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‘I often see fans crying or snogging to it’: Cast on how they made Walkaway

<span>‘People tell me they knew they had to leave their relationship after hearing it’ … John Power with Cast in 1996.</span><span>Photograph: Patrick Ford/Redferns</span>
‘People tell me they knew they had to leave their relationship after hearing it’ … John Power with Cast in 1996.Photograph: Patrick Ford/Redferns

John Power, singer/writer

In 1992, I’d gone from playing bass in the La’s to forming Cast. I was in that beautiful, golden sweet spot of becoming a songwriter, when you’re idealistic and almost naive, and it feels like maybe you can write a song that will be the backdrop to people’s lives. I’d already written five songs for Cast’s debut album, All Change, when I stumbled across the chorus of Walkaway in my bedroom at my mum and dad’s house. I started strumming and literally just moved my hand to follow the vocal melody. All of a sudden, I was like: “Fucking hell, this is something, and I don’t know how I’ve done it.”

Walkaway has that descending major scale that’s in so many great classical pieces, soul songs, even Dear Prudence by the Beatles. That cascading scale is like a rite of passage for songwriters: you’ll find it everywhere, but it’s never the same. At first, Walkaway sounded like some 1950s soul song – I didn’t know I could sing that high – but it eventually got transposed down.

I wanted the guitar solo to sound like shattered starlight

The song is about when you’ve done everything you can in a place or situation and you’re doing an injustice to yourself by staying. There have been a couple of times in my life when people have said I’m making the wrong decision. Of course, there would have been a sadness within me about leaving the La’s. But I don’t think Walkaway was about me. The song becomes bigger than my story once it’s heard by other people and they give it life themselves.

I often see fans crying or snogging to it. Other people tell me they knew they had to leave their relationship after hearing it. Life can be cruel; it can break your heart. But I sing that line – “You never lose your dreams” – with sincerity, now more than ever. Once you take that decision to get out of a situation, you’ve got this whole unwritten page in front of you and can become anything you like again.

We recorded it with John Leckie at the Manor Studio, the massive residential studio where they did Tubular Bells. With the guitar solo, I wanted it to sound like shattered starlight. And because we had that descending scale, we needed strings.

When Walkaway was used on the Euro 96 TV footage after the England football team were knocked out, Cast were in the US on tour, so I didn’t get to witness the whole national fever that was flying around. So many people have this amazing story about how their heart was broken, the nation wept and Walkaway was the song – but I missed the whole thing.

I didn’t sing Walkaway for years. I just completely fell out of love with the part of me those early songs represented. But since I came back to them, they don’t feel like yesterday’s songs. I feel like Walkaway is right in the present. Time stands still when we play it. There is no yesterday or tomorrow. There is only the moment. Unless you are someone still trying to get over Euro 96.

Liam ‘Skin’ Tyson, guitar

I knew John from the La’s and I’d seen Cast in their very earliest form. They played Sandstorm, and although the band wasn’t amazing, it was obvious John had great tunes. After I joined, Walkaway came up in rehearsals, but the song came into its own at the Manor Studio. We ran up a bit of a wine bill there, but we always got up and recorded all day, into the early hours. They said the studio was haunted. Everyone had a few weird nights. I had the biggest room in the house, looking over the lawn, and someone said they’d once walked past outside and seen me sitting in the chair – but it wasn’t me.

For the guitar parts, we had a Leslie cabinet. Listening back now, the sound reminds me of He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother by The Hollies. I played a few fingerpicked harmonics in the intro, but I didn’t know they were called that then – it was just a sound.

John wanted the guitar solo to be like something off Captain Beefheart’s Bluejeans & Moonbeams. It’s just pentatonic blues notes, but because I’m not playing in the blues style, it doesn’t sound like it. You drift away when you play it – you’re not thinking, then it ends and you’re like: “That’s nice.”

Walkaway has a melancholic sound, but it gives you strength at the end. You feel uplifted. The sad thing is, that song was played at the funerals for John’s dad and my grandad, who specifically asked for the guitar solo to be played because that was his favourite piece of music.

Making the Walkaway video wasn’t a fun day for me. I think it was meant to look like an opium den or something – I had to lie on a couch in a red crushed velvet suit while the director gassed us all with joss sticks. There was a canary in a cage next to me, and there was a moment when I said, “Can you take the bird out?”, because I could see it panicking.

I remember we were going to a gig at the Charlotte in Leicester, putting petrol in this little red van we had called “the cat”, when we heard ourselves on the radio. That was the last time we played on the pub circuit. It went ballistic after that.

• Cast’s new album Love Is the Call is out now. They play Birmingham (8 March), Leeds (9 March) and London (15 March) then touring.