Mark Morriss @ 12 Bar Blues, Barnard Castle

An intimate acoustic gig from the fantastic lead singer of The Bluetones in a small market town. Noisy crowd though.

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This was the first time I’ve seen an established artist play in a pub environment.  It was both fantastic and strange in equal measure.

I was invited by my brother in law (Richard) a few months back, as his local was putting on a Mark Morriss gig.  Tickets sold out in no time as the place only has a capacity of 70 or so.

The timings of the show were shrouded in mystery as Richard was told doors at 6pm with show at 7pm.  That all sounded wrong as there was no support and it didn’t seem likely that Mark would be on at 7pm.  It’s just not rock n roll.  This tight timescale was made trickier by the fact that we’d managed to get a last minute ticket for Ste as one of Richard’s mates had pulled out.  Ste sped down from Newcastle in an attempt to get there for 7.  We wolfed down a bucket of chicken from KFC and headed for Barney.  With the Appleby horse fair due imminently, the road there was awash with travellers seemingly out to ensure we missed the 7pm start.

7.15pm and we roll into Barnard Castle town centre.  We spot the pub and note that it doesn’t appear busy.  Arriving through the doors, we note that there is less than 10 people in.  Clearly Mr Morriss was not about to go on stage.  An Amstel for me and several Black Sheep bests followed for Ste.  Rumours were that The Quill had gone for a bite to eat and the pub slowly filled up…as did many peoples glasses.  As The Quill took the stage at a very reasonable something after 9, the audience were somewhat merry.  Merry and loud.  Very loud.  They really didn’t stop being loud.  Many people seemed to lack any kind of understanding that they were at a gig.  It was extremely frustrating that such a lack of respect was being shown.  Anyway…Mark Morriss tried his best patter and attempted to engage the audience.  Those of us who paid full attention and were treated to a really enjoyable acoustic set.

Mark made it clear from the beginning that this was a solo show and as such he’d take it in turns to play a solo tune and then a Bluetones tune.  That pattern was essentially maintained all night.  He’s got three solo albums out (2 original compositions and one covers album) and there’s a fourth on the way from Pledge Music.  He played two from each of Memory Muscle and A Flash of Darkness.  A further 2 solo tracks were played, presumably from the new album due out on 16th June.  The new stuff sounded good as did every solo track he played, even if I’m not as familiar with them.  7 Bluetones tracks were played in all.  Each one a mini-classic; 3 from Expecting to Fly, 2 from Return to the Last Chance Saloon, 1 from Science & Nature + Marblehead Johnson as the ETF era non-album track.  Richard requested Solomon Bites The Worm, but was disappointed to hear that Mark couldn’t play that one, after all he’s only the lead singer!

I really enjoyed the gig, but I’ve got to come back to the atmosphere in the place.  At times, it was hard to hear anything other than people talking.  You could see Mark was getting frustrated, commenting at the end that it was great to be here to “listen to all of your conversations”.  Even a classic This Is Spinal Tap reference fell flat.  “It’s great to be here in…” *turns guitar over to read the back* “…Barnard Castle”.  Oh well, some nights you have them eating out of your hand and others are like this.

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At the end of the gig, Richard managed to get his picture with Mark (below).  On another night I might have done the same, but this didn’t feel like one of those sort of nights.

Thank you The Quill.  Your performance was great and was very appreciated by some of us.