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.”

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.

Mayhem Film Festival – Preview

I’ll be heading down to the Mayhem Film Festival in Nottingham tonight to catch the first night of action.

First up will be The Duke St. Workshop feat. Laurence R. Harvey. Presented in conjunction with Kinoclubb, the performance will feature an electronic live score accompanying Harvey (star of The Human Centipede 2) as he reads two H. P. lovecraft short stories: ‘From Beyond’ and ‘The Hound’.

Next is the film ‘Raw‘, which received its UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival last week to rave reviews.

Finally, the UK premiere of Indonesian film ‘Headshot‘ will round off the proceedings. 

The Star Wars Saga – Orchestral performance by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Nottingham Trent University Choir

Setlist

Opening
20th Century Fox Fanfare
Star Wars Main Theme

Episode 1: The Phantom Menace
Flag Parade
Anakin’s Theme
Adventures of Jar – Jar Binks
Duel of the Fates

Episode 2: The Attack of the Clones
Across the Stars
Yoda’s Theme
The Imperial March

Episode 3: The Revenge of the Sith
Battle of the Heroes

– Interval –

Episode 4: A New Hope
Here they Come!
The Cantina Band
Princess Leia’s Theme
The Throne Room

Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back
The Asteroid Field

Episode 6: The Return of the Jedi
Luke and Leia’s Theme
Parade of the Ewoks
The Forest Battle

Review

The prequel trilogy of Star Wars has gone down in history as an underwhelming disappointment. The mixture of poor CGI, terrible acting from the pivotal role of Anakin by both actors, disjointed pacing and lack of interesting plot were four of the critical issues. One thing that has never been disputed, however, is the successes of the John Williams scores.

John Williams was one of the few elements of consistency across all six Star Wars films, providing a score that fuelled the anticipation for the films, especially Episode One. Seeing Duel of the Fates performed by a live orchestra and choir was reason enough to buy the tickets, and proved to be one of many highlights of the night.

The night unravelled in a structured fashion, with each film taken on in chronological order and introduced by voice actor Marc Silk. Conducted by Michael Seal with much vigor, the selections were made to highlight the dynamics on display across the saga. Whilst most people can hum the main themes for each film, it was a night to reflect on just how good the entire scores were.

The members of the large orchestra looked like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves. They looked genuinely thrilled to be getting a positive and engaged reaction from the audience, and were well received. I’m sure they will have more high-brow performances this year, but there didn’t seem to be anyone complaining – on or off the stage.

The real highlights came when the 100-strong choir joined in to add extra passion and power to the performance. They were used sparingly, such is the nature of the source material, but when they opened up their lungs the whole auditorium was blown away.

I left wondering how feasible it would be to perform the original film with a live orchestral score. Now THAT would be a popular night out for fans.

A perfect night of entertainment and a wonderful way to whet our appetites ahead of the release of Episode VII in three weeks’ time.

 

Film review – THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971) – Asian Dub Foundation Re-score

A long time ago, precisely ten years before Star Wars hit the big screen in 1977, George Lucas was a young and experimental college student at film school at The University of Southern California. Packed with rich ideas and concepts of science fiction and Orwellian futures, he set about making the short film that would first bring him to the attention of Stephen Spielberg – Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB. This short won prizes and accolades, including first prize at the National Student Film Festival in 1968.
Soon after Lucas left college, production began on a feature length adaptation of the story, using the short film as a basis of the climax to the film and providing a backstory and richer background to the concept.
The film stars Robert Duvall as THX 1138, a worker at a factory that manufactures android police officers. His roommate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie, in her only major film role) is a CCTV operative. After she switches their mind-controlling pills, they disobey strict rules and have sexual intercourse, which is a punishable crime. Imprisoned with SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasance), LUH’s co-worker, and fuelled by the fear of being trapped for the rest of his life, THX launches an attempt to escape from this underground dystopian prison.

At times overwhelming

At times overwhelming

I have to confess that this live scoring event was the first time I’d seen THX 1138. This is a film that is itself much less immediate than the Lucasfilms pictures we are now more familiar of, and one that requires a level of concentration to follow the plot. Unfortunately, Asian Dub Foundation’s live scoring was somewhat relentless and unforgiving. On several occasions it simply drowned out the limited dialogue, making understanding the film almost impossible. Not only that, but the music didn’t really match up with what was happening on the screen. It felt like an Asian Dub Foundation gig for which they’d decided to use the film as a backdrop for their performance.

Sadly for the film and the musicians, a large portion of the crowd decided they weren’t on board with either element and left before the end. Perhaps it was a victim of clashing with the opening night of the latest Bond film Spectre, and maybe some of the attendees decided to catch a late showing instead of seeing how THX’s escape plan player out.

Where it did work, it was very impressive. The car chase in the final act of the film was excellent and the music added a lot to the scene. This is one of the most exhilarating car chases I’ve ever seen and is a worthy pay-off the often times slow paced story development in the preceding hour of film.

I’ll be seeking out the original version of the film to see if I enjoy it more without the distracting score.

THX 1138 is available on Blu Ray and DVD now. Of course, this is a George Lucas release so it is impossible to see the original film in its originally planned state. It has been tampered with. Since most probably never saw it in its original form, however, there shouldn’t be many issues here.

