On the cusp of 2002 OCS are releasing a greatest hits package, which comes hot on the heels of the album proper, ‘Mechanical Wonder’, bass player Damon Minchella is “fine”.
“We’ve been playing in Dublin, London and Glasgow, just to launch the greatest hits album,” OCS are also firm favourites on the continent, ‘Spain’s fantastic, a top country to tour’ however in Germany the reception tends to be slightly cooler. He laughs “we always end up playing the ‘Stuttgart Bunker’ or whatever it’s called, it’s not very pleasant.” Nevertheless OCS are an active, touring band something reflected in the special edition of the new release which features a second CD of five live tracks. ‘Get Away’ dates from a gig nearly four years ago at the Albert Hall, ‘Profit in Peace’ from 1999 was recorded at Brixton Academy in September 2001! “Playing live is a big part of what we do, it’s what we’re best at, so it’s just a nice thing for people to have.”
The decision to release the compilation however came from the record company, not the band “they wanted it when we did the last studio album, but we were a bit pig headed about it. But it became apparent that they only wanted a greatest hits at this point, so we thought if they’re going to do it, we may as well get behind it and make it good thing.”
Somewhat inevitably we touch on the subject of criticism, which has dogged OCS from day one, no matter how many albums they sell, no matter how devoted and passionate their fans, certain quarters of the media seem to always have the knives out for the Birmingham based band. “I don’t know why it happens, its always been the same, I suppose the day we start getting good reviews is the day we start making shit records… They’re all full of shit to be honest with you and it doesn’t affect our fans. I think the press got the arse because we became successful without their permission, with Moseley Shoals. So I think they’ve had it in for us since then really, since people weren’t supposed to like us and they did. I’d rather they wrote great things about us, but the fact is that they don’t and never have done.”
It seems more than likely that the four year gap between the first and second albums where a nose-dive back into regular life almost beckoned and times were so tough that Chris Craddock band manager and father of guitarist Steve re-mortgaged the family home to raise cash for the band. Times like that would tend to make or break anyone – it made OCS what they are today. “It toughened us up in terms of everything, ‘cause no-one was telling us we were good apart from ourselves, so you learn to stand and fall by your own opinion. When success did come we were prepared for it when it happened, we weren’t young puppies we were quite grown up and me & Steve were lucky to have been all round the world with Paul Weller, so we had seen a lot of the shitty side of the business, so you learn how to handle yourself and not get carried away.”
Paul Weller and the ‘mod’ label has cast a long shadow over OCS which has been a blessing and a curse, “it doesn’t affect our fans and most of the people who come to our gigs aren’t what you would call ‘mods’ anyway. It’s just a label that people tend to use as a compliment or as an insult depending on their point of view. I think if people love you or hate you at least you’re getting a response, I’d rather be critically spat at than ignored.” Minchella is dismissive of OCS doing an acoustic album in the vein of Paul Wellers ‘Days of Speed’, “we wouldn’t because we’re a band and he’s a solo artist and he just wanted to do some old classics and he didn’t want to do them with a band. Me and Steve are playing with him at the Albert Hall next month so we may do a few Jam tunes as a band.”
While no acoustic albums are in the pipeline, the many, fabled, alternative versions of classics are being considered for a possible sequel to 1997’s ‘B-Sides Seasides & Freerides’. “We are going to do a volume two so I suppose that is different versions and there might be the odd acoustic solo rendering, you never know.” Luckily have not been beset by bootleggers, in any serious way, “we have lost some stuff, but we tend to keep most of it ourselves ‘cause you can’t trust record labels. You get some guy in the post room who sees whatever and thinks ‘I’ll have that!’” Nevertheless a new studio album has just begun its gestation period “we’re at the very, very early stages just rough ideas, but next year we’ll get together and do it properly. That probably won’t be out until 2003 because we’re going to tour until the end of the festivals with the greatest hits. We’re not the sort of band that can write on the road because you end up writing songs about being on the road, which I think are really quite dull.” So have they ever travelled with a 4-track? “We’ve done it loads of times but it’s the last thing you want to do after a gig or on a day off is start playing the guitar again, you want to do something else and keep it fresh for when you’re on stage.”When OCS does knuckle down to writing songs often the genesis of the idea will come from vocalist Simon ‘Foxy’ Fowler. “I’d say that the majority of the songs Simon has a vague sketch on his acoustic guitar and won’t have all the lyrics but perhaps a vocal melody, and then me and Steve will sort the music out – it can all be done and dusted in a day, and then you’ve just got to record it.”
Minchella, like most modern musicians of whatever genre, is completely comfortable with digital recording, but is that keeping it real though? “I haven’t got problems with it at all I’ve just been working on my own little digital studio this afternoon, coming up with some ideas hopefully for the next album. I think technology is there to be used, so long as it doesn’t override playing live and getting a good take, as longs as you don’t use it to plaster over the cracks ‘cause they’ll end up being seen. We’re very traditional in some respects, we’re not shy of whatever technology we’re recording it on we still want to be able to play it live, ‘cause that‘s our strength, it isn’t in tinkering around with drum loops and faffing around with samplers. It’s about being able to cut it as much live as possible.” In terms of remixes Minchella is oddly phlegmatic though, “we’re open to all sorts of stuff, but generally they are not very good. Our attitude is that if we like we’ll pay them.” Minchella’s attitude in the studio is that he is more active than most and tends to organise striking odd remembrances of the late Yardbirds bass-player Paul Samwell-Smith who was also particularly active in the studio.
The Stereophonics producers Marshall Bird and Steve Bush were employed for the single, “they were very quick in the studio and very in tune with the way we think, so all things being equal we’ll use them to produce the new album. Otherwise we do want someone else to keep it fresh, someone to keep you on your toes is always good… someone who can put some fresh ears onto it when you can’t see the wood for the trees.”