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Damon Minchella: A Bass Player With His Finger On the Pulse

25/04/2013 12:44 BST | Updated 24/06/2013 10:12 BST

'You have to leave your ego at the door when making music,' says Damon Minchella after the gig. 'Great music is a series of happy accidents which all come together. At times there's a quality at a subconscious level among musicians which makes for great music, but you can't plan for it.'

Minchella has just come off stage after playing for feted drummer Steve White, a man celebrating his own 30 years in the music business with a brace of low-key gigs to mark the passing of the decades.

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It was a familiar sight: the worn Fender jazz bass, its yellowed body slung over Minchella's shoulder as he played, the chromatics and phrasing of his work more commonly found in the jazz idiom than in the world of rock. But this has made his presence a compelling one, a bassist who has graced stages with Paul Weller, Amy Winehouse, Paul McCartney, Richard Ashcroft and Oasis.

It is no coincidence that Minchella has a long association with Steve White, a drummer adept at fusing polyrhythms with heavy funk or rock backbeats. Ever the arch talent spotter, Paul Weller was quick to recruit both men.

Yet back in the beginning, Minchella learned the business the hard way - perhaps the best way - on the pub circuit, playing professionally for the first time in 1987, two years before the golden break with Ocean Colour Scene.

Formed in Moseley in Birmingham in 1989, Ocean Colour Scene provided a welcome counterpoint to the Madchester sound which was swamping the airwaves. The original line-up comprised Minchella, Steve Cradock on guitar, Oscar Harrison on drums and vocalist Simon Fowler. Their melodic folk-funk-rock sound sweetened a music scene which had grown leaden with the swagger of northern laddism (but that's just a Londoner's opinion).

'We [in Ocean Colour Scene] knew we were better musicians than all the other Britpop bands at the time put together,' says Minchella with a laugh. 'If you get a great melody and fine musicianship, then you're onto a winner. A lot of musicians can't write songs, and a lot of writers can't play, but people will always dig a happy mix of the two. So, yes, we did know we were good.'

He says the band received a much-needed boost from Paul Weller in the early Nineties. 'Weller thought we were good. This was in 1993, so I was 24. That's a good age to get serious because you've got over the 17-year-old mindset where you think you're amazing just because you've got a guitar in your hands. He told us we should go and get a deal. Then MCA came along.'

A rare quality of musicianship is evident on the band's second album, Moseley Shoals [1996, MCA]. 'Early on I'd been on the front cover of Melody Maker, so it was a return to earth. We carried on making music out of belief, but also out of stubbornness. We were writing songs we knew to be good, but were not concerned with the business side of things.'

Wisdom like that always pays off. 'Ninety per cent of the engineering on Moseley Shoals was done by myself. We had our own studio set up. Andy MacDonald of Go! Discs gave us £10,000 to record it. He'd loved our demos. So we began recording and Brendan Lynch came and helped produce it,' he says.

'We put out The Riverboat Song first because we thought it'd be an underground statement, rather than a hit. We thought there was no chance it'd be played on Radio 1, but how wrong we were. We worried we might be one-hit wonders, but lurking on the album was The Circle and The Day We Caught The Train.'

The album possesses a timeless quality owing to the effort spent crafting each song. 'The band was healthy in its attitude, but after our initial success and constantly being on the road together, you do get the sense that you're simultaneously married to three partners...so things can get strained. The dynamic of a band changes over time.'

Eschewing rock posturing on stage, Minchella has also shunned the trappings of stardom, which, if left unchecked, will always rob a musician of his animus. Consequently, he has succeeded at playing at the highest level, his style putting this reviewer in mind of Motown legend James Jamerson.

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Live 8 in 2005 was a case in point. When he and Steve White backed The Who, playing a two-song 15-minute set to a Hyde Park crowd which had fallen asleep standing up, the air thrummed with electricity.

The Who, White and Minchella had rehearsed for an hour the day before. 'We played Who Are You? and Won't Get Fooled Again twice, and Pete [Townshend] said "That'll do, see you tomorrow".

'Just before we were going on, Steve [White] said "If we fuck this up, our careers are over". I was able to say through the nerves "This is actually quite silly". It's healthy to take everything with a pinch of salt. But the beer afterwards was the best I'd ever tasted.'

Extensive touring with Ocean Colour Scene, Weller and Oasis allowed Minchella to hone his art, for which he now suffers; tendonitis afflicts both hands. 'It's from playing and the sheer weight of gigs. In 1996, I played 200 shows and recorded five albums. That's when the tendonitis began.'

But when did he realise he was gifted, rather than just good? 'If anyone wants to be a musician and get up on stage, they've got to think they are good. There is an ego that goes with being a musician. With any sort of performer, really.'

West Derby-born Minchella, whose father hails from Avellino in Campania, southern Italy has kept his act together while plenty about him in the industry have lost their heads up their own fundaments. 'It's wrong to idolise musicians,' he says at last, sated after the Islington gig, 'because we're just human beings after all.'

So what has he learned over his career? 'That there's so much still to be done. And you know, as you get older, you realise exactly what it is you want to do with your life. If you're not happy, change things...'

© Jason Holmes 2013 / jantholmes@yahoo.co.uk / @JasonAHolmes

Photographs courtesy of djibnet.com & Alex Hannon c/o Flickr.com, respectively

For more information, visit: www.damonminchella.com

Follow Damon on Twitter at @DamonMinchella

Watch him play live here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZbKT0snOkk