This may be a false memory.
You know when you are convinced that something has happened, or someone has said something, or you have seen something…but you haven’t?
Janet and Freud looked at this.
I have a memory of a photograph.
In the photograph Ocean Colour Scene are all suited and booted.
They look good.
But as my eye scans this picture, which may, or may not, actually exist, my eye is drawn to the trousers of one of the band members.
They are too long.
Bunched at the ankle instead of flirting with the ankle.
I get quite cross.
Probably didn’t even happen.
The truth is I think I have created this memory to try and come up with some sort of excuse, some desperate excuse, to explain why I never really paid any attention to Ocean Colour Scene during the Britpop era.
I don’t mean I didn’t pay any attention to them.
I knew about them.
I watched TFI Friday so I obviously knew “The Riverboat Song”.
I bought “The Day We Caught the Train”.
But I didn’t really pay any attention.
That’s not any sort of comment on the band…more a comment on quite how much music was being flung into the ears, hearts and minds of kids in Britain at that point. I couldn’t give my undivided love and attention to all of them.
The years passed.
The clock ticked, the days passed and my hair receded at the same rate as my waist expanded.
At the closing night of the Star Shaped Festival in 2018 the final act of the day were Ocean Colour Scene. I had been thrilled to the point of ecstasy by a series of wonderful sets from the likes of The Supernaturals, Echobelly, Black bloody Grape and goodness knows who else besides. It had been, frankly, a bloody marvellous day.
Something changed as the crowd prepared itself for OCS.
The atmosphere became…charged.
Even more eager.
Still more enthusiastic.
Veering close to giddy.
Then the lights dimmed and as the band stalked the stage to begin their set the roof came off the venue…without a single note having been played.
Before I heard the opening track of the set I had been converted by the masses.
Any band who can spin a crowd into this sort of fever without playing a note is worthy of your love.
It was time to re-re-wind as the crowd very definitely didn’t shout “bo” or “selecta”.
Time to go back.
Time to listen.
What is most glaring, perhaps even most startling, about “Moseley Shoals” is quite how much of a Mod record it is. Lots of bands from Britain at this point in time were flirting with Mod fashion and Mod iconography…almost all of them were talking about how important The Kinks, The Small Faces and The Jam were to them but, in reality, very few were actually Mod groups. The clothes were a little too “indie”…the songs a little too ragged…the inspirations a little too narrow. Mod was, at its purest, an outward looking, forward thinking, tight and razor sharp look and sound…by the time it began to morph into something slightly less interesting around 1966-68 that was less true but from the jazz modernists of the late 50’s to the explosion into the mainstream that, ultimately, killed it Mod was a celebration of “clean living under difficult circumstances” and that infused every aspect of the scene.
Ocean Colour Scene give a nod to the soul and rhythm and blues heart of Mod with the title of the album…playing with “Muscle Shoals” and so indicating to people who understand that Mod isn’t about owning a Fred Perry and dancing like Sting to “Green Onions” that they were real. It’s a statement of intent in just two words. Paying homage to their home turf and paying respect to the sound of black America at the same time.
Then there is the logo which takes the RAF roundel which was co-opted into Mod culture by Peter Blake and then Pete Townsend and creates something that acts as a visual identity for the band. Even the bleed of the central white ball into the “l” and “h” of Mosely and Shoals is a tribute to the typeface of The Who.
None of this is accidental.
These are the opening salvos in a new Mod manifesto.
We haven’t heard a note but we know exactly who this band are.
Perhaps more importantly we know what they are.
Then the needle hits the coal black vinyl and everything is confirmed.
The High Numbers, The Poets…the earliest rhythm and blues new breed of British musicians who turned to the sounds of black America and fashioned the sound of Mod are in every beat, every pulse, every note of “The Riverboat Song”. This is a world away from The Lambrettas and the Merton Parkas of the early eighties revival, this is authentic. Authentic too in its incorporation of the sounds of what came next; Cream and Led Zeppelin (just take a listen to “Four Sticks” from IV), heavier, harder but still bathed in the blues.
The fact that the song was the key piece of music on that most nineties of television shows, “TFI Friday” meant that it became embedded into popular culture in a way that it otherwise might not have. It was thrust into the sitting rooms of millions of homes across the country every Friday. In many ways it is the Britpop national anthem, so recognisable is it.
The other singles from the album were all huge hits in their own right, from the gently anthemic “The Day We Caught the Train” to soulful rattle and hum of “The Circle” and the speeed soaked, frenzied, thrill of “You’ve Got it Bad” it was obvious that OCS were the right band at the right time. But where other bands rode the tidal wave of joy that was Britpop and then sank without a trace OCS did something quite different. Something that was both traditional and forward thinking…they made the most of their moment in the spotlight; Top of the Pops, magazine front covers, A-listed on radio stations and then, when the light began to fade, they did the only thing that really matters; they kept making the music they wanted to make.
That sounds so obvious but so many bands don’t do it. They try to follow the latest trends, they change (not organically but at the behest of focus groups and stylists), they dismiss the songs that brought them fame in the first place and, in the process, they reveal themselves to be nothing more than empty vessels, hollow, lacking in substance. People notice and then begin to drift away…nobody likes a phoney.
OCS are no fakes.
The Mod aesthetic isn’t (wasn’t) about jumping on a bandwagon, it was who they were. The influences from the Beatles and the Kinks to the Faces and the faces of Motown were who they really loved and not who they thought they should love. The songs were the only songs they wanted to make.
“Moseley Shoals” set the template for who and what Ocean Colour Scene were and would be and that is why, decades after its release, it remains a vital record. It is why they continue to sell out venues that many other bands from that era couldn’t dream of half filling. Their fan base has remained true to them because they have remained true to themselves.