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Bolt From The blue
Take one top Rottweiler, introduce it to an indie band, throw in some irresponsible comments about the "dilution of English culture" and await the inevitable mauling, yes? Er, no, actually. But we hear the new Bluetones album is quite good, though.
The situation on Planet Pop - If not irrevocably fucked - is in a state of mindbogglingly turbulent flux. Check it out - Alan McGee, the mastermind behind warm, nostalgic and oh-so comforting Britpop has switched from twinkly-eyed indie uncle to gibbering Nethead, preaching a frigidly digital global-village year-zero robo-pop apocalypse, man! It's musical electric chairs, man! Like don't bother rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, man, jump on board the iceberg and fly it to Mars, maaaaan!
Today, as you might have gathered, we have mostly been smoking dope. This is sort of traditional for Bluetones interviews, and boy does it show in the resulting articles. "We're more than just a tidy little guitar band..." says classically handsome Bluetones frontman Mark Morriss.
"Uh, yeah, rilly nice flat you've got here," mumbles the hack.
"...we're an enigma," Mark carries on. "Nobody's hit it on the head with us yet."
"So, yeah, right. So, hmmm. Hey, you got any biscuits?"
So that's the challenge. The enigma. Talk about them getting sacked by their record company and... Eh, what's that? Sorry? That's all bollocks, is it?
"That's all bollocks, that is," says Mark, "complete bollocks. We've been on our own label, Superior Quality Recordings, since the beginning. We had a choice of which record company to go to after A&M dissolved and so we chose Mercury..."
Oh, OK. Well, we'll talk about the new single a bit. Garner a few hair-raising anecdotes about the recording of the album. And then NAIL the fuckers! Pull their wings off and pin them the tuck DOWN! Rip aside the flummery and the double talk and expose the bastards to the harsh, brilliant light of pop psychsociology! I mean, how hard can that be?
OK. Let's go! New single -'Keep The Home Fires Burning'. Hovis brass. Eee! Rickets-ridden jam-smeared urchins kicking bundles of rags across Coronation Street with dead whippets as goal posts - the whole world's queer except me and thee and tha's got tha' cock up me arse, etc. And then it's Mark in full-blown Gene Pitney meets Meat Loaf meets Alan bleeding Sillitoe mode, making you smile by being utterly fucking miserable about what appears to be a thoroughly depressing domestic situation, and following the golden rule of all great soap-opera theme tunes, ie, clanging major chords that keep going up, up and FUCKING UP! They're going to love this in the Royle household: "Mam! Come quick! It's them fucking Bluetones!" The vibe is Room At The Top, 'Ferry Across The Mersey', Boys From The Blackstuff, 'You'll Never Walk Alone' and A Kind Of Loving. On E, obviously. It is - in 16 words - defiantly nostalgic smile-even-though-your-heart-is-breaking-and-they've-closed-down-t'bloody-pit pop. It's not Travis. It's chuffing ace. Eeee, I could strangle a kestrel!
So we talk about it. For a bit. And then Mark goes off on a bit of a Mark E Smith meets Morrissey by way of Alf Garnett, Darcus Howe and Jeremy Paxman tip about a disappearing English working-class culture.
"It's got an English soul," says Mark. "Thing is it's kind of inevitable, over the last 20 years, how English culture is gonna kinda become diluted because so many other cultures are coming in..."
But what was it in the first place? HP Sauce and kippers?
"The Dunkirk spirit? Whatever that was, I'm not too sure. From what I gather from talking to my grandparents, because my grandparents have obviously got different opinions from what I have got about the way the culture has unfolded. I grew up with those kind of changes, I went to mixed-race schools, so for me it's the norm. But you see other people who've worked hard all their lives and they're finding that they're suffering because the nation has come so - as they see it - choked with, urn, y'know, people from Europe and Africa and Asia coming to live here as well, and that a lot of things like their pensions and their privileges are being taken away because they're going to other sections of the community."
But they're not. That's bollocks.
"Well I don't really know the ins and cuts of it..."
