Interview with Mark Morris from The Bluetones, 13th October 2005

I recently unearthed a collection of interviews and articles that I wrote in the mid-00s for Nottingham student magazine The Mic, where I was an editor. The magazine still exists today, which is great to see given I was there at the very start. I’ve been posting them unaltered in their original format.

The third interview is with lead singer of The Bluetones, Mark Morriss. I was 20 at the time and remember being fairly unprofessional – you should always try to keep a level playing field but I’d been a huge fan of the band for around a decade and I’m fairly sure it showed. Mark had recently released a solo record under the guise of Fi-Lo Beddow, a reference to a Clint Eastwood character I hadn’t picked up at the time (his name in the film Every Which Way But Loose was Philo Beddoe).

Like the HAL interview, it feels like the review of the live gig is missing from the end of the article. Alas, I appear to have lost that part so we’ll just have to let the article dissipate with no real ending.

Anyway, it must be of interest to some of you so here it is…

We join Mark Morriss hours before he takes to the stage for a blinding set at Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms. It’s over a decade since he crashed onto the UK music scene fronting Britpop antithetics The Bluetones. But whilst most of the acts from the same era seem to have undergone line-up changes, arguments and farewell tours, The ‘Tones are still going strong with the four members that started it all back in the mid 90s. 

“I think we were very lucky when we put the band together that we really did pick the four right people,” he opens. “We’re all still very good friends, which is not always the case from my experience of knowing different musicians from other groups. We have a chemistry that works because we’re friends and others have it because there’s animosity. We all get on – there’s no real bitching or bickering. There’s none at all really. Everyone’s quite up front and on the table and we all feel like we’re on the same side. So democracy can work.”

The Bluetones started life like so many bands have in recent years with a release on Fierce Panda. The track itself, ‘No 11’ (so called because it was the 11th song they wrote) later resurfaced as ‘Bluetonic’ on the debut album ‘Expecting to Fly’, their first on Superior Quality Recordings. The label itself is a small independent label, which still exists today. It has been home to Mover, King Adora and more recently The Vessels. The size of the label was to prove key. It gave them more freedom over their affairs and allowed them to remain centre of attention at a time when many labels might have dropped a band labelled as ‘Britpop’. 

The follow up album, ‘Return to the Last Chance Saloon’, also made the top ten and featured a handful of singles, and is arguably their most rounded effort to date. It also features a track called ‘I Heard You Were Dead’, still a favourite amongst fans and rumoured to be about the late Gram Parsons. But Mark has different recollections: “It’s not about Gram Parsons. It was inspired by the film ‘Escape From New York’, and a character in it called Snake Plissken. Everyone he meets says, “I heard you were dead”, and it just stuck in my head that night. Later on I wrote a follow up song because in ‘Escape From LA’ everyone meets him and says, “I thought you’d be taller,” so I wrote a song called ‘Thought You’d Be Taller’ a couple of years later. I guess it comes back to one of my favourite themes, which is the dumbing down of society, or as it appears to me.”

By the time they released their third album, ‘Science and Nature’, they had signed a deal with Mercury. Despite having a troublesome experience with the label, the singer still stands by the album as the most enjoyable to date. “The most fun to make was ‘Science and Nature’. It has a kind of free and cut loose feel to it. We knew it was going to be the last record with Mercury and there was a feeling of getting it out of the way, so we kind of took the piss when we were recording it. I really like it though, I think it’s our most diverse and multi-coloured release.”

The deal itself was in fact for two albums, but the second came in the form of ‘The Singles’. However, the idea of a career retrospective wasn’t accepted wholeheartedly by the band. “We were fifty-fifty really,” admits Morriss, “We weren’t really in favour of the timing of it but we were just glad to get clear of Mercury so we bit the bullet and agreed to stick it out because that meant we were set free. It was more of a contractual obligation really. It was the last throw of the dice for them to cash in on us a bit, but in the end it seemed like a bit of a rip off.”

Then came their fourth studio album, ‘Luxembourg’. Released in early 2003, it represented a raw departure from their traditional sounds. “We never go as far as to reinvent ourselves, but we always try a slightly different approach with each record, whether it be a different sound or technique to song writing. ‘Luxembourg’ was quite stripped down, almost like a garage band. There were no acoustic guitars on it. That was something we deliberately set out to do.”

