HMV Temple, Birmingham
By Glenn Rossington
Tonight’s gig was a bit of a mixed bag of emotions. Steve Cradock is a phenomenol guitarist. For anyone who’s ever seen him play live, be it with Ocean Colour Scene, as a member of Paul Weller’s touring band, or even as a solo artist, there is no denying that he can work his way around a fret board with ease. The true question comes as to whether you consider him to be a good vocalist too. Can he carry it off? In short, yes he can.
Tonight we head upstairs to the top of the HMV Institute and into the rather intimate venue of ‘The Temple’. As the crowd builds up there is an old school Mod feel in the air. OCS have typically carried on the Mod culture and although they seem to unfairly fall in and out of fashion on the radiowaves, their fanbase has always remained loyal. Tonight is a first for me, I have only ever seen Steve solo as a support act to Beady Eye at the Civic last year and it was hard to hear him. His gig tonight is billed as an acoustic tour of the UK, a chance to hear tracks from his debut album ‘The Kundalini Target’ and last year’s follow up ‘Peace City West’ in all their stripped back beauty.
After the treat of three great support acts; Khaliq, Little Liam and Soldier, the anticipation is high. Steve and band featuring his Wife, Sally Cradock, The Moons and Paul Weller multi-instrumentalist Andy Crofts and OCS ‘other’ guitarist Andy Bennett all take to the stage. With the briefest of ‘hellos’ they kick off with the summery sounding previous single ‘Last Days Of The Old World’. A jaunty tune which instantly gets a mini singalong from the front rows. This leads directly into ‘Pleasure Seekers’ from the last album. I get the sense that something isn’t right though, nonetheless the gig continues but in my mind I can sense a mini atmosphere.
‘The Clothes They Stood Up In’ comes next and is more relaxed, maybe it was just pre-show nerves coming out of the stage which unsettled me. However, at the start of ‘The Apple’, there is a succession of feedback from the monitors as Steve starts singing. He instantly snaps at the sound engineer and quips “Is the sound being run by a Blues fan?” (Of course being a dig at Birmingham City fans). As he restarts the track, things seem instantly better. He looks more relaxed and starts to smile in between lines being sung. Just proving what a fine perfectionist he is when it comes to crafting his songs on to an audience.
‘Only Look Up When You’re Down’ and ‘Running Away’ sound more suited to the acoustic setting. Steve’s rather delicate vocals sound quite majestic whist everyone is listening intently. ‘Kites Rise Up Against The Wind’ sounds like a lost Small Faces album track, something direct from the sixties. Perfect for his image emblazoned with gear embroidered from Liam Gallagher’s ‘Pretty Green’ collection, something Steve has a small hand in and regularly playing sets in the various stores for on his journey up and down the country.
The final trilogy are a perfect few moments of euphoria. The crowd are buzzing and singing back every word. It might not be the same scale as he is used to with OCS or Weller, but for a man who takes so much flack with a pinch of salt and a fight back, the kid is doing alright. ‘It’s Transcendental’ kicks off the trilogy. It’s a hard track to define as it works so well and sounds so pure. The three bar blues opening riff causes a few claps of delight, but for me, it is the backing vocals that sound more powerful and a little off-putting compared to Steve, virtually drowning him out. ‘Steppin’ Aside’ again has that sixties blues undertone and sounds very Weller inspired, Steve appears to be picking up a stride now and is echoed in the crowd’s reaction. Set closer of ‘Beware of Falling Rocks’ for me, is a mini masterpiece of his. It is incredibly Weller influenced, but when working with your idol on such a close basis for the best part of twenty years, how is it not possible for stylings to rub off on you? The track slowly builds up into a crescendo of guitars and vocals, the ‘shalalala’s’ get the audience more involved and ends the set on a massive high. With beaming smiles the band thank us and leave the stage.
The encore may have been slightly cliché, but for an acoustic show and a solo show to that I was surprised with the choices. We are given three covers. First up we get Weller’s single from 2005 the brilliant ‘Come On, Let’s Go’. Hearing Steve on vocals gives it a new dimension yet also sounds so familiar. Steve and Weller’s vocal stylings couldn’t be any more different, yet it works. Next, the opening bars cause a massive uproar and initiates a massive singalong which would have deafened any fans for Shinedown who were in the main HMV Institute room, we are given a full work out as we all sing along to ‘That’s Entertainment’. Echoing Steve’s contribution to ‘Carnation’ from The Jam’s ‘Fire & Skill’ tribute album, his voice was clearly made to cover this ilk. Finally, to round off the night, and featuring a slightly anticipated contribution from OCS drummer Oscar Harrison, Steve closes with the fantastic ‘Day We Caught The Train’. The band are almost drowned out by the audience singalong and it results in a fantastic end to the evening.
What started out for me as slightly uncomfortable, ended on a massive high. Steve as I said in the introduction, is a phenomenal guitarist, one of the leaders of his generation, and tonight, he more than proved that he has the mustard to cut it as a celebrated solo artist. His support tour with Beady Eye last year and contributions from James Buckley at various gigs has introduced him back to lost fans and won him some new ones too. If he builds momentum like this, I can not see the man struggling at any point in the future.