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
Paul Weller has been a regular visitor to the Doncaster Dome over the years but such is his legendary status that any call from the Modfather is always both welcome and exciting. The Woking singer has an intimidating back catalogue to choose from with 13 solo albums as well as his ground breaking work in The Jam and The Style Council. Weller would pick liberally from his unique 40 year career over the course of 31 rapturously received songs at Doncaster’s biggest and most dome shaped venue.
Weller released the critically acclaimed album Saturns Pattern in 2015 and it is ‘White Sky’ from that album that kicked things off. To say he has just had his eighth child and is approaching 60, Weller still looks and sounds great. Snarling and strutting, he attacks the microphone with his trademark mod haircut silhouetted against the all black backdrop.
When Weller announces the band are going to play an old song there is a collective intake of breath before they burst into ‘Ghosts’ from The Jam’s 1982 album The Gift. Guitarist and long time collaborator Steve Cradock announces that the next song will be a Style Council number and the crowd goes wild for ‘My Ever Changing Moods’. A stomping ‘Woo Se Mama’ gives way to a glorious rendition of The Jam’s ‘Man in the Corner Shop’ to inspire the first proper sing along of the evening.
Paul Weller is a man of few words who prefers his music to do the talking. The crowd are more than happy with this arrangement however as another Style Council track, ‘Have You Ever Had It Blue’ goes down a storm before the rousing ‘Friday Street’ is given a welcome outing.
‘Come On/Let’s Go’ precedes the first encore of the evening with Weller and the band returning for a tender acoustic section that starts with ‘Wild Wood’, takes in The Jam’s ‘Monday’ before moving breathlessly into a cover of ‘Love’ by John Lennon. The latter song is dedicated to those who recently lost their life in the Syria bombings.
New song ‘Devotion’ sits nicely alongside more familiar material, as does the even newer song ‘Ballad of Jimmy McCabe’, taken from the soundtrack to the upcoming film Jawbone. A slowed down acoustic version of Stanley Road favourite ‘Out of the Sinking’ ends the first encore.
Weller returns to the stage, this time with an electric guitar, to play new song ‘The Impossible Idea’. He closes with a full band version of The Jam’s classic single ‘Start’ before a note perfect, furious run through of ‘The Changingman’.
‘The Changingman’ is a fitting end for the Woking legend as Weller has changed. From The Jam to The Style Council to his various guises as a solo artist, he is constantly striving to retain a fresh and new sound while still being indebted to his past and his influences. 31 songs and nearly two and a half hours confirm that there is life in the old mod yet.
Rob Johnson – www.robwatchesmovies.com
Doncaster’s Bang Bang Romeo have had a hell of a year.
Airplay on national radio has coincided with playing loads of the big festivals and they were seeing out the year supporting Wigan heroes Starsailor.
I have seen BBR twice before and had a great time but I have to say, in the 12 months or so since I last saw them they have come on leaps and bounds as a live act. Playing at the Isle of Wight and Leeds Festival has obviously allowed them to hone their skills in front of a large audience and frontwoman Anastasia Walker has become even more of an imposing presence as a result of this. ‘The Maze’ kicks things off at Sheffield’s Plug and you can see people who haven’t heard the band before immediately take notice. Nobody is expecting such a polished sound from a band third on the bill and Stasi’s voice is awesome to behold as always. It is ‘We Wear Our Bones’ and particularly a storming ‘Johannesburg’ that really gets things going though. From there it’s nothing but killer as the catchy chorus to ‘Adore Me’ has the crowd singing along and an emotional ‘Runaway’ is as affecting as anything that Starsailor will play later in the evening.
All the while Stasi prowls the stage that she owns imploring the crowd to come closer, sing along or start clapping. They are happy to oblige her. ‘Chemical’ and ‘Invitation’ close things out and the latter has become a monster set closer complete with strong backing vocals from guitarist Ross Cameron and bassist Joel Phillips. Drummer Richard Gartland completes the line up and not one of them leaves anything on the stage in a pummelling, all conquering set. A few minutes after they have finished, with Stasi’s voice still ringing in my ears, I hear someone in a Starsailor t-shirt whistling the chorus to ‘Invitation’ in the gents toilet. Another convert then…
Starsailor were excellent of course and for my full review of their set click here. It is refreshing to see one band on their way up and another on their way back and both playing as if their lives depended on it. This is what music should always be about.