Live music review – The Bluetones, Rescue Rooms, 14th November 2019

Setlist 1 – Science and Nature

Zorrro
The Last Of The Great Navigators
Tiger Lily
Mudslide
One Speed Gearbox
Blood Bubble
Autophilia (or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love My Car)
Keep The Home Fires Burning
The Basement Song
Slack Jaw
Emily’s Pine

Setlist 2 – The Hits

After Hours
Bluetonic
Cut Some Rug
Freeze-Dried Pop (Dumb It Up)
Marblehead Johnson
Fast Boy
Never Going Nowhere
Slight Return
If…

Review

The Bluetones arrived in Nottingham in good spirits, as they reached the centre point of the UK leg of their latest tour. This time they were celebrating 20 years since the release of their third album, ‘Science & Nature’, along with a nod to their Singles album that came a few years later.

They took to the stage for their first set of the night dressed in white scientists’ lab coats, a nod to the album title, with the Rescue Rooms roaring in rapturous applause and cheers. They launched into an explosive rendition of ‘Science & Nature’ album opener ‘Zorrro’, the crowd singing along to every word. As frontman Mark Morriss belted the final “Seven levels below”, the first big cheer of the night rang out. Clearly it’s a night for the fans, as is so often the case with The Bluetones gigs.

The fact that Science & Nature wasn’t their most successful album wasn’t lost on Morriss, who was quick to poke fun at its popularity. Explaining the format of the night, the audience learned that they’ll be treated to the entire album in its original order. So, then, he challenges the audience to name the second track on the album. I have to admit I struggled, along with most of the rest of the room. It all came flooding back as they launched into a perfect rendition of ‘The Last Of The Great Navigators’ and then ‘Tiger Lily’.

The self-deprecating humour didn’t stop there. Introducing ‘Mud Slide’, Morriss lets the audience into a secret about the format of the release. It was chosen as the third single from the album, but both the band and the record label Mercury were concerned it might fail to chart due to poor sales. So the solution was to release it as a five-track EP, “thus disqualifying it from the charts altogether”. He claims it was a wise choice because they only sold 27 copies of it. I’m sure that was underplaying it slightly, but I certainly got hold of a copy by nagging Electron in Burnley to get a copy in stock, despite the owner initially denying that the EP existed.

‘One Speed Gearbox’ was next, closing side one of the record, another underappreciated gem from this album that came to life in a rare live outing. It’s a mellow ending to the first side of the record and served as the quiet before the three-and-a-half-minute storm that was awaiting us just around the corner.

This comes in the form of ‘Blood Bubble’, which was stunning. It’s a rare beast for The Bluetones, being a track that features no vocals, but the band just turn the volume up and let rip. Which, as it turns out, is exactly what the crowd do. It’s a song I’ll always strangely associate with the series Spaced (it was used in one of the trailers for the second series, which the band also starred in), so I had to check if I had any Jaffa Cakes in my coat pocket.

‘Autophilia (or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love My Car)’, was next. It’s a song I never enjoyed when it was originally released and it hasn’t grown on me since. As I look around the room, I can see I’m in the minority.

Introducing the album’s lead single, ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning’, Morriss declared “This one’s about domestic violence”, before adding after a perfectly-timed delay “Its against it!” If there is one song from this album that could challenge for being their best ever song, it is surely this one. The title of the track is borrowed from an old British patriotic wartime song composed by Ivor Novello, with matching brass backing that sounds like they’re lifted from an advert for baked bread. It’s truly a thing of beauty and sounds as good tonight as it ever has.

The final trio were played out as perfect replicas of their studio-recorded originals. It was a privilege to see a song like ‘Slack Jaw’ live after listening to it for two decades.

After a short break, the band came back on stage to perform, as Morriss put it, “smash after smash after smash”. This set included two tracks from their singles collection: ‘After Hours’ and ‘Freeze Dried Pop’. Both were clearly commercially minded upon release, although the latter never saw the light of day thanks to a fall out with the record label that was explained in detail by Morriss. He joked that the band promised to tell everyone that it was their own decision, despite the fact this was far from the truth.

Their final two tracks – ‘Slight Return’ and ‘If…’ were met with the loudest singing of the night, each audience member desperate to enjoy every last drop of fun from the set. The Bluetones have a dedicated fan base and it didn’t feel like there were many speculative attendees on a night. This was an audience packed with die-hard fans of the band, and they’ll surely be back in full voice again next time the band come to town.

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.”