Ocean Colour Scene

TrackAlbum / Single
Policemen & PiratesMoseley Shoals
The Riverboat SongMoseley Shoals
I Won't Get GrazedOne From The Modern
One For The RoadMoseley Shoals
Expensive ChairMCA MCSTD 40157
Doodle BookPainting
It's A Beautiful ThingMarchin' Already
All God's Children Need Travelling ShoesMCA MCD 40144
Hundred Mile High CityMarchin' Already
Go To SeaOn The Leyline

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Ocean Colour Scene photo

Ocean Colour Scene (l to r): Simon Fowler (lead vocals, guitar), Steve Cradock (lead guitar, keyboards, vocals), Oscar Harrison (drums), Damon Minchella (bass).

 

Contributor: James Tanner

The old saying is you can’t understand another man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. Well, by chance, the day after deciding to write this list I had to drive up to Birmingham for work. I put the postcode into the satnav and set off from Oxfordshire. The route my car took went up through Kings Heath and then Moseley. This was my first time in the Ocean Colour Scene (OCS) heartlands and it was interesting to see the environment that was the backdrop to the early years of the band.

The history of the band is fairly well documented, but in a nutshell the four (original) members were in various bands across the Birmingham area and teamed up in the late 80s, releasing their first music in 1990. A baggy-esque debut album came out in 1992 and therefore too late to really ride the wave of popularity for the baggy genre and the band left their label and retreated into obscurity.

They returned triumphant in 1995/96 with support slots on Oasis tours, being championed by Chris Evans through his Radio 1 and Channel 4 shows, and of course through the wilderness years being taken under the wing of the newly resurgent Paul Weller. Moseley Shoals was released in 1996 and OCS were back in the big time.

The four original members were Steve Cradock, a highly talented guitarist who had spent a lot of his youth hanging around Paul Weller’s studios trying to make himself known to his future (and still current occasional employer). Cradock is the most Mod of the group with the clothes and musical style reminiscent of the mod way of life. Simon Fowler has to this day one of the most soulful voices in British music, a talented singer/songwriter his later side project, Merrymouth, showed off his folky side to great effect and this style can be heard in many of the acoustic OCS songs, even writing a song called Foxy’s Folk Faced (Foxy being his nickname). Oscar Harrison is the drummer and has his roots in the crossover worlds of ska and reggae; he has drummed for ska legends The Beat in recent years. An accomplished musician not only is he a very good and underrated drummer but also plays piano and bass when required and adds vocals to many songs. Damon Minchella later left the group but was the best bass player of the 90s. His later projects have had a mod/acid jazz/funk sound and he will be working with Richard Ashcroft on his upcoming release. When not writing and recording music he works as a lecturer in music at various colleges and universities.

In later years, Dan Sealey and Andy Bennett joined the band, both to bolster the live sound and adding their own songs to the albums they worked on. Both have now moved on again but are very worthy members of the band’s history.

OCS have always held a special place in my heart. When asked who my favourite band is I always answer Oasis (who were the complete package of rock and roll both on stage and off it!), but when it comes to the band whose music means the most to me it can only be Ocean Colour Scene. My wife and I had our first wedding dance to It’s My Shadow and it’s the band that we’ve been to see the most often live: be it at the Royal Albert Hall on the 21st anniversary tour; the acoustic 25th anniversary tour when we saw them at the Royal Festival Hall; sweaty, beery gigs at the Astoria (RIP); or going back to my first experience of them, the Hammersmith Palais (another sadly missed venue) in 1996 when a certain Liam Gallagher appeared on stage at the end to sing Day Tripper with the guys.

Going back to my drive through Moseley and Kings Heath, it was obvious that these areas would’ve been a big influence on the songs that marked the band’s second coming; the high streets of both suburbs were a sorry sight of run down properties, closed down shops and rough looking pubs, and although 1996 is twenty years ago it’s not hard to imagine that they haven’t changed much in that time. The bands members have always been pretty frank about their lives before the big time came calling and they lived a traditional rock and roll life of giros, dope, and drinking, whilst becoming nocturnal but as an inspiration to make great music and get a better life it certainly did the job.

