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+ {John Power}

Formed in Liverpool, England… 1993, The LA’S bassist John Power had become increasingly disillusioned with this jangle-pop combo’s interminable absence from the music scene, thus he took his future into his own hands and developed a 60s-influenced songwriting formula within a more solid framework. Fortuitously, CAST’s strident, melodic sound was perfectly in tune with the emerging retro-fixated Britpop sound and, with the influential backing of OASIS, Messrs Power (vocals/guitar), Liam “Skin” Tyson (guitar), Peter Wilkinson (bass) – ex-SHACK – and Keith O’Neill (drums), crashed into the Top 20 in the summer of ‘95 with `Finetime’. Surfing on a wave of frothy power chords and an irrepressibly buoyant melody, `Alright’ followed suit soon afterwards; the track becoming something of a signature tune and a definitive highlight of their Polydor Records debut set, ALL CHANGE {*8}.
Released later that autumn, the Top 10 album divided the critics; some raving over its immaculate melodic appeal; some deriding its workmanlike adherence to “classic songwriting”. Whatever the fuss and bother, there was no doubting Power’s ear for a tune, and the sublime `Sandstorm’ gave the band a further smash hit in early ’96; ditto the seminal, `Walkaway’.
CAST’s solid style inevitably translated well to the live arena, as they built up a rabid following of beanie-topped fans; the same constituency of check-shirted “lads” who frequented OASIS and OCEAN COLOUR SCENE gigs. That autumn, CAST scored their first Top 5 entry with `Flying’, a lilting exclusive track that further showcased their mastery of BEATLES-esque pop dynamics.
However, the pernickety critics were just dying to sink their sharp claws into this resolutely untrendy outfit. In the event, MOTHER NATURE CALLS (1997) {*7}, unfairly received some mixed reviews. Detractors rounded on Power’s spiritually-enhanced muse and mystical leanings, but there was no arguing with the life-affirming hue inherent in songs like opening salvo `Free Me’ and `Guiding Star’; two other spawned Top 10 smash hits. Slowing the pace down a tad, `Live The Dream’ also hit the mark, whilst the often overlooked orchestral-enhanced, `I’m So Lonely’, made it nine in a row Top 20 singles.
Influenced by The WHO in a “Magic Bus”-type of thing (with production from Gil Norton and string accompaniment courtesy of David Arnold), Power and Co retro-fied their way back into the charts with the formulaic `Beat Mama’. A hook-line festival-friendly ditty, the big ticket item previewed their third Top 10 album, MAGIC HOUR (1999) {*5}, yet another set to glean support from both the indie and alt-rock factions. When the touch-sensitive title track stopped the rot when only reaching No.28, CAST had their first warning that times ahead might be tough if they wanted to sound like The VERVE.
Almost predictable when the band arrived back with a fourth set, BEETROOT (2001) {*4}, CAST were no longer in vogue, or for that matter in the album charts, having been spared a total wipeout when the soul/pop-fuelled `Desert Drought’ chalked up their final Top 50 entry.
JOHN POWER eventually resurfaced in summer 2003 with his John Leckie-produced solo debut set, HAPPENING FOR LOVE {*6}. Once again, the 60s evangelist Scouser came a critical cropper for his woolly lyrics; unfortunately detracting from the ringing fervour of his delivery and the inherent soundness of the songs themselves. Committed fans might still disagree, but with blues-y retrograde pieces, `Electrify’ and `Small Farm’, he’d certainly fallen foul of post-millennium quality control. 2006’s WILLOW SHE WEEPS {*5} and 2008’s STORMBREAKER {*6} went unnoticed as the sun went down on John’s solo exploits.
As with nearly every band known to man, or so it seemed, CAST were another to cast aside any scruples and misgivings when they re-formed in November 2010. Exactly a year on, they’d managed to convince the Pledge subscribers to fund their fifth set in total, TROUBLED TIMES (2011) {*6}. Leckie was back at the decks, though it was soon revealed that Steve Pilgrim filled in on drums whilst O’Neill worked as a tour manager; his return was felt on the all-encompassing live double-CD/DVD combination of LIVERPOOL AT LAST (2013) {*7}.
In 2015, bassist Jay Lewis replaced Wilkinson (who re-formed his Aviator band a year earlier), all in time for another stop-gap in-concert double-CD/DVD package, ALL CHANGE LIVE: CELEBRATING 20 YEARS OF CAST (2016) {*6}; recorded live on 5th December 2015 at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.
2017’s KICKING UP THE DUST {*6} actually cracked the Top 50; not bad for an independent record pitted against the major pop acts of the day. Produced by Al Groves at Motor Museum studios, the Power(s) that be – CAST – put their feet to the pedal for tracks, `Roar’, `Further Down The Road’ and several other profound pleasing-to-the-ear pieces.
© MC Strong/MCS 1996-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Nov2019

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