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Return to Splendour
Is Hounslow the new Seattle? Are THE BLUETONES going to be the next great pop thrill? An excited PAUL MATHUR thinks so.Some years can't be arsed with the roadkill of mediocrity. Check your diaries and you'll see that the things that matter don't nestle into the cynical stomp that people who are scared to know better keep on insisting '69,'77, '84 and '91 may have frightened horses for a bit, but once the chin-strokers and join-the-dots divs started getting all retrospectively smug, any real thunder got muffled by inevitably cack-handed reinvention. Sometimes, to relentlessly chase the allegory, we spend all our time championing the truckstops without at least remembering we're on a pretty smart road. And too often it's people like us - the hacks and the snappers and the hawkers and the turns - who barge in and distract your attention, tell you to scuttle after some shabby messiah while we wonder why we ever wanted to join in in the first place.
So we're better at stripping the bones off the distantly contained past than skipping sustenance and swallow-diving into the black oceans in front of us. We're as scared as you of the unexpected, but, as the more perspective of you will have noticed, as thrilled by the embrace of the remarkable. In 1994, a lot of us found our existence defined by emotional quicksand and mountains, which is understandable when you acknowledge that our children are going to remind us it was the year when we all stopped dicking about.
Sure, we could, and have, tilted the twilight with theories about the unfairness of what's happened to things begining with 'C' (Candy, Cobain, Chesnya, calves, crushes and cats should kick off your Bottom Hundred). We could also emphasise that as people who do our job because we love music, it's time to acknowledge the peaks, to unravel this overcautious analysis of proceedings. It's time to stop being terrified of the hazy realisation that archives are for lightweights.
Let's start hollering about how 1994 gave us a truckful of great groups and great songs, most of whom, importantly, came from Britain. Let's etch the fact that there are musically artistic thrills beyond the god-food dumb-sell of corporate myopics. the future's for dreamers, the past for librarians. "Now" takes your head off. You know and we know, so let's cut caution and start to believe a bit.
If we're gagging for a soundbite; 1994 was the best year that pop ever had. And 1995 will be better still. Death and cruelty and idiocy are bound to stumble along (newsflash to Ms Straight-To-Hell; a phone call is better than a lame Australian cop-out), but if we don't start championing our new young bucks we might as well give in and queue up to kiss the dollar-dilated asses of Corgan, Rollins, Vedder and the rest of the new shitehawk aristocracy.
As 1994 nutmegged midnight and rattled the woodwork of 1995, the people from London's "Smashing" club held a champagne-fuelled soiree upstairs at the Marquee club. The song that bridged the years was a rough, anthemic demo of Menswear's "Daydreamer". Earlier that day we'd heard of the death of Leigh Bowery, on of clubland's most innovative explorers of improbability, but the prematurity of his demise only served to strengthen the resolution to make drunken dreams, nosed-up plans and wild resolutions into some sort of careless reality. It was more than a scene or a phase or a dare. It was, all reflex jibes expected, a chance to focus a hitherto scruffy potential.
The "Smashing" audience crosses over with the crowd at "Blow Up", the latter perhaps the most important subculture rendezvous for anyone in London who refused to let go to the notion of pop as a credible, inspiring impulse. Patronisingly dismissed by the tabloids as some sort of doltish hotbed of New Mod, "Blow Up" surfed the vibe of a world where Oasis could justifiably outsell fat opera singers and underachieving loss leaders, where Blur could finally fel confident in breathing out a bit, where late night conversations turned momentum into reality.
The Ace Faces didn't get the point, but fortunately others did. Disaffected dance club kids rubbed shoulders with impossibly beautiful Texans, nightowls swapped dreams with people who used to rush for the last bus home. And importantly, bands got together. The Weekenders and Menswear are Blow Up's most famous sons, but Brighton's burgeoning scene and bands in Manchester like Northern Uproar owe much to the attitude that drenched the nights. Only Heavenly's ravishing Sunday Social has provided as many of the answers to questions posed by old-school immortals like Shoom and Love Ranch.
Oasis and Blur have got their deserved rewards. Menswear and The Weekenders are next. But there's one group who played Blow Up for a bit, cherishing the spirit, then decided t crack all the oysters with worlds inside them. They're called The Bluetones and, for those of you who still understand the difference between the enthusiasm and hype, they're the best new group in the country.
Guarded, reasoned analysis has its place, possibly in the attic of the nice car, two kids, pension plan, lottery lush, job-in-the-bank, blue moon raise, life's-just-good, semi-detached homes of all the people who've never wanted to live. The people who think Carter are "wacky" and go-karting "the most fun you can have with your clothes on". The people who never have any fun with their clothes off.
THE Bluetones live in Hounslow. It's a ragged suburb of London frogmarched into the chainstore aesthetic, hunched on the edge of Heathrow waiting for the planes they say are due to drop out of the sky. On Fridays you just know that three of the shops in the high street will end up with broken windows. Only three. Every week. Because.