Well look at the example of the entrepreneurial Ugandan Asians - that was like this country winning the lottery.
"Yes, that's true. I personally believe that we live in one world and that's the way it should be, y'know? I personally believe in live and let live. But we're talking about a sense of Englishness that's been lost..."
When people talk about 'Englishness' they always seem to dredge up this effete southern imagery - nuns cycling through mist, cricket on the village green...
"No, I'm talking about the working classes and the people working down the pits..."
Thatcherism destroyed that, surely?
"Yes, that's right. It was sold off, wasn't it?"
Yes! Hmm. We're dangerously near Morrissey territory here.
"Yeah, well, no. It's not really what we want to talk about, is it?"
Well, no, but it's been an interesting excursion. Thing is, fractious fist-fight fans, Mark's "grandparents" are talking absolute bollocks. And Mark himself is wandering around a political mindfield like a tit in a trance. The facts are these: 1) The tight little, right little, all-white English working class beloved of racist nostalgics everywhere is a myth. Even when there were fewer brown faces on English streets, the racists had no problem blaming society's "decline" on "the Irish" or "the Jews". 2) Immigration into Britain has massively benefited the economy. The NHS, for instance, would have collapsed without it. 3) Britain remains the fifth richest country in the world. If folk who've "worked hard all their lives" are angry about their pensions and their privileges disappearing then the only people to blame are the likes of Thatcher and Blair who have resolutely pursued the reverse-Robin Hood policy of robbing the poor to reward the rich.
So why didn't I thrash all this out with Mark at the time? Because his semi-stoned rambling didn't sound half as offensive as it appears in print. Because I like him and didn't want the entire article to consist of him talking shit about a subject he patently knows fuck-all about. And because I bottled it, basically.
"I don't talk about politics," said Mark later, "because I know fuck-all about it."
Fuck it. Mark's a good bloke and I sincerely doubt he has a single racist bone in his body. What he is, however, is politically naive to the point of dickheadedness. This can happen when you live in a pop bubble.
0K so where were we? Yeah, amusing anecdotes surrounding the recording of the new album, 'Science And Nature'. There aren't any, apparently. OK, so Mark tells us that they all grew mohicans for a photo shoot and then shaved them off. So they all had, like, really short hair. For a while. Look, surely something exciting must have happened? Were there any quad-bike accidents, for instance?
"No, we went go-karting but there were no accidents."
No Bis-style scrotal sacs ripped open by gear boxes-type incidents?
"Ooh! When did that happen?" gasps Mark, crossing his legs. "Ooh, that's terrible! No, it was just the usual stuff - having too much to drink and running around in your pants in the woods."
Doing what in your pants?
"Just running around..."
In your pants?
"Well, no shirts, no shoes. It's the second rule of Fight Club. Or is that the third rule of Fight Club?"
Sigh. So, what do we have here? A rock'n'roll band to whom nothing exciting EVER happens?
"What!? Don't you believe it!" says 'Deep Throat', an industry insider and "good friend" of The Bluetones, whom we later meet in an underground car park. At midnight.
'Trust me, The Bluetones are the most savage rock'n'roll party animals I've ever met. I can tell you things that would make the hairs on your neck stand up. I can tell you things that would make you puke!"
"I can't tell you. Mark would kill me."
But 'Deep Throat' just grunts, throws down his half-smoked Marlboro Light and slides into the shadows...
So, to the clippings. There must be something... hmmm. Oh, this is good The Bluetones play computer football on their tourbus and then beat the living shit out of each other in imitation of "terrace violence". Then they play poker with Mark's well pervy "porno cards". And Adam (Devlin, guitarist) once pissed in Neil Kinnock's bath. Ho hum, and drummer Eds Chesters got married and had a beautiful bouncing baby boy last year and HOLY FUCK! Look at THIS!
Buried away at the arse-end of yet another otherwise knee-chewingly dull Bluetones interview from years and years and years ago, Mark says: "We bought a gun and six bullets... when we got on the bus we had a game of Russian roulette, just for a laugh. We were a little bit out of control, a little bit pissed, high, whatever. So we span the barrel every time and, when it got to Scott (Marbles, bassist), he moved it just past his head at the last minute. And the bullet - PSHOOM! straight through the roof of the coach..." Jesus! Mark! Mate! What the FUCK!?
