Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – The Bluetones’ Mark Morriss

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them

1
In 1996, The Bluetones took part in an all-day charity football tournament against bands including Blur, Oasis, Pulp and Dodgy. Who won the Britpop derby?

“I believe that was Apollo 440.”

WRONG….

“Wait, was it Reef?”

CORRECT.

“Ah, there we go! Those healthy surfer lads put the rest of us in the shade. No surprises there! Against the rest of is pale wimps, there was no contest! I was surprised by how many people were watching. There was a lot of screaming and pseudo-Beatlemania for certain people, like Robbie Williams, Oasis and Blur. We’d come straight from finishing our European tour in Germany to Mile End, and it was nice to chat to other bands. Most of the egos were put aside.”

2
What are the two B-sides of your 2008 solo single ‘I’m Sick’?

“Is it ‘Call the Shots’ and ‘Gouge Away’? Both covers by very similar artists!”

CORRECT. Covers of Girls Aloud and Pixies respectively. Ever had any reaction to any of your cover versions from the original artists?

“When I covered Sisters of Mercy’s  ‘Lucretia My Reflection’, their frontman said, ‘Thanks for not making it horrible’, which is as close to a compliment as I’m going to get from Andrew Eldritch! I’m very happy with that! I covered ‘Call the Shots’ because I was obsessed with it around that time. It was trapped in my head, so I had to learn it. When I recorded my covers album, ‘The Taste of Mark Morriss’ [in 2015], I hadn’t been in the studio for a couple of years and experienced my first writer’s block, so that album helped kickstart the writing process. By deconstructing other people’s songs and putting them back together differently, it, it demystified the process for me again and made my ideas start to come easily again.”

3
In 2013, which pop star included The Bluetones – “apart from that one song” – in his list of “quarter-decent three-chord knobheads that could and did get a deal in the ‘90s”?

“Er… Robbie Williams?”

CORRECT. Among many others, the list included: “Echobelly, Menswear, Sleeper, Ocean Colour Scene (apart from that one song – hang on! Nah, not even that song), Salad and Geneva (sub-Suede – can you imagine?)”

(Laughs) “He’s a nice guy, isn’t he? I saw that at the time. I didn’t find it funny – but I didn’t find it offensive either. I don’t really worry about what Robbie Williams thinks about my music. I’d be more surprised if he was a fan!”

Ever run into him?

“I met him a couple of times but my memories of it aren’t that great. (Laughs) Not to do with my state of mind or anything like that, but I don’t think he made much of an impression on me. I don’t want to say anything negative about anybody, so I won’t say anything at all!”

Boo! Ever have any fun ‘90s feuds with any other bands?

“In the early days, we weren’t particularly fond of Menswear or them of us, but that was just young men and their raging testosterone levels. It was all a bit silly.”

Didn’t the Fall’s Mark E Smith once tell you to “fuck off”?

“That was a badge of honour! (Laughs) I was lucky to be told to fuck off by Mark E Smith! It was at the wrap party of the first series of [radio show] The Adam and Joe Show, which we’d both been guests on. He was talking to them both and I interjected with something and he said: ‘Fuck off! I’m talking to Joe!’. I inwardly chuckled to myself and made my excuses.”

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4
Name three ‘Tones songs that comedians feature on.

“OK – there’s ‘Armageddon (Outta Here)’, which features Matt Lucas doing a monologue over one of our instrumental tracks and…. Oh no! What are the others? You’ll have to remind me!”

WRONG. You missed out ‘The Day That Never Was’ with Matt Berry on backing vocals and ‘The Jub-Jub Bird’ ,which has an uncleared sample of Bill Hicks.

“That’s a very sneaky question! (Laughs) I completely forgot Matt was on a Bluetones record, ‘cause he appears on the title track of my solo album ‘A Flash Of Darkness’ and also plays keyboards on my cover version of The Shins’ ‘Pink Bullets’.”

How did you meet him?

“I bumped into him during the interval of a mutual friend’s pre-Edinburgh comedy sketch show run-through in Highbury. We chatted and it went from there. We started writing songs together, helping each other out with arrangements, and we did a little tour together before Matt and I recorded [Matt’s 2013 album] ‘Kill The Wolf’ and ‘A Flash Of Darkness’ together, which was a result of some of those songs we’d been writing. Then I became a guitarist and backing vocalist for his band the Maypoles, which was a huge honour.”

Any good Matt Lucas/David Walliams stories?

“When we were recording the ‘Science 7 Nature’ album, they both came down to the studio which is when Matt recorded his vocals for ‘Armageddon (Outta Here)’. They were just on holiday to see the lunar eclipse. When we recorded the guerrilla video for [2000 Bluetones single] ‘Mudslide’, David and Matt appeared in it as the record executive and producer, so were always generous with their time. Unfortunately, I can’t share any of the good stories here! (Laughs)”

5
The Bluetones were nominated for British Newcomer at the 1997 BRIT Awards. Who beat you?

“It was Kula Shaker, wasn’t it?”

CORRECT.

“That’s a travesty! (Laughs) Ah, those were the days! We were at a table between Prince and Sheryl Crow, so we met Prince’s bodyguard and I swapped Sheryl Crow’s table name with ours so I could meet her – so she couldn’t find her seat and would have to come over and say, ‘Are you Mark?’. My aim was achieved!”

6
According to guitarist Adam Devlin, ‘Mudslide’ “narrowly avoided a lawsuit” from which rapper for “borrowing” a melody from his 1996 track?

“Was it (Starts humming ‘Mudslide’) Ghostface Killah?”

CORRECT. You cribbed from his song ‘Daytona 500’.

“Adam was just being cheeky; it didn’t get anywhere close to a lawsuit. We borrowed that melody from them but they’d already borrowed it from Gloria Estefan, so we were safe as houses (Laughs). Gloria’s got bigger fish to fry! I doubt very much that either of them heard it. We were aware it was an unoriginal melody, but it was an homage to Ghostface Killah. We weren’t trying to pull a fast one!”

7
What is the name of the Spaced episode that The Bluetones make an (uncredited) appearance in?

“It’s the Robot Wars one – is it ‘Mettle’?”

CORRECT. How did it come about?

“It was a continuation of our friendship with David [Walliams] and Matt [Lucas], because Edgar Wright – who directed Spaced – had filmed early TV appearances with them for the Paramount Comedy Channel. So I got to meet Edgar and he directed The Bluetones’ videos ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning’ and ‘After Hours’. We were fans of Spaced; they were fans of ours and as a result, we ended up in a non-speaking role at the end.”

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8
Which two acts did The Bluetones perform between at the Reading Festival in 2000?

Limp Bizkit and… Foo Fighters?”

CORRECT.

“(Laughs) There’s a sandwich! Bleedin’ hell! We didn’t have a budget for pyrotechnics and knew that Limp Bizkit would have their glitter canons and after we went on, darkness would have fallen and the Foos would have their lighting rig. We were stuck in the Twilight Zone! The only showstopper we could think of to give people a gimmick to remember our set by in place of the sorely-missed pyrotechnics was that we got one of our crew members to dress up as Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman and, as the band broke into ‘Up Where We Belong’ at the end, he swept me offstage and had his way with me!” (Laughs)

9
What date is shown at the beginning of the ‘Slight Return’ video?

“Is it January 15?”

WRONG. But close – it’s January 4.

“Argh! But it would be more worrying if I was to get all these questions right, wouldn’t it?”

Where’s the most unusual place you’ve heard it played?

“We were once stuck in Belgium with 10 hours to kill before our ferry. We decided to try and find the finest piña colada in town, and bar-hopped until we ended up in the Hard Rock Café. As I was ordering our cocktails, the ‘Slight Return’ video came on and I said to the barman: ‘That’s me! Do I get my drink for free!’. Not only did I not get my drink for free, he didn’t believe it was me in the video – despite my face being on 50 screens around the room. (Laughs) I still try it – one day it’ll work!”

10
The Bluetones released a song in 2005 called ‘Serenity Now’. In Seinfeld, which character is the first to start yelling “serenity now!”?

“It’s George’s dad –  Frank Costanza.”

CORRECT. In the 1997 episode ‘The Serenity Now’ (from which your song takes it name), he repeats “serenity now!” every time he gets angry in order to quell his blood pressure.

“We’re big Seinfeld fans. We were hoping for a few free DVD boxsets to come our way after that song, but none arrived!”

When can we expect new Bluetones music?

“We were working on new material last year before the pandemic struck, but because one of us lives in Japan, we can’t plan anything until 2022. The songs we were creating were poppy but mildly psychedelic, but they’ll inevitably change from the demo stage. Everything’s been put on pause, but we’re still exchanging demos. You can’t keep a good band down!

“In the meantime, I’ve been writing songs with Nigel Clark from Dodgy and Chris Helme from The Seahorses for a project we’ve called MCH – Morriss, Clark and Helme. Original, I know! Our bands had been performing as a triple-header a few times, so we started playing cover versions together during sound checks and harmonising and it occurred to us our combined voices sounded pretty sweet, so we wanted to capture the essence of that. We’re creating songs that are catchy and traditional but cover a broad, poppy sound.”

 

Bonus question! For a half-point: which pop star did NME claim had the following lunch regime: “for an hour a day [he] squats in a perfumed room, eating mozzarella and tomato salad, and listening – over and over again – to [Bluetones single] ‘Bluetonic’?

“Was it Prince?”

CORRECT.

“No way! That was a complete guess! The squatting in a perfumed room gave it away. But of course he isn’t a fan – the closest we got to him was at the BRITS when our drummer [Eds Chesters] introduced himself to him by saying, ‘Hello, Mr. Prince!’, and was quickly ushered away by his bodyguard. But the best gig I ever saw in my life was Prince at Hop Farm in 2011.”

The verdict: 8.5/10

“What an egomaniac! I like to do well, but when the subject is you, it does reflect a certain amount of narcissism, so I’m going to have to contemplate that!” (Laughs)

– The 25th Anniversary vinyl of The Bluetones’ ‘Expecting To Fly’ and  ‘Superior Quality Recordings 1994-2002’ boxset are both released August 6 via Demon Music Group

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