Seriously fly

1996 could be the year of the Bluetones. Then again, it might not be. Little they care.
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The Independent Online
Remember last Saturday afternoon? It was grim outside, the darkness was already pressing in. You were pottering about, flicking through your CDs, weary of the lot of them, trying to work out which one you were least bored with. Eventually you chose one, grudgingly, because you didn't want the house stiff with silence. You put up with it, pulsing away in the background like supermarket muzak. You probably even dozed off to it - music as Mogadon.

Meanwhile, the band who are about to remedy your situation were holed up in a cramped rehearsal room in the heart of an Orwellian housing estate in North London, hammering out the songs that are poised to light up your living room forever. The singer Mark Morriss rolls a cigarette, sticks it in his woolly hat and sings, screwing up his eyes, plunging himself into the music. His kid brother Scott is pounding a bass guitar that's bigger than he is, over in the corner with drummer Eds Chester.

The cherubic Adam Devlin alternates between a pair of gleaming Rickenbackers, playing with such nimble-fingered precision that he's clearly the man for removing those tricky splinters. Adam is the closest thing the band have to a bona fide pop star; this reputation can only swell when the world learns that he swans about the streets of his home town in fake fur, a particularly brassy move given that in Hounslow you can get your collar-bone broken for wearing make-up (and that's just the girls).

They wind down a rusty "Talking to Clarry" and Mark steps out from behind the mike and into a wholly creditable burst of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition".

"How long is it since we played? Two weeks?" He shakes his head, grinning. "A bunch of fucking amateurs."

These are the Bluetones. They have the technology. They can rebuild your faith in pop.

Even in this dank room cluttered with a spaghetti of cables and mike- stands, their vibrant tunes can still sparkle. The band have just begun a weekend of rehearsals in preparation for a brace of small-scale shows - warm-ups for the biggest tour of their short career, headlining the annual NME "Brat Bus" package. This time last year, they were bottom of the bill, below even Gene. It has taken just two singles to propel them to the top and see them named as everybody's tip for 1996. Menswear may have done it all twice as fast last year, but then they never had to trouble themselves with writing timeless pop music that hoists the spirits.

And yet the Bluetones are doing something terribly unfashionable. While the big guns of Britpop head stadiumward armed with gigantic anthems for the common lad, these four freewheeling Hounslow pals have ambled off in the opposite direction, crafting intimate songs which might have been written with just you and your cat in mind. The singles so far - "Are You Blue or Are You Blind?" and "Bluetonic" - seem jubilant and celebratory. Listen again and you'll hear a melancholy undercurrent which betrays the more introspective feel of their debut album, Expecting to Fly, which is released next month.

"The main thing that comes out of this album is that we're really mellow," Mark explains. "British bands have been in-your-face lately, and it's not what we do. If we don't fit in, all the better. Expecting to Fly is a tongue-in-cheek title. Because there's a peacock on the sleeve. There it is looking proud and erect when everyone knows that it can't take off."

A metaphor for the Bluetones?

"We couldn't care less if we become the biggest band in the world or carry on like this. We've no ambition to play arenas. We just want to be people's favourite band. We'd rather be loved by a hundred people than quite liked by a thousand. I live and die by that."

This attitude has kept them buoyant for over two years, ever since they jacked in their jobs, signed on and sold their souls to pop. They all moved into one house too, like the Beatles in Help! They shot pool and mainlined Nintendo there. Mostly they spent their time writing and rehearsing those very songs which will soon be making you late for work as you spend each morning sprawled on the rug listening to them just one more time before you leave.

But you may have yet to hear the invigorating new single "Slight Return", a song which rigorous tests have shown it is medically impossible to stop yourself dancing to. And so you are probably harbouring a nagging question: how can we be sure that the Bluetones aren't just another mob of jammy characters hitching a free lift on the Britpop bandwagon?

"We can't deny that it's attracted a bit of attention for us," Adam concedes, "but that would have come anyway - it's a boom period for bands. The difference is that we could have happened at any time."

"We've been called Britpop and we've been called New Mod," Mark chips in. "And really we're just a mildly psychedelic little guitar group."

You'll be hard pushed to find a young British band who aren't trying to distance themselves from Britpop. But the Bluetones are putting their music where their mouth is by eschewing the sort of chart-happy stompathons which they can undoubtedly write but which, in a matter of months, would leave them stranded up Brit Creek without a paddle. The music alone proves that they're here for the long haul.

So are the fans. On Tuesday, the band are in Liverpool for the second of the week's sold-out warm-ups. It's a taut, pacy, sweaty show; Mark's vigour is especially reassuring given that just an hour earlier he had been huddled in the dressing room ravaged by 'flu, looking tiny and fragile in his marmalade sweater.

Down the front is Joe Cairns, a bright-eyed lad who runs In a Blue Vein, one of three Bluetones fanzines which emerged last year. "You can go to an Oasis gig," he says, "only it doesn't feel like you're close to them. With the Bluetones it's different. I've been following them from the start." He then lists all the times he has seen the band play live. He has possibly attended more Bluetones gigs than the Bluetones.

"I know how he feels," Mark tells me later. "The bands I loved always felt like they were completely my bands."

It's enthusiasm like Joe's that the band thrive on, not the buzz of being hailed as the next big thing. "I can't really see it happening myself," Mark shrugs. "You've got to put it into context. The same people who were touting shit bands last year are touting us now. We'll just get on with what we're doing and if it happens ... well, I'll be surprised."

It looks certain that he'll be the only one who is.

n The Bluetones are touring to 22 Jan, when "Slight Return" is released. The album 'Expecting to Fly' follows on 12 Feb

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