It’s all that I can do, to sing these stupid songs to you…’
Britpop was more than just another movement. It was watching Oasis on Top of the Pops. It was singing along to Pulp in my front room. And amongst other things, it was listening to Slight Return by the Bluetones with my dad on holiday. A memory that I cherish. It isn’t just union jack tinted glasses or the nostalgia of youth that makes Britpop so important however. In many ways it was the last great youth movement, and with popular culture as fractured as it has ever been, it is feasible that nothing like Britpop will ever happen again.
It is for this reason that I kind of collect Britpop artists. I don’t mean I’ve got the bassist from Menswear locked in my cellar, but rather I collect live performances. My aim is to see every band who influenced me in the 90s and shaped my tastes for decades to come. Mark Morriss of the Bluetones was one to cross off that list and he didn’t disappoint…
Taking to the stage with a confident run through of Low Company from his 2013 album A Flash of Darkness, it is clear that Morriss has lost none of his boyish enthusiasm or charm. 25 years as a live performer have given Morriss a relaxed on-stage presence, and he rips into Doncaster as readily as he self-deprecates himself, meaning a ripple of laughter is never far away for the Doncaster crowd. Bluetonic is a bona fide, Britpop classic and it soars here, surprisingly suited to an acoustic rendering, even without the backing vocals. Solo tracks such as It’s Hard To Be Good All The Time and Consuela slot in seamlessly alongside classic Bluetones tracks but it is the latter that receives the best response with Cut Some Rug sounding abrasive as ever and Marblehead Johnson every inch the top ten hit that it is. The Beans follows, a straightforward stomp that is probably the best of Morriss’ new songs before a run through of the Bluetones Sleazy Bed Track closes out the first part of the set.
Morriss returns to the stage to play a couple of surprising and eclectic covers. It is unlikely that American folk band Midlake and tragic 90s boyband East 17 have ever been mentioned in the same sentence before but covers of both go down a storm with Morriss’ version of East 17’s ‘Stay Now’ being particularly successful. Donny is treated to a pair of Bluetones tracks to finish the set with Britpop anthem Slight Return followed by another 90s classic in the shape of If…
As when I saw ex-Seahorses frontman Chris Helme at the same venue, it is striking, not just how many good songs Morriss has, but also how accomplished and fresh his new material sounds. To still be performing after 25 years, you must love being on stage. That enthusiasm translates to the crowd and Mark Morriss is as good as anyone at making sure everyone leaves entertained, smiling and merry.
“Lay back and enjoy the ride…”
York singer/songwriter Chris Helme is, of course, best remembered as the front man of Britpop heroes the Seahorses. The story goes that a friend of a friend of Stone Roses guitarist John Squire heard Helme busking in York and passed word to Squire who promptly hired him for his new project the Seahorses. The band enjoyed critical and commercial success with their sole album Do It Yourself before disbanding. Since then, Helme has continued to tour across the country and has released a number of solo albums. On a chilly, autumnal night, Helme picked liberally from his back catalogue and threw in a few carefully chosen covers as well.
When you have a song called ‘Hello’, you are pretty much legally obliged to open your set with it. Helme’s voice sounded impeccable as he delivered a stripped back, acoustic version of the closing song from Do It Yourself. In the absence of a backing band, the York troubadour played acoustically all night and this added a new dimension to already familiar tracks. ‘Lorali’ features a beautiful, finger picked intro and it was clear by this point that there is so much more to Chris Helme then a handful of tracks from the 90s.
Having said that, his performance of the Seahorses single ‘You Can Talk To Me’ was one of the highlights of the evening with the crowd in good voice throughout. Helme has a relaxed and engaging on stage presence that gave the evening a feeling of intimacy as he chatted to the audience and introduced each song with a story. A cover of The Faces ‘Ooh La La’ was as welcome as it was unexpected and it sat nicely alongside ‘Pleased’ and ‘Summer Girl’ from Helme’s 2012 album The Rookery. The great thing about Helme as a live performer is that his voice is so strong that his songs actually sound better live than they do on record. This also means that any cover he performs always has his own unique spin on it. The Grateful Dead are not a band you would normally associate with a Britpop act but Helme’s cover of the Dead’s ‘Friend of the Devil’ is sinister and bluesy and perfect for a little venue like The Leopard.
Helme barely bothered to soundcheck before the gig, something that other bands should take immediate note of, and he didn’t bother with going off stage only to return for an encore. Helme is a no frills performer and the gig was all the better for it. The evening is closed out with a stunning performance of the Seahorses two biggest hits. ‘Love is the Law’ is perhaps the bands best known song and it is soaring and wonderful here. ‘Blinded by the Sun’ has always been my favourite of theirs however, and Helme absolutely did it justice with a heartfelt and enthusiastic rendition that had the crowd going wild.
I have seen pretty much every band or singer associated with Britpop, as these were the songs that I grew up with in my formative years. Chris Helme at the Leopard is as good a show as I have seen anywhere. A truly epic evening.
Rob Johnson – www.robwatchesmovies.com
This is not an exhaustive list (check out the excellent weekly Doncopolitan listings for that) but rather some of the major events taking place in Doncaster in the next couple of months or so.
One of Doncaster’s more intimate venues has a couple of great gigs lined up, with Britpop mainstays Chris Helme and Hurricane #1 both gracing The Leopard before the year is out.
Chris Helme was the lead singer in the popular Britpop band the Seahorses and has released numerous albums under his own name. Helme rocks up to The Leopard on 7th October. You can grab tickets here.
Hurricane #1 are from a similar era and are perhaps best known for their smash hit ‘Only the Strongest Will Survive’. Another gig not to be missed. The gig takes place on 10th October and tickets are available here.
Diamond Live Lounge
Diamond have consistently booked interesting and critically acclaimed bands and they have a couple more big names due to appear in November.
The Hoosiers are celebrating the 10th anniversary of their number 1 album The Trick to Life. The record spawned hit singles such as ‘Worried About Ray’ and ‘Goodbye Mr A’ so their gig at Doncaster most beautiful venue promises to be a belter.
Goldie Lookin’ Chain have form in Doncaster having once memorably performed at Belle Vue, the much missed former home of Doncaster Rovers. The Welsh rappers will be joined by Doncaster legend MC Devvo on 17th November. Tickets here.
Doncaster’s largest venue is always capable of attracting the big names and multi million selling rock band Placebo are as big as they come. The US rockers are gracing the Dome on 10th October. Click here for tickets.
Finally we have us NU-Metal band Crazytown bringing their brand of rap/rock to The Woolpack. It is a real coup for the market place pub to host a multi million selling artist in what promises to be an intriguing night. Tickets available here.