Sixteen years is a long time in popular music (it’s even longer in the life of a Mayfly which is ‘born’, mates and dies all in the space of 24 hours...you don’t get this kind of education in NME do you eh?). Flash back to the start of 1994 and the Spice Girls were yet to ‘zig a zig ahhhh’, Kurt Cobain was still alive (just), Lady GaGa was more of a Baby Gaga (well she was 8...but that’s still pretty darn young...she’d only just played her first gig) and the World Wide Web was something that only freaks and oddballs were into (no change there then eh?). It was against this backdrop that I went to see a promising popular beat combo called Supergrass at Edwards. The support band for the evening were a little known, but instantly likeable, act called The Bluetones.
Fast forward to 2010 and The Spice Girls have zigged a zigged and ahhhhed, Kurt’s a t-shirt, the whole world’s gone Gaga and the World Wide Web’s eaten the music industry for breakfast. Supergrass have split up and Edwards has been incinerated...but, coming out of the dust...still doing their thang...is The Bluetones. Top marks for persistence eh but would they be any good or would this just be a...wait for it...’slight return’? In best Eastenders cliffhanger tradition I’ll leave that question dangling to the end (cue a shot of Dot Cotton being discovered in bed with Ian Beale and a selection of seasonal veg...duf duf duf dufdufdudfduf).
First up, blow me down, it’s Black Market Empire making their Academy debut. The Empire (for the uninitiated) are a Birmingham band with a rather fine line in 60’s Mersey beat tinged tunes (just check out their demo of ‘Get Up, Get Down’ on their MySpace page). Tonight’s set showcased their full on beat majesty with a good half a dozen or so of their best tracks including...now I must get this right...’The Andy Lewis Dance’. It was the perfect start to the evening and great to see Black Market Empire in a well deserved bigger venue. Next stop the O2 Arena! Oh, alright then, The Flapper first (they’re playing with Dogs on June 19th...that’s Dogs the band, I don’t mean that they’re whacking off Doberman’s...that’s just wrong).
Next up, Apples, from Hereford (well they would be wouldn’t they?). I like apples. Especially when they’re pressed and fermented and served in a pint glass (unless you have to pay £3.95 for it...thanks very much Mr Academy). Clearly pressing this particular variety of Apples into a pint glass wouldn’t be quite so pleasant, but watching them is a pretty enjoyable experience. There’s a touch of XTC in there, some Haircut 100 and, for anyone under the age of 40, some Pull Tiger Tail too. In other words catchy bounce up and down pop with the added bonus of some Sax. I do love a bit of Sax, although it was only used on one track tonight. Naughty Apples. The Sax man will come and get you with his big Sax of doom. More Sax. I’m sure we’ll get a lot more Sax soon. The man on the news keeps saying that Sax will rise dramatically when the Tories get in this week. What’s that? Oh. Tax you say. Balls. Anyway, we’ll gloss over the economic annihilation of anyone with less than a million quid and listen to the Apples fine rendition (and one of the set’s highlights) of the Housemartin’s ‘Caravan of Love’ instead. Ahhh that’s better.
Right. Give me a B. Give me an L. Give me an E...oh hang on. That’s not right is it? That’s The Bletones I’m thinking of, Macclesfield’s number one Kosher Bluetones covers band (available for weddings, funerals and circumcisions). Nope, tonight’s all about The Bluetones, a band that’s stubbornly refused to quit in the face of commercial indifference and who are now edging close to their (gasp) 20th anniversary. As you’d expect the set was liberally scattered with ‘the hits’ including ‘Solomon Bites The Worm’ and ‘Bluetonic’. Equally enjoyable though was Mark Morris’ in between song banter. All too aware of The Bluetones status in the music biz he made plenty of jokey references about their fans lack of commitment when it came to actually buying their records and pondered their second coming with their new album (A New Athens) which he’s hoping will get them on some Channel 5 chat show. It’s refreshing to see someone who doesn’t take all the bullshit too seriously. This was proved by the band’s frankly hilarious reggae version (yes, really, you had to be there) of ‘Slight Return’, inspired by Chaka Demus and Pliers apparently (with a vocal that’s straight out of Sting’s Police days). The crowd (who had given polite applause throughout the evening) went mad for it. Mark turned and made a remark along the lines of “We’ve played some great songs tonight and you lot go mad for a joke version of our first single. Typical!” I daresay it does irk him a little bit, deep down, in the wee small hours, but c’est la vie, I guess that’s the fickle finger of fame.
As I said at the beginning of all this whiffle I liked The Bluetones from the moment I clapped eyes and ears on them all those years ago. They might not be experimental thrash jazz or crunk screamcore (and some of their tunes might be pleasant rather than kick you in the crotch awesome) but tonight’s gig reminded me of just how many great tunes they’d written over the years. What’s most surprising is that their best stuff still seems to be coming. One in particular, a ‘love song’ but a ‘love song’ with a surprisingly rocky bit and more than a touch of classic era Squeeze about it called ‘Half the Size Of Nothing At All’ is, I would say, the BEST thing they’ve ever done. Tracking back a little to their last album (I think) there’s a song called ‘Head On a Spike’ that’s right up there with their best stuff too. In fact, far from being a band that’s just playing on past glories, tonight’s gig left me feeling just the same as I did way back in 1994...this lot could really get somewhere.