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Glasgow Barrowlands, 5th November

Who says the stars don't care? Mark Morriss throws his last bottle of water underarm into the front rows of the audience. "Pass it round" he mouths to the lucky recipient. Ah generosity, the spirit of sharing - and it isn't even Christmas yet.

What with the evil, dark forces of The Man swooping down to stomp their career into the Tarmac, its a miracle that the poor, beleaguered Bluetones have got an ounce of goodwill left. With the closure of their record label, A&M, they're going through a decidedly weird period. Who noticed when last single "Sleazy Bed Track" was released? And current single '4-Day Weekend' is only available by mail order from their management. Their Superior Quality label has now been licensed to Mercury Records (the wonderful people who sent Gorkys Zygotic Mynci for a long walk off pop's notoriously short pier, lest we forget) but the good ship Bluetones would still appear to be moving on a decidedly wobbly keel. That's the viscous world of corporate nineties pop for you, folks; those once sturdy major giants are flopping around like boneless gibbons and, for any self-respecting pop-group caught in this capitalist hailstorm, there's only one sensible option: puff your chests out, cast the world a cocky sneer and carry on like nothing's wrong.

Amazingly, The Bluetones have managed to take this stoical stance one step further, for tonight, under the sparkle of the glitter ball at the Barrowlands, they seem to have found a dignity and sublime calmness that you would never have noticed before their brush with pop's dumper. What's more, as Morriss' philanthropic little gesture demonstrates, along with this newfound stately presence, The Bluetones have the humility not to hold their audience in contempt.

While the earnest balladeering of this year's ironically titled 'Return to the Last Chance Saloon' might have lacked the sparkle of debut 'Expecting to Fly', the 'Tones sawn-off version of the Stone Roses songbook belies their reputation as every Shed Seven fans second favorite band. Tonight, 'Solomon Bites the Worm' is a strident stomper of the oldest of old skools and, with the addition of a part-time keyboard player, the unnervingly brilliant 'Slight Return' maintains all its naive charm. 'Pretty Ballerina', meanwhile is simply a revelation - as elegant a great lost single as you could hope for.

Indeed its quite easy to see that, in line with orthodox Catholic doctrine, The Bluetones suffering has done their collective soul precious little harm. They might be marked by the madness that is currently gripping pop's body politic but it should not reflect upon a band who are as sturdy and sporadically soulful as they ever were.

Complete with their new second skin, they stumble from the stage all smiles as the titanic 'If...', with its monstrous "na na na na na", wanders out into the streets of Glasgow on the lips of the jubilant faithful. The Bluetones may have been navigating some choppy waters, but they haven't let that detract from a singularly honest, unpretentious evening of pop music.

Silly season is on the wane, then; here's to a season of goodwill for The Bluetones.

Jim Wirth

Extracted from nme, 21st November 1998