Britpop heroes The Bluetones landed three Top 10 albums in the space of five years in the latter half of the Nineties. Now they’re reuniting for a special 20th anniversary tour.
Singer Mark Morriss spoke to Si Hawkins about surprising comedy connections, hanging out with Radiohead, and a certain pop star’s remarks about the band.
“We never threw ourselves into the party lifestyle,” says Mark Morriss, with a sigh.
On the cusp of a 20th anniversary tour, the Bluetones frontman is pondering their awkward role in the otherwise hedonistic Britpop scene.
“We were just a little bit insecure. Unsure of our place among it all: ‘how did we get here? It’ll all end tomorrow, surely?’”
Formed in London’s unfashionable Hounslow in 1993, The Bluetones steered clear of headline-grabbing feuds and frolics, but still made a mighty splash with their melodic indie pop. Their debut album, Expecting to Fly, knocked Oasis off number one; they headlined Glastonbury’s Other Stage; and even their eventual split, in 2011, was achingly amicable. Hence the quick reunion.
“I’ve missed it, I’ve missed the guys, I’ve missed the chemistry. That’s the thing that people don’t realise. You’re in each other’s pockets for the best part of 20 years, then you never see each other. If you’ve got a family, you’ve got to make an excuse to go out and do it.”
It’s 20 years since the release of their first single, a double A-side featuring ‘Slight Return’, which became their biggest hit. It’s presumably the track Robbie Williams was talking about during his infamous Britpop rant a couple of years ago. In response to negative comments from Suede’s Brett Anderson about One Direction, Williams randomly rubbished 20 other Britpop bands, including The Bluetones, “apart from that one song.”
What did the seemingly laid-back Morriss make of that bizarrely belated diss?
“Well he can fucking do one, Robbie Williams. What the fuck has he ever done? Who gives a shit about his opinion anyway? I couldn’t give a fuck.
“It was weird that we escaped some of the criticism that he dished out to everyone else, but then [you think] hang on a minute, who are you? What have you ever written mate? Nothing! Everything’s been written for you, everything’s been handed to you on a bloody plate. So I don’t see what gives him… oh, I don’t know, I don’t want to get into a rant.The thing people don’t realise is that he’s as mad as a box of fucking frogs.”
The Bluetones did muck in with certain Britpop contemporaries. They shared a pad with Dodgy (“a bit like the Monkees’ house, but with not quite the level of hygiene”) and toured with Radiohead.
“That was one of the highlights. They were such nice, encouraging people, and they were just the best band in the world at that time. It was an honour to share the stage and get to watch them every night.”
Closing Glastonbury in 1997 was another high point. Who were their main stage competitors?
“I couldn’t tell you. I couldn’t have given less of a shit at the time either. It’s such an overwhelming experience, you’re not really bothered about the rest of the festival, you’re thinking ‘just get up there and don’t fall over.’”
The band made another five albums, for an increasingly niche audience. Meanwhile Morriss was making some intriguing connections. He now regularly performs with Matt Berry, for example, the Toast of London/Mighty Boosh star who’s also a fine musician.
“I’ve just left his offices actually. We’ve got something quite exciting lined up.”
Can he hint?
“Er, Royal Albert Hall. That’s all I can really say. I can’t tell you when. I’m not even sure I was supposed to leak that.”
Another friend, Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright, shoehorned the Bluetones into the classic Robot Wars episode of his seminal sitcom, Spaced. That must have been amazing?
“It was horrible, it was a horrible day. It was worth it, but it was an old underground car park, deserted for years, so there were all sorts of health risks, you weren’t allowed to touch anything, the walls, anything. You were constantly cleaning your hands because it was all riddled with rats.”
A comedy cameo did actually help his music. Morriss appeared in one of Little Britain’s Prime Minister sketches (he’s pals with David Walliams), alongside Bond film composer David Arnold. Which led to Arnold arranging strings on Morriss’ debut solo album, 2008’s Memory Muscle. He made another one last year, the well-received A Flash of Darkness, some of which was originally written for a project with Berry. But will the Bluetones record again too?
“We haven’t talked about it, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I’ve got enough of an outlet now, and we’re all over the world. Scott the bass player lives in Tokyo.”
New songs would be weird on a 20th anniversary tour anyway…
“Exactly! We’ll be doing the crowd-pleasers. We’re just doing it so we can be together.”
And to get away from the families.
“It’s a totally legitimate excuse. ‘Yeah, sorry love, I’ve got to go, you know I’m going to hate it, it’s not going be fun…'”
This slight return could run and run.
The Bluetones tour in September:
Sep 16: Leeds, 02 Academy
Sep 17: Glasgow, The ABC
Sep 18: Newcastle, 02 Academy
Sep 19: Manchester, The Ritz
Sep 23: Portsmouth, Pyramid Centre
Sep 24: London, The Forum
Sep 26: Birmingham, 02 Academy
Sep 27: Bristol, 02 Academy
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