Singer-songwriter, Mark Morriss is heading to Malvern in support of his recent album A Flash Of Darkness and I thought it was the right time to grab a few minutes to have a chat about his life in music from The Bluetones and Britpop to his solo career and beyond, here’s what he had to say.
1. Hey Mark, how are you doing on this dreary day? If you don’t mind indulging me, can we talk a little about your first steps into music, can you remember when music really made an impact on you? was there a defining moment or record that first stoked your interest? or do you come from a musical family?
A: I don’t think I ever had that ‘eureka’ moment that people speak of, it was just a gradual immersion of myself in all things pop around the time of puberty. Which was early afternoon Wednesday 17th September 1983.
2. When did you first start writing songs, was this before Bluetones and how did the band come together?
A: I’d been writing songs and poems and all that sensitive kid stuff from the age of about 12. I had a big scrapbook full of my work and pictures of Madonna cut out from tabloid newspapers. How could I fail?
3. The Bluetones obviously got labelled with the tag of Brit-pop along with many bands around the same era, what did the term mean to you (personally I never cared for the term, but it was good to see guitar orientated music on the frontline), do you think the Bluetones into that ethos and do you think the term was a handy way of grouping bands or was it something of a curse?
A: It felt like a bit of a curse at the time, the ‘Britpop’ label seemed to stifle any chance of being judged on our own merits, but in hindsight it was actually a massive pain in the balls.
4. Do you feel there was a scene back in the days of The Bluetones or were you all concentrating on your own successes?
A: We were far too busy concentrating on our own corner of the universe to fully partake in any kind of scene. Of course you would often cross paths with other acts, but we were always to crippled with insecurity and career jealousy to ever truly mingle with ease.
5. Around the era The Bluetones received a great deal of press and attention, did you read all the reviews at the time and did they affect you or the band in anyway?
A: The good ones are never good enough and the bad ones can screw up your day. I read them ALL. And I remember names. And I have a list.
6. Can you describe the excitement of The Bluetones charting and appearing high on the bill of various festivals and what did the success of something like Slight Return?
A: It was all very exciting. But then, I was 23. I knew bugger all else.
7. I’ve been reading the Miles Hunt (of the Wonderstuff) diary the past few days and it really seems to capture the highs and lows of touring and success, it makes for an interesting read and does seem to dispel the glitz and glamour of a touring band, is this something you can identify with? did you ever keep memoirs of those years?
A: I’m afraid I haven’t read it, so can’t really comment. I do know Miles though and he is a wonderful raconteur, with a rathered skewed take on the world and the biz in particular. I would like to collect my memories together one day, but I fear I would use my book as an excuse to take down some old grudges. a la Roy Keane.
8. Do you feel there was a defining moment when the Brit-pop era began to die out?
A: Yes. It was Tuesday 12th February 1998. Around tea-time.
9. The last Bluetones album came out in 2010, what were the band’s expectations and how did the album fare compared to the early releases? Are the Bluetones still a going concern or do you consider yourself as a solo artist now?
A: The Bluetones split in 2011. there is the internet to let you know that sort of thing.
10. When did you first decide to record as a solo artist, you released your first solo album in 2008 was it a case of you writing material that you didn’t feel suited a full band sound as the first solo album has a stripped back, almost folky sound?
A: Ah, a question about now. As opposed to my former job. Question 10!!! None of the songs from my first solo album were Bluetones cast-offs. However a couple on my second were. Go figure. The mind is a funny thing, and when mine decides to forget things it usually does a terrific job of it. I was always writing with a view to the songs being recorded ‘full band’ though. there is a deliberate summery feel to album no. 1 though. Again, I thought it juxtaposed nicely with some of the themes of loss, ageing and death. And drinking. And death again.
11. Listening to the likes of A Flash Of Darkness you seem to have incorporated new influences and sounds, I love the inclusion of horns, do you think that long term Bluetones fans would be surprised by your new widescreen sound of the new album?
A: Not true ‘Tones fans, no… the ones who only really know the singles might be surprised though. It’s difficult to say.
12. You’ve released two solo albums now, how have they been received to date both from a media point of view and commercially?
A: Both have been universally lauded by critics from all nations, just waiting for those good notices to convert into multi-million sales but it’s inevitable.
13. Do you feel the release of your two solo albums have helped diversify your audience now? I imagine you still get the ardent Bluetones fans but I would think that the solo albums may have drawn in a different spectrum of music lover
A: Well, come along to the Cube and find out. I always perform with my eyes closed so it’s difficult to know if my audience has grown, or shrunk, or if there’s anyone there at all.