 

Top 10

I’ve always had a soft spot for Policemen & Pirates. It’s not complicated, it’s only composed of three chords (aren’t all the best tunes?) but it rocks along at a great tempo and has fantastic, if a little odd, lyrics. No idea what they were getting at with: “I bet Nero and Pilate could easily explain how policemen and pirates get stoned in glasshouses just finding their way”. But some are more obvious: “The house caught on fire in the winter the bosses lay slain and all of the workers decided to ten-fold their pay”. It vanished off the band’s live set for too long but has made a glorious return in recent years.

Well you have to include The Riverboat Song don’t you?! It’s a classic, it’s as overplayed as The Day We Caught The Train and (to a lesser extent) The Circle but this song always sounds as exciting as the first time you heard it. Chris Evans chose this as the walk on song for his prime time, not to be missed, show TFI Friday leading to this song entering the British subconscious for the foreseeable future. Of course if you know your Led Zep you might recognise aspects of the riff!

I Won’t Get Grazed is a beautifully written and performed (and I hate this term) ballad. It’s got emotion and showcases Fowler’s softer vocal technique more so than any other song in their back catalogue. Performed live as an acoustic solo alongside songs like Robin Hood it has the power to raise the hairs on the back of a grown man’s neck.

One For The Road. It’s a drinking song, it’s a bittersweet song, and it’s a sad song. All done to a great tune and has become a firm crowd favourite at the live shows. Used by many as a requiem to lives cut short and supposedly inspired by the tragic death of Leah Betts.

Probably not many OCS fans would list Expensive Chair but it has always stood out to me. I religiously bought all the OCS (and Oasis) singles throughout the 90s, often not bothered by the A-side as I’d have that on the albums but the band churned out fantastic B-sides, and this one on It’s A Beautiful Thing is right up there for me.

Here’s a track that brings us right up to date, being from their most recent studio album Painting (2013). Interestingly, Doodle Book also appears on Steve Cradock’s solo album Travel Wild, Travel Free. On that version the middle section has a less reggae sound to it but to hear them alongside each other gives an insight into how one song evolves depending on the different inputs.

It’s A Beautiful Thing is a fantastic piece of songwriting. A very simple piano chord structure intro is layered up and built up with bass, drums and guitars. Add to this a very powerful and soulful vocal from Fowler and you’ve got a great song to close the Marchin’ Already album. Then throw into the mix the wonderfully strong vocal talents of P.P. Arnold (backing singer with the Small Faces as well as a successful soul singer) and wow, you’ve got a blinder!

Another great B-side, All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes is an instrumental track that backed up Travellers Tune. OCS prove that a group of lads from Brum can play soul and they can do it with a groove that swings and bounces along. When the tune is this good who wants lyrics getting in the way?

Everyone knows this one. Hundred Mile High City must be up alongside The Riverboat Song and the ubiquitous The Day We Caught The Train as the most played OCS song and the best known to casual fans of the genre. Used by Guy Ritchie as the theme tune to “Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels”, thus cementing a place in British cult movie history. Oh, and the music video is too cool for words!

Just to demonstrate that the band has a political and social awareness, Go To Sea (2007) covers the topic of young men in Glasgow forced to consider a career in the army with the decline of the shipyards. It has a great guitar riff and when played live it often becomes a showcase for the (considerable) lead guitar talents of Steve Cradock, often to the amusement of the rest of the band who just play along as a backing group until he gives the nod to signify the solo is over.

 

 

Ocean Colour Scene official website

The Downstream – OCS Fansite

Steve Cradock’s official website

Ocean Colour Scene biography (iTunes)

James Tanner has been a huge fan of Ocean Colour Scene since discovering them in 1996 when they reappeared on the British music radar. His kids live in a house adorned with OCS artwork and will be humming The Day We Caught The Train before they start school! Having seen them live countless times as well as having the chance to meet some of the band he’s come to the conclusion that musically they were the best band of the 1990’s … even if Oasis keep the honour of being his favourite band! Follow him on Twitter @Britpopmemories

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