Stage Times: Cast

John Power of Cast looks back on his most memorable gigs – from making history with Oasis at Knebworth to dodging apples with U2 in Leeds

To many, Cast are as fixed to 90s British pop culture as Hooch, Girl Power, and Loaded magazine. Their effervescent pop was a key part of the Britpop soundtrack thanks to a host of hit singles and platinum-selling albums All Change and Mother Nature Calls. As the movement fell out of fashion, however, the group’s fortunes mirrored its trajectory.  

“There have been real highs and real lows,” reveals Cast’s songwriter and frontman John Power. “I’ve played massive shows, and I’ve lost it all. There’s certainly been times when I’ve had to dig deep.

“But when you’re standing in an empty bar on a Tuesday night in the pissing down rain in Birmingham singing country songs to no one, you soon realise that you’re only really singing them to yourself anyway. And so, although it’s been a meandering road, I never questioned whether [music] was the right path [or not]. I think as long as you’re true to yourself there aren’t any questions, really.”

If Power sounds forlorn, this is misleading. He is undoubtedly one of life’s thinkers; predisposed to ruminate on the nature of existence and what it all really means. That comes through during two-hours of chat that dances from deep and serious to light and humorous, and all else in between. He is energised too by his band’s upcoming album, Love Is The Call, set for release in February 2024. “I know, deep down, that it’s the best thing we’ve ever done,” he declares proudly. “Or, if not quite that, it’s certainly the best thing we’ve done in 25 years. Without a doubt.

“I went back to a space that I’d never furrowed between the end of The La’s and the start of Cast,” he adds, with reference to the celebrated band he parted ways with in 1991. “Love Is The Call is like a debut record with the wisdom of a 30-year career.”

Love Is The Call (Official Video)

The 60s-infused strut of ‘Love You Like I Do’ and the album’s title track add weight to Power’s words. The release of their seventh album will coincide with a high-profile support slot on Liam Gallagher’s blockbuster Definitely Maybe 30th Anniversary tour (“it’s amazing…the hottest ticket in town,” Power admits).

For our Stage Times series, John Power leads us through his gigging scrapbook. “I’m probably the worst person you can ask,” he warns. “My memory is terrible with these things, but I’m going to try. Also, when it comes to major milestones, I like to think they’re still ahead of me.”

The gig that made me want to make music

I never really had that “Road to Damascus” moment where you attend a show and want to be in a band, to be honest. It was more a sort of calling [for me]. But the first time I remember thinking ‘Wow, that’s something special’ was as a teenager seeing The Specials’ ‘Too Much Too Young’ on TV. Seeing the crowd in the music video had a big impact. 

I went out, got my head shaved, and my schoolmates did the same. We were quite a multicultural school. My group of mates were like [the two-tone scene]: white lads, black lads, all together. There was unity. We couldn’t see racism; we didn’t understand. Especially in the part of Liverpool where I was brought up. We thought our generation would be different. As I got older though, I realised that the rest of my city wasn’t as multicultural, let alone elsewhere. It dawned on me that maybe my optimism was a little misplaced. 

Cast - Guiding Star

The worst

It wasn’t the ‘worst gig’, but we opened for U2 on their PopMart tour in Leeds where the rain lashed down and there was some crazy flash flood. I was standing up to my ankles in water. All my pedals were under water. I remember thinking as I was singing that I was going to get electrocuted and die. I was really worried.

What I didn’t know at the time was there was this big separate fuse box underneath the stage that would prevent that from happening. To make matters worse, when I struck the first chord of our opening song, I got hit on the forehead by a green apple. I’m usually pretty good at dodging things, but that was the one time I was struck by something. That gig was comical, but also scary. 

The biggest

It’s got to be supporting Oasis at Knebworth. It was jaw-droppingly large. Insanely big. It was as though everything had built up to this moment. Where could anyone go after something like that? I mean, on every level: not just Oasis, but all the bands involved. I remember the view of the crowd that day was immense. The crowd just went on and on [into the distance]. 

We had just recorded [the single] ‘Flying’ in Linford Manor with Brendan Lynch. We headed over to Knebworth the day before the gig for a soundcheck or something. I saw Noel [Gallagher], who jumped in the car, and I played him the single. We chatted about how the show was going to be. There was all this anticipation. Everyone was talking about it. It was on the news and on the front page of the papers. It was woven into the psyche of the nation of the time, really. 

When you play something that vast, it’s hard to connect because you’re playing to a mass as opposed to something you can grab hold of. The pit was as big as a normal outdoor gig – probably about 10,000 people. It was that vast. It was an amazing experience to be involved in. I remember looking round at the band and picking up on a little look in their eyes, thinking ‘this is special’, and thinking, ‘f*cking hell, this is pretty much as big as it gets, lads.’ I’m happy to say, we played a good show. 

I have a very strange relationship with myself at that time. I’m in such a calmer place now when it comes to singing and playing. I’ve learned to be a conduit these days but, in those days, I was earnestly trying to get it all right. 

Are there other big shows that standout?

Yeah, definitely. Gigs such as Glastonbury and those shows opening for U2. We were meant to open for The Stones at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin in 1998 on their Bridges To Babylon tour. I remember the story. Keith Richards was leaning over on a ladder in his library to get a book on Leonardo da Vinci when he slipped and broke his wrist. The gig was cancelled. I was a massive Stones fan, so that was pretty upsetting. We were so close.

The smallest

In the early 90s, before we were signed, Cast were booked to play at Bath Moles Club. I don’t know what happened – if we were double-booked or what – but having got all the way to Bath, which is a schlep from Liverpool, we turned up and there were just two people in the venue. And they’d come to watch a flamenco band. To make matters worse, they had a real look of disdain in their eyes and watched the whole show with rolled-up toilet paper in their ears! They did stay ‘til the end though. 

The best

I think you’ve covered this with Knebworth… what about your best TV performance?

Jools Holland was always a good show. TFI Friday was great too and always had great bands, but my standout performance live on TV was White Room. We’d been on tour in Europe and had flown back to perform on that show. We played ‘Sandstorm’ and ‘Alright’ and you could tell we’d been on the road – we were really having it. Sonically, it was a really good performance. 

Cast were always good live though. TV producers knew we could perform, so I was always asked to sing live on shows like Top Of The Pops, which was a pain in the arse, really, because everyone was having a laugh at the bar while I had to keep it tight! Anyway, that White Room performance is probably our best. It just caught us at the right time. 

Cast - The White Room 1996

The weirdest

There’s a commune in Denmark that bands used to go through called Freetown Christiania. It was situated on an old airfield base, and it had been there since the late 60s/early 70s. They even had their own laws – you could sell weed and so forth. Obviously, we got stoned before we went onstage. We were playing our gig when this dog just wandered on and sat down. Seeing this dog walking around the stage in the middle of our set was so strange, and this was only enhanced by how stoned we were.

There was also a gig in Missouri where we played behind a chicken net, which is common in the so-called “redneck” parts of the States – they have chicken wire to protect bands from bottles thrown by the crowd. We were at one of these venues and there was this guy with a massive belly and a confederate flag tattooed on his stomach. And there was this guy who called himself ‘The Mole’ and told us he lived in the luggage hold of Marilyn Manson’s tour bus. You’ve got to remember that we’re these little, thin, liberal, British hippies. We were sh*tting ourselves. Absolutely terrified. But we survived!

Cast start their UK tour in March 2024, before supporting Liam Gallagher on the Definitely Maybe tour. Find tickets here