It was 1998. Ocean Colour Scene had been making waves for some five years, since supporting Paul Weller way back in 1993. But now, these waves were getting serious.
With the band’s developmental stage well and truly behind them, they had acquired a sound, and importantly at the height of Britpop, an image unique to themselves.
The previous two years had seen the release of the hugely successful Moseley Shoals, the album reaching number two while the band enhanced their growing reputation as live performers.
After supporting the mighty Oasis throughout 1996, the group were ready to make the step up, and with follow-up album Marchin’ Already having displaced Oasis’ Be Here Now at the top of the album chart, Ocean Colour Scene were on the road, selling out their first arena tour.
The defining point for the band came in the form of three nights, sold out, at Stirling Castle. This was to be the watershed moment.
The last time I witnessed them live was at Maine Road, Manchester as they supplied the first support act for Oasis during the (What’s the Story) Morning Glory tour.
On that occasion, although no doubt competent, they had been ineffective in announcing themselves as a truly powerful headliner. Not that any group in the same position would have had any chance on that night. Oasis in Manchester, hardly the opportunity to overshadow, the group did certainly shine.
But now they were number one, and out of the shadows they emerged to cement their position as a front runner during what was a golden era for soft rock.
The atmosphere was far from subdued, a fully charged Scottish crowd roaring their approval as the group took to the stage, Oscar Harrison endearing himself and his bandmates by waving the Royal Standard of Scotland high before taking his position.
The three giant screens flashed between the band’s now famous logo and the customary close ups, the roar now deafening.
They launched straight into the unmistakable intro of 100 Mile High City as the masses responded. It was a high tempo, high energy opening, complimented by contrast as they slipped into the second track of the evening, Better Day.
These were fast becoming anthems back in 1998, they have stood the test of time. Not that there was any doubt that they would.
This was a time when we were bombarded by the “super groups” of the 90s. Britpop was huge and with bands such as Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Manic Street Preachers and Suede all riding on the crest of a wave, the energy tonight was different.
This was not a pure mass of energy radiating outward from the stage, the like of which I had witnessed at Maine Road two years earlier. It was instead, a massed army of fans hanging onto every lyric.
As a frontman, Simon Fowler is as unassuming as his bandmates. He takes on the persona of the deep and thoughtful wordsmith, captivating his audience. And it works!
The highlight, for me, came three quarters of the way into the gig with the band’s performance of Traveller’s Tune. I love the energy of this song. I love its flow and, performed live, it just works. But everyone had their own personal highlights that night.
The evening ended with a high energy performance of Day Tripper, complete with firework display, as though in celebration of the band’s arrival rather than imminent departure. And it certainly felt like an arrival!
As other bands changed direction as competition intensified, Ocean Colour Scene remained consistent. Never before in music had the old adage “if it’s not broken don’t fix it” ever been so apt. A good case in point, Blur and their 1997 Blur album. Although hugely successful at home and in the US, fans of live music had mixed feelings of how the group’s new electro style translated when performed on stage.
There had never been, and will never be any such concerns for OSC fans. Track after track, album after album and live performance after live performance falling seamlessly into place.
I had the pleasure of catching Simon Fowler and Oscar Harrison performing an acoustic set at the Forum in Waterford a couple of years ago. There could be no bigger contrast in terms of venue.The delivery was vastly different now too, as Fowler sat on a stool, illuminated by a single spotlight with acoustic guitar on his lap, eyes closed. As we stood, once again hanging on every word and surrounded by a new generation of fans, it was clear that this music, performed by that man was timeless. Not a hint of throwback to a bygone era, but a sound unique.
I was with a great friend of mine that night. Paul is a big guy, standing at least 6′ 5″. When Fowler performed Robin Hood, I swear to this day, I caught sight of a tear in the big man’s eye… Not that I’d say it to him.
But it did serve as testimony, every song translated perfectly.
The Forum certainly isn’t the vast and sprawling Sterling Castle, but was just as special.
Same music. Different energy.