13. Looking at your touring schedule I love the fact that you perform at both bigger venues and smaller places like The Cube in Malvern, which do you prefer? I imagine the more intimate shows you can really connect with the audience and even back in the old days you seemed approachable (I can remember you performing at The Stage in Worcester many years back)
A: I enjoy the intimacy of a smaller venue and the license that gives to alter the set and see where things go. I prefer to be able to react to the crowd and play some requests if the mood takes me. The setlist I prepare is usually more of a guideline than anything I will adhere to closely.
15. What does the immediate future have in store for you?
A: A large glass of Red and one of those disgustingly addictive Rolo desserts. Beyond that I wouldn’t like to say, but hopefully an album or two in 2015 for Acid Jazz Records, and a few more interesting gigs.
Mark Morriss Performs Live @ The Cube In Malvern On January 16th Supported by Skewwhiff and Luke Leighfield.
I love festivals and always wanted to put one on. When Im not working on the electric swing circus or Swingamajig Festival I help run a company that has a double decker bus that turns into a stage for outdoor events – so Im very lucky to have access to a lot of really cool kit. It is very much a continuation from our Hot Club events in Digbeth, we though that well if we can get 250 people down for a club show, what would happen if we tried to make this bigger, and that just grew and grew.
Check out Caravan Palace and Parov Stellar as they are the two large acts on the scene. That said Electro Swing as a genre has moved on so much in the last few years theres loads that sounds totally different. If you like big drums and big bass, then two producers I really rate are the C@ in the H@ and Odjbox. If you like things a little mellower then Caro Emerald and Dunklebunt would be worth a listen.
4. This year there’s a lot more involved than just bands and DJ’s, you can join a dance class on the run to the event, tell us about the classes and do you expect many people to take up the offer of a few steps in preparation to the festival?
Well tickets for the dance classes have started flying out. It is partly because we have some absolute top class teachers coming down, international competition winners from all around the UK and further abroad. The classes are aimed at different abilities so that if you have never danced before you can come and learn some steps.
5. I’ve also read that you have a number of circus performers during the event, why did you decide to incorporate them into the spectacle?
6. Your own band The Electric Swing Circus are performing and mix a number of influences, how would you describe the band? and what can wee expect from your performance?
We mix 1920s gypsy jazz and big and brass with modern beats and bass tied together with a stunning live show. Best thing is to see it live or maybe check out one of our youtube videos – it’ll give you a good idea… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEQL77fTRRc
7. What else can people expect from the Swingamajig festival? and is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
There are going to be all sorts of wonderful twists and surprises – but it’s all going to be a secret until the day. Its much more fun that way! What we can promise is a day of music, dance, magic and circus, unlike anything you will have ever experienced before…
It’s been a little whilst since I caught up with Worcester’s finest poetic tunesmith, Wes Dance, so ahead of a forthcoming date at The Marrs Bar I thought it was high time we had a little chinwag to find out how his year’s going and what he has in store for the future.
1. Hi Wes, how are things with you today? Can you tell us what how 2013 has been, for you to date?
2013 has been pretty good. After my guitar left me for another, I took some time away from music. Then I found a new one, and the tail end of this year has been great – playing lots of gigs, and getting to meet and see lots of other great acts.
2. I’ve always described you as something of a poetic singer/songwriter, I know that your influences span both music and literature, do you consider that to be something of an apt description?
I wouldn’t say poetic; in my view my songs are like short stories, snapshots of a moment, when life takes a twist or turn for the good or bad. Like a Raymond Carver story.
3. It’s been a wee whilst since last time I caught you performing live, have you been writing any new songs in recent times? What can we expect from you at the Marrs Bar?
I’ve been writing quite a bit over the year, but I haven’t been playing them live too much. I used to write 8 songs a week, but now it’s more like a song in 8 weeks. I take more time, and try to make the songs more succinct and concise. There will be some new numbers in the set, and hopefully some other surprises too.
4. I hear you’ve also been collaborating with various musicians in recent times, is this something you plan to continue in the future?
I played for a year in Robinson, then I performed my songs with a band for half a year or so (with Hywel Payne, William Hughes and Lea Haworth). They were fun times. Now I’m back playing solo and it’s been great – and that is what this Marrs Bar gig is all about.
5. I see that you’ve been performing a little further afield in recent times how have you been received?
Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of gigs in Birmingham. I did a gig at the Yardbird which was great; such an awesome audience always in attendance. Playing acoustic it’s bliss when the audience is there to listen, rather than try and talk louder than the PA.
6. As much as I enjoy seeing you performing in and around Worcester, I always think that you tend to be at your best in a venue like the Marrs Bar, do you think that an audience gives a little more respect to a performing artist in an actual venue as opposed to a bar? I was always a fan of shusshh…Sundays, is your forthcoming date something of a nod back to that?
