Birmingham’s returning sons season continued on Sunday with a visit to the new 02 Academy from Ocean Colour Scene. Although now well passed their britpop heyday, I was hopeful of a night of top nostalgia and some excellent tunes from what have been one of the city’s finest exports.
As a change from the VIP comfort of the venue’s opening night, I found myself back on the main floor milling about the dark and soon-to-be-sweaty room. The floor had already begun to acquire the trademark tackiness of a thousand gigs and had lost some of the brand new sheen of the launch night. But no one seemed too concerned about that and were drinking in preparation for the inevitably blokey sing-alongs.
First act on stage was a Liverpudlian with an acoustic guitar whose name was inaudible over the hum of the room. Lesson one, if people don’t know who you are, it’s probably a good idea to say your name clearly. Even the venue staff had him listed as ‘acoustic act’ when I asked! Despite being nameless, the scruffy troubadour had some decent songs which showed a lyrical touch and worked in the context of one man and his guitar. The addition of a backing band would have done him wonders as I’m not convinced the songs were defined enough to warrant a legion of fans with some extra detail and depth. Moving between plucked songs about friends and more upbeat strummers, he showed he had the vocals for the job and the technical ability. Which is a shame, because his set just wasn’t inspiring enough for a crowd of this size. A cover of The Beatles ‘Across the Universe’ was a nice touch, but a little drawn out for the ever-impatient audience.
Next up was Liverpool’s Moons, who entered the stage looking like a rock band dress up set. You had the flamboyant, shirt-sleeved and hair-straightened lead singer, the leather clad, rockabilly guitarist, the afro-toting skinny-jeaned keyboardist, the flat cap-adorned bassist and the bloke-down-the-pub drummer. Picking up their instruments, the band’s Beatles influence was apparent. There aren’t many bands that can get away with using a Hofner violin bass a la McCartney and almost replica John and George guitars, so I awaited with intrigue.
After a few songs the derivative nature of the band was obvious. They had the bouncy pop tunes that had been done so well by acts like The Beatles and even modern counterparts like The Coral. The band were nice and tight but, as one guy in the crowd next to me noticed, they did look quite old for a new band playing jangly pop tunes. More Coral correlations were evident as they cracked out the effects pedals and added echoey, reverberating guitars to the Hammond organ accompaniment. Overall they were an enjoyable live band with some nicely arranged tunes and moved into the more rocky spectrum well. One song stood out as single material, but on the most part, Moons were not too much to write home about.
After an absolute age waiting for the sound checks to be completed, Ocean Colour Scene finally made it on. They kicked off immediately with ‘The Riverboat Song’ with its classic riff. The crowd responded and were up from the start, but a few technical hitches seemed to render the band a bit flat and they didn’t get going properly until the second and third songs.
It was at this point I realised I had made a grave error. I was standing near the front, in the middle of the room, in that fabled square of a venue where manners are noticably lower and any respect for personal space is dutifully ignored. As the band got into the classics from Moseley Shoals and Marchin’ Already, a great barrel of a woman decided it would be her job to annoy me more than any other person. She jumped into me with such force for an entire song that I had to push my way through the crowd to get away. Soon after she was involved in a little spat and a mini punch-up broke out, so lucky me I was out of their.
Idiots aside, OCS had refound their form and were knocking out the familiar tunes that probably did not get the recognition they deserved when they first came out. Guitarist Steve Craddock was jumping around and kicking as he worked through songs like ‘Travellers Tune’, ‘Better Day’, and ‘The Circle’ and Simon ‘Foxy’ Fowler proved he still had the voice to impress on the old classics. Standout tracks from the set for me were breakout hit ‘The Day We Caught the Train’ and the Stones-esque ’40 Past Midnight’. OCS worked in a few new numbers as well and nothing seemed out of place, although that fact alone tells you that they were not ground breaking either. It was on the familiar material that OCS rely on, but with such good songs as ‘Profit in Peace’ with its big bellowing chrous, you can’t blame them.
Foxy came out alone for the first encore of the beautiful ‘Robin Hood’ which he dedicated to the now-split Gallagher brothers who he’d known well on the road at the height of britpop, even ending the song with the first few lines of ‘Live Forever’. The rest of the band then joined him on stage for ‘Hundred Mile High City’ with its rollicking bass line that got everyone jumping under the strobe lights. After a brief consultation the band delighted everyone with their traditional farewell of ‘Daytripper’ to complete the vaguely Beatles-inspired nature of the night.
Words: Ian Ravenscroft
Photos – Andy Watson