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Ocean Colour Scene – Simon & Oscar Acoustic Set
Bar Bliss, Leigh, 24/05/11

Rarely does a big-name band (or in this case, part of a big-name band) grace us with their presence here in Leigh, and so, on the odd occasions that they do, we certainly make the most of it. Previously host to bands such as Detroit Social Club, Exit Calm and Twisted Wheel among others, Bar Bliss is tonight home to two members of one of the UK’s most respected and well-loved bands, Birmingham’s Ocean Colour Scene.

I fully expect Simon and Oscar to put on a stunning performance. What I don’t count on is the discovery of an absolute gem of an artist by way of support act, singer and guitarist Jersey Budd. Hailing from Leicester, Jersey evokes instant comparisons with musical giants Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. And that kind of comparison is not made lightly. The husky voice, acoustic melodies and story-telling lyrics make for a genuinely moving and captivating set comprised of songs from his album ‘Wonderland’, an absolutely gorgeous release Jersey was kind enough to let me take home free of charge. Jersey himself expertly manages to hold the attention of the ever-growing crowd; no mean feat for a lone singer and his acoustic guitar. The singer-songwriter converts a lot of people into fans here tonight, and reluctantly acquires a very persistent audience member’s sunglasses to complete his already impressive on-stage image. I’m already hoping for another local performance.

From the first few introductory notes of Ocean Colour Scene’s instantly recognisable ‘The Riverboat Song’ sneaking through the sound system, Simon Fowler and Oscar Harrison have us in the palm of their hands. One of the most appealing things about this duo, apart from the blatantly obvious quality and longevity of the songs they have for us tonight, is their attitude. Unbelievably down to earth for indie legends, Simon in particular chats and jokes with the crowd with such ease, hugging and shaking hands with the (quite possibly intoxicated) blokes at the front of the venue whose goal of the night seems to be to end up on the stage, much to the consternation of the staff. It’s a reminder that the best bands and performers absolutely flourish in these intimate venues. An acoustic set is a perfect opportunity to separate the truly talented musicians from those who hide behind gimmicks, novelty and overblown on-stage antics. These guys are unquestionably in the former category, and the diversity of tonight’s audience alone is testament to the staying power of Ocean Colour Scene’s back catalogue.

The pair power through a remarkably well-chosen setlist consisting of old favourites and some newer tracks, all of which appear to be instant crowd-pleasers. So much so that every now and then, singer/guitarist Simon allows the extremely lively audience to complete the odd chorus for him. Simon’s vocal range itself is worth tonight’s ticket price; a unique voice which varies with apparent ease from quiet and softly-spoken to the trademark sing-a-long, upbeat shout heard most famously in one of OCS’s best-loved and often-played songs ‘The Day We Caught The Train’. Multi-instrumentalist Oscar provides a faultless accompaniment, creating a dense wall of sound the likes of which are rarely heard at an acoustic gig. Highlights from such a strong setlist are difficult to pinpoint, but ‘Robin Hood’, ‘Better Day’, ‘Mechanical Wonder’ and the more recent addition to their repertoire, ‘Magic Carpet Days’ are definite contenders.

Ears happily ringing and covered in what I hope is lager (I made the mistake of standing at the front), I decide to rate much of tonight’s success on one factor – as the last chorus of ‘The Day We Caught The Train’ is belted out by Simon and elated fans alike, I see the first instance of crowd-surfing I have ever witnessed at an acoustic gig. Job well done, sirs.


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