It was a friend who reminded me of the times I used to play the Shussh…Sundays at the Marrs Bar and suggested I should do a gig like that again. So yeah, it’s definitely a nod to those gigs, hopefully the 10th November will be just as good.
7. What’s next for Wes Dance, I’d like to see a new album at some point, is that something you’re looking at in the future?
I’m currently organising and getting everything ready for my next record. I have all the songs ready to go, and I can’t wait to get these songs recorded and out there for people to listen too.
Next year, 2014, local ska punk legends Spunge rack up their twentieth year as a band, that’s twenty years touring, writing and recording, no splits, no dramas just twenty years of skanking up the dancefloors, inciting mass sing-a-longs and tearing up and down the country. In that time the band have seen and done it all from playing local pubs to gatecrashing the top 40. To celebrate the band have decided to release a best-of with a difference, a collection of songs hand picked by the fans and then re-tweeked and re-recorded by the band . Spunge are not only offering the fans the chance to pick the tracklist but via the pledgemusic http://pledgemusic.com/projects/spunge campaign they’re offering exclusive previews, videos, competitions and anything else the Spunge super fan could possibly desire.
That’s not all as well as re-recording those classic Spunge moments the band are also working on writing a brand new album, as well as taking to the road throughout November with Worcester’s high octane Hey You Guys! in tow.
With all this going on it all only seemed right to grab five minutes with the band for a quick chinwag.
1. So next year Spunge are hitting a massive milestone, twenty years together as a band, did you ever expect to be together that long? can you remember the early day ambitions?
Jem – Sweets and ice cream
Des – I didn’t expect to live for 20 years plus I can’t remember what I did last night.
Alex – In the early days it was all about just enjoying ourselves and having a laugh but of course as time goes on… it’s EXACTLY the same reason we are still doing it
2. In your duration as a band you’ve seen it all, from the small pub gigs to finding favour with the masses, hitting the charts etc, can you tell us about a few of the highs and lows of the lifetime of Spunge?
Jem – Playing with Foo Fighters, and Kicking backstage with Greenday, oh and finding out we’d made the top 40 the hard way!
Des – Highs, playing with Greenday and Reading and Leeds festivals. Lows, having to go back to a normal shitty job.
Alex – Highs would be playing the festivals, meeting bands you look up to, people telling you how they listen to your stuff and how it makes them happy. Low would be purely that I can’t do this 24/7 as all those good times don’t necessarily pay the bills…
3. I can remember you playing places like a frenzied Horn And Trumpet back in the day do you look back at those days and wonder how you ever went from there to likes of the Birmingham Academy?
Jem – Yeah, but guess it was being young, fresh faced & new that made us flavour of the month, as opposed to the old beer soaked darts players we are now.
Des – It’s like a hobby that has got out of control.
Alex – Not in a ‘how did that happen’ way – but I do look at what we have done over the years and think ‘Fuck yeah, that was us!’
4. So tell us about your forthcoming greatest hits album, why now? did you always want to go back and revisit and record some of those old classics?
Jem – No, just 20 years seemed a good time, and as we are still doing it all ourselves, we decided we could aford the time and effort to do it
Des – 20 years on, why not bring these tired old songs back to life and give them the love and attention.
Alex – t just felt right, 20 years is a big achievement with no splits, ‘last ever’ tours or crap like that. And yeah, it’s nice to make the songs sound how we thought they were in our heads the whole time
5. Tell us about the pledge campaign that you’ve launched for the album, I believe the fans are getting to pick the tracks, etc, do you see this as a way of giving back to all the loyal fans over the years?
Jem – Yep, saves on us getting the blame for missing tracks off.
Des – It’s a way of saying thank you and getting the fans involved.
Alex – I like the idea of it coming back to the control of bands and fans, we’ve been around long enough to remember running tapes off and putting them on the shelf at the local HMV to try and sell one or two… and this is like a big version of that with bells and whistles lol! It’s been fun having them involved along the way in stuff like gang vocals and picking the tracks…
6. I also hear you’re busy writing new material, how’s that going? can we expect any surprises?
Jem – Every song will be a surprise, only just starting writing agsain as been busy with this – but it’ll be a surprise because we play acid sole jazz funk um-pa music now!
Des – We’ve got quite a few new tracks recorded and are still writing, I think we definitely need a new cover version.
Alex – We have a few tracks written, it all went on hold for this best of release but we’ll be back on it after the tour. Surprises…? Not really if I’m honest… It’s definitely still us on there, but I think we’re writing some of my favourite tunes right now, which is a pleasant surprise for me
7. You’re performing throughout the UK during November, can we expect any of the new material to be showcased or is this going to be a greatest hits tour?
