Gentle waves of nostalgia as Ocean Colour Scene go unplugged

Band who were right in the middle of the '90s Britpop storm bring a more mellow set to Union Chapel

Wednesday, 25th May — By Róisín Gadelrab

oCean Colour scene IMG_7941

OCEAN Colour Scene encapsulated that moment in the 90s when Chris Evans was endemic, Paul Weller was everyone’s special guest, there was a low-level Mod revival and “lads” dominated the culture.

But while they were right in the middle of the Britpop storm, their floating melodies, harmonious vocals and carefree yet thoughtful lyrics were a long way from the hyped up in-yer-face antics of their peers.

Over the years the band has amassed a devoted following and their plugged-in gigs, amped-up riffs and anthemic choruses have continued to bring an electricity to their live performances that you might not expect from a band that hasn’t had a top 10 hit in more than 20 years.

OCS’s hooks yearn to be sung and their gigs are memorable for the communal vibes they evoke as song after song is echoed back to them, not unlike those moments on the terraces when the home crowd is with one voice.

So, when frontman Simon Fowler and drummer Oscar Harrison took their place for their acoustic set at Union Chapel last week, the atmosphere was already buzzing. The middle-aged crowd were here to listen, to sing and to drift away in the nostalgia.

Unlike their date at The Garage in 2016 (and many before and after), where the lager was flowing in 2-pint vessels and the male-dominated crowd was swaying/staggering well before they reached the stage, the Chapel gig was seated and the only drinking was in the bar upstairs.

Still, the urge to get involved was there from the start. The most striking thing about their set, based on a setlist from their 2002 Live from the Riverboat acoustic show, was the melancholic selection of songs that could well have been written now taking on more meaning for the no longer youthful crowd looking back on their more mischievous teenage years.

OCS may have attracted the lads but their songwriting is more considered, at times mellow and brimming in sentimentality. While Oscar moved from percussion to keys without uttering a word, Simon interspersed the set with tales of times gone by, still with a twinkle in his eye and that vulnerable vocal that shines most brightly on B-sides and acoustic tracks.

Robin Hood, The Circle (dedicated to Blackpool footballer Jake Daniels, who had just come out), The Day We Caught The Train, all sounding as good as, if not better, than when they were still fresh and new. Profit In Peace, sung for Ukraine, brought one of the liveliest crowd moments, while Simon’s admission that he was using lyrics downloaded from the internet so he wouldn’t forget his songs (that turned out to be wrong), and stories of Oscar humiliating him at pool in front of Primal Scream, brought laughs to the chapel.

There was no sign of mega hit The Riverboat Song, perhaps a wise omission given the acoustic nature of the set that would have weakened those powerhouse chords. As with Simon’s forgotten lyrics, their acoustic set in 2022 was a shared admission that we may have aged but that we still value the music, the memories and getting out on a school night.

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