This was the second time I’d seen Mark play solo in Nottingham, the first was at the Glee club last year. He hadn’t changed; still the same happy-go-lucky guy enjoying playing his music. It was himself who added me to the guest list so I could compose this review. Top bloke.
Date: March 7, 2014
Venue: The Maze
Spoiler alert: anyone expecting to read about how Mark Morriss deconstructed numerous Bluetones songs into acoustic laments and chilled out reminders of those halcyon 90s summers should stop reading now. This gig was about Morriss’s material, not a solo dip into his ‘former’ band’s oeuvre or a blatant cash-in even if his backing band, The Magical Six Band, look mysteriously like The Bluetones.
And ok, so he does end the gig with Never Going Nowhere, one of those Bluetones tracks you know when you hear it, but tonight is all about Mark Morriss: the solo artist.
Entering the stage swigging from a large glass of white wine “for energy”, Mark looks, as ever, in jovial mood. Anyone who’s been to see Mark on one of his solo jaunts will know that he’s quite the comedian, often telling humorous tales with a deft wit and rapier-sharp banter via his Hounslow brogue.
Mid-song, he’ll go off on an obtuse tangent, telling tales, recalling stories and imparting conspiracy theories (“I’m 42 now, I don’t know how Springsteen does it”, he starts, referencing energy levels before the bombshell: “Actually I do know how he does it – he has a double!”. It’s an interesting theory).
Elsewhere he’ll tease the audience. A B Major chord is strummed, which is met by cheers from those who assume it’s the B Major that ushers in Slight Return. But it’s not. It’s his own Life Without Fiction. Ooh the tease.
Morriss is now on his second solo LP, having released his debut, Memory Muscle, in 2008. His sophomore, A Flash of Darkness, forms the basis for the gig’s output starting with the uplifting Consuela and peaking with his “snazzy” new single Space Cadet, a woozy, SFA-flecked slab of dream-pop.
Elsewhere, his cover of The Shins’ Pink Bullets is charmingly astute, while A Flash of Darkness references comedian Matt Berry (Mighty Boosh, The IT Crowd), who wrote a chord for the song and whom he’ll be touring with next month.
How Maggie Got Her Bounce Back didn’t quite make him the money he’d hoped following Margaret Thatcher’s death – another one of Morriss’s risible, barbed nuggets – but while sensitive PR men decided not to air the song as backing for a montage of the Iron Lady’s life, it’s their loss and our gain, as a glam-blues volley ricochets around our ears.
Low Company, from his new record, is a less filthy and suggestive relative of Sleazy Bed Track, with its grimy, sordid guitar mastery, while It’s Hard To Be Good All The Time is a bluesy romp through an indie swamp, but way better than that sounds.
“We’re going off for the encore now so text your babysitters and tell ‘em you’ll be late”, he begins to quip. “I imagine they’ll be delighted; another few minutes in the shower with the boyfriend, and a chance to pour water in the gin bottle. That’s how it works, isn’t it?”. Whether that’s him reminiscing or speculating is hard to tell.
The encore delivers Lay Low, with a sprawling organ-encrusted vibe giving it an aura of Ocean Colour Scene, and the Blur-ish Sheep Song, before which he once more deals with a heckle for Bluetones material with the riposte: “You’re gonna have to pay a lot more the £12.50 to hear that my friend!”. It’s not clear what was the subject matter of the heckle, but although Morriss’s response was jovial, he does deliver the crushing news that The Bluetones maybe defunct.
People soon cheer up, mind, when he invites everyone back to his Best Western accommodation, before ending with the afore-mentioned Never Going Nowhere to the delight of the audience.
Whether The Bluetones continue as an entity or not, with Morriss, the effervescence and bounce of the band lives on. His wit and deference is compelling, making the blow of those missing Bluetones songs – for some at least – a little easier to swallow.