If ever there was a fear that it might just be about nostalgia with the 2015 line-up of Cast, this seminal four-piece quickly put that to bed during a stonking set in Preston.
While there was no doubting the power (sorry) of all those songs from their ’95 debut All Change and ’97 follow-up Mother Nature Calls, the post-reformation material suggests we’re on track for a sixth studio album that warrants comparison.
And a sell-out Friday night in the upstairs room at this mothballed university venue – opened specially for the night – proved a perfect occasion to celebrate the songwriting craft of John Power across the years, even without touching on his admirable solo work.
I missed the first act, Flight of Arrows, but can at least vouch for the quality of the next support. We could well be hearing a lot more from The Sherlocks. They’re young, of the now, look good, and while never arrogant have proper stage presence. I detect a bright future (sorry again).
At times this Sheffield quartet echoed the Arctic Monkeys (not least the accents and delivery), Babyshambles and fellow sibling-heavy Yorkshiremen The Cribs (in fact, there are two sets of brothers involved, so take that Jarman Bros!) but I could think of far worse ABC-approaches to songcraft. All wholesome influences.
Personally, I preferred their quirkier touches, but there are plenty of singalong ‘whoah’ choruses for the more commercially-minded, suggesting a couple of hits to get them going. I’ll watch their progress with interest.
Pretty soon, the main act were gracing the stage, and at least geographically I could say we had the Three Graces up front, with JP flanked by the hirsute Liam ‘Skin’ Tyson and Pete Wilkinson’s replacement Jay Lewis. In fact, hirsute is an understatement with wild man of rock Skin, while bass buddy Jay and drummer Keith O’Neill are – on Friday’s evidence – working on their own facial hairy peacenik presence, making me wonder at times if I’d chanced upon the set of Fraggle Rock.
Keith stoked up the Cast engine throughout, truly in his element. Come to think of it, the whole four-piece were in their element, genuinely pleased to still be out there, still coming up with the goods.
They didn’t pander to the hits straight away, although La’s-like opener Time Bomb deserved to be one anyway. And while I was a little surprised they followed that with Not Afraid of the World from the same 2012 comeback album, that’s not because half of the audience didn’t know it, but because it seems more of a slow-burning, epic show closer.
Truly warmed up, we were treated to four straight tracks from All Change, the rousing exuberance of Tell It Like It Is (and yes, it gets better each time) and Promised Land leading to Sandstorm and Fine Time, this packed-out venue’s clientele elevated to cloud ’95.
As I said, it wasn’t just the crowd enjoying it. John, Liam and Keith must have played those songs a heap of times, but still seem genuinely inspired by their output. Meanwhile, the ever-present guitar tech hovered throughout, this non-playing fifth member offering sterling service and sharing occasional private smiling asides with the band.
See That Girl was next, the band back to Troubled Times with another timeless melody song suggesting a nod to JP’s first band, with Liam and Jay’s harmonies spot on and the frontman’s delivery never less than passionate, seemingly forever on the fringes of losing his voice.
From there we had the most recent song on offer, Baby Blue Eyes suggesting great things ahead, its creators on a songwriting high.
The gorgeous I’m so Lonely – which I really hope the band are rehearsing for an encore at the Royal Liverpool Phil – plus Guiding Star and the wistful Live the Dream reminded us of the strength of the second album, sandwiched around non-album single Flying, the general throng again floating on high.
Then we were back to that 20-year-old debut LP, every bit as fresh today, crowd favourite Walk Away leading into a guitar-heavy Free Me from ’97, that ravishing rocking riff ushering in the night’s highlight for this punter – a mountain of Who-some noise building towards a powerhouse percussive play-out, Keith in namesake Moon territory.
Funnily enough, despite his extra stint, it was the drummer who was back first to count his co-workers in for the encore, a laid-back Four Walls leading to a truly baggy History, Jay calling the rhythmic shots as the band built to a monumental finish, perfectly segued into anthemic finale Alright – seeing us flying on swift on our journey home.
Two decades after kick-starting the Cast story, John Power clearly still has it and fronts a revitalised outfit proving there’s still plenty of life in the old model. And I await the new album with genuine hope and expectation.
If you missed this blog’s recent feature/interview with John Power, head here.