After the promotion for that album had died down, Mark moved his attention to other things, namely a new solo project called Fi-Lo Beddow. He’s taken his new venture up and down the country over the last 18 months playing low key performances and making surprise appearances in many of the smaller venues. But despite this, he’s adamant of his top priority. “The Fi-Lo thing is just something I do to keep me going in between albums, or if we’re taking a break for one reason or another. It’s just having some fun and knocking some songs around in my friend’s garage. I think all my energy is going to concentrate on The Bluetones for a little while. There might be the odd acoustic appearances here and there but there’s not enough hours in the day to do both!”

However, it’s not as though the band themselves have been lazing around for the two years since their last release. In between embarking on a mammoth 50 date UK tour, setting up solo projects and starting families, The ‘Tones have found the time to record a new EP. Titled ‘Serenity Now’ and featuring four brand new tracks it marks yet another excellent addition to the catalogue. The title track itself is an infectious little number, but every dynamic is represented across the release. ‘Mine in the Morning’ is about as mellow as they’ve ever been but this is juxtaposed by a tongue in cheek track called ‘The Happy Lobotomy’. It’s a release that has been willingly received by the ever-strong hard-core fan base who eagerly await the full-length album next year. “There’s a new album next year, but this is separate from that. It’s the last release for the time being with Superior Quality Recordings. We’re signing a new deal with Cooking Vinyl and our next album will be out through them next year.”

On top of this, serious plans are being made about representing The Bluetones’ 12 year history in a way the band have more of a control over. “Next year there’s going to be a couple of DVDs out. There’s one that’s going to be a live show with other bits of extras. It’s going to be filmed this Friday at London’s Shepherds Bush,” he indulges. “But there’s also going to be a sort of retrospective DVD at some point. Like a documentary on the history of the band. That’s one we’re doing ourselves, so who knows?”

Furthermore, and despite reports to the contrary, there will be a career spanning B-Sides collection released. “That is still happening, although it’s in the hands of lawyers at the moment. The rights to the B-Sides are on Mercury, and we’ve had to negotiate a deal with them so that they’ll let us have them back. It’s taken a bit more time than we’d thought because they’re kind of dragging their heels but it looks like it’s going to go through early next year.” With so many B-sides to choose from though, including ‘Nifkin’s Bridge’ or currently-revived live favourite ‘I Was A Teenage Jesus’, which tracks will make the cut? “I think some of our best songs are B-Sides! I’ve always said this but I think our B-Sides album will be our best album. There are a lot of songs on it – maybe 40 to go on it, so it’s a big one. I don’t see the point in cutting out the bad ones. I think it’s just a case of warts and all. Every song.”

Eagle eyed readers may have spotted The Bluetones trying their hand at comedy in recent years. Having allowed close friend Edgar Wright to use the track ‘Blood Bubble’ in the adverts for his series Spaced, Edgar returned the favour by getting in members to be extras in an episode. “I’m just lucky really that people I’m friends with are talented and clever and managed to get themselves on TV. He directed a couple of Bluetones videos as well. I was in Little Britain as well because I know Matt and David, and Matt has done a video with us too.”

The current tour is going well, despite some potential hiccups. “I woke up on Monday morning after the gig on Sunday night and I couldn’t even speak. It didn’t get any better so at about 11pm that night I decided I wasn’t going to be good enough for the gig the day after. It’s just some bad timing really. I had a bit of a viral infection before the tour started and I don’t think I shook it off properly before we got going. Plus obviously it’s not very easy to shake when you’re on tour. I like touring, but I like touring when I’m feeling better.”

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Interview with HAL, 28th September 2005

I recently unearthed a collection of interviews and articles that I wrote in the mid-00s for Nottingham student magazine The Mic, where I was an editor. The magazine still exists today, which is great to see given I was there at the very start. I’m going to post a few of the articles over the next few weeks in their original format.

