Ocean Colour Scene in The Olympia Theatre, Dublin, on Wednesday 12th December 2018
What is it about that particular aspect of the human condition – that need to engage in unhealthy repetitive behaviour? It’s a fear of change, in ourselves and others, the cold comfort of the familiar. It’s deep-rooted guilt of leaving people and the past behind, or even of losing sight of the people we once were. It’s the spiritual core becoming overpowered by the fervour of the zealot; the burden of deep belief – a terminal case headed for the beacon of Lourdes. At its heart, though, it’s something that’s born from profound love – Joe DiMaggio for twenty years delivering roses thrice weekly to Marilyn Monroe’s grave.
Like fuck it is, I hear you say. This is nothing more than a drink-fuelled custom – a communal seasonal ritual. It’s…it’s tradition, by Christ! It’s all of these things, I tell myself, as I shuffle miserably past the stewards and take up my usual position amongst the horde at the now customary Ocean Colour Scene Christmas shitfest.
The default expectation for these seasonal shows must now be set to low, and this is hard won advice, brothers and sisters of Britpop nostalgia. The Olympia is predictably packed, though, and there it is, that familiar opening riff of The Riverboat Song. As dependable an opener as ever – just ask Chris Evans. Anyway, let’s talk about dependable. Oscar Harrison…a solid drummer. He was absent on their last visit and that void was unmistakable. Steve Craddock…long-time Paul Weller foil and latter day addition to The Specials, Craddock is the ultimate dependable sideman. And a fucking good guitar player.
What’s apparent each and every time they play, though, is that Ocean Colour Scene don’t need to try, nor do they. The band frequently cuts out to let the crowd sing, because these nights ultimately belong to the crowd. Simon Fowler straps an acoustic guitar on for Profit In Peace, Craddock inexplicably utters “Shabba” into the mic at one point, and the house lights are turned up full for each chorus as the crowd roars it back to the stage. The audience does the heavy lifting, here and throughout.
The band released a new four track EP last month, and two new numbers get an airing. The less said about the calypso-tinged Be With You, the better. Simon Fowler queues up Better Day with a sobering synopsis, “a song about a little band from Birmingham that started thirty years ago.” Thirty years, Jesus, where does it go? Unsurprisingly anyway, and despite an early noughties surprise highlight of Up On The Downside courtesy of Craddock’s harmonics, it’s the usual mid to late nineties stuff that gets things going – The Circle, Travellers Tune, Hundred Mile High City, The Day We Caught The Train, of course.
What can you say? At the end of the day, this is pure pish. If a flunky with a feathered haircut came out in place of the band, planted a CD player on the stage and mic’ed up his own Best of OCS megamix, it would go down as well as your average OCS gig. No-one gives a fuck – not the band, not the crowd. Everyone’s making money, everyone’s getting full, and everyone’s going home satisfied (full).
A simple epiphany, then, as I exit The Olympia – no matter how many bad gigs they play; no matter how much bad music they make; no matter how much longer they break my heart with their persistence, I will never stop loving Ocean Colour Scene. They are the Fredo to my Michael Corleone, the Terry Duckworth to my Vera, the Lenny to my George. Next time I will return (we all will). Next time they will be better (they won’t). Next time, things will be different (happy Christmas).