Custom House Square, Belfast
25th August 2017

The mid-90s were a vital yet polarising time in the British music industry. The dance scene was huge and so too was the swathe of guitar bands coming through under the Britpop banner. I would go on to discover many of these bands and indulge in their music to varying degrees. The soundtrack of summer 1996 included heavy rotation of Ocean Colour Scene. In particular, the hit singles from their latest record at the time ‘Moseley Shoals’.

Fast forward some twenty years and things have changed. Guitar music still gains some chart success but it’s more likely to be an earnest, clean-cut kid. Someone with a song on a TV ad or a Spotify playlist. It’s refreshing to stand in a warm summer rain in Belfast with a crowd of a certain age remembering that summer of 1996.

The team behind the “Custom House Square Presents…” series of events have brought Ocean Colour Scene to town and they’ve promised to play ‘Moseley Shoals’ in its entirety.

First up, though, are two indie acts who owe a lot to the Britpop pioneers. Carl Barat and the Jackals, fronted by the former Babyshambles man, are big on brand and riffs. Solid indie disco dancefloor beats pumped out by boys in black leather adorned with white jackals. As the crowd begin to warm up and pint glasses fill with rain, they whip up a storm with ‘Bang, Bang, You’re Dead’ by Barat’s older act Dirty Pretty Things.

They’re followed by The Coral, who owe as much to the swing and swagger of the 1960s as they do to the 1990s. Often played on nights out in dive bars in my younger days, hits like ‘Pass It On’, and ‘Dreaming Of You’ still get the crowd moving.

The Britpop target demographic has not shifted over the years. The crowd are a little older but those still with the hair to do so are rocking some mop-top dos. There are Adidas jackets, camouflage coats, and floppy rain-soaked hats aplenty as Steve Craddock hits the riffs to ‘The Riverboat Song’.

Vocalist Simon Fowler looks happy to be in front of an ever-expanding crowd, applauding the singalong to ‘The Circle’. The other big single that help the track two spot on ‘Moseley Shoals’ lacking from this part of the set.

Ocean Colour Scene offered something in the 90s that was a little less course than Oasis, yet not the refined art-school pop of Blur. The middle section of ‘Moseley Shoals’ was always a more folky road to venture. Fowler and co. always seemed to have more of a 70s throwback going on.

‘You’ve Got It Bad’ still sounds like mid 70s Smokie. Album closer ‘Get Away’ is one of those 90s stormers, made for live singalongs and too long for radio. Despite bookending the 1996 record, it’s not the end of the show.

Ocean Colour Scene have released ten studio albums over the years and continue the Belfast party with a series of hits. Most 90s kids remember the likes of ‘Better Day’, ‘Traveller’s Tune’ and ‘Hundred Mile High City’. As the beers flow in Custom House Square, voices rise and they’re sung as one.

One of my favourite records from Ocean Colour Scene was the late 90s release ‘B-Sides, Seasides, and Freerides’. It contained acoustic versions of some of the ‘Moseley Shoals’ hits and a dark ballad called ‘Robin Hood’. It makes an appearance in the encore, segued with an excerpt of Oasis’ ‘Live Forever’. A rip-roaring cover of The Beatles’ ‘Daytripper’ solidifies the belief that these tunes will go on and on…

The night draws to a close with a predictable singalong of ‘The Day We Caught The Train’. In 1997, we’d all have headed off for the next big adventure. In 2017, we’re glad the city centre curfew allows us the opportunity to make it to the station for the last ride home.