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The Bluetones

+ {Mark Morriss}

A stylish Britpop indie band in the true sense of the typecast categorization, The BLUETONES stood somewhat apart and aloof from the class of ‘95. All the same, as par for the course, with the exception of peers BLUR, OASIS and PULP, the band starting emphatically but faded into obscurity within a seemingly preordained life cycle/expectancy. Whether fans will still be singing the praises, or indeed singing along to greatest hits `Slight Return’, `Cut Some Rug’ and `Marblehead Johnson’ – incidentally all from 1996! – in years to come, will be a matter for conjecture, but the quintessentially English band had their time in history.
Formed in Hounslow, Greater London, in 1993, Mark Morriss (vocals/guitar), kid brother Scott (bass/vocals), Adam Devlin (guitars) and Eds Chesters (drums) – ex-SOHO cohort – booted the name of the Bottlegarden into touch, before streamlining into The BLUETONES. One of several acts that passed through the ranks of Fierce Panda Records before achieving their goals (KENICKIE, EMBRACE and COLDPLAY duly released one-off 45s), the lads popped up with `No.11’ (soon-to-be `Bluetonic’), a track from the label’s third batch of V/A compilation 7-inch EPs, `Return To Splendour’, in 1994. The following February, an unofficial blue-vinyl platter on their own Superior Quality Recordings, `Slight Return’ (b/w `The Fountainhead’), sold out at gigs.
A struttingly assured live proposition and duly attracting attention from the mighty oaks of A&M (who also bought up the rights to their Superior… imprint), the initial buzz surrounding The BLUETONES was almost tangible. It came as no surprise when their debut single proper, `Are You Blue Or Are You Blind?’, stalled one place outside the Top 30. Going from strength to strength and reaching out to a youth culture already propped up and drowned in sound by the Britpop faction, `Bluetonic’, fitted the bill to secure their first Top 20 entry.
1996, as aforementioned, was the year that The BLUETONES went into uber-overdrive as `Slight Return’ sprinted into the No.2 position (just shy of BABYLON ZOO’s unyielding `Spaceman’ single). A classic slice of jangle-pop following the time-honoured lineage of The BYRDS, The SMITHS, The CHARLATANS and OCEAN COLOUR SCENE, Mark Morriss even donned a duffel coat for the video; his nimble-footed shuffle and boyish good looks generating talk of another IAN BROWN in the ascendant. The long-anticipated parent album, EXPECTING TO FLY {*8}, jettisoned to the No.1 spot three weeks later, and eventually went platinum. Listeners expecting a series of breezy strum-a-longs were disappointed; the album’s dense, deviating sound rewarded repeated listening, with classic rock references slipping in and out of focus but never revealing themselves fully. The catchy `Cut Some Rug’ (twinned with exclusive song `Castle Rock’) was the next single to cut the mustard; reaching the Top 10 ahead of another non-album track, `Marblehead Johnson’.
March 1998’s Top 10 sophomore effort, RETURN TO THE LAST CHANCE SALOON {*6} found the Londoners flirting with a bit of rootsy Americana, a sound that blended pleasantly if not spectacularly with their trademark indie rock. `Solomon Bites The Worm’, `If…’ and `Sleazy Bed Track’ all guaranteed further home-soil singles success, but in America complete apathy warranted US fans to think – without much thought – the group were on some sort of bandwagon to resurrect The STONE ROSES.
Fuelled by two high-end singles, `Autophilia (Or `How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love My Car’)’ and `Keep The Home Fires Burning’, SCIENCE & NATURE (2000) {*6} proved limp-wristed and almost amiable. The Top 10 record was another set of fine, if ultimately unremarkable, trad-indie sounds from a band who undoubtedly had the talent to come up with better than the paranoid `Mudslide’ (also the title of a mail-order-only EP) and opener, `Zorrro’ (yes, it was spelt with three R’s).
Only three albums into their career, but bolstered by a stop-gap Top 30 single, `After Hours’, one was hardly expecting fans to fly into records shops to buy THE SINGLES (2002) {*8} compilation, although many of them did so in lieu of greater things no doubt. Absent of 5th member Richard Payne (who’d played keyboards since late ’98), LUXEMBOURG (2003) {*6}, barely breached the Top 50 on the back of descending chart appearances for `Fast Boy’ (twinned with `Liquid Lips’) and `Never Going Nowhere’. Yes, it was time for the lads to take another 3-year sabbatical.
Interestingly enough, several of their B-side covers were appreciated by fans old enough to know better (acts). These included `I Walked All Night’ (Hargus “Pig” Robbins), `Pretty Ballerina’ (The LEFT BANKE), `Blue’ (RAIN PARADE), `Blue Shadows’ (RANDY NEWMAN), `Mr. Soul’ (BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD), `That’s Life’ (a Frank Sinatra hit) / `Woman In Love’ (a Barbra Streisand hit) / `Sail On Sailor’ (The BEACH BOYS), `Beat On The Brat’ (RAMONES) and `Move Closer’ (Phyllis Nelson).
Late in 2005, The BLUETONES signed a cross-Atlantic deal with Cooking Vinyl Records, but waiting nearly a whole year to unfetter recovery 45, `My Neighbour’s House’ – from THE BLUETONES (2006) {*6} eponymous album – proved to be costly in their attempts at reeling back the years. Ditto, the 2010 independently-released A NEW ATHENS {*5}, which spiralled out of contention despite plaudits from some quarters of the fickle music press.
Unable to sustain any further interest from record labels, MARK MORRISS – who’d released the Gordon Mills-produced album MEMORY MUSCLE {*6} while on a break in 2008 – continued his solo sojourn without much fuss. He’d covered Norman Blake’s `Alcoholiday’ and LEE HAZLEWOOD’s `My Autumn’s Done Come’ on this set while, downstream, there was room in his live set for `Call The Shots’ (Girls Aloud) and `Gouge Away’ (PIXIES). After his second set of songs within the mp3 of A FLASH OF DARKNESS (2013) {*6} and one for Acid Jazz Records, THE TASTE OF MARK MORRISS (2015) {*6}, the singer-songwriter continued a musical liaison with comic-actor-turned-singer Matt Berry (and his Maypoles).
© MC Strong/1998-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2016

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