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home: interviews: 1998: melody maker - august feedback

Melody Maker Interview

Mark Morriss lifts up his shirt and winces. It's not a pretty sight - a jumbled wash of red, black and blue, like a colour blind four-year-old's painting of a rainbow. Only messier, "I'm still covered in scars and f***ing cuts and bruises from the last tour," flinches the mild-mannered singer, gingerly poking away at a particularly ripe swelling. "There was a bit of crowd trouble you see."

What? From Bluetones fans? Those notorious legions of happy-go-lucky lovelies? That devoted army of caring, sharing types who just wanna, like, come together in a mutual love of the music, maaaaan? Really?

"No," he scolds, "from the computer football tournament on the bus! We've incorporated a spot of terrace violence into it! As is the British wont. The football's electronic but the fighting's real! Don't look so shocked - its just the sort of thing that happens on tour, all that pent up aggression. Anyway, are you getting on this bus, or what?"

Gulp!

We're trundling down the M4, riding side-saddle on The Bluetones' sumptuous steel horse as they head towards the sleepy, seaside heaven of Llandudno in the Welshest bit of Wales. Tomorrow night, they're due to play a secret(ish) gig which was originally intended to be a warm up for the Phoenix festival. But now that Phoenix has sunk back into the ashes, its become a rare opportunity for the 'Tones to play somewhere slightly off the beaten track, somewhere they've sorely neglected for the past two years.

"They're really starved of entertainment in those places." beams Mark, stretching out opposite us. "So they'll probably go mental. Its nice to get about a bit, but you can go too far: we got earthquaked in Japan in April, which was well freaky! I went and stood in the doorway of the restaurant we were in. I remembered exactly what to do."

"The thing is," blushes guitarist Adam Devlin, "there were all these Japanese around who knew it was a little one. They were cool as mustard: 'Ha! You English with your fear of earthquakes!' But it couldn't have been that small -everything started rattling along our table. My first fear was for my drink! I grabbed that and I was happy!"

It's a tough life, this touring malarkey, but the Bluetones seem surprisingly relaxed, and not just because of the ridiculous number of joints that continuously circulate around their frankly palatial sleeper-bus. No, their healthy sense of well-being is down to one thing and one thing only...

"Injecting vitamins up our arses!" grins Mark. "For a few days you feel a bit shit, but then for 30 days you feel like Superman."

Sure its not smack Mark?

"Um, not positive,"he muses. "But - hey! - I'll try anything once. Except maybe bestiality...I don't eat my friends!"

Of course, The Bluetones current album, 'Return To The Last Chance Saloon', has given them yet another kick up the arse. A louder, wilder more accessible record than its predecessor, 'Expecting to Fly', its a lot more them, without losing any of the vulnerable shiver that made them shine out through the boorish bog of Britpop.

"This one's a much closer to how it sounds if you walk into a room and we are playing," agrees Mark. "There's a bit more intelligence in the lyrics too, a bit more thought going into it. Yes, we're a pop band, yes, it's flippant and throwaway, but there is another side to us as well. The Bluetones ain't just a f***ing straightforward, tidy, little guitar band. We're much more challenging than that."

Adam shrugs his shoulders, rolls up another spliff and grunts: "But we're not gonna put a gun to anyone's head and force them to like us! Game of cards?"

The cards are a twofold nightmare. First it gives The Bluetones the opportunity to screw The maker out of its last penny. And secondly, they've opted to use Mark's "porny cards", a charming collection of, ahem, European art which proves to be somewhat distracting. Still, Mark's cards aren't that much of a surprise, considering that their new single - possibly the most delicate, beautiful song they've ever released - is somewhat inappropriately entitled "Sleazy Bed Track". So , as we lose yet another hand, it's worth asking how sleazy this lot really are.

"F-f-f-f-fairly!" stutters Mark, cautiously. "I have a healthy interest in pornography and...snuff movies! Hey, there's nothing more satisfying than watching a couple of blond tarts licking up jism like kittens under a cow's udder!"

Jeepers! Whats your dirtiest fantasy then?

"I'd like to have sex with an alien," he answers, without a seconds pause. "That'd be a pretty mind-blowing experience. What would I be looking for? Just some tenderness, the loving stroke of... a webbed hand!"

"I'd quite like to make it with twins," hums Adam. "I make no secret of that!"

"That'd be incredibly confusing," smirks Mark. "you wouldn't know who to thank afterwards! Are we making ourselves sounding like a couple of sad old men? Sod it, there's nothing wrong with sex, is there? There's too much stigma attached to it, too much mystery. It wasn't until I was well into my teens that I learned anything about VD - its just not talked about, everything brushed under the carpet."

On tour sex is practically offered to The Bluetones on a plate (garnished with a side order of drugs and rock'n'roll, obviously). It's no secret that some of their fans get a bit carried away after gigs.

"Can you blame them?" teases Mark. "We're demigods! Nah, sometimes people are so into the music they think you must be some kind of amazing person to have written it. We do let people backstage after our shows. We take that risk, cos we don't want to alienate ourselves from meeting some cool people. But then again, some people just go to gigs to shag as many f***ing pop stars as they can."

But you're practically a married man Mark. How do you get out of it when someone's throwing themselves at you?

"I tend to tease them," he giggles. "I get up and say: 'Right! Who's coming for a shower? Come on girls the water's lovely!' Its in my nature to take the piss 95 per cent of the time. I tend not to take anything seriously in life, especially this mad rock'n'roll world of ours. There's nothing rebellious about getting on a bus, drinking too much and letting off a few fire extinguishers. It's got nothing to do with why you make music, what inspires you to make music or anything to do with real life."