Not prehaps the most obvious place to stitch its name into rock's rich whatever (although there are some geezers called Reef who threaten to beckon ludicrous suggestions that Hounslow is the new Seattle), but a suitable base for The Bluetones to quietly craft some songs that make you want to live just past forever. Oh, and it's good for housing benefit if you want a four-bedroom place with a garage you can rehearse in.
The Bluetones are Mark Morriss (vocals), his brother Scott (bass/vocals), Adam Devlin (guitar) and Eds Chesters (drums). They all live together like proper pop groups should and you can rest assured that when they get dead famous they'll buy a street with walk through doors or something. The guy who lives next door used to be a drummer in a band and generally everyone's cool about them rigorously rehearsing each night. Mark showed the woman a few doors down one of their cuttings and told her they were going to be on the radio. She said, "That's very nice for you."
Planes go over every few minutes, but apparently you get used to it except when it's three in the morning and you're trying to watch the telly and everything goes all wonky. Parklife.
WE go to the pub. Obviously. Not "Big Hand Mo's" (a theme pub where fights come as a chaser to the promotional beer), but "The Rifleman" (where there's a pool table, a fascinating display of clay pipes that all look exactly the same and a 10-year-old Brownie with no front teeth who wants a ruck with Mark because he won't put Take That on the jukebox).
We dispatch some balls, I forego glory on the offchance that there might be some truth in the band's chirpy, apparently medication-friendly opponent with the hairy neck ("Round here we call it a biscuit," Mark far from explains) could well be the infamous Mad Axe McTavish. It's time to ask why all these Bluetone's songs that you're going to go to sleep humming in the next few months seem to consistently dip into the imagery of violence.
"I've never really thought about it," insists Mark. "Just say it's metaphysical. I did get beaten up by squaddies once...It's much more frightening in places where you've got small-town mentality," says Adam. "it's not like we're in the middle of the countryside or something."
Outside, another plane avoids disaster. the hairy bloke looks more and more like he might have legged it from a care-in-the-community programme. The Brownie will explode if shed doesn't hear Take That. We decide to hit McDonalds.
There's more of you out there that have already heard The Bluetones than some of us would like to elitistly pretend. You might have seen them at Blow Up, perhaps with Strangelove, or supporting Gene at London's Astoria. You might even be the girl who sent the bouquet of flowers to them when they played a recent gig. And, luckiest of all, you might even possess the band's contribution to the magnificent "Return To Splendour" EP put out by Fierce Panda records. The Weekenders and Thurman swagger alongside, but it's The Bluetones who ramraid the show. In the unlikeley event that Madness were to get stuck in a lift with The Faces, The Jam, the good bits of Pulp, the non-"It's a jolly 'oliday Mishish Poppinsh" moments of Blur and the sacred right royal pop spirit that straddles all understanding, it might sound a bit like The Bluetones.
On the EP they do a song called "No 11", the name coming because it was the eleventh song they wrote. It's called "Bluetonic" these days and any doubters might care to note that it chorus goes, "Don't face any challenge without a little charm and a lot of style". When even your sixth best song suggests spot-on epitaphs for those of us with any sense, you know you're onto a winner.
The Bluetones will be touring from early next month with those fellow unblinkered coves Supergrass. You'll be able to get a single at their gigs that finds a song called "Fountain Head" nuzzling the soon-to-be-classic "Slight Return". John Peel took about 20 minutes to decide that their just-broadcast session was so good he wanted them to do another immediately. Someone, somewhere will give you a tape of one of th songs. "It's called 'A Parting Gesture'," they'll say, "and it's going to prove that all those knobby writers on the music papers might have had a point when they said The Bluetones piss excellence." They'll be right, but you'll know that.
THE Bluetones would like the world to know that McDonalds (their eaterie of choice because it plays the original old disco classics rather than the muzak cover versions offered by Burger King down the road) could be improved by "topless waitresses, roller skates, fog machines, fag machines and alcohol." And, that if there's a point to be made right now, it's that they don't want to dissapoint people.
"So many bands let you down," says Adam. "We don't want to do that. We stopped playing Blow Up because we didn't want to get dragged into that scene, even though it's a great club. People write about the New Mod thing without understanding what being a mod is supposed to be about. If it means having a lie-in every day, then I suppose we're mods, but it's not about scooters."
A few of us know that The Bluetones won't disappoint. Only plummeting jumbo jets have any chance of impending a whole heap of Hounslow-generating thrills. A pound to a penny you'll agree before you know it.
"We know we could be arrogant," says Adam, "but we won't."
"Have you got enough?" asks Mark.
The Bluetones are as now as it gets. That's all you need.
Extracted from Melody Maker, 4th February 1995.