Ocean Colour Scene spin-offs Merrymouth are back with their second record. But despite its acoustic roots, frontman Simon Fowler tells David Vincent why it’s “not a ‘folk’ album”.
While Britpop hitmakers Ocean Colour Scene remain very much his main job, frontman and songwriter Simon Fowler continues to enjoy his parallel career with ‘folk-orientated’ act Merrymouth. Featuring Simon, plus fellow OCS member Dan Sealey and keyboard player Adam Barry, the band are set to return this month with an appearance at Birmingham’s Mac to accompany the release of their sophomore album.
Entitled Wenlock Hill, the collection features 11 tracks that offer a distinct and relaxed vibe, yet much of the material could, with some re-arranging, easily sit with OCS.
“The songs on this album, I don’t know which songs wouldn’t crossover to be OCS songs,” ponders Fowler. “I don’t think Salt Breeze would and I have to say That Man, which Dan wrote, probably wouldn’t, but I don’t think it really matters. I don’t make a huge distinction when I’m writing.
“I don’t see that some songs sit more with Merrymouth than Ocean Colour Scene,” he continues, “[but] Dan is very much interested with that folk tradition, going to folk festivals and having Martin Carthy sleep on his floor.”
While OCS’s crowning glory is undoubtedly the riff-tastic The Riverboat Song from breakthrough 1996 album Moseley Shoals, behind such driving tunes, the band always demonstrated a remarkable sensitive side. Back at a time when record labels insisted on multiple versions of releases, singles could easily require six or more new, non-album tracks, and it was here especially, that Fowler let his acoustic singer-songwriter side fly.
“That was ridiculous, it was all about getting chart placings,” he recalls of the slew of extra songs acts were forced to record. “But it was good for doing B-side albums of single releases off the album, if you know what I mean.
“I don’t even know what a single is nowadays. Do they even have ‘singles’? It’s just a download,” he adds as an aside, before returning to the topic.
“Those OCS B-sides were written in the same way as I write now. I’ve always written with an acoustic guitar and with an old Sony cassette tape recorder. I always have done, so I’ve always had that ‘acoustic’ side to me.”
Merrymouth’s marketing blurbs refer to them as a ‘three-piece folk orientated band’ and while they’re also signed to Navigator Records – home to releases by the likes of such ‘proper’ folkies such as Bellowhead, Heidi Talbot, Lucy Ward, Spiers And Boden and Oysterband – Fowler reckons the ‘folk’ tag isn’t a tight fit.
“I don’t think this is a ‘folk’ album, but it’s got an acoustic feel to it. I think it’s more of a band album than the first Merrymouth album. The first one was routed in that folk tradition, but this one isn’t like that so much.”
It includes knees-up Salt Breeze featuring Chas Hodges from Chas & Dave, but perhaps even more surprising is a stripped down take on The Stone Roses’ 25 year old Madchester anthem, I Am The Resurrection, sung by Dan.
“When you do a song like that, for God’s sake don’t copy it,” laughs Fowler, adding that that he was never worried about how ardent Roses’ fans would react to the radical resetting.
“I don’t know if there has been any negative feedback. I’ve never been concerned about things like that. It’s such a good song, the lyrics are brilliant.”
With a larger body of Merrymouth-penned material now behind them, don’t expect the band to stray into too much OCS material when they head out on tour this month.
“We have two Merrymouth albums out now, so we can base out setlist on that,” Fowler states. “It’s us three and a violin player. In Scotland we’re with John McCusker who is one of the best musicians in the country. In England, because he’s so busy touring the world with Mark Knopfler, we play with Emily Sanders who played on our last tour. She’s from Coventry, so that’s nice.”
Further Merrymouth dates loom in the autumn, while next year will see Simon and Dan back in the OCS fold, belatedly marking that band’s 25th anniversary. Plans are still very much ‘TBC’’, but some special OCS celebratory shows are mooted, with rumours of a string quartet.
“I don’t need to plan ahead as you never really know what’s around the corner. We didn’t know in 1996 we’d be pop stars,” he laughs.
So why have OCS lasted a full quarter century where the majority of their peers have long gone?
“We’ve always got on, and we got a certain amount of success, and we’ve always been known as a live band,” Fowler says, promptly. “So even though we don’t sell the records in the same numbers as we once did, we can still sell out the Albert Hall and tour. And people have stuck with us, they’ve taken us on board.”
Merrymouth are live at mac, Birmingham on May 17. Tickets are now sold out. Their new album, Wenlock Hill, is out now.