When you go and see a band that you haven’t seen since your youth, there’s a brief moment when you have to suspend disbelief. The group walking out on stage are twenty years older than when you last saw them. Hairlines may have receded slightly, waistlines may have expanded slightly. But in general, you can recognise them as older, wiser versions of the young men (or ladies) you knew from your teenage years.
When Ocean Colour Scene walked out on stage last week at Auckland’s Powerstation, I recognised guitarist Steve Craddock immediately. Still of slight build, his receding hairline further illuminating his light-bulb head was the only sign of aging. I recognised the drummer – Oscar Harrison – too. The bass player had changed into a completely different person though.
Where’s the singer, I thought, as one of the big, burly roadies walked up to the mic just as Craddock ripped into The Riverboat Song. “I see double, up ahead…” the man spat into the mic. He sounded enough like Simon Fowler, but it couldn’t be him. I’ve let my subscription to the Ocean Colour Scene monthly newsletter lapse a long time ago, but maybe Fowler died and they got this guy in from one of their tribute bands, like how INXS replaced Michael Hutchence.
He did sound like Simon Fowler though, this guy. He might look like a butcher, but he had exactly the same soulful voice I remembered from Moseley Shoals. I resisted the urge to get my phone out to check if he had the same face as the young man I remembered from twenty years ago.
By the time The Riverboat Song had finished, to a long, sustained round of applause, I was convinced it was actually him. I felt slightly ashamed for thinking any different, but I was just taken aback at how different he looked. In the ‘90s I remember him being a lithe, Jagger-esque frontman. But in the space of twenty years, as a friend pointed out, he had gone the way of Van Morrison.
A couple of songs in, Fowler announced he was gay – “I used to be quite camp when I was younger, I prefer to call myself gay now” – something you don’t usually hear at a gig. A brave move, I thought, considering the ignorant, numbskull mindset of your average Britpop fan. As might be expected, a drunken idiot behind me made a homophobic comment.
Perhaps Craddock looked the same because he’s been in regular employment, another friend suggested, with the implication that Fowler has spent the intervening years reminiscing about TFI Friday over a box of Jaffa Cakes. But Ocean Colour Scene haven’t been out of work – they’ve been releasing studio albums regularly since the ‘90s, averaging one every three years up to 2013’s Painting. Admittedly they haven’t bothered the charts since their Britpop heyday, so it’s hardly a surprise that they feel like returning heroes.
What a great show the band put on, once I was sure of who I was watching. Starting their set with The Riverboat Song? What a banger! And what balls! A lesser band would have saved it to their encore (in fact, I was hoping they would have played it a second time at the end of the show). Oasis and Blur may have been the kings of Britpop, but this single is as strong as anything those bands produced in their prime.
They played through most of Moseley Shoals – a record I have very fond memories of, from University – plus a handful of songs from third album Marchin’ Already. There wasn’t too much I didn’t recognise, so I’m guessing they had wisely avoided much of the material from those post-1990s records.
One of my favourite Britpop-era singles, the bonkers Hundred Mile High City, was wheeled out towards the end of their set, before they encored with The Day We Caught The Train. I used to love this band. I still do.
Hit: The Riverboat Song
Hidden Gem: 40 Past Midnight