Badly Drawn Boy live at Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, 16th July 2015

Setlist

1. The Shining
2. Everybody’s Stalking
3. Bewilder
4. Fall in a River
5. Camping Next to Water
6. Stone on the Water
7. Another Pearl
8. Body Rap
9. Once Around The Block
10. This Song
11. Bewilderbeast
12. Magic in the Air
13. Cause A Rockslide
14. Pissing in the Wind
15. Blistered Heart
16. Disillusion
17. Say It Again
18. Epitaph

Encore

19. A Minor Incident
20. I Love NYE / Something To Talk About
21. All Possibilities
22. I Saw You Walk Away
23. You Were Right
24. Silent Sigh

How Did We Get Here?

The first time I saw Badly Drawn Boy was during the infamous 2001 tour, which was to support his Mercury Prize-winning debut album The Hour of Bewilderbeast. I was only 15 at the time but I was completely dumbstruck by the completely unique style of concert I was seeing. His approach to dealing with his environment was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Kicking the show off with three songs by the Royton Bellringers was the perfect way to set the audience up for what they shouldn’t expect. It was, at this point, unlikely that the album was going to get a start-to-finish play through from an obliging band. Arguing with the crowd about the location of a photograph of his newborn child he had passed around the standing section was a highlight. Refusing to take his hat off despite the fact the room was swelteringly hot in the venue showed an air of defiance. This was an artist who played by his own rules.

Over the intervening years there has always been a portrayed feeling that the audience was either getting in the way or at the very least distracting Gough. Sometimes it’s treated with ardent contempt. But there’s also an overarching feeling that it’s all part of the act. On many occasions, he has happily laid into one of the band members who hasn’t learned his part correctly, or even crowd members for talking. If you’re not aware of what a Badly Drawn Boy gig is like I imagine it must be hard to understand and enjoy. Being on board the rollercoaster can be one of the most rewarding live experiences around.

In some ways it is sad that Gough has become predominantly linked with his admittedly excellent debut album. In the years that followed its release he has provided many reasons to show it wasn’t a slice of luck. The more mainstream “About A Boy” soundtrack is filled with some of his best-loved songs, and this was followed in the same vein with the fuller-sounding “Have You Fed The Fish?” However, in providing a more robust and polished sound he moved away from many of the nuances that drew his fanbase to his fragile debut. Whilst this new-found sound had brought him some mainstream success this seemed to disappear slowly and, despite still producing some excellent music (the gorgeously orchestrated soundtrack to TV movie “Is There Nothing We Could Do?” is well worth checking out), people stopped listening.

Once More Around The Block

This tour is the perfect way for Damon Gough to remind fans old and new why they fell in love with his music the first time around. Whilst retreading old ground can seem a little like a cash-in for some artists, it makes perfect sense to reignite interest in The Hour of Bewilderbeast.

When the newly-formed backing band too to the stage for the first time it took a matter of seconds for the audience to realise what was about to happen. As the original recorded intro to “The Shining” resonated around the room, it became quickly evident that the album would be performed in its entirety. The sound of Alfie’s French horn and cello [1] faded away and all that was left was Damon and his acoustic guitar looking slightly daunted to do something he must have done 1000s of times already. There is something about the way he does this that draws the audience in time and time again, willing him to get through whichever of his intricately crafted tunes he is performing at the time.

Launching into “Everybody’s Stalking” allowed the crowd to liven up a little with the band unleashed for the first time. The four highly talented (and highly bearded) band members are obviously a tight group of musicians and were working off each other all night, clearly enjoying themselves. Dare it be said – at times these songs actually sounded better than the record.

The small snippets of ideas that added so much character to the original album were all present too, much to the audience’s delight. The excellent run of songs that starts with “Camping Next To Water” and ends with “Once Around The Block” was punctuated by a few nervous eyes looking around the stage as Gough worked out whether he should say “Body Rap” or just allow the recording to speak for itself. He eventually went for the latter – probably a wise move.

It was in these moments that the charm of the night really revealed itself. The Nottingham gig was the first night of the tour and there was bound to be a few mistakes as the technicalities of performing an album from start to finish were ironed out. I doubt an artist called Perfectly Drawn Boy would have been half as popular anyway.

The standout moment of the night was a beautiful rendition of “Epitaph”. As Gough stood there on the stage alone with just his acoustic guitar, he quickly realised that he wasn’t 100% certain of the lyrics and even less so on the guitar parts. Eventually opting to perform an acapella version of the album closer with the printed words, the audience’s response in singing every word straight back to him was so overwhelming that he was brought to tears.

He came back on alone following a short break to perform a handful of songs from later albums, eventually with his band joining him. Bringing the night to a close was “Silent Sigh” from the “About A Boy” soundtrack. With smiles beaming across the room, from the stage to the back row, it was a perfect way to end an excellent night of live music and will no doubt have the entire audience digging out copies of his albums and rediscovering him once again.

Badly Drawn Boy is on tour for the next month. Dates can be found on his website.

[1] The Hour of Bewilderbeast had many personnel involved, including several members of fellow Twisted Nerve label-mates Alfie and also Doves, who were complete unknowns when this album was recorded. It is best to think of the first half of being Badly Drawn Boy backed by Alfie, whereas the second half is mainly performed with Doves.

The Dice Cup Café, Nottingham – Hall of Fame

Well, I always knew I’d make it into the Hall of Fame somewhere. It has finally happened. Admittedly I was hoping for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but The Dice Café in Nottingham is a close second.

The café isn’t actually open yet but it will be soon. It will be a central Nottingham café with a a huge selection of board games available to play whilst you eat and drink. Sounds right up my street. Here’s the link. See if you can find me then check out the café. It’s not too late to pledge!!