"Yeah, that's rubbish," says Mark, with a naughty little smile.
That's completely made up?
"Ha ha ha ha ha! Yeah!"
Is it not a little odd that your "pissing in Neil Kinnock's bath" escapade made front-page news...
"Only in the Sunday Sport. But yeah, incredible, isn't it? Like -'Hang on a minute, you tried to blow each other's brains out!?' The record company didn't even get in touch with us..."
Yes. That is weird, isn't it? Almost as if The Bluetones had somehow... somehow hypnotised their audience! Readers, there's something strange going on here, something very strange...
Mark, you've got a massive video collection here, a huge DVD collection, you're obviously sucking in mega amounts of popular culture from all over the place. And yet very little seems to filter through to the music?
"I think that's right. I don't think that's affected our music as much as it could have. But it did always have an agenda. From the beginning. Which was to before we tried to play with people's perceptions of us - establish a perception of us. Which was a guitar band. A pop guitar band which writes songs which aren't quite as straightforward as they first appear. And I think we've established that on our first two albums, and it would be wrong for us to come up with part three, another guitar record..."
So what's the difference this time?
"It's... it's bubblegum music, a lot of it.
It's 'My Sharona' and it's... it's pop."
When you were a kid, did you fantasise about being in a pop-guitar-band-which-writes-songs-which-aren't-quite-as-straightforward-as-they-first-appear?
"Well, we are very trainspottery about the music we love. We're very passionate about it. We talk about it all the time, we talk about music we're listening to 90 per cent of the time and the other ten per cent is music we want to make. We had very definite ideals about what makes a perfect band and it was based on The Smiths, Lloyd Cole & The Commotions and Talking Heads..."
You're not in a rush at all, are you?
In a rush? No. I think we're going to make six or seven albums and this is just step three..."
And so he goes on and on, lulling the interviewer into a semi-catatonic state. And then he says something just a leeeetle bit mEnTaL! And thoroughly sensible. ALL AT THE SAME TIME!
I think we belong in the charts and I think we belong in the affections of the nation but I don't want us to be big..."
Uh, you've got a bit of a problem there.
It sounds cliquey and I guess it is..."
It sounds impossible!
It does. I dunno. My ambition is to carry on making music and maintain the lifestyle to which I've become accustomed. I like my life the way it is now. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to go play five-a-side and things like that. We're playing the nice-sized halls, I can really identify with people like Kurt Cobain who was hurt and confused by his success. Because the more successful you are the further it takes you away from what you love doing..."
So you're on the rock'n'roll rocket ship to a distant universe and you've just left the earth's atmosphere and you're looking out of the window and you're saying, 'Oh, this is nice! Driver! Can you let me out here, please?'
"Yeah! 'That's far enough!' Yeah, I know, it's beyond our control but that's kind of what makes it exciting."
What you need is an anti-PR company. So whenever you start doing well, they put out some really bad press about you to keep you in exactly the same place...
"He ha!" says Mark and then goes into the kitchen and gets a soft drink. The freaking weirdo.
"0K, question," says 'Deep Throat' on the phone the next day. "If Mark was a character in Friends, which character would he be?"
"Oh come on, it's obvious! He'd be Monica, no problem!"
My GOD! He's right! Think about it!
Stick thin and gorgeous? Oh yeah!
Fastidiously neat and tidy? Uh, does the Pope fuck bears? Mark's flat makes the scrubbed, sterilised and pressurised interior of a top-secret chemical weapons research lab look like a cesspit. During a typhoon. OK, so we exaggerate. A tiny little bit. There's a spooky freaking Mark Morriss-faced ventriloquist's dummy sat on a chair at the top of the stairs and there's a shelf creaking with McDonald's Happy Meals toys and novelties in the kitchen, but apart from that the place is like a Prussian barracks. Only cleaner. Not a crumb, not a Rizla packet, not a dog end, tea bag or human hair out of place. Jeez, you go through the fucking keyhole with Loyd Grossman on this mutha's gaff and you'd be thinking - who could possibly live here? A testosterone-spurting rock'n'fuckin'roll star? No way! Look at the furry mat on top of the immaculately scrubbed shitter, dude! Got to be a serial killer. Or a girl.
