Rock City, Nottingham
30 April 2016
Despite having called it a day back in 2011 The Bluetones have made a Slight Return to play a 20th Anniversary Jukebox Tour. Louder Than War editor Sarah Lay caught up with them on their Nottingham date and found that nostalgia can sound beautiful as well as act as comforting salve.
“When most bands call it a day, it’s because they’re tired of seeing the same old funny faces around them all the time, waking up to the same old smells,” Mark Morriss is leaning nonchalantly on the mic stand, gazing out across the crowd gathered in Rock City tonight. “For us it was a little different. When we parted it was because we were bored of seeing your faces. So you should consider this a second chance, don’t fuck it up.”
Morriss is somewhat of a rarity these days, where fronting a band is more about detached posturing or being so intensely lost within the performance that the audience become secondary. But here he is an eternal raconteur, charismatically disarming the audience with self-deprecating or gently jibing between-song patter. He brings us all into The Bluetones gang, makes us complicit in the band reuniting, chides us for wanting to indulge in the comfort of the nostalgia the band deliver.
They kick off tonight with Talking To Clarry; the lilt of the opening track from 1996’s Expecting to Fly more uptempo live than on record but providing the perfect conduit the crowd need to start slipping back through time. As they continue with Are You Blue or Are You Blind? and then encourage us all to unstick from the floor and Cut Some Rug the weight of the years on us all (although through the magic of rock n roll hardly showing on the band) begin to slip away. The physical energy of our receding youth may not make it back in full force tonight, but our heart’s beat once more with the memory of those years past.
It’s for these early hits, the almost chart-toppers of the band’s first two albums that the crowd hanker for, that they know the best. But The Bluetones back catalogue is a broader affair and they bring in tracks from across their career before veering back to the more familiar territory the audience craves. We get Mudslide before the band slow things down (“as much for your benefit as ours, health and safety you know?” drawls Mark) with The Fountainhead.
An intergenerational conversation between a young and older man, it resounds with the frustration of misunderstood youth but now the passage of time, the wisdom of age brings in a new echo; the realisation that we’re all the other side of that line now. It makes what has always been a beautifully crafted song resonate afresh; introducing the creep of desperation against a ticking clock, rather than the aggressive determination of those younger years.
But there is no time to dwell on that and the jukebox moves on with Keep the Home Fires Burning and Marblehead Johnson, Sleazy Bed Track. Then we get the fuzzier Fast Boy and the snapping beat, the kitchen sink pop of Never Going Nowhere from 2006’s underrated album Luxembourg. Maybe the audience don’t notice but the latter is not just great pop music but full of those lines and sentiments that pierce the heart more sharply for being understated. It feels like it grows into itself performed live, a fuller sound and a touch more venom to the goodbye of the lyric.
Bluetonic starts to pick up the energy in the crowd before Tiger Lily subdues them once more, a delicate and beautiful moment where nostalgia takes a back seat as although it’s not a new song those last few albums were critically acclaimed rather than landing massive commercial success.
But now it is the home run toward the end – the energy coming up and sing-a-longs breaking out with Carnt Be Trusted, Solomon Bites the Worm and the more gentle Firefly. There’s then a bittersweet but warm and well-played cover of Prince’s I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man, with a nod to the losses that keep coming this year, the exodus of the creative giants.
Then the familiar chord rings out and the crowd finally, finally, come fully to life; now an arms in the air lager-fuelled choir. There’s a brief pause, the verbal cigarette after the musical climax, where Morriss chides us again for enduringly, not entirely endearingly, still getting the words wrong to the second verse.
And then the end is here as we’re treated to a bracing, bolshy After Hours. Everything comes together here – the sound, the energy onstage and off, the eventual satisfaction of a heart longing for something that cannot be fully regained.
There is of course an encore which sets of with Marblehead Johnson b side The Simple Things, breaking loose at the end spinning out into Madonna’s Express Yourself. And then the final song of the night is upon us (“time for the big song, with the little name”) and we all sing-a-long to If; satiated for now but hopeful that this isn’t the last time with The Bluetones.
Life, long tours, reunions themselves; these things all wear on a band, show through in the spaces between songs. There’s certainly no sense that this is a band cashing in or going through the motions, no animosity on stage or with the gathered crowd; the connection does hold.
But there is something, in the stillness around twist-and-pop movement of Morriss’ moves. There is something in the occasional crackle in the mic, and the studious but never-formulaic playing. It is fleeting, this daylight breaking through, for this is a band full of heart and humble in their knowledge of what their songs mean to their crowd.
Mark Morriss may joke about the amount of times they’ve played Slight Return yet how they still uncover new depths of emotion in each run through, but true words are often couched in jest. This band, these songs, are a long way from feeling tired despite moments of low energy, from crowd more than stage. Tonight was a beautiful rendering of a shared nostalgia, a kindness between us all that while the past is not a place we want to live it makes for a nice, perhaps even necessary, escape when done this way.
The Bluetones tour continues:
- 2 May – Waterfront, Norwich
- 3 May – O2 Institute, Birmingham
- 4 May – O2 Academy, Oxford
- 5 May – The Roundhouse, London
- 22 July – O2 Academy, Leicester
- 23 and 24 July – Moseley Shoals 20th Anniversary, Millennium Square, Leeds – supporting Ocean Colour Scene with Shed Seven.
All words by Sarah Lay. Sarah is editor of Louder Than War and you can find her on Twitter and her author archive here. Also hear her on Pete Darrington’s The Rumble, every Tuesday from 8pm on Radio Andra.
Image by Paul Heartfield.