Here’s the second – an interview from 2005 with Dave Allen from the Dublin band HAL. Now, I must admit that reading this again I should have added a final paragraph that talked about how amazing their live set was that night (I remember it well – Duke Special opened for them and they were both in great form). But I’m not here to right wrongs – I’m just allowing articles of interest to be available to anyone interested. Here goes…

When HAL emerged earlier in the year in the build up to the release of their eponymous debut album, they were caught up in a wave of media attention and hype. On a co-headline tour with the then relatively unknown (but equally enticing) Magic Numbers, they found themselves hopping night after night across all of Britain’s most confined venues, making the tickets sparse. Suddenly, this was the gig to see.

Fast forward to the end of summer and HAL are making yet another big step in their career. Although they have visited most of the towns and venues on their current tour, they have previously not found themselves on a headline tour in the UK since their debut album was released back in April. “We did a lot of support tours last year and people were there to see the main band,” explains Dave Allen. “They didn’t have a clue who we were. It’s a good reward to see people singing along, you know?”

Despite this, the Irish frontman is visibly tired. The current tour has been going on since March, and has seen them take on full UK tours supporting Doves, The Thrills and Brendan Benson, a massive German tour opening for Adam Green (“He’s massive over there!” informs Allen) a string of festival dates and now this. Through this he remains optimistic. “We finish in Amsterdam in a few weeks. It’s not bad, you know?”

As soon as the tour is finished, the band are looking forward to cracking on with their second album. “It’ll be the first time in ages we’ll have a chance to finish off new songs and make demos at home for the next record.” Influenced heavily by Harry Nilsson, they’re looking to build on the immense sound landscapes heard on the debut. It’s a sound, Allen admits, that is hard to replicate live. “When we play live it’s all pretty stripped back. With ‘My Eyes Are Sore’ there’s 40 vocals so it sounds more like a choir singing. For a lot of it you’ll never be able to get it live unless you have 5 or 6 extra players on there.” 

This leaves a problem for the next album. “We don’t know which way to treat the songs yet. Whether we have them stripped back and pretty plain or we do the same as with this album and bring two or three more people on the road with us.”

One thing he is sure on is the need for a break before work begins again in the studio. “We’ve got a good few ideas [for the new album],” he explains. “We’re going to tour this record now and that’ll be it. We’ll stop and start again.” The danger it seems is a fear of producing an overly similar sound to that found on their debut. “A lot of bands after touring relentlessly just get lost. We’re not a band who can write songs on the road in the back of a van. We need to get back home”

These final words are obviously weighing heavily at the front of the singer’s mind. As much a sign of fatigue as an eagerness to move on, he simply wants to be off the road and getting on with a well-deserved break. 

Interview with British band Dogs, April 2005

I recently unearthed a collection of interviews and articles that I wrote in the mid-00s for Nottingham student magazine The Mic, where I was an editor. The magazine still exists today, which is great to see given I was there at the very start. I’m going to post a few of the articles over the next few weeks in their original format.

Here’s the first – an interview from 2005 with the band Dogs, a British band very much on the rise at the time. They disbanded in 2011, but six years earlier they’d just hit the top 40 for the first time and had taken time out from their soundcheck at Rescue Rooms in Nottingham to speak with me.

Brand new band Dogs are set to take the world by storm with their new LP ‘Turn Against This Land’, which features the recent successes ‘London Bridge’ and ‘She’s Got A Reason’. Luciano Vargas (guitars and vocals) and Johnny Cooke (vocals) turned up early for the Nottingham leg of the sell-out Jim Beam Tour to have a quick chat with The Mic.

You’re currently in the middle of your tour supporting The Raveonettes. How are you finding it?

Luciano: It’s brilliant! 

Johnny: Yeah loving the tour. It’s a bitch! It’s really, really, really good fun but really gruelling. 

Luciano: It started off really well, which we weren’t expecting. We usually start off quite slowly on tours, but we started off with a blinder, at the Zodiac in Oxford. It was really good. The Brighton gig was being filmed for MTV and that went really well as well. Birmingham was probably the best so far -we were really pleased with it. So we’re pretty hot. We’re all enjoying it. Plus there’s lots of free Jim Beam, which is always fuel for the fire. It’s going really well. We’re enjoying it a lot.

You had your single in the top 40 as well.

