the label and set about forming the core of Cast Mark II around himself, Wilkinson and wild-eyed, Animal-like drummer Keith O'Neill ("He was just exciting to watch. He was like a breath of fresh air"). After having heard a lot around Liverpool about a young guitarist nicknamed Skin - Liam Tyson to his mother - Power was convinced he had a full line-up. Tyson, however, has recently grown disillusioned with music and moved to Cumbria to work in an outdoor centre.
"I suppose I left Liverpool knowing that I was going to join Cast anyway at some point and then they knocked on my door," Tyson admits. "Liverpool's tiny and you see things coming. I still didn't know if I wanted to go ahead and do it, though."
"I always imagined that Skin was going to join Cast, even before I met him," Power claims. "Then one night we were in this pub and he walked past, and someone went, There he is. So I said, Skin, do you want to join tha band, la'? And he went, No, mate. I've fucked off everything, I live in Cumbria. So I thought, Fuck you then, you cunt. But I wrote him a letter anyway, thinking it would play on his fucking mind or it wouldn't. A week later I got the call from him, and he's saying, Well, how serious are you? And I'm like, As serious as you can fucking spell, like. As serious as serious gets. I said, This isn't a joke mate, I've got songs and I'm going there."
In their early gigging days, Cast kept their costs to a minimum by camping in the countryside surrounding each city they visited. In 1994, they were given a welcome leg-up by Elvis Costello who, impressed by their demo tape, invited the band to support him on two dates at the Royal Albert Hall.
"All the fucking dickhead A&R men came down," Power scowls, "but they couldn't pigeon-hole us. We weren't dead quirky and we weren't U2. At the time they were all after fucking Marion! They were all goin, Where's your lippy? And I remember saying to me manager, Look brother, if you think that's what it's about, then you can fuck off, like. Because it's not about wearing certain clobber or anything. It's about saving the fucking world, love, and all the things we're scared to say."
On the gig circuit, Power had made friends with the Gallagher brothers, who would go on to widely tout Cast, and it was at a gig supporting Oasis at The Venue in New Cross, South London, that the grou were spotted by Polydor's Paul Adams, who went backstage to tell the band that he couldn't believe they weren't signed. ("I just said, Nor can I, mate!"). On the day they inked their contract, Cast necked an E apiece to celebrate. Then the ever-ebullient Power telling the label precisely what he planned to do.
"At one of the first meetings, I had a row with one of the MDs there. He was trying to upset it, see what type of person I was. So I told them how it was going to be. I honestly said, Listen, if you treat us like any other band on your label, you won't get the success you want. But if you get behind us and what we want to do, I promise you, we'll deliver it. Everything we've said has come true.
"I stood up for myself. he must have thought, Great, the lad thinks he's a fucking star, which is a start."
Two years, five hit singles and one platinum album later, Cast are big news. Though clearly a close-knit operation, the stresses of 15 seemingly endless months on tour have culminated in the odd "incident" such as the moment when, on stage in Amsterdam last year, Power booted over O'Neill's kit after the drummer fluffed part of a song (although, as Power now admits after hearing a bootleg of the gig, he was actually the one in the wrong). There have, of course, also been innumerable highs: playing Knebworth with Oasis, supporting Paul Weller at the Chelmsford V96 Festival, although that day Power nearly freaked on stage when a wasp landed on his guitar (he has a deep rooted phobia of - as he daintily puts it - "the snidey black-and-yellow bastards")
In December 1995, while touring Europe, Cast irreversibly enhanced their hard-partying reputation when Power and O'Neill were arrested in Nantes, France, and spent the night in jail. According to the subsequent reports, a group of locals had come back to the band's Marriott hotel rooms for a drink, wrecked the place and left the group to fit the bill. As they now admit it, there were, in fact, no locals involved. Cast trashed the joint themselves.
Sheer drunkenness," Power states bluntly. "See, what happened was, we had a day off and fuck all to do and we'd ran out of weed, and when you run out of weed, people start drinking. You start drinking a cocktail of drinks all day and you're just loud without realising it. You think everybody's partying with you, but they're not."
"I just didn't open the door when the police arrived," Tyson laughs, "I'm not soft or anything. (Wilkinson apparently escaped arrest by heroically hiding in a wardrobe). I just remember a crate of champagne in keith's arms and he was swigging the lot, and that's when I realised, I'm going to bed here. Then I got woken up by the explosion of Keith's brain and it was all police with guns. We were lucky, really, because we could have easily got our heads kicked in. It was the day after the riots and the French police were very uptight anyway."
Although he talks an impressively good game and clearly knows how to let his hair down, Power claims that he only feels truly comfortable while singing and playing. And so, after over two hours of intense, breakneck conversation, the diminutive Scouser gets up and pads across the room to fetch his acoustic guitar, before embarking on an unplugged recap of his new songs in potted 10-second snippets. On this evidense alone, there is every chance that, Just as (What's The Story) Morning Glory propelled Oasis into mainstream consciousness, Casts's second album will find them, as Power sees it, "cutting across to the common ground where the battle really takes place".
If Cast are preparing to be lifted to new heights of success then Power doesn't appear to be intimidated by the prospect of becomming tabloid famous.
"Of course not," he counters, defiantly. "I never think, oh I better not write a great song because some cunt might end up sitting outside me house with a fucking camera. But these days I might not go to, say, certain places I used to go to. I'm not going to go into some fucking nutty ale-house on a Saturday night because there's an excuse there for someone to come up and start hassling you. People in the street look at me now - if they're young, they'll know my face from the band, but if it's some criminal, they might just think they'd been locked up with you or whatever. People recognise the face but they don't know where from. We're not in a band because we want to be famous, but I'm not intimidated by fame. We go where we go, la', and we have no choice in the matter."
With that, Power's wife Belinda walks into the room and her husband pats her pregnant belly. "Due in May," he proudly informs Q. His, very likely long-suffering, partner rolls her eyes skyward.
"If it talks as much as him," she says with a grin, "we're in big trouble."
Does: songwriting, singing and guitar
"Interesting" fact: he's not firing blanks
Liam "Skin" Tyson
"Interesting" fact: believes aliens are talking to him
Type: wholly silent
"Interesting" fact: escaped arrest by hiding in a wardrobe
"Interesting" fact: can sing like Pavarotti
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~ Keith ~
~ Back To Mars ~
~ Yellow Pages ~