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Mark Morriss I’m Sick [single] Memory Muscle [album]

Mark Morriss: Memory MuscleBest known as the frontman of
  The Bluetones, Mark Morriss is flying
  solo and proving himself as adept at
  performing without the band as he is
  with it...”

I SUPPOSE IT WAS INEVITABLE THAT I'D LIKE How Maggie Got Her Bounce Back (I can't wait!) — the first track on the album Memory Muscle by Mark Morriss — but it is a charming, trippy piece musically and Mark's amazing vocals are so well matched.

Mark Morriss conveys a gentleness with sudden bursts of emotion in his songs. The vocals on the songs of Memory Muscle are lovely to listen to and Mark makes it sound so effortless that it has an almost casual air. With a great West Coast America feel from a few decades back; there's also enough innovation to throw at the 21st Century.

Mark's new single I'm Sick is taken from the album. Starting with the words: "Atop a crossbar I saw the golden age arrive", it appears to be a positive outlook, although the words are a little strange. Mark explains: "There's a Latin feel as a sweet counterpoint