Can it really be twenty years since MARK MORRISS first shimmied into our lives as singer with The Bluetones?
Apparently so. But thirteen hit singles, three Top Ten albums and a collaboration with a national treasure later -more of which shortly- – his ability to sieve poetry from the colander of every day life remains unique.
“I always try to add little things that most songs wouldn’t use,” he says of the lyrics on his remarkable first solo album ‘proper’,A Flash Of Darkness.
“If I can squeeze a mention of Bergerac into a song (as he does in surefire smash ‘Consuela’) then I’m happy.”
While it might not take Jersey’s finest to track down a copy, it’s fair to say that the release of Mark’s folk-infused solo debut,Memory Muscle, in 2008 was low key, despite string arrangements from the legendary composer David Arnold.
However, it wasn’t until The Bluetones split up in October 2011 that he thought seriously about his next move.
“To be honest I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he says with typical candour. “So I threw a lot of irons into the fire.”
While one of these resulted in him writing the music for David Walliams’ audio books (“great fun”), he was still writing songs. Only this time, with a view to other people singing them.
“It really freed me up. But the songs I came up with were so personal I realised they might be difficult for anyone else to sing them.” Rather than let the songs, as he puts it, ‘end up on the shelf’, Mark headed to ‘a shed in Surrey’ with long term Bluetones collaborator Gordon Mills. As the sessions progressed, so the pent-up frustrations of the past few years poured out.
“Personally I went through quite a difficult time, and is often the way, that was translated into the songs.” If there’s a confessional, cathartic edge to A Flash Of Darkness, it also comes with tunes of tungsten-strength. ‘Guilty Again’ is a conscious nod to ‘70’s soft-rock icon Andrew Gold, while ‘This Is The Lie’ splices a jaunty sea shanty against some brutal self-analysis.
Throw in a pair choice covers – a dreamy take on The Shins’ Pink Bullets’, an acoustic overhaul for Kavinsky’s electro noir ‘Nightcall’, best known from the ‘Drive’ soundtrack- and you’ve got an album which proves that a dark night of the soul often brings artistic illumination.
“The album title refers to that moment when you’ve just turned off the light and everything remains semi-lit for a split second,” says Mark, referring back to his lowest point.
“It’s a revelation of a bad thing, rather than a good thing. Whisper it, but Mark Morriss’ light bulb moment might just have resulted in his best album yet.
In the 12 months since the release of A Flash Of Darkness, Mark has been busying himself with some of his other side projects and collaborations, including playing rhythm guitar for The Maypoles, the studio and touring band of Matt Berry (IT Crowd, Toast Of London, House Of Fools) as well as recording a new album (The Taste Of…) for Acid Jazz Records.
SUPPORT: JAMES GRAY ROBSON & THE LOVELY BURN
Things seem to have come full circle for Darlington alt. Americana duo James Gray Robson & The Lovely Burn. It was twenty six years ago that James and Chris played in their first band together. After a run of cheap demos, lineup changes and playing to numerous empty rooms across the North East, the guys called a halt to their music careers. Although James played drums in various bands over the years, nothing was taken too seriously.
After years of not thinking about playing music again, James thought the only way forward was to learn guitar in a bid to write for himself and begin singing again. The first spark of creativity came when he was asked to write a song for the film ‘Inside Fear’. This song was ‘Six Years’. From then on the songs kept coming. To give the tracks more depth, James had no hesitation in calling Chris. They immediately began rehearsing and writing together; these songs eventually became the basis of their first EP, recorded after just six months. ‘For All It’s Worth’ is a melodious slice of alt. country, taking its cues from the songwriting and sounds of 70’s Laurel Canyon. James’ soaring, emotive vocals and sparse drums, allow space for Chris’ gorgeous, expansive guitar lines.
After playing a handful of local shows in 2015, the guys decided to step up their gigging in 2016. ‘For All It’s Worth’ was released in November 2015; they began 2016 with a headline show at the legendary Troubadour in London. They have gigged relentlessly across the country, from the Whiskey Jar in Manchester to support slots with Big Country, Chris Helme and Ian Prowse plus a first appearance at Stockton Calling; all to rapturous audiences, intrigued by the expansive sound of a two guitar and drums set up.
Being a firm favourite of BBC Radio Tees introducing’s Bob Fischer, the guys have already played two live sessions and had numerous appearances on the introducing show, with tracks being passed on to BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris. May 2016 saw the release of their second EP ‘Rule For You’. Again recorded in just a few weeks at home, ‘Rule For You’, gains more depth both sonically and lyrically, with extra percussion and more of Chris’ warm country blues guitar wrapping itself around James’ soul-filled voice.
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