In the year of Pulp’s return and in the wake of the Oasis split, ‘Brit-pop’ is once again a term on a lot of people’s lips. The farewell tour of the Bluetones, a band responsible, amongst many things, for the indie anthem ‘Slight Return’, at first seems to correlate neatly with this. Yet this isn’t exactly what’s on front-man Mark Morriss’ mind as the summer draws closer.
“We’re not hanging round just because someone’s mentioned some Brit-pop revival!” he laughs. With an understandable bitterness of tone he expands his views on the ‘genre’ and confesses that the whole ‘Brit-pop’ institution was, for the Bluetones, “very limiting…we always hoped that people saw a little more in us than to simply compare us to our peers!” After pausing a moment, Morriss brings to light the Brit-pop paradox as he sees it: “It’s such a peculiarly broad church … back in the day it meant everything from Pulp to Reef … yet the trouble is that people assume they know who you are and how you sound without having investigated for themselves … all because of a label.”
Considering that the band sit on the eve of their final tour, it was perhaps cruel of me to start the interview in this way. The conversation shifts to capturing a picture of the band solely in the light of their own achievements. The uncertainty of what lies ahead mingles with a sense of pride in what has gone before, and on the whole the singer seems positive, if slightly wistful. Morriss reflects on the six album career that the band is rounding off with this summer’s string of dates and festival appearances: “Most of our proudest moments are personal like flying into Japan or America for the first time…” He talks with nostalgia of how it felt “slightly surreal that we had taken something from our garage and garden all the way round to the other side of the world”.
The legacy of the band is clearly on his mind and Morris is a mixture of modesty and confidence. “We’re very proud of the body of work that we are able to leave behind. It’s six albums now and there’s not a duff record amongst them.” I agree with him and push to find out whether he sees the influence of the Bluetones in any younger bands starting today. His admirable modesty again keeps his answers in check: “That’s not for me to say really, is it?” “Surely someone following in your tracks has played a cover song?”, I ask. He shrugs it off with a laugh: “Wish they would, that way we could at least get some wonga!”
On what fans can expect from these farewell dates, Morriss comments: “we haven’t played a cross section for years and will dip quite generously into all the albums.” This entails “nothing too obscure, but something for everybody all the time.” It seems that, to the Bluetones, a band’s enjoyment of a gig should be intrinsically linked to that of the audience. This respectful approach says a lot about their character as musicians – these summer dates are likely to be the perfect parting present from a well-loved band to a well-loved fanbase.
On what happens next, Morriss at first comes across a little daunted: “Who knows?” he replies. There is an eerily long pause, yet before I feel the need to break the mood his enthusiasm and confidence return: “We’re all going to be exploring things that have been in the background until now.” Not only does Morriss hint at putting future records out on his own but he also mentions a desire to work with other people. Even though he doesn’t elaborate on this, music fans across the country are surely forming lists in their heads of who they’d like that to involve! As for the rest of the band he adds – “We’re all going to be keeping our hand in musically and I’m sure we’ll all still be working together in some form or another.” Other projects now open to band members include “finishing a doctorate” and continuing an interest in “animation”.
“It’s a very strange time for us now” he says. Indeed it must be: new opportunities aside, the leaving behind of a well-nurtured and successful career, at any point in life, is no easy decision. But perhaps this is what will secure the band’s legacy once and for all. The refusal to hang around on the edges of a possible “Brit-pop revival” shows integrity and a genuine nature which, in turn, reveals a band willing to be nothing but themselves, for themselves and, of course, for their fans.