It’s not easy being the painfully uncool, forgotten men of Britpop and the butt of countless jokes. Sell-out homecoming gigs like this make it feel a whole lot better, though, that’s for sure. Ocean Colour Scene’s glory days are long, long gone, but for a couple of hours tonight a packed crowd can party like it’s 1997. Or 1968.
From the magnificent opening riff of Riverboat Song, to the “whoah la la” refrain of set closer Day We Caught The Train, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re witnessing one of Britain’s biggest bands, because just about everyone sings along at the top of their voices. These guys are genuinely adored round these parts, and the Christmas tour is fast becoming a traditional part of Brummie festivities. It’s like the Bootleg Beatles touring every December: an irrelevant institution, but a bloody good laugh nonetheless.
The band and their shameless dad-rockisms have always been the target of venomous criticism from the music press in the past, and at their peak the resentment verged on pure hatred. But now that they can’t buy a hit, none of that really matters anymore, and they can just keep touring and releasing the odd record for the hardcore fans.
Five new songs are aired tonight and, incredibly, it seems the boys have been listening to some New Rave recently. OK, not really- they just sound the same as the old ones, but not as good. What do you expect? They’re not capable of anything else, bless ’em, but, as masters of a niche, when they get the formula right, they’re still capable of producing the goods.
Recent songs such as Free My Name and Golden Gate Bridge are soaring anthems that could almost rank alongside the established favourites, and demonstrate that while there’s still a few fans out there, they’ll plough on. And why not? The Circle, Traveller’s Tune et al still sound superb, and selling this place out ten years on from that era is no mean feat.
Being at a gig like this is akin to stepping into an alternative universe, where music never changes, Steve Craddock is the greatest axeman since Hendrix and Profit In Peace is the song to end the Vietnam War. It’s jarring, but also strangely comforting; a welcome relief from Potty Pete or this week’s ‘next big thing’. And no, it’s not a ‘guilty pleasure’- this is a resolutely irony-free zone. It’s just fun, if you like that kinda thing. Simple, uncool fun.