home: interviews: 1998: melody maker - march feedback

Cut Some Drugs

Smuggling Drugs! Pissing in Neil Kinnock's bath! Singing in school assembly?!? What the hell is going on with the mild-mannered BLUETONES? We join them in a London gambling den and find out they've changed. Nearly

As Mark Morriss relates the story, his expression grows ever more agonized and despairing.  Its an incident he'd rather not recall.  Though it only happened last year, he'd pushed it so far from his mind he had almost forgotten it ever happened at all.  It was all his mother's doing.  She had suggested the idea to him at her birthday party in Cornwall, when he was drunk and vulnerable.  He figured she would forget all about it, but of course, she didn't.  And so it was that Mark Morriss, imperturbable singer of chart-toppers The Bluetones, found himself early one morning standing beside the headmaster in front of thousands of school children, holding an acoustic guitar. "It was my little sister's high school," he winces. "I was roped in to do it. I had to sing two songs - 'Bluetonic' and 'Slight Return' - in assembly." "How was it?" comforts guitarist Adam Devlin with mock concern. "F***ing awful," Mark wails. "Totally humiliating. It was in the local newspapers and everything. 'Pop sensation comes to St Just'." He buries his head in his hands and whimpers.  "I cant believe I did it. It was like a bad dream.  I haven't thought about it too much." "No," says Adam, tears now running down his cheeks. "I'm not surprised."

It feels like an awful long time since The Bluetones were last musically or indeed publicly active. In truth, only two years have passed since the band's Number One debut album, but so much has come and gone since then - not least the Spice Girls pop domination and Sleeper and Echobellys sharp exit stage left.  Things are different now, but then, hey, so are The Bluetones.

Contrary to recent reports, the ex-Hounslow foursome were never all dried up - a little inspirationally exhausted maybe, but hardly finished.  After releasing their last single 'Marblehead Johnson' and touring extensively they merely stopped for a lengthy breather. "It was the first time we'd stood still in 18 months," explains Adam. "And we wanted to stay standing still for a while. After that, I suppose lethargy kicked in." There followed a natural, serious - though not in the least bit contrived - rethink that led to the Mexican (sound)wave of second album "Return to the Last Chance Saloon". But while many bands can do nothing and still sustain the public's interest, The Bluetones have a problem maintaining their profile - largely because they haven't got one. "The longer people take to get a handle on us," Mark calculates, wisely, "the longer it will take people to get bored of us, truly."

"I love reading Oasis and Black Grape interviews," he continues.  "And all the naughtiness they get up to, I enjoy it, but we're not that type of character. It doesn't suit the way we look, we're quite unassuming blokes, but no one has hit the nail on the head as far as we go." "We're quite keen to steer it away from our personal lives," adds Adam. "We're rock'n'roll, we just don't advertise it."

It's around five-ish on a weekday afternoon in a dismal British Legion club in west London and Mark, his bassist brother Scott, Adam and drummer Eds Chesters are gathered around a small card table having their picture taken for The Maker. Its the most excitement the old members have seen around here in years.  And though they have no idea who the band are, they're keen to get in on the action.  For a fee, naturally. "They've been trying to screw money out of us from the moment we walked in here," reveals Adam, on his way to the men's room. "Buy us a drink.  Join us for pool, next round on it.  Unbelievable."

A few feet away, a drunken old man is offering the rest of the band some sound advice. "Get your heads down," he slurringly recommends. "Lads like you, you can do it, you can make it big y'know - just look at Oasis, see what they've done!" Mark nods at him politely and turns away, "Woah!" he says quietly. "He is so f***ing right, man. I've seen the light."

Mark Morriss is inordinately in touch with his feminine side.  This is apparent immediately on entering his cosy, one-bedroom flat in Acton, west London.  There's a toilet roll on the holder in the bathroom, the sink is free of scum and bristles and the fluffy pin k toilet seat is firmly down.  A pair of oven gloves sit by the folded tea towels in the kitchen, homely pictures adorn the wall, drink mats wait on the coffee table in the lounge and there's a pleasant aroma of..is that Shake'n'Vac? "Oh no.  No Definitely not," insists Mark, gruffly."Anyway" he whispers, "that stuff doesn't work. I use peach-scented candles instead.  Have you tried them?"

This is homebody Mark Morriss' bachelor/spinster pad, the little haven he used to rent before he was able to buy it off his landlord last year. "I'm a bit if an indoors type," he concedes unnecessarily. "I like staying in and having friends round, rather than going out.  You can tell cant you? I'm a bit of a saddo really."

