Sound-check done, Birmingham Live repairs to the Rainbow bar, sans punters, for a jolly good goss with Ocean Colour Scene frontman, Simon ‘Foxy’ Fowler. The tape recorder’s running (yes, we still do things analogue at BL to placate the typesetters) when in come manager/dad, Chris Craddock asking for the set list. ‘Set list? Christ I still don’t know half the words to the new songs,’ chirps Fowler. This is in addition to realising the OCS camp were mightily pissed-off because they’d just heard the new album, ‘Saturday’ has already gone pirate download, somewhat putting a damper on the day’s launch of single, ‘Magic Carpet Days.’ (Don’t get any ideas, just order it from Amazon or support your local shop says Birmingham Live.)
It was with blushing haste that Birmingham Live switched off said recorder given that, should Mr. Fowler’s subsequent name-dropping, scandalous anecdotes get into the public domain, libel damages would allow Peter Carter Ruck to buy the planet with small change. What a gossip tart he is. The incident on the tube with the very well known radio presenter’s wandering hands is safe with us!
So, country village life seems to suit mid-forties Simon Fowler very well indeed. Long ago are the days of grape, grain and pharmaceutical distractions, though there were some peripheral casualties. With a 21 years celebratory gig coming up soon it’s worth a brief resume of our travellers’ song. Starting out as The Fanatics, with an already solid fan base, they burst forth from this belly of Buzzcocks agitation and came up with the name Ocean Colour Scene. And how some scoffed at the sheer hubris of it. The record companies wouldn’t touch them. The unshakeable self-belief in this band was sometimes mistaken for cock-sure conceit. That they had more ego than Sigmund Freud could shake a stick at was evident. But they were right to be so. The suits told them to change the name: deal or no deal. So, with sober reflection, finely balancing the pros and cons, the prospect of a lucrative deal with in their grasp what was not to like? Nevertheless, they told them all to fuck off: the name stays. But eventually Fontana took them on.
The London music rags used to spit venom for their provincial upstart brass, and of course for not being baggy Manc and expressing adoration for The Beatles, Small Faces and Soul. The first album was a bit of a curate’s egg but with some scorching songs. Then everything went belly up, with labyrinthine disputes with all sorts of parties eager to get their pound of flesh. As Fowler sagely reflected, what ever the consequent factors of a bust up may be, it always comes down to money. “Tell me about it” says Chris Craddock: who entered into a Faustian pact with the bank to re-mortgage the house to keep the band afloat. The rest, as they say, is history. Dogged touring, a batch of brilliant new material, gigging with Paul Weller, Brendan Lynch putting the fairy dust on the album to be, Moseley Shoals, and later with Chris Evans featuring The Riverboat Song on his Friday show.
The Rainbow gig is an instant sell out: 250 plus Willy Wonka like ticket clutching punters sardined into a ludicrously small space. Short opening set from acoustic two piece Little Liam (teenage protÃ©gÃ©es of the OCS camp). To hear a chap so young (Liam Garland) gifted with a voice of this confidence and maturity is serendipity with knobs on. Swiftly followed by The Universals, again an acoustic two piece who take no prisoners. The singer’s voice is a conundrum. Spoken work is in oxy-acetylene gas-axe scouse. When singing, as a punter at the back remarks in Bull Ring branded Brummie, ‘’kin hell, mate, he donarf sound like Paul Weller.’ And he did, exactly! Weird.
And then it’s show time. ‘Magic Carpet Days’, new single is warmly received, very much an OCS thoroughbred and will snuggle up nicely into the tour itinerary; a reaffirmation of their debt to the Mod aesthetic apparently! Old friends, ‘Policeman & Pirates’, ‘Traveller’s Song’ and ‘100 Mile High City’ have the roof girders pleading for mercy courtesy of Oscar and Ben’s rhythm section being Thunderbird 2 in launch mode with the choke pulled well out. Steve Craddock’s guitar pyrotechnics have never been better, complimented by Andy Bennett’s equally assured musicianship. We were very much taken by new song ‘Rockfield’ where the band are joined by the pre-Raphaelite coiffeured delight, Emma Skipp on co-vocals. On first impression it’s a subtle homage to Sympathy For The Devil. ‘Profit In Peace’ had the punters bellowing out with wild abandon, ‘We don’t want to fight no more,’ a poignant refrain for these troubled times. What is always remarkable about OCS gigs is the fierce loyalty the crowd have for band and songs, not least the anorak accuracy when it’s join-in sing along chorus time. And of course due tribute to Simon Fowler’s intelligent, evocative lyricism. Take note of the potency of ‘Go To Sea’.s
It’s encore time with the white-water knuckle ride ‘Riverboat Song’ (some at Birmingham Live still maintain it’s a Pearl & Dean sample!). Perhaps it’s a nod to old ginger-nuts who brought it to national prominence. And finally, in true, stadium choral splendor, to a man, woman, child and possibly the landlord’s dog it all goes radio rental with ‘Day We Caught The Train’. Full marks to George, promoter, and that set list in full: spot the new ones. (Birmingham Live accepts no liability for any factual errors on account of the reviewer’s notes inexplicably being translated in to a sub-dialect of Klingon after the third pint.)
Review – John Kennedy
Photos – Steve Gerrard
Policeman & Pirates
Magic Carpet Days
Sing Children Sing
Profit In Peace
Little Bit Of Love
Old Pair Of Jeans
Half A Dream Away
Get Blown Away
Go To Sea
100 Mile High City
Day We Caught The Train.