LIVE: Ocean Colour Scene @ Albert Hall

WORDS BY BENJAMIN CASSIDY

A venue that sees the bands performing surrounded by fans. There’s those near to the stage, at the front. The others, further back, penned in with them and then the others on the two balconies. The place is built for gigs. Big enough to get a decent amount of people in; small enough to still be intimate. MCR Live just happened to be amongst them all, on a night that had a group playing with a firm following – one that’s never waned since the band broke onto the mainstream scene (no doubt a few who saw them play before that, too).

Roll back the clock and Birmingham’s Ocean Colour Scene have always been fast establishing themselves as the band to see. They’d taken the country by storm, following Chris Evans championing them and Paul Weller asking Steve Craddock to play and Simon Fowler to sing for him. They sounded like no other group. No obvious Rock N Roll front or claims of being the next great act. Though they were thought of then, as a part of what’s now known as the Britpop movement, this lot are a band’s band. Nothing but the music mattered. That’s what wowed people and led to them supporting Oasis at Knebworth, with an estimated quarter of a million people watching over two nights.

Since then the group have released a host of albums and other than sporadic patches of time out, have toured regularly. Some critics have slammed the band for being “too nice” and showing no character. Clearly, the entire audience present has different opinions; not to mention the many who couldn’t get tickets for the Manchester leg of their tour, a two-night sell-out show. Not just any act could get music royalty in the way of soul band Martha Reeves and The Vandellas to support them. Such a massive act on the bill further proved how well-respected OCS are within music.

Martha Reeves oozed class, style, and confidence, strutting and swaying. The centre of the stage was hers. No mistake about it. She did what she has done for longer than most bands stay together. Entertained, energised and engaged a crowd that felt the privilege that was watching her. She rocked and bopped, belting out her classics with a distinctive voice commanded attention. Her, along with her two sisters (actual siblings and not just in the sorority sense of the word) Lois and Delphine Reeves provided a sound that has had people moving for decades – few as well as Martha though, who egged on the crowd and dared them to try and keep pace with her. It was easy to take up the challenge and plenty did, getting into the spirit she spread so plentifully. There was also new music too; it was plain to see that this influential group couldn’t stop if they wanted too. Also blatant was the fact that they don’t want to and have no plans to any time soon.

By the time Martha Reeves and the Vandellas finished their set, around an hour after coming on, her and the band had cemented in the mood for the night. The backing band, a mini-orchestra of sorts (trumpets and trombones) were sensational, too, providing more magic to the spells of the vocals. Energy and nostalgia (for many – there were those who weren’t born when Ocean Colour Scene first hit the scene – but it didn’t stop them singing along.  They’d clearly be well-schooled in brilliant music by their parents). A great choice of support act and one that has no doubt inspired OCS too.

 

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Following a short shift about of the stage area (bringing on of guitars and drum kit altered) Ocean Colour Scene walked on stage. Steve Craddock and Simon Fowler wore light-coloured, loose-fitting suits. Straight to it. The unmistakable riff of the ‘Riverboat Song’ screeched out, as heads nodded and feet tapped. Steve Craddock’s fingers danced high up the fretboard, as the tips began biting the strings. Oscar Harrison, a powerhouse of a drummer, was accompanied by support on the bongos. He certainly didn’t need it, but it was a welcomed addition. Harrison lorded over his huge kit, as Craddock and company got stuck in. Simon Fowler’s diverse vocal brought the necessary growling rock sound to the opening number, as the group ripped things up, to the solid backing of Raymond Meade, the group’s now permanent bassist (Damon Minchella is the only original member no longer with the group).

A few songs in saw a change of pace, one of the many brilliant traits of this group. A rendition of ‘Profit in peace’, from the band’s fourth album demonstrated the more political side of the band’s music; not directly so, but in the sense that they exploited wonderfully the ability for music to unite people and be a force for forgotten voices. Although a quieter song that didn’t stop the chants of the audience performing the chorus, powerfully, declaring “We don’t wanna fight no more”. With so many songs to play they couldn’t do them all, but, they did an eclectic selection, including hits such as ‘The Circle’ and more recent material. It was an absolute roller-coaster of sound, with ‘Hundred Mile High City’ seemingly coming from nowhere and filling the venue. The audience was sucked in and it was refreshingly pleasant to see a lack of people recording and photographing (possibly down to the fact the crowd were generally older and wanted to re-create original experiences before it was standard). The performance was riveting, and people just wanted to absorb the atmosphere – one thick with a mutual love of Rock n Roll and music capable of climbing inside you and staying there until it ends. After so many great songs of theirs being played, the band left the stage, to the inevitable shouts of “more, more, more”.

Simon Fowler returned to the stage, alone, a few minutes later. He treated fans to what’s possible their live favourite, ‘Robin Hood’. They helped him out with it and it helped to make what was a brilliant performance even better. He was then joined by Craddock and the gang who put their all into one last song. Yep, that song. ‘The Day We Caught the Train’ rang out and ended what was a gig that showed age means nothing when it comes to attitude and musical brilliance. There are few bands in the industry that can rival Ocean Colour Scene. Their live sound leaves you knowing that should their fate have been different they’d still be playing; they’re simply not capable of not doing. Fortunately, their sound did become known and is now part of Rock n Roll history. The World’s a better place for that.

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