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Mark Morriss

– THE DEAF INSTITUTE, MANCHESTER –

It was Christmas day of 1996 when I first heard the distinctive vocals of Mark Morriss. I had just received my first CD player and the only CD I had to play on it was Now 35. One of that compilation’s highlights was The Bluetones’s ‘Marblehead Johnson’. Some 18 years later I’m still a fan of both the song and the songwriter.

Since the split of The Bluetones in 2011, Mark Morriss has been touring the country performing material from his two solo albums. Tonight is his latest visit to Manchester, this time bringing him to The Deaf Institute. In tow on this tour his band also features two of the original members of The Bluetones.

When I arrive at the venue, Morriss is stood on the stage tuning his own guitar. He soon disappears again and the wait for his re-emergence begins. His return comes with some technical problems, and he remarks “that soundcheck was a waste of time”. The music soon begins with ‘I’m Sick’ from his first solo record, 2008’s Memory Muscle.

‘Digging A Hole’, another song from that 2008 album is next before a run of tracks from this year’s A Flash Of Darkness. The first in the run is ‘Life Without F(r)iction’. Following the song Morriss commendably takes on an aggressive audience member. The confrontation leads to security escorting the offender out of the venue. I’m always pleased when artists tackle a disruptive presence at gigs and his decision to do so was unanimously supported in the room.

Following the kerfuffle, we get straight back to the well crafted nuggets of pop music. ‘Low Company’, ‘Consuela’ and ‘This Is The Lie (And That’s The Truth)’ all from the latest release come in quick succession.

Tonight is his first time in the Deaf Institute and Morriss lets us know his opinion, “it’s nice here, classy joint” he says. He then introduces another song from A Flash Of Darkness, exclaiming it is a cover. I hadn’t even realised it was a cover before now, given how much it sounds like it belongs on the album. Originally by The Shins, the song is called ‘Pink Bullets’. Another cover follows straight after, this time from an album which is currently being recorded. It will consist entirely of covers and is due to be released next year. The track is ‘Duchess’, originally recorded by Scott Walker in 1969.

Next up is ‘It’s Hard To Be Good All The Time’ before Morriss announces to his band “I’m going to throw a curveball”. He starts to play a version of Rumer song ‘Slow’, though it wasn’t too successful. Apparently “that wasn’t included in the ticket price”, so “complaints are invalid”. At this point word comes through a friend of the ejected punter that he’s sorry, and that he’s a giant idiot. Morriss agrees, “they’re around” he says, “but I don’t usually get them at my church”.

Two songs from Memory Muscle, ‘Bienvenido’ and ‘Lay Low’, close the set. Leaving the stage Morriss exclaims “Thank you very much, goodbye forever”. The statement may have held more significance, but a few minutes later the band are back on stage. “Alright, we’ll play a couple more, what the hell” says Morriss. Title track of the latest album ‘A Flash Of Darkness’ starts the encore before another unscheduled moment. “I’m gonna do something silly” says Morriss before playing another cover, this time Robert Palmer’s ‘She Makes My Day’. The song comes to an abrupt halt when Morriss admits “I don’t know the second verse” and speculates “what has happened to our hero?”

Before final song ‘Space Cadet’, we’re told “take care, you’re the only audience I’ve got”, with Morris adding “it ain’t growing, it ain’t levelled off either”. If true, it’s a real shame. His solo material stands up alongside Bluetones songs and anyone who has enjoyed a Bluetones song should head out to see Mark Morriss live. In addition to the parade of excellent material, Morriss is also a very charismatic character on stage. This ensures even when things are going wrong it’s still entertaining.

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Adam Smith

There is nothing I'd rather be doing with my evenings than watching excellently crafted live music. In fact, there isn't much I'd rather be doing than watching half-decent live music. Having too often seen excellent bands fail to garner the attention I believe they deserve, I'm here to spread the good word of the under-appreciated musical performer. I encourage everyone who is reading this to do the same.