Jem – Mainly Greatest Hits (which include a few that never get played live) plus 1 or 2 newbies to boo and hiss at.
Des – There might be 1 or 2 new ones in there as well as the greatest hits
Alex – It primarily a greatest hits tour, in fact we are playing every song we have recorded on the album, but there are a couple new ones in there too
8. You’re taking out relative young guns Hey You Guys! out with you on tour, what do you expect them to bring to the party?
Jem – drugs and money for said drugs, oh and humping all our gear in and out of venues and fetching us cold beer and such like
Des – I think they will bring a new lease of energy and enthusiasm that will keep [spunge] on their toes and make us work that much harder
Alex – The beer and women.
9. What else do Spunge have planned in the near future? Anything else you want to tell your fans?
Jem – A live album may be sporned from this tour – so if you want to be on the album, come along to every show and shout “Jarv’s a wanker” in all the quiet bits
Des – I’m planning to become prime minister, I don’t know about the other idiots. Buy our records too
Alex – We are just keeping on doing what we love to do. Greatest Hit is out in November, along with the tour, then writing more new tunes and recording them for a possible late next year release for that album too… our albums are like buses, you wait 6 years for one and then two come along at once Hoping to make the 20th year a good one with shows all throughout – so go pester those festivals to have us on the bill people Oh, and check out http://pledgemusic.com/projects/spunge if you want to get the best of as soon as it’s done!
Five Minutes With……Hey You Guys!
Worcester’s latest indie/pop/punk heroes Hey You Guys! have had quite a year, they’ve released a brilliant debut album, performed a number of high profile gigs across the UK and are now set to tour with local ska punk legends Spunge, so I thought it was about time I caught up with the guys for a quick chat.
You’ve all trod the boards previously with numerous local bands, but how did Hey You Guys! come together, was there a moment when you collectively thought I know lets throw our shit together and see what comes out?
There was simply a point where Dave (guitar) unilaterally thought: “Let’s throw our shit together and see what comes out.” Personally I was getting ready to retire from this hedonistic lifestyle. Too much free sex and drugs was beginning to bore me.
The debut album Gasp! Shock! Horror! is a blast from start to finish, was the recording of the album as much fun as I imagine?
It was better fun than that. It was a really freewheeling experience as we all just did our best while Dave (again!) steered the ship behind the mixing desk and kept us kids in check.
Bar a handful of gigs you seem to really come out the blocks with the release of the album, did you always plan to hold back on live performance until the recording was nailed?
We’ve been playing pretty regularly since October last year. We just balance our time well. Writing, recording, playing – you can’t do them all at the same time and we’ve managed to fit a lot into the last twelve months!
Bar a handful of gigs you seem to really come out the blocks with the release of the album, did you always plan to hold back on live performance until the recording was nailed?
We’ve been genuinely thrilled by the reaction we’ve got. People seem to like what we have to deliver and the same goes for the album. The feedback we’ve had from that has been great.
You recently made your first trek out into Europe how did that go? and do you plan to venture out more in the future?
If they ask us. In which case we’ll be back in a heartbeat! After all, they’ve got all the best beer and I get to crowd surf over there.
So you’re about to embark on a tour with (now 20 year veterans) Spunge how did this come about? and what are your expectations for the tour?
It should it be said that HYG realise how lucky we are to be asked along for Spunge’s tour! I’ve heard a lot about what Spunge get up to on tour so my main expectation is that I will be barricading myself in my hotel room each night and doing a lot of crying.
I can remember seeing Spunge years ago in places like the Blower and Gonzo’s, as well as the likes of The Birmingham Academy, etc what does it mean to you touring with a band that have seen and done it all?
It shouldn’t be taken lightly, these guys are veterans and heroes. But I don’t think they’ve seen or done it all yet – after all they haven’t tried following HYG nine nights on the trot! Both bands have a lot to give so I can’t wait to get out there.
You finished the album launch gig with a brand new track (alluded to be on the second album), can we expect to hear more on the tour? and what else can we expect from the Hey You Guys! live experience?
We’re playing the first album in its entirety every night. Unless we can’t be bothered, in which case we’ll play a load of new stuff. Or a mixture of these two options. As for the live experience, I’m not giving anything away until the first night!
What’s next for the band after the Spunge tour? I hear there’s a date with Kerbdog coming up.
You’re actually completely right. We’re supporting the ‘Dog in Kilkenny on New Year’s Eve. That’s going to be painful!! Before that we’ve got the Robocop single Hallowe’en single, a handful of Xmas dates and we’ll start working on our second album. Meanwhile I will fuck a bunch of suits to try and secure us a record deal.