Interview: Mark Morriss on The Bluetones and Simon Cowell

The Bluetones.
The Bluetones.

By Graham Chalmers

When I watch Mark Morriss in the intimate and enjoyably bohemian Harrogate craft beer bar Ten Devonshire Place next Wednesday night it will come as a bit of a shock.

The last time I saw The Bluetones lead singer was way back in 1996 on a slighter bigger big stage in Leeds - the Town and Country Club,, later re-developed as the 02 Academy.

The Bluetones at that point were one of the leading bands of the Britpop era and the show itself was one of the highlights of Sound City when BBC Radio One and most of the UK music scene decended on the town for a whole week.

That exciting time inspired me to launch my own little music mag, Charm, and the city of Leeds to start the long road towards becoming the UK’s indie capital.

Surprisingly, Mark remembers the week well, perhaps because it was the year his band hit number two with the memorable single A Slight Return and number one with the album Expecting To Fly.

He said: “It was a complete thrill at the time. When we formed the band we didn’t expect to become regulars on Top of the Pops.

“It wasn’t that Britpop felt like a collective. We weren’t hanging out together the whole time but it did feel like a surge of youth culture.

“I remember that Leeds show. The city was only known for goth and a bit of metal then. It’s become more important since then.”

After success at home and abroad with classic songs such as Bluetonic, Marblehead Johnson and Solomon Bites The Worm, The Bluetones finally split in 2011 but have reformed recently for a major UK tour which swings Leeds’ way in September, appropriately enough at the 02 Academy.

Whether all this renewed activity leads to a new album is another matter.

Mark said: “I haven’t spoken to the others about about that yet. That side of things is tentative. It’s the elephant in the room.”

It’s a long time since the formerly London-based Mark played Harrogate but he did do so once in the 90s with The Bluetones.

He tells me he will be playing songs from his two solo albums next week in Harrogate - and a whole bunch of Bluetones classics.

And, unlike some older musicians he is naturally reluctant to name, he isn’t just going through the motions.

“I gig a lot. I love it. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it.

“ I have come across some people who see it as a chore. Why do they do it?”

Though his passion for music is strong, he admits that times have changed radically since the days .

Mark said: “The Britpop times seem a bit bizarre now. Did it really happen? Was it just a dream? Music that had been independent became unexpectedly popular.

“Today there are no mass outlets for indie music. It all changed with X Factor and Pop Idol. Idiots like Simon Cowell moved the power from the content to the format.

“But I’m very excited to be playing with the band again and singing those songs. It’s like returning to a long-lost family.”

As for exactly what songs he will play, that’s not so clear, at least in terms of the full Bluetones reunion.

“I’ve got a busy time coming up so I’m saving picking the setlist until a couple of weeks before the tour starts.

“We’ve asked fans on Twitter to suggest songs they like. I’m sure we’ll be doing all their favourites.”

Mark, you might be interested to know, also has the pleasure of playing inthe hilarious Matt Berry’s backing band when he’s on tour.

Comic actor, writer and musician, Mark describes him as a “renaissance man” and who can argue.

Just don’t ask him about moving house, which he’s just done.

“It’s such a struggle. I’ve got no reception here. Moving is nearly as bad as a bereavement.”

Mark Morris at Ten Devonshire Place, Harrogate, Wednesday, June 17.