Mark Morriss, No support
Miss Fliss 07/10/2009
Mark Morriss's solo acoustic gig proves him to be a thoroughly charming and funny bloke, as if we didn't already assume or know he would be. This was no ordinary gig - but we'll hear more about that later. First it's important to point out that this was no Bluetones nostalgia trip for me, as upon listening to Mark's Myspace of solo stuff - and consequently picking up the album - Mark's songs seemed wonderful and worthy in their own right. It's the happy full heart in his singing, that soft solace of a voice. Mark Morriss on record has always purported to be the very sonic epitome of becalming endearment. That Bluetones' lyric about charm and style pops up readily.
Armed with an acoustic guitar and a quirky headful of jokes, Mark enjoys playing the part of the entertainer in the form of music and comedy - and he's his own compere. 'Cor! Tough crowd tonight!', he remarks. Well, he did tempt heckling fate when he proclaimed that the Half Moon crowd were too polite, and that usually he gets things shouted at him - or thrown. So, we get a gaggle of ladies in the front row relishing the opportunity to make playful comments. But Mark says he's grown a beard not only to save 3 hours per week in life, but to ward off 'lust 23-year-olds', so we've been told.
Musically, we get a mixed bag of samples from his recent solo album Memory Muscle, the odd cover version - a lovely version of Teenage Fanclub's Alcoholiday - and to my suprise the letting loose of some Bluetones stuff. I'd have been content enough with just his solo stuff, but it was particularly splendid to hear I was a Teenage Jesus (B-side of Solomon Bites the Worm). In fact, the gig kicked off with a Bluetones number in Keep the Home Fires Burning. Then it was into a number which Mark explained encapsulated his upset at the Bluetones' tour manager nicking off with all their money (lyrics include: 'Got what you wanted, but you had to twist the knife / 'The effort required/to keep you out of my mind/it feels like digging a hole').
Songs such as I'm Sick and Lay Low are rich with thick melody, and the pop nous that made The Bluetones so appealing. On record, there are touches such as Mexican feel horns, twinkling xylophone, shimmying percussion, and soaring organs, but stripped down to just the single instrument of an acoustic guitar, the songs still shine with glory. In fact, it would have been nice to hear most of what Memory Muscle offers. The Bluetones tracks are not unwelcome, but they detract from the main cause and commit toomuch to dwelling on past achievements, when Mark should be revelling in the splendour of his current abilities.
It was refreshing to have such genuinely grin-inducing quips into the mix to stop it all being to earnest, serious, or inward looking as acoustic sets can sometimes veer towards. The mostly seated audience was part of the entertainment, since there was such a lot of banter exchange two-way. 'I'm slurping?, Mark asks of a punter that made an observation about his loud Coca Cola swilling, 'Well, so would you if you were drinking next to a mic!'. An anecdotal highlight arrives with Mark doing a thick, exaggerated Blackburn accent and recounting the northern fan who patted him on the back after a gig, telling him he would go far because he was just like James Blunt. As a repsponse to that non-starter of a compliment, I think he followed this up with saying that the word c*nt has diminished in shock value. 'So you can say, "Yeah, nan, that was a c*nt of a meal you made!'.
There were tender moments that stood apart from the banter, such as The Fountainhead with all its emotive touch (I remember Mark saying in the 90s that this Bluetones' song was about difficult relations with his Grandad). Marblehead Johnson from the 90s canon got a rousing sing-along response towards the end. Teenage Jesus was a fine surprise encore too.
Mark seemed to need reminding by the audience that The Bluetones will be doing a Christmas tour, but he was sure about the band releasing a sixth album next year. It struck me that he ought to be a lot less modest about his solo stuff and let the audience get chance to warm to it more.