Twenty years ago, Samuel Preston and the original Oridnary Boys line-up walked into The Joiners in Southampton to play one of their first ever gigs. Then aged 12 and 13, the quartet – from nearby Worthing – fell for the venue instantly and would return often as headliners. Frontman Preston wastes no time in mentioning his love of the place at tonight’s Jack Rocks gig. “I’ve got lots of memories from The Joiners!” he says, his voice hoarse after a busy spell of gigs.
You can’t blame him for being excited. After splitting for three years between 2008 and 2011, a new-look Ordinary Boys are four dates into a tour in support of their recent self-titled album, their first since 2006’s ‘How To Get Everything You Wanted In Ten Easy Steps’. Flanked by guitarist Louis Jones (who joined in 2013 after abandoning his dreamy Spectrals project), bassist James Gregory and drummer Charlie Stanley, Preston looks up for it. They all do.
The driving chords of new album opener ‘About Tonight’ come first, quickly followed by ‘Over The Counter Culture’, a terrace-singalong that sees the night’s first mini-pit break out in the front rows. The Ordinary Boys specialise in unifying choruses like this one, but the unfortunate truth is that their best are found largely among their early material. This creates something of a disconnect: the crowd go mad for the new stuff, but they go even madder for the old hits. And there’s nothing Preston – snappy in a polo shirt, Levi’s and leather deck shoes – can do about it, no matter how much he waves his tattooed arms and pogos about the stage.
As such, punked up run-throughs of classic cuts ‘Life Will Be The Death Of Me’ and ‘The List Goes On’ easily overshadow ‘Four Letter Word’, another new song that feels flat. The marching rhythm of ‘Heart On The Line’ suffers similarly, followed by the ecstatic call and response of ‘Week In, Week Out’. The Ordinary Boys’ new songs are clearly still wrought from the same throaty choruses and skank-along guitars as before – and Louis Jones’ clean licks add welcome subtlety – but their pent-up smalltown aggression has been dulled. Where once Preston was a skinny music geek from the south coast, bored by suburbia, he’s now a bona fide ex-tabloid celebrity, chewed up and spat out by throwaway star culture.
You can’t help thinking that’s dimmed the fire inside him. But by the time ‘Seaside’ and a gloriously laity ‘Maybe Someday’ roll around and he’s swinging from the lighting rig covered in sweat, he looks as fired up as he did in those early days. Maybe boys will be boys after all.