On their next tour, Mark tells us, The Bluetones have plans to go onstage dressed as teddy boys, firemen and butchers ("all covered in blood"). What a great idea! What a great POP idea! We need MORE of this! Not just four blokes just stood there dressed like tramps! Well done, Bluetones!
"We love pop music," says Mark. And he means it.
"Radio 2 is better than Radio 1," says Mark. And he means that, too.
"'Baby One More Time' is a fucking brilliant song," says Mark. And he isn't taking the piss.
Have you ever owned a pair of white jeans?
"Never in my life, ever!"
Have you ever done a star jump?
"What onstage? No, not yet."
Have you ever collapsed to the stage in fake exhaustion?
"Yeah, I really hurt my knees. I was sick onstage once and I just spat it out and carried on singing."
OK, which would you rather do - play the best rock'n'roll gig in the world ever or score the winning goal for Liverpool in the European Cup final?
'The first one. 'Cos it's more realistic."
You're in Posh Spice and Becks' house, you're looking at their bookshelf. What's on it?
"The Geri book and the Dr Spock Book Of Babycare and lots of Hello!s. "
How much would you pay for a trip into space?
"Oh, I'd consider hawking all my videos for that."
And then he plays us some of the tracks off the new album and - guess what - it's proper pop! Those who still regard The Bluetones as charisma-bypassed Smiths-lite schmindie nohopers might possibly be shocked out of their bigoted little po-faced pop socks. OK, so it might have been the drugs but the notes here say, "Gene Pitney sings the Moody Blues in the style of the pre-disco Bee Gees as arranged by Jim 'Bat Out Of Hell' Steinman". Now that's obviously bollocks but you know how anybody with any taste instinctively wants to stab all the intensely irritating '60s-'influenced'-pop-guitar-bands-what-writes-songs-which-aren't-quite-as-straightforward-as-they-first-appear to death with a rusty coat hanger, yeah? Well, these tracks don't make you feel like that. They make you grin like a well-boiled dolphin skull. With strychnine poisoning, obviously.
"Does one of the Buzzcocks wear a wig these days?" asks Mark, suddenly.
"Wasn't one of them secretly wearing a syrup for years? Was it Pete Shelley? I don't want to start a rumour!"
Well a lot of the old punks do, Mark E Smith wears a wig.
"Does he? Mark E Smith told me to fuck off last year."
John Lydon wears a wig these days.
Yeah, and Sid Vicious had alopecia! Yeah, apparently Vivienne Westwood used to paint his eyebrows on."
So we put him out of his misery -'cos it's all bollocks. No, not literally, we don't literally put him out of his misery. Like KILL him. Because he's not miserable yet. Life's great! Rehearsal on Monday, songwriting on Tuesday, football on Thursday, play Leicester to 1,500 blueclad mad-for-it punters on Friday and then up to Anfield to watch Liverpool stuff Leeds on Saturday -wahey! Life's PERFECT! Mark's got his self-confessed "perpetual adolescence" and his videos and his songwriting and his DVDs and life is just peachy keen fantazzydozy, baby! But too much success could destroy all that. Maybe even just a little bit more and - POOF! - it could all turn to shit! So all you hardcore Bluetones fans out there buy the new single - IT'S GREAT! But, all you potential new fans - you are feeling sleeeepy, sleeeeepy, sleeeeeeepy! You're falling into a deeeeep sleeeeep and when I count to ten and click my fingers you will FLICK OFF Go on, piss off before I smash your faces in. Do NOT buy this single. That's an ORDER! You'd hate it! It's SHIT!
There you go, Mark. Glad to be of service. Go Team Monica!
Interview by Steven Wells
Extracted from nme, 19th February 2000.