Mark also has an enormous video collection (including the Pammy and Tommy home porn bootleg) that fills the entire hallway.  He not only files them in alphabetical order but also keeps a log book. "See," he offers, proudly flicking through to the last entry, "'Romeo and Juliet'was the last video I bought."

There's much to know about The Bluetones, besides the fact they've just made a stunning record. Not only do they have a healthy sense of humour and fun, they also used to torture harmless insects as small boys. "I used to torture flies," confesses Mark. "It was a sport. Me and Scott used to stun them, flick them onto a plate and bung them in the microwave." He laughs at his childish cruelty. "Or we'd take their wings off and make them run round the floor." "We used to hang a ruler out of the window at school" Adam adds, "and make them walk the plank." "Daddy-longlegs are good fun, too" says Mark, now on a roll. "We'd pull their wings off and make the have races, and if they lost we'd stamp them." You horrible children. "Nah," grins Adam. "That was only last week."

A fresh spliff is rolled and passed between them. This is the only 'evil' Mark is surrendering to at the present.  He's given up drink and drugs for a while to clear his head.  The first time Mark Morriss ever smoked a joint was, unbeknown to the householders, in the home of Neil Kinnock. "His daughter was at my college and she had a party," he explains. "She had a lot of parties. She was something of a local legend." "And I, er, pissed in his bath, " offers Adam, also a party guest.  "And me and Scott melted soap in his microwave." Why? "Because it makes the most disgusting stench.  F***ing foul."  He turns back to Mark, "How old were you when you started smoking fags then? Nineteen? Well that's just foolish."

Talk turns back to the album, for the moment anyway.  "Return to the last chance Saloon" was something of a gamble for them (from morose to euphorie) and with a Top 10 single from it already secured, its about to start paying off. "We're very reluctant to let it all spin out of control," interrupts Mark. "To let it get too big.  We like it the way it is.  We've got control over things, we can see the audience's faces, people feel an affinity with you, they can talk to you and it's exciting.  It's the way it should be." Surely you wouldn't deliberately spoil everything? "Well there's nothing we can do about it," shrugs Mark.  "It's out of our hands, but we're not going to play big 5000 halls, even if we could one day." It sounds like you're covering your backs in case it fails? "People can think what they like. I like intimacy." Mark abruptly realises the situation and smiales. "'We dont want to be too big' he said from the front cover of Melody Maker."

Over the smell of burning lavender and marijuana there comes a sudden waft of pepper. "Pepper? You can smell pepper?" Mark froens and begins sniffing the air frantically. "It cant be.  I dont keep pepper in the house. I hate pepper!"

OK forget it, back to the album?
"Yes. Yes. Well, last time we set out to make a melancholy record," says Mark settling down again.  "At the time there was a lot of bright and breezy pop music being made, or it was quite heavy and inn your face.  We were never like that and didnt want to fit in with the status quo.  Or indeed Oasis.  We wanted a looser feel."
"And," intrudes Adam, "it was much more fun to make."
But did it all go pear-shaped for a while?
"No," avers Adam. "It was more mango-shaped."
"We had a few songs lying around," says Mark, "but nothing we wanted to touch."
It must have been hard, staring at a blank page.
"Yeah, but i didn't really panic," he explains. "There was a moment I wanted to go away to some cottage in Wales and discipline myself but it passed."

Mark can remember the exact moment he found the inspiration.  He was ata gig watching a largely unknown band called Jack and they blew him away.  At that time he says he was "really contemplating my own navel", before he saw how simple it was. He just had to stop worrying so much. All the while, Adam, Scott and Eds were busy thrashing out their own ideas in the rehearsal room. They'd eventually get fed up and end up playing Jackson Five numbers. Once Mark had come up with enough workable material, they headed off to rockfield studios in Wales, where they holed up for eight months with a crate of tequila and a stack of Western movies. "Once you're in the studio," says Mark, "you create your own environment, Boys with their silly games, that was us."

Despite his soft cockney accent (which often makes him sound like Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnell) and diminutive frame, Mark Morriss was a bit of a scrapper at school. Largely the result of having to protect his younger brother, Scott, from older bullies. "I looked out for Scott," he says. "If someone roughed him up I'd have to confront them.  But I don't think I won any fights at school, I just never said no to them. That was my trick, so no-one ever asked me, because they knew I would. But I wasn't really a fighter. I was friendly." "I wasn't a fighter either," adds Adam. "I just hung out with them. I also had a brother two years older who was fairly well documented as a psycopath, so I never had too many problems."

