As Mark Morriss sheds his jacket and rolls up the sleeves of his check-shirt at the dawn of his solo set in York, he gamely calls out for requests, before being immediately inundated by several shouts, including one who backs their choice with a whoop. “We’ve got a woo!” he cries, before enquiring for the song. “After Hours?” He shrugs. “Can’t play it, I’m afraid.” A mock boo. “Oh yeah? Well, you can take your woo and shove it!”
|Mark Morriss performs in Frankfurt in 2014.|
(Credit to regioactive.de)
It’s a throwaway response that sets the tone for this acoustic shindig. Morriss, fresh from the return of his Britpop hitmakers The Bluetones, cuts a dry-witted, sharp-tongued figure with a salt-and-pepper beard and a tendency to crack filthy one-liners. Over the course of a ninety-five-minute set, he displays a maverick skill as both storyteller and entertainer, crafting a narrative of kitchen-sink-drama music that is interspersed with tongue-in-cheek cover versions. He ribs the audience as much as he self-deprecates; though wary initially to his humour, he wins them over with his earthly waggishness.
The intimate surroundings of the Fulford Arms lend themselves to proceedings too, with fifty or sixty people crammed into a pub room. Morriss relishes the proximity, calling for drinks from the bar and accepting a bag of crisps from a fan after a jokey request. “It’s not a cardigan gig, is it?” he states during Digging a Hole whilst audience members divest themselves of jumpers. Later, he calls his voice “a little bit Bonnie Tyler” after a husky rendition of It’s Hard to Be Good All the Time. When he plays Bluetonic, he bemoans the cheer it receives. “Dear diary,” he monologues in a faux-Etonian accent. “It happened again.”
There’s always been a wry realism to the songs Morriss has crafted, snapshots of the humdrum. Such sentiments appear often throughout – Marblehead Johnson is recast in a more desolate manner, and Mockingbirds is painfully beautiful. When he scuffs up on Teenage Fanclub’s Alcoholiday, it endears the emotional highlight even further. To balance the dourness, Morriss alleviates it with stage patter that becomes increasingly inappropriate. When he delivers a quip about Yorkshire’s most infamous son, it earns belly laughs. He is a darkly comic raconteur who balances the bleak with the blackly funny, a spoonful of sugar to help the bitterest pill.
|Mark Morriss performs in Inverness in 2015.|
(Credit to Inverness Gigs.)
His secret weapon is his left-field cover choices though, which threaten to steal the show. A punchy take on Elton John’s Bennie and the Jets comes first; later, he bursts into a rendition of Duran Duran’s Rio that peters out into light-hearted observations about its lyrical qualities as a song. They are unexpected and gloriously camp, but Morriss makes them his own with well-worn ease. Sandwiched between Slight Return and Sleaze Bed Track, they help close a show high on humour and high on heart. As he packs up and gives his handwritten setlist to a fan, he thanks the owner for putting him on tonight. Based on his grin, that very well may be sooner rather than later.