Sleeper and The Bluetones 20.8.21 Bournemouth O2 Academy
A return to the O2 Academy Bournemouth for a second post ‘release to normality’ gig here. A bit quieter tonight than Wolf Alice a few weeks back and the audience generally a bit older and it’s comfortably busy rather than rammed down on the dancefloor – indeed it’s only the dancefloor that’s open and not the standing middle balcony or seating in The Gods. Bit of a bugger with ankle ailment not gone yet..perhaps I should to a lower limb medical blog.🙄
This is a familiar home turf gig for me, indeed the last place I saw The Bluetones ten years ago – venue and previous gig notes here.
I’ve encountered some strangley ineffective bar service here previously (isn’t the idea to sell stuff fast) but I’ve never seen the big side bar closed…. I wonder if that’s a Covid mitigation measure 🤔… perhaps it isn’t open to stop crowds at the bar – the other bars have queues in lines – long lines. They ran out of wine. Craft pale ales hidden in the fridges lasted minutes – I caught one before the Carlsberg on tap, Export and San Miguel in cans. A bit dismal but luckily we’ve not just come for the beer…although a beery twist to the evening as we (wife Sally) are joined by gig buddies up from Plymouth (D&A Pi) and the ‘Lychett massive’ (T&B Ev) to fuel the thirst… well it is Friday.
The band based cocktails on offer caught the eye 🙄. No chance – there were Bluetones ones as well.
The Bluetones: looking back
There can’t be many other bands I’ve seen more than ten times, maybe only The Stranglers. I started rifling through my old tickets and the gigs kept coming.
First one was January 1999 at the now demolished London Astoria on Tottenham Court Road, so some three years on from the album being celebrated tonight. The last was here in Boscombe on the ‘Farewell Tour’ of 18 September 2011 and in between:
- Shepherds Bush Empire* 25.2.2000, 3.11.2000, 6.12.2001
- Oxford Brookes University** 9.3.2002
- The Fez, Reading 8.5.2003
- Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea 23.4.2005
- Mr Kyps, Poole 17.8.2005
*Shepherd’s Bush – always been a fave. (**Gigs at Universities when you’re not a student…hard work eh. Too many chattering and easily distracted types who just come along not that focused on the band – many destined to pack up their gig going aged 21.)
Then there were the festivals. They played V97 in Leeds I was at but I can’t recall if I saw them…there may be others such as Reading 1998.
They formed in Hounslow, West London, in 1993, the core line up tonight and through the years has been the same: Mark Morriss (vocals) who has been pursuing his solo career over the last decade; brother Scott on bass; Adam Devlin on guitar and Eds Chesters on drums. An extra guitarist has joined at times but tonight there’s added keyboards… not sure who.
Three top ten albums and tonight the focus is on their debut ‘Expecting to Fly’ which knocked Oasis off number one spot for a week after its release in February 1996.
Are they ‘Britpop’ or just indie pop… or just good tunes?
The Bluetones tonight
Difficult on these shared headline tours to take your turn as the ‘support act’. Never quite enough time or freedom and this evening there is the further constraint of playing one album straight through – predictability is added to. I think mixing up the tracks is preferable even if showcasing a particular album.
Hard to go wrong with these old favourites though. From the showcased album I’d take ‘Bluetonic‘ every time but it’s only the second track in so tonight’s winner from that album is ‘Slight Return’…. but it’s all familiar ground. Comfort music. The crowd have come to watch and listen not go wild.
After the break, out come some singles and other favourites but little time to wander through later albums which I have listened to more. ‘Are you blue or are you blind’, ‘Soloman bites the worm‘ and ‘Never going nowhere‘ are my favoured choice from the latter section.
Mark Morriss peppers the set with chirpy chat – often self deprecating. ‘Did you have Covid down here?’ he enquires sarcastically at one point. I must try and catch one of his solo gigs – as it happens he is playing in Poole at a mini-festival on the August Bank Holiday weekend but I will be elsewhere.
The lighting is pretty dark at times but a bit of wandering is easier this evening – a bit of room – to grab a few snaps. Not ideal though.
The finale comes all too quickly – the band came on at 7.30pm so as 9pm approaches it feels early to go but Sleeper to come – and it’s ‘If‘ – a belter and probably my favourite Bluetones track. They weave a bit of Police’s ‘Every breath you take’ in to get it going.
Sleeper: looking back
My Sleeper gig going is more based on modern age post reunion experience. However, I bought the ‘Smart’ album being showcased tonight, shortly after it came out in February 1995 and they were on the bill – a cracking bill – in July later that year when I went to see REM at Milton Keynes Bowl.
That was it for me in that original spell before they split in 1998. They reformed in 2017 and a new album was later on the way (released 2019): ‘The Modern Age‘ which I love. There’s also the recent album of old refound material ‘This Time Tomorrow’ with the excellent opener ‘Tell me where you’re going‘.
I saw them on their first proper tour after reforming in April 2018 at Bournemouth Old Fire Station, Victorious Festival in August 2018, March 2019 at The Engine Rooms, Southampton then at The 100 Club in May 2019, a gig I won tickets for on Absolute Radio.
No camera with me at The Old Fire Station but I remember being sat up on the side benches with some friends, Bridget and Andy who are in a Blondie tribute band (Blonde.E.Lux) as Sleeper played ‘Atomic’….which surprised me at the time and was novel.
In my trawl for Covid restriction dodging gigs, I had tickets for a spaced and seated Sleeper gig and Q&A at the Clapham Grand on 10 July – it was cancelled on the day just as we were about to set off for the train station. Covid in the band. So good to have this one lined up so quickly after. This cancellation stuff is far from over so I’ll keep rolling the dice and keep arrangements cancellable if possible.
First album ‘Smart’ in order then tonight so it’s ‘Inbetweener’ to start…one of their best known perhaps. But there are more gems in this most predictable first run of tracks: ‘Delicious’ ‘Vegas’, ‘Alice in Vain’ and Pyrotechnician’ to complete the debut album section.
The core line up of Louise Wener, Jon Stewart (guitar) and Andy Maclure (drums) with Keiron Pepper (bass) who joined at the 2017 reformation stage, are supplemented with a keyboardist and added guitar on this tour.
The crowd is a little more animated than for The Bluetones and I get the feel they’re here more for Sleeper. It’s more bouncy when we get to the freestyle of tracks not on ‘Smart’ and there is that’s ‘what’s next’ thing. I’m still unconvinced of the benefit of playing any album in full in order… it’s not like either being featured this evening are concept albums.
After the break the selection includes ‘Nice Guy Eddie’, ‘Statuesque’ and ‘What do I Do Now’ and it’s all really picking up now – great stuff.
My Louise photo gallery appears to be blossoming as we get near the end… and Blondie’s ‘Atomic‘. OK I’ve heard it before but not as good as this. Really nostalgic obviously but a belter of a version and although not a Sleeper song it is my highlight of the evening – hairs on the neck bristling, and that’s after a haircut yesterday.
To finish it’s ‘Sale of the Century’ – what else. Top tune to end this return to the 90s.
…and yes we’ve had a good time. Sharp exit for a waiting taxi.