There comes a time in everyone’s life when “Things Change”.
Mine changed forever on Saturday 9th May 1998. I remember it like it was just yesterday. The night I first fell in love, in a smoky, crowded room full of strangers in Manchester. I’ve been hopelessly head over heels ever since.
Of course, it’s not all been plain sailing. There have been times when I’ve strayed, times when my dedication has waned slightly – but I’ve always come back. Last night though, this relationship ended for good.
My last ever Bluetones gig.
The Bluetones are a rare beast these days, clocking up 17 years together with the same line-up (give or take an extra keyboardist on some tours, including this one). They’ve also managed to get through those 17 years without brothers Mark and Scott Morriss swinging guitars at each other’s heads or suing each other - or as far as any of us can tell. The Gallagher’s could learn a lot from these two, be it how brothers should behave in public or, dare I say it, original song writing. Scott Morriss, as well as a solid bass player is also a talented artist, which might come in handy soon. Mark is the endlessly entertaining front man and singer - I’ve seen stand up comedians with less lines than he has. Eds Chesters (also an Osteopath!) beats the drums and Adam Devlin, surely one of the finest lead guitarists of his generation (and probably the most rock and roll member), completes the line-up.
The first Bluetones album “Expecting to Fly”, released in 1996 was full of wonderfully crafted guitar ballads and it spawned their one really major hit – “Slight Return”. Though thanks to the God-awful “Spaceman” by Babylon Zoo they missed out on the number one singles chart spot, proving once again that the majority of the music buying British public are simpletons or children. This was however an album which knocked “What’s the Story (Morning Glory)” off the pinnacle of the album charts, and its beautiful peacock cover art remains a modern classic. I could look at that sleeve for hours. “Bluetonic” and “Cut Some Rug” were two of the best songs of the Britpop era.
Mark is the endlessly entertaining front man and singer - I’ve seen stand up comedians with less lines than he has.
It wasn’t until the follow up in 1998, “Return to the Last Chance Saloon” that I really got hooked on this band. A rockier, blues tinged sound brought us classics like “If....”, “Solomon Bites the Worm” and “Sleazy Bed Track”. It's a great album, and provides several highlights at Bluetones live shows.
In 2000, “Science & Nature” was less commercially successful. By this time though Britpop was dying on its arse, and many of the bands who contributed to this iconic period in British music had already bitten the dust. Despite the reduced interest in the band, this album spawned fan favourites such as “Autophilia” and “Keep the Home Fires Burning”. It also contains my favourite Bluetones song - the wonderful, short but beautiful homage to 'the one that got away', "Slack Jaw" (rarely played live, but dusted down for tonight's encore - they must have known).
Subsequent albums “Luxembourg” (2003) and “The Bluetones” (2006) came and went without that many people outside of their loyal fan base (the ‘Blue Army’) noticing. Such a shame, as these records still contained some superb examples of guitar driven pop. In May 2010 “A New Athens” became their sixth studio album. They did some extensive publicity. They toured the album tirelessly. It failed to even chart. This left them with a dilemma - do they persist and continue to peddle their greatest hits to diminishing crowds? Or instead do they bow out gracefully in one last flourish with their heads held high? They chose the latter.
So after roughly 30 Bluetones gigs (I've lost count, but it's up there and could possibly be more), I have now seen them play the songs which have sound-tracked my adult life for the final time. Last night at Birmingham Academy, they were entertaining and professional; as they have been every time I've seen them. I couldn't help but think that this is another loss to lovers of music. Whilst dross like Jedward get record deals and dick around on Celebrity Big Brother, hard working, talented musicians like The Bluetones have to turn to other means to pay the bills. It's just not fair is it?
As they came out for the encore wearing dressing gowns to signify their retirement, they threw flowers into the crowd and I had to hold back the tears. I was sad, but at the same time very happy that they've left me with so many wonderful memories. They played songs which sparked recollections of college days, holidays, university, weddings, birthdays, friends, family. These songs helped me celebrate the good times, and they helped through the worst times.
That gig back in 1998 was my first gig full stop. I had no idea the feeling live music could give you until that night. The Bluetones got me hooked on something which has given me countless hours of enjoyment since.
This band truly changed my life for the better, and for that I am eternally grateful to them.
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