Ooh, seaside! The next morning (well, afternoon) we wake up to find ourselves parked outside the venue, which nestles just behind a pebbly, windswept beach. Drummer Eds Chesters is the first to rise, joining us on the seafront and sighing: "Ah, it's lovely...shame its in Wales! Nah, I've never been here before. Wonder what the people are like?"

Bloody scary, that's what. Hundreds of 'em there are, all in Bluetones T-shirts and hungrily surrounding the bus like a dribbling drove of anaemic vampires. But the band aren't put off and hop out onto the beach to sign autographs, chat, flirt, pose and pout, before fleeing back towards the safety of the venue. Lounging in their dressing room, Mark fantasises about his dream stage set, as his bassist brother Scott kills some "pre-gig dead time" by idly playing marbles on the floor with a fun pack of Maltesers, "I'd have a big catwalk going out into the crowd", purrs Mark, "and Eds flying about on wires! Oh, and huge, giant inflatable Mexicans just floating around the crowd!"

But no, when stage-time comes several hours, smokes and scrappy football kickabouts later, the concert hall turns out to be nothing more than a characterless, whitewashed conference centre. "Ah well," shrugs Mark as he slides onstage, "as long as the crowd are up for it, it'll be tremendous."

Thankfully every last hysterical one of them is, happily sharing what little space they have with complete strangers, wrapping their arms around each other for a celebratory "Bluetonic" a biting "4 Day Weekend" and a heroic "Cut Some Rug". After the nuclear fiesta of "Solomon bites the worm" Mark's shirt is soaked through with sweat, but, sticky or not, as "The Jub-Jub Bird" soars towards it chorus, he ups that notoriously slinky dance of his into a triumphant swagger, holding his arms out like a tightrope walker miles above the ground. But its the sublime romance of "Sleazy Bed Track" that really shines, five aching minutes that leave the hardest of Welsh rugby lads The Maker has ever met weeping into their beer. Aw, sweet.

"It's much more romantic than sleazy isn't it?" says Mark, towelling himself down after the show. "I was thinking of a middle-aged couple who've lost the magic when I wrote it. A lot of ladies like 'Sleazy Bed Track'. Its my mum's favourite, a bit of a housewives choice!"

Of course its possible that she thinks its a cover version. Without being mean, "Sleazy Bed Track" does bear a resemblance to a couple of other, rather successful songs doesn't it? Take that line: "Your pills have cost too much, and you cant feel then working anymore". It's very 'The Drugs Don't Work", isn't it?

"Ours came first!" snaps Adam defensively.

"I thought people might mention that," whispers Mark. "But we've got video proof of us playing it nearly two years ago. It's true, though: they don't work for very long. I knocked everything on the head at the turn of the year. Well, I say that...I do dabble partially, but I don't buy anything anymore. I just buy grass and I don't consider that to be a drug."

"We've never been really into chemicals," insists Adam. "We can smoke for England!"

The aftershow shindig's a surprisingly low-key affair: bitta music, bitta chat, but no kids. Cuh! What about those notorious Bacchanalian orgies we'd been promised? "It's definitely not what it used to be," admits Eds, nursing a quiet drink in the corner of their ghostly quiet dressing room.

"It gets a bit much after a while." Sheesh! "A bit much" is exactly what we're after, so we slip outside to see what's going on, only to find a gang of fans. "They're not letting us back, " sobs one girl. "I only wanted an autograph - I'm not weird or anything."

"You're not?" says the beaming face of Mark Morriss as he saunters out of a side door. "Well, go away then!" Ducking past the doormen, he shimmies over to sign a few posters before making his excuses and nipping over to a neighbouring hotel for a much-needed shower. Alone.

"It's that healthy balance that keeps us full of this boyish enthusiasm!" he grins as he rolls off down the road. "We cant go mad every night. But look, if you still need to work off some excess energy, why don't you pop back to the bus later for another drink?"

Great!

"And maybe a spot of computer footie?"

Gulp!


FINISHED MONKEY BUSINESS - WHAT ON EARTH IS THAT VIDEO ALL ABOUT?

ADAM: "We wanted to show the world that this is so easy even a monkey could do it! If you pay peanuts..."

MARK: "It's just that anti-vanity thing we incorporate into our videos. At the time, it was a real inconvenience to be thinking about doing a video, so we just moaned: 'Can't we just get some monkeys to fill in for us?' Then we thought: 'Hang on - there night be something in that!"

ADAM: "It's the actual PG Tips chimps. We went straight to the top! They had to go all the way to LA just to film 'em monkeying around."


THE BLUETONES ALL-TIME FAVOURITE WELSHMEN

HOWARD MARKS

Adam: "For obvious reasons. He lives just around the corner from Eds actually...which is nice! He did the radio ads for our album too. I'm surprised no-one's asked him before. He's just got the most amazing deep voice."

RICHARD BURTON

Mark: "He had a great voice too, didn't he? And he came really close to death through excess boozing before deciding: 'F*** this, I wanna keep living a bit longer.' Now that's a fine attitude."

JOHN TOSHACK

Eds: "The legendary Liverpool striker who went on to manage Swansea City when they were big in the Eighties. Do Welsh people understand football? Not this year! But Ryan Giggs is a fantastic player isn't he?"

GRUFF FROM SUPER FURRY ANIMALS

Adam: "They're a great band, inspirational. I don't suppose they're as much quintessentially Welsh as quintessentially Olde English. That counts as Welsh though doesn't it?"

by Robin Bresnark
submitted by Louisa Parker


Extracted from Melody Maker, 1st August 1998.