Back out on a solo dates after the first part of The Bluetones anniversary tour we catch the ever-charismatic Mark Morriss in Derby. Sarah Lay reports.
There are stamping feet and chins tucked into scarves, a rubbing together of hands before they’re thrust into pockets to provide a little comfort as the first cold night of the winter reaches the bones of us.
The back room of The Vic is chilly as the crowd gathers, a shadowy face-off with the minstrel Mark Morriss. There is a six-foot no man’s land between us, a sticky-floored expanse between the troubadour and the assemblage; this crowd connecting through their craving for the songs of years long gone.
The need for nostalgia is ever-present but not given into easily by Morriss, and yet the audience find themselves satiated by a set of songs from his solo albums interspersed with enough Bluetones tunes to keep the old guard interested. All of it is delivered with a huge dose of humour; the affable charm of Morriss as a frontman.
We get tracks including the pastoral melancholy of This is the Lie (and That’s the Truth) and the light-hearted, almost frivolous, tune of Consuela. Both tracks from 2014’s A Flash of Darkness, the latter a real delight of songwriting where words speak of an ending, delivered in a to-the-point way. I’m sure Consuela would hear these words as callous, be cut by them as she is left that night, but it is the merry melody that flips the view back to the narrator and takes the sting out as we’re all touched with the thrill of freedom and a decision finally made.
There are tracks from most recent album The Taste of… too. An album of covers Morriss has made these his own on record and on stage too. One of the highlights from this latest collection is the version of Scott Walker’s Duchess, autumnal Americana that despite being removed from the usually suburban observations of his own songs shares with them a commonality in the articulate lyrics and, of course, the gentle acoustic rendering.
Introduced with his dry humour, the crowd sniggers at his between-songs-wit as they do shuffle their feet with each song. It’s this constant play – the drawing attention to the fact we are divided into roles as performer and audience, followed by the community of humour and shared love of music – which closes that empty space in front of the stage in feeling if not in actuality. It eases those here for bygone days into a present that can be just as good in the moment, even if it is much changed in a wider view.
Those hanging out for those Bluetones numbers were treated to a few from the back catalogue though – Bluetonic and Marblehead Johnson and Sleazy Bed Track were all included in the main set while a request from the audience meant Keep the Home Fires Burning got an outing in the encore. It’s a cliche to say these songs still sound fresh but it is true; the classic songwriting and deep love of melody has made these timeless tracks that also encapsulate a distinct moment in popular culture.
But the call for Slight Return goes unanswered, the references from Morriss throughout the set to the song elude to what we all know; for some the Bluetones highest placing single is their sentimentality peccadillo, the only satisfaction for their nostalgia craving. Morriss does what he does well, a musical sleight of hand which distracts the crowd from what they think they need and instead gives them what they didn’t know they wanted. Tonight that’s in the form of a darkly humourous tribute to Brian Harvey’s unfortunate episode of driving under the influence of too many jacket potatoes, the only nod to Slight Return a shared opening chord; the deep familiarity of the strum resonating through our shared memory.
The symbolic of Morriss’ style as a solo performer; a serious love of music and song tempered with jocularity. It makes for a set of easy-going acoustic songs and a camaraderie that brings a warmth to the winter that gathers around us.
Grab a copy of issue 2 of Louder Than War magazine for an interview with Mark about The Bluetones anniversary tour – out in shops from 1 December.
The Taste of Mark Morriss is out now on Acid Jazz. Read an interview with Mark about his latest solo album on Louder Than War here.
See Mark live in 2015:
- 21 November – All Saints Centre, Lewes
- 22 November – The Royal Standard, Hastings
- 26 November – The Cavern, Exeter
- 27 November – Fred’s Ale House, Levenshulme
- 28 November – The Railway Inn, Winchester
- 11 December – The Queens Hall, Nuneaton
- 12 December – Surya, London
- 17 December – Fruit, Hull (full band show)
- 18 December – Southport Pier, Southport (full band show)
- 19 December – Stereo, Glasgow (full band show).