Despite often being lumped in with other Britpop bands, largely because they first appeared in the midst of that era, there has always been more to The Bluetones than that label has allowed for. There’s no doubt that they were influenced by bands like the The Stones Roses, arguably the founding fathers of Britpop, but they also have an American flavour to them as well, with influences that include The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, that set them apart from some of their predominantly British influenced peers.
After a successful farewell tour in 2011, The Bluetones recently returned for a 20th Anniversary Jukebox Tour. The four-piece consisting of vocalist Mark Morriss, guitarist Adam Devlin, bassist Scott Morriss and drummer Eds Chesters, stopped off in Manchester for the fourth gig of an eight city run of shows. The Ritz in Manchester has seen its fair share of legendary acts over the decades including The Beatles, R.E.M. and Frank Sinatra. It’s also a city that has a rich history when it comes to producing melodic guitar bands, from New Order, to The Smiths to The Stone Roses. So you could say that the “gangly southerners” from Hounslow are in good company. The 1,5000 capacity venue was the first show of their tour to sell out. But it wasn’t just Mancunians there, people travelled in from all around the area including Liverpool, Chester, Blackpool, Sheffield and even the Isle of Man.
Jay Diggins, perhaps best known for his work with John Parish, kicked things off with a short acoustic set. He said in his introduction that it had always been his dream to play at The Ritz and he didn’t seem to mind that there was only a few dozen people there. The second support act for the evening was The Standard Lamps who produced a very lively set during which the venue soon started to fill up. Their lead man on vocals and guitar was in high spirits, joking with the crowd throughout, with their energetic brand of indie rock winning themselves a host of new fans. It was surprising to learn that they’re an unsigned band, but with performances like that it’s hard to imagine they’ll stay that way for much longer. The room was close to capacity by the time they had finished, setting things up nicely for evenings main attraction.
The Bluetones entered the stage to “Since You’ve Been Gone” by Rainbow and after a quick introduction they dived into a 21 song set featuring tracks from all of their major works excluding 2006’s self-titled album. There were even a few non-album singles, a b-side and a cover thrown in too. Fittingly for a 20th anniversary celebration they started with their first single to make the charts, “Are You Blue Or Are You Blind?.” This was followed by “Cut Some Rug,” the third single from their 1996 debut album Expecting to Fly, and the funky bass-led shuffle of “Mudslide” from their third album, Science & Nature, coming after Morriss joked about how they’ve never been described as “genre hopping” by critics. But when you consider some of the bands they’re often lumped in with, they’re certainly a more diverse four-piece than they’ve often been given credit for.
It’s only natural for a Jukebox Tour that songs from their biggest selling album Expecting to Fly featured more than others including “Bluetonic” and “Carnt Be Trusted.” But there was also room for the likes of “Fast Boy” from 2003’s Luxembourg and the title track from 2010’s A New Athens, an album that “no-one listened to.” Some of the biggest cheers of the evening came after hit singles “Sleazy Bed Track” and “Slight Return.” In between the more upbeat rockers there were also a few slower jams like “The Fountainhead.” There was even a cover of “I Could Be So Good For You” by Dennis Waterman, best known for being the theme from the popular 1980’s TV series Minder. The encore was nothing short of superb featuring the upbeat piano-led drinking hymn “After Hours” and b-side “I Was A Teenage Jesus.” But the highlight of the evening came in the form closer “If…” which gave the sprung dancefloor a run for its money and had everyone singing to such a level that the band were a blown away.
Mark Morriss’ vocals still sounded as sweet as ever and in between songs he was on top form, charming as ever and full of dry wit throughout. Adam Devlin’s guitar work was also as fantastic, showing why some consider him to be one of finest guitarists of his era. Despite a miscue not long after Morriss joked that they hadn’t practised much, the band jumped between songs spanning their career largely with ease. From their more youthful and hopeful sounding earlier material, to more introspective numbers on their later releases, they certainly didn’t sound like a band playing live shows for the first time in four years. It would be very surprising if they didn’t head back out on tour again in the near future. All that’s needed is for someone to hit the record button.
Are You Blue Or Are You Blind?
Cut Some Rug
A New Athens
Keep The Home Fires Burning
Sleazy Bed Track
Never Going Nowhere
Solomon Bites The Worm
Carnt Be Trusted
Putting Out Fires
I Was A Teenage Jesus
I Could Be So Good For You (Dennis Waterman cover)