Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Morriss? The ‘Tones march out into the no-man’s-land of their current pop status dressed as [I]Dad’s Army[/I] butchers. Oh yes. Meat vendors, postwar style. For one night only we get Lance Corporal Jones-type blood-spattered, pork-rationing aprons and hygiene hats. Either the ‘Tones have stumbled into a goonish panto phase or it’s all part of some grand plan to appeal to pre-TescoMetro’n’Chinese takeaway English nostalgia.
The fact that Scott, the bass-playing Morriss brother, is required to sit on a stool for the whole gig having broken his collarbone in a tequila-sports accident, suggests the former ‘hapless’ explanation, but you never know. This is a wobbly time for the Bluetones.
Having hummed through the mid-’90s as harmless harmony boys they’ve arrived at a third-album phase where pertinent reasons for their continued existence are required. Recent pronouncements in [I]NME[/I] by frontman Mark Morriss about the “dilution of English culture”, have certainly added definition to their pastoral vagueness. Is this the moment when their Byrds-next-door masks finally peel off to reveal the monsters beneath?
Not exactly. For all its alleged Latin lurch, opening new song ‘Zorro’ is as jangly and sunlit as an early Stone Roses B-side. There are backdrop projections of galloping zebras, but the cheeriness of the tune makes it hard to see this as some kind of sinister Eat British Zebras/Animal Skin Apartheid autosuggestion. Their film show is mostly innocuous and their swaying crowd is composed of wall-to-wall nice chaps and reasonable lasses. If it’s a rally of any sort, it’s a consensual Caucasian whistlers’ rally and the ‘Tones do very little to step beyond the confines of their legendary ‘catchiness’, or for that matter to alert Cambridge to the fact that it’s not 1996 any more.
The fake blood doesn’t make Mark any scarier. Like some younger brother of the bride at a wedding reception, he writhes skinnily around the stage, smilingly leading the folks through the cosy Vera Lynn-chorused ‘Bluetonic’. There’s a tincture of rock swagger to guitarist Adam Devlin‘s Marr-meets-Squire twanging, but he’s still subservient to the harmonies, less an axe hero, more axe understudy.
There’s a kind of plotlessness to the ‘Tones’ activities. New song ‘Last Of The Great Navigators’ lifts beautifully on its bed of rural Anglo chiming.The projections of ‘Man On The Moon’ headlines lock in nicely. Briefly there is drama in the air. But later they drop in gratuitous new car song ‘Autophilia’ sinking to comedy ditty level as Mark camps through an appalling litany of Chas’n’Dave-meets-Austin Powers car/woman metaphors. A skinny man in a bloody butcher’s apron singing, [I]”Come and park that chassis next to me…”[/I] is about as sexy as George Formby‘s underpants. But maybe it’s all part of the return to ‘true Englishness’ that Morriss appears to yearn for.
‘Cut Some Rug’ collectively yanks the hall back to WWII thanks to Mark‘s [I]”blitzkrieg and doodlebug”[/I] warbling and the slightly incendiary riff synching in with film footage of ‘the Hun’ bombing Blighty‘s cities. Then ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning’, their WWI referencing single [I]du jour[/I], bathes the swaying couples in Paul Heaton-esque Hovis advert atmospheres. It wouldn’t add up to much, really – a few jangly evocations of national unity in the face of foreign threat, plus some ill-chosen comments about the erosion of the Dunkirk spirit, plus zebras. They gear up somewhat for the encores and briefly escape their culturally rationed niche. Mark straps on a guitar and the instrumental ‘Blood Bubble’ powers along setting the crowd tumbling forwards.
A quick primal spurt, and they’re back to Squeeze-style pop for ‘If…’, but on their own whistle-along terms they’ve done quite enough. Nothing that wrong with this modest, sepia-tinted entertainment.
Then you notice the flyer for their tour depicting a huge, roaring bear attacking something or somebody in an empty city street. It just happens to be Brick Lane, Banglatown, outside an Indian restaurant – probably the most symbolic location in London for xenophobic, nationalist idiots opposed to multiculturalism. And that’s where they stand their stupid, pseudo-heraldic bear? Pleasant gig, then. They don’t eat baby zebras for breakfast. But the real Great Britain can do without a RedWhiteAndBluetones.