Ocean Colour Scene | Review
+ Support Carl Barât and The Jackals / The Coral
Custom House Square, Belfast • Friday 25 August ’17
By Emma McKinley • Photography: Conor Kerr
Another rainy summers’ evening in Belfast tries it’s best to dampen the sense of sunny nostalgia surrounding tonight’s lineup at the Custom House Square Festival. It’ll take more than torrential downpours to deter Ocean Colour Scene, supported by Carl Barat and the Jackals and The Coral, who are here to remind us that there’s more to 90’s Brit-pop than Oasis and Blur.
Arriving at the square early on, it’s looking decidedly barren as out saunters Carl Barat and his band of Jackals to a meagre cheer from a single line of soggy fans at the front of an empty venue. As he spits his fag butt out on the stage approaching the mic, it’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for the ex-Libertines frontman and the Jackals, who were recruited through a Facebook post back in 2014. All feelings of sympathy are quickly dispelled as the band deliver a ballsy, energetic set that coaxes the unsure crowd from shelter with ‘Glory Days’, featuring guitarist Billy Tessio on vocals, and ‘Sister’ off their latest EP Harder They Fall. Despite this being a more recent project, Barat’s brand of indie-punk-pop mixed with his don’t give a f*ck attitude and a group of carefully selected musicians proves that his time is far from over. Wrapping up with Dirty Pretty Thing’s ‘Bang Bang You’re Dead’ they leave us with our mood vastly improved as we wait for The Coral to commence.
Carl Barat and his Jackals prove to be a hard act to follow for psych-rock five piece The Coral. Frontman James Skelly, who emerges in a characteristically subdued fashion, leaves most of the talking to bassist Paul Duffy as they get stuck straight into their set. Reuniting in 2016 after their five-year hiatus, there’s no denying that The Coral are a remarkably tight band who perform with extreme precision yet almost too regimentally for their own good. Skelly, who is chiefly in charge of songwriting, still has some tricks up his sleeve as they open with the (perhaps aptly named) ‘Chasing The Tail Of A Dream’ off their most recent effort Distance Inbetween. As the set progresses, however, it all becomes bogged down and big singles ‘Pass It On’ and ‘In The Morning’ are limp and, frankly, a bit lifeless. Likewise ‘Dreaming of You’, which should rightfully have been the climax of their set, falls flat and fails to inspire much enthusiasm from the crowd. The band walks off the stage almost unnoticed, with Duffy returning to the mic to thank the crowd, and they receive a scattering of applause from a distracted, largely unaffected audience.
The rain finally subsides and Brummie Britpop heroes Ocean Colour Scene open with ‘The Riverboat Song’; an instantly recognisable riff with an infectious beat which ignites the atmosphere and kicks their set off to an unforgettable start. Simon Fowler stands right of the mic with his hands in the air as the crowd does most of the work for him, reciting each and every word at the top of their lungs. It’s been over twenty years since the release of Mosley Shoals but it’s apparent that also Marchin’ Already are, deservedly, firm fixtures on the Brit-pop hymn sheet.
This band’s special place in the hearts of hardcore fans of this era is demonstrated with the audiences recital of ‘Better Day’ and ‘Profit in Peace’ as OCS churn out hit after hit. Mid set, with the performance of unfamiliar ballads, we see what must be a struggle for bands with relatively unknown newer material which is lost on most of the crowd: either you stick to your guns and play what you want or spend the rest of your career being a live jukebox for drunken punters looking to relive the thrill of their youth. In saying that, everything good about OCS is well preserved; Fowler’s lilting vocals remain largely unchanged while guitarist Steve Cradock still belts out familiar solos like that of ‘Hundred Mile City’ with the same gusto as when the tracks were first recorded. Returning for an encore of ‘Robin Hood’ accompanied by Barat (complete with half smoked fag) with a nod to Oasis’ ‘Live Forever’ in the outro and ‘Day Tripper’, the fans’ fantasies are finally fulfilled as they finish with ‘The Day We Caught The Train’, leaving it’s infamous OhOhLaLa chorus stuck in our heads for weeks to come…