Luciano: It’s all a bit surreal really. I’m confident with the next single as well, ‘Tuned To A Different Station’. We just had a meeting today about trying to sort the video out. We’re getting so busy now there’s no time to do stuff. We’re flying to the States for the SXSW. When we get back we’re getting picked up from the airport so we can go and play a gig back on this tour. We have to fit the shooting of the video into that schedule, which is getting pretty hectic. You don’t get a minute to breathe.  

Do you prefer recording or playing live?

Luciano: LIVE! I don’t like recording at all. It does my head in. When we recorded the album with John Cornfield he loved getting that live sound, so we used as many as we could. He’s done loads – most of Supergrass’ work and a bit of Oasis. It’s an amazing place to record. Fucking amazing. Oasis were in there at the beginning of the year actually before we were. I mean, they’re fucking crap now, but their ‘Definitely Maybe’ and ‘What’s The Story?’ albums are hugely influential, on Johnny especially. And to a degree it’s the reason we’re doing this. It influenced us and made us think, “if those oiks can form a band then fucking we can do it as well”.

What are your feelings on being tipped as the next big band by NME?

Johnny: They haven’t said that. Have they? If they haven’t they fucking should.

Luciano: Those magazines always say everyone’s the next big band. They’re always gonna say it. It’s a waste of time.

Johnny: Fair shout though. Thank you very much NME. We’ll take that.

Luciano: Gladly.

Johnny: It’s still early days for us and it could still be a hit or miss affair, if we don’t reach out to the people. At the end of the day it’s not about how much we like ourselves and believe ourselves or value ourselves, it’s how much other people do. That will keep us in this job. Otherwise its back to driving vans. What we won’t do is compromise and change ourselves. If they want to join in with that and they get it we will be eternally pleased and thankful. It’s looking good. The signs are good.

Three years ago guitar bands were none existent, now they’re all over the place.

Johnny: It was a dire state wasn’t it?

Luciano: All you had was bands like Feeder.

Johnny: There’s a lot of wet-fart music about. Like Stereophonics. They saw the bit of carrot and they chased it. They weren’t like that and all of a sudden a new trend comes along and they thought, “Oh I’ll tell you what, it’s a 4/4 with a Strokes guitar”, and they followed. They’re playing catch up. Then you’ve got bands like The Futureheads, Bloc Party and Maximo Park giving it some fucking attitude. Thank the lord for British music at the moment. I’m really excited about it.

Luciano: The whole deal with the next best thing is that for some people the next big thing is The Polyphonic Spree. That’s the whole point you’ve got to remember and not get carried away with it.

Johnny: Some cocks thought Keane were the next big thing.

Luciano: Also, when someone slags you off I don’t think it matters. You’ve got to realise that some people like you and some people don’t, and the more people that like you the better.

Johnny: Be it 200 or 200000, if they get it then it’s a bit of fuel to make you stamp your foot and sing songs. As long as they let us keep doing what we want to do then that’s terrific.

‘Tuned To A Different Station’ is released on 2nd May, and proceeds the album ‘Turn Against This Land’, due out on 16th May.

David Nicholas Wilkinson and the truth behind the birth of cinema

The First Film is an explorative documentary film that follows writer, producer, director and presenter David Nicholas Wilkinson in his quest to determine whether or not the first film footage ever recorded was done so in Leeds on 14th October 1888. The footage at the centre of the film is titled Roundhay Garden Scene, filmed by the Frenchman Louis Le Prince. It lasts only a few seconds but is possibly one of the most important breakthroughs in cinematic history.

Wilkinson explores the background of this footage and its claim to being either the first ever recorded film footage or simply the earliest surviving film footage. He also looks into the strange disappearance of Le Prince on 16th September 1890 on a train from Dijon to Paris, a disappearance that meant the argument of Le Prince being the inventor of the moving image cameras had lost its most important voice, paving the way for Thomas Edison to go down in the history books as the inventor of the movie camera. Things get very suspicious when the death of his son Adolphe in an unusual hunting incident in July 1901 lays his argument to rest.

A groundbreaking piece of cinematic history

When I caught up with David Nicholas Wilkinson to discuss the film, he reflected on the underwhelming appearance of the location as it stands today, a discovery that produces one of the most memorable scenes in the film.

“One of the first shots we filmed was of me finding the original location of the scene. I had to laugh. I had no idea what to expect but a cul-de-sac is about as banal a setting as I could imagine.” His presenting style is infectious even when he encounters disappointments like these, such is his passion for the subject matter. He remains upbeat despite such adversity: “I had hoped for something to be left, even if it was a tree.”

A key fact that the film explores is whether or not a photograph in a French morgue is that of Le Prince. It shows only the face of a deceased man who looks remarkably like the groundbreaking filmmaker, but David is not convinced. “I don’t really think it’s him. In 1890 the average height of a man in France was around 5ft 6in. Le Prince was actually 6ft 4in. In the accompanying notes for the photograph, anything unusual or out of the ordinary had been recorded for each person, though it was very scant in general. If it was definitely him it would have been recorded.”

Only one shot that had to be re-filmed, which meant both David and his co-writer Irfan Shan had to try their hand at acting surprised at discovering Le Prince’s grave. “He never wanted to be in it, but he knew most of the answers and stopped me making mistakes.”

The last-minute curveball

As we come to the end of the film, a late revelation throws the argument up in the air again through a discovery by Laurie Schneider. As David explains, “We had to delay. Everyone wanted me to cut it but once I knew what I’d found out about it I knew it was vital to the story.” The fact David’s discoveries are captured on camera means the audience goes on the journey with him, leaving the story open to these kinds of curveballs throughout.

Whilst the film explores the three most plausible explanations for the disappearance of Le Prince, David explains that there are many more doing the rounds. “There are around ten theories about what happened. One theory is that he was a spy for both Britain and USA during a time when there was a threat of a second French Revolution. Another is that he was filming snuff films with Jack The Ripper…” As he tails off there is something in his voice that gives the impression he doesn’t quite believe these avenues of thought.

It is clearly a labour of love and he has produced a compelling argument on what was likely a relatively small budget. One source of frustration for him came from the British Film Institution. “I went for a BFI distribution loan, which would allow me to visit colleges and universities around the UK. I had agreements with thirty out of a planned fifty and saw it as a great way to get the truth around. I was turned down because it was deemed “too educational”. I’m sure their remit is to promote the British film industry. I can’t come up with a tangible reason for it. Maybe they don’t believe me.”

David is the driving force behind the film.

David’s relentless passion for the project is infectious.

The driving force is Wilkinson himself and it becomes very easy to get wrapped up in his determined narrative. This determination comes despite concerns about the film’s viability. “It was a big worry because it had been rejected so many times. I’d been advised not to do it, but I knew people would be interested in this story.” It appears he is correct in this thought given the amount of coverage it is now getting in national newspapers. “It’s a forgotten story and an important part of our history as a film-making nation. People will now know the Le Prince name. In fact, the widespread coverage means the story is getting out even to people who haven’t seen the film.”

“The film has been thirty-three years in the making”, he states, referring to that point being the first time he pitched it to the BBC in 1982. “I’ve laid it to rest now though. Now that it’s out there I can move on. It’s often the case with filmmakers that the one project we’re really passionate about is the one that never gets made. People go decades without making a project and I often believe that they don’t really want it to get made.” It’s lucky that David’s one project was this one and we’re lucky to be able to hear the story, albeit 125 years late. The story deserved to be told and now it deserves to be seen.

The First Film is on limited release now, with the following cinemas offering screenings over the next month.

July

03.07.15 – Regent Street Cinema London
04.07.15 – Regent Street Cinema London
08.07.15 – Gate Cinema London
11.07.15 – Galway Film Fleadh – Ireland
14.07.15 – Triskel Arts Centre, Cork – Ireland
15.07.15 – IFI, Dublin – Ireland
16.07.15 – Queens Film Theatre, Belfast
20.07.15 – Greenwich Picturehouse London
23.07.15 – Ritzy, Brixton, London
26.07.15 – Cambridge Picturehouse
28.07.15 – Norden Farm, Maidenhead
30.07.15 – Kingston Arts Centre

August

01.08.15 – Bath Picturehouse
03.08.15 – Home Manchester
05.08.15 – Vue Leeds
06.08.15 – City Screen, York
07.08.15 – Sheffield Showroom
09:08:15 – Hebden Bridge Picture House
13.08.15 – Electric Palace, Hastings
18:08:15 – Picture House, Uckfield