Expecting To Land: The Last Bluetones Interview

The Bluetones are calling it a day after 18-years. Jim Keoghan talks to Mark Morriss about the highs and lows

Britpop was great wasn’t it? Do you remember how we all used to wait with baited breath for the new release by Marion? Or how we were all blown away by Powder’s performance at Glastonbury? And I bet you’ve worn out your copy of Heavy Stereo’s scene defining debut album, Deja Voodoo, haven’t you?

Although Britpop was mainly dross, there were a handful of bands that produced music of lasting merit and one of those was The Bluetones.

Employing a sound more distinctive and intelligent than many others swept up in the media whirlwind, they were also one of the few outfits that managed to survive when their peers collapsed under the sheer weight of their own inadequacy.

Often labelled as ‘Britpop survivors’, a tag which I think could be applied to the whole country, The Bluetones have continued to plough their own furrow since the scene’s implosion, producing a succession of beautifully crafted albums and a hat-full of irresistibly catchy singles.

But the ‘survivor’ tag will soon be redundant. Earlier this year the band decided to call it a day and go their separate ways. Bereft fans were left with the sole consolation of one final tour, which completed recently.

"It’s very sad but we had reached a crossroads in our career and this seemed to be the right thing to do" says lead singer, Mark Morriss. "The Bluetones have always been a creative band" he continues "one that enjoys writing new material and touring it. We released an album last year and it didn’t do that well. So we were faced with the option of becoming one of those bands that just keeps touring and playing its greatest hits or one that calls it a day and goes out with their heads held high. And so we opted for the latter."

The Bluetones formed in Hounslow in 1993, a partnership between Mark, his brother Scott, guitarist Adam Devlin and drummer Ed Chesters. For many people the band remain forever fixed in the mid nineties around the time when they first broke through and early singles such as ‘Slight Return’, ‘Cut Some Rug’ and ‘Marblehead Johnson’ troubled the higher reaches of the charts. It was around this era that they headlined Glastonbury, had a number one album and even managed that rarest of feats for an indie band, breaching the top-five.

"That was quite a strange time" laughs Mark. "We went from being four mates who were gigging and writing, four idiots really who had given up everything to do this and could barely get by financially, to suddenly doing well in the charts and everything that went with it. When we started out there is always a part of you that hopes that you succeed, which is just natural. But I suppose another part never really thinks it will happen. When it did, the whole thing was just odd."

It was the release of ‘Slight Return’ and their debut album, Expecting to Fly in 1996 that really cemented their lofty position in the Britpop hierarchy. The single reached number two in the charts (later becoming an indie-disco staple) and the album managed to claim the number one spot. And yet being part of the Britpop whirlwind wasn’t necessarily something that the band welcomed.

"It cuts both ways really" explains Mark. "It was a big and popular thing and helped raise our profile but increasingly we began to find it restrictive. People mentally pigeon-holed us because of the association with that scene. We always thought of ourselves as just a band but as soon as Britpop came into the equation it all became something else."

The Bluetones’ early albums and singles remained commercially successful but as time passed, despite positive reviews, this started to change. Singles and albums began charting lower, a process that culminated with their final album, A New Athens failing to chart at all when it was released last year.

"The strange thing for me is that I think that we improved as a band over the last ten years, despite not being as commercially successful and that some of our best albums, such as Luxembourg were also released during this period. If you listen to the last album you wouldn’t think that this was a band that had lost their creative spark. We still made A New Athens with a view to the band continuing for years to come. So it’s a shame that we had to call it a day."

But despite this decision, the band can still look back proudly at the past eighteen years. Singles, such as ‘Slight Return’, ‘Marblehead Johnson’, and ‘If’ are examples of indie-pop at its best and much of the rest of their back catalogue is impressive too. They are also one of only a handful of bands that emerged during Britpop to achieve any kind of career longevity.

"I think that the reason for that is that we worked hard and weren’t easily distracted" says Mark.

Whereas other bands often bought into the hype and failed to create the songs or the performances to match it, The Bluetones delivered and continued doing so long after the bandwagon had rolled on.

"A big part of why we were able to be like that was because we all got on so well. There was always a sense of camaraderie about the band, the four of us together, united. That’s one of the aspects of the band that I’ll miss the most. We’re buddies and have been for a long time, touring, recording and writing together. That’s going to be hard to be without" says Mark sadly.

But the band do still have a fortnight left together, a chance to dust off some of their classics and revel in being part of The Bluetones one last time.

"We recognise that some people will be going to more than one of the gigs so we’ve decided to mix up the sets each night, so that no one gig is the same. And although we’ll include our singles and our biggest hits we are also going to be playing some of the songs that we as a band love but which might not have had as much of an airing as other tracks. It should be good."

And now that it’s nearly all over, the final encore about to be played, what next for the members of the band?

"I’m sure music will continue to be part of our lives" Mark replies confidently. "Speaking just for myself, I’ve done solo stuff before and will probably do so again. Although equally I’ve always enjoyed writing with people so you can’t rule out future collaborations either. But that’s for another time. For now, I’m just concentrating on the farewell tour and sending the band out in the best way possible."

Bluetones Final September Dates

15th – Liverpool O2 Academy2

16th – London, O2 Shepherds Bush Empire

17th – Leeds, O2 Academy

18th – Bournemouth, O2 Academy

20th – Oxford, O2 Academy2

21st – Bristol O2 Academy

22nd – Birmingham, O2 Academy2

27th – Shepherds Bush Empire

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