Mark Morriss was the frontman of late Britpop stars The Bluetones, who formed in Hounslow, London in 1993. After a handful of albums and their split in 2011, Morriss has been pursuing his own solo career.
In 1996, The Bluetones' second single, “Slight Return,” crashed into the Top 40 at number two, amidst the crackling of “Firestarter” from The Prodigy and “Born Slippy” by Underworld, post-rave, post-Britpop monsters, and only kept off the top by Babylon Zoo’s androgyne nu-glam “Spaceman.” For a very curious public, it seemed like a true indie band, integrity intact after all the Britpop exploitation, had not just arrived - they’d also nailed it.
Always a self-conscious frontman, Morriss has one of those much-needed faces: the face of trustworthiness, grace, and wisdom. His shuffling performances, microphone clutched near to chest as he delivered his nasal, impassioned, often wry observations, were and are heartwarming, life affirming events, as their send off in Osaka, Japan must have attested. The loose-fit jeans and straight-out-of-the-drawers jumpers did nothing to dissuade this image. The Bluetones genuinely wanted the music to do the talking, and Morriss continues this ethos solo.
The derogatory term ‘jingle-jangle indie’ is often bandied about when Morriss’ or The Bluetones' name comes up – but so should it be for The Smiths, Steve Harley, and Cockney Rebel, or even uncle Bob Dylan too if that is the case. Morriss is much more of a nu-folk proposition these days – best heard on his solo debut Muscle Memory, or more recent A Flash Of Darkness album – but in The Bluetones time their stock-in trade was classic songwriting, with dips, pauses, breaks and grooves in all the right places – songwriting nearly drawn from and certainly reflecting the collective pop-rock memory.
Morriss’ absence of ego in a time and atmosphere which loved, nay rewarded rank narcissism has to be applauded. This was when Liam Gallagher was still mouth-in-chief on the UK airwaves, don’t forget. Age has done anything but mellow Morriss, because his own personal grace was intact in the first place. The fact that their own record company was called Superior Quality Recordings spoke volumes in itself.
From their number one debut, Expecting To Fly, to their last set, A New Athens, The Bluetones exemplified a certain aesthetic dismissed as a kind of English slacker/student take by some – but which was in fact an extension of Pixies/Mudhoney make-the-music-matter-first principle. That The Bluetones hit big when surrounded by the Britpop gravy train was hardly their fault, and the proof of the pudding is in the eating. They were a band that always cared, for you, for integrity. This attitude is reflected in Mark Morriss the solo artist, whether in his alter-ego Fi-Lo Beddow, or playing as a part of The Maypoles.
If a secret part of you yearns for the return of the gentleman in rock, without some spurious sudden lifestyle or religion change – maybe just to know that humility, respect and gentility are still appreciated in this harsh capitalism era – but hey, you still like guitars? Mark Morriss is your man.
By Sean Bw Parker