Adam's brother is currently serving time in prison, but its propbably best not to go into it.  Mark's dad, who split from his Mum when they were very young, has also served time.  A few years back he tried to smuggle a truck full of marijuana through customs. Mark didn't even know about it until the day of his release.  "We made our peace," asserts Mark.  "There was no bad blood between us anyway, I haven't got time for all that bitterness. He came round, had a cup of tea, a few smokes. I suppose part of me is quite proud of him for having a go. If he'd got away with it, he would have been handsomely rewarded.  It takes some balls to try that."

Mark's mum was only 16 when she him, the oldest of five, three boys and two girls of hom the youngest is only four.  "I had to do everything first," he reminisces. "Exams, shoplifting..."

"I was the second oldest," proffers Adam. "I couldn't fail. My older brother is a bit of a lively lad.  He was such a bastard, I couldn't possibly f*** it up."

Somehow, they all managed to get through school and out the other side with a respectable amount of qualifications. "Yes, we're very well studies," brags Adam. "We've got a lot of O- and A- levels between us.  Eds is really clever he's gonna invent something soon.  He's trying to invent a mirror that doesnt steam up.  i mean, you'd buy that wouldnt you?"

"He was really pissed off with that smokeless ashtray, I can tell you," Mark reveals. "He was talking about that when we first met him, and it got patented four years ago. He was so pissed off."

"He's the most level-headed out of the four of us," continues Adam. "He's the anchor of the band. When  we're all sitting around smoking joints and watching TV, he's the one that says 'So, shall we go and do some work then?' See, it's all starting to make sense. Eds, solid dependable Eds, comes from a solid dependable family, whereas me and these boys, our families were a little bit wheee a little bit zeeee, broken homes..." "It's all there, man," says Mark, in a low drawl. "Its all there in the grooves, you can hear it."

The band are about to head off on tour again, for the first time in many, many months (Mark: "I always polish thoroughly before I go away. So its as clean as it can be when I get back.") When they return, Eds is planning to get married and Adam and Scott are planning on getting a flat together.

Are the two of you... Mark: "Lovers?" Adam: "Now you know why we're so reluctant to get so deep into our personal lives." No, are you closest to him? "Yeah, I probably am," he muses. Mark is happy spending time on his own or with his close friends or his girlfriend of nine years. "I must be getting old," he whines, glancing over at the kitchen lino. "I've been looking at flooring."

What do you most fear about touring? Mark: "The clap. No, losing my voice." He rolls another spliff, absent-mindedly.  "I don't know how much of the old stuff we're gonna play.  If we don't get a kick out of playing it, we wont play it.  we're too excited about the new stuff. You can't put on an act, this isn't cabaret, all plastic smiles."

"Essentially," he concludes, after he and Adam have listed every style of cabaret act imaginable, "The Bluetones are a garage band, and it's never going to be something that's embellished by loads of strings.  We know our strengths.  We're a two-car garage band."

The next single from the album is "If". Mark and Adam are very excited about it. "We're gonna hype it, so it goes to Number One," says Mark. "So we can be in the 'Guiness Book of Records' for the shortest title. It'll be Telly Savalas and then The Bluetones.  That's when you know you've made it." It's now near midnight and Mark gets up to make a last cup of tea while Adam phones for a taxi. "See," he shouts from ther kitchen. "This is sort of thing we do, this is the real us." He pops his head around the door. "Fancy watching a bit of Pammy and Tommy before you go?"

The Bluetones Biggest Gambles

Eds: "Giving up college and moving to London to join a band.  I was doing a chemistry degree at Newcastle University. I could have been a pharmacist? I am already, or at least I know one."

Scott: "Leaving home at 16 and going on the dole with no money and no hope of survival. O mived to Hounslow and stayed in all day doing nothing but watching Neighbours."

Mark:"I jacked my job in to concentrate on the band.  i left university and took a crappy job in a warehouse, typing in serial numbers of LPs that get sent back onto a computer. You could say I was working in the music industry."

Adam: "We all made a colletive gamble. We all quit what we were doing and went on the dole.  We spent a good few years on the dole before we got signed. If nothing had happened, we'd have been stuck at 27 years old with no experience of anything."

Submitted by Louisa Parker

Extracted from Melody Maker, 21st March 1998.