Review: Ocean Colour Scene

It's looking less like The Day We Caught The Train and more like The Day We Caught The Rain as the heavens truly open on Belfast's Custom House Square just in time for Ocean Colour Scene's return to the city. Not so much, then, about licking our lips at the prospect of singing along to never forgotten classics like The Riverboat Song as finding food, a poncho, or a place to stay dry. At least you can't have a mud bath on paving stones.

So the omens aren't great for first support act Carl Barat and his Jackals. The former Libertine and Dirty Pretty Thing battles bravely with the elements in a serviceable but not staggering show. His application is commendable, but the applause and appeal are minor – it's apparent that the music isn't sweeping us away as much as the rain.

That is less so with The Coral. Any doubts about whether or not we'll actually be able to enjoy the gig – and they exist – are removed by a growing number of pink ponchos near the front of the stage. The weather matters less now, no question, and why should it matter in the friendly atmosphere inspired by the jive and easy-going singalongs from James Skelly and his band? Both me and Skelly are moving to the beat more than half way through the set, with biggest hits Pass It On and In The Morning leading to dancing and even thrown ponchos in the air.
By the time Simon Fowler, ever the singing showman, Steve Cradock, ever the excellent guitarist, Oscar Harrison, ever the quiet man but wild drummer, and Raymond Meade, ever the reliable bass player, arrive, the sky is dry and the spirits of the now full square are high. The promise of hearing all of OCS's seminal album Moseley Shoals has clearly enraptured us all, before the set even begins. Ultimately not every song on the album features - two are omitted for the sake of a more varied set - but this is no issue.
Fowler trusts his audience. After belting out the first two verses and first chorus of The Riverboat Song, a tune as anthemic today as it was in my teenage years, he spreads his arms out wide and leaves the second chorus solely to us. It's a great moment, the first of many in which Fowler switches off or tones down while his band and fan base enjoy prominence. He even banters with those watching in the nearby flats. Such charisma and humility from a band unfairly maligned for "dad rock" should be treasured, not snubbed.
If age has withered Fowler a tiny bit in the voice and the gut, time has not tempered his electric energy and always welcoming manner: he is a strong, sincere, even selfless presence. The exact same could be said of Cradock and Harrison, except for them the instruments are more striking – both are in their element during You've Got It Bad, and it's almost breathtaking. Better for Harrison is Get Away, a tune performed in its powerful, poignant entirety with a drum solo of astounding reflex.
A three song detour into Marchin' Already territory – Hundred Mile High City, Better Day and Traveller's Tune – is wholly appreciated, raising lost voices and tired limbs enough to overlook mildly indulgent refrains (Profit In Peace) and a little unnecessary over-experimentation from Cradock. It is that kind of gig – chinks in the armour are easily and probably rightly overlooked in what is an overall positive throwback to a seemingly more carefree time, where Dodgy weren't dodgy and Oasis were a genuine oasis. As Fowler himself would say, when you find that things are getting wild – as I often do nowadays – don't we need days like these? (And yes, we finish on The Day We Caught The Train.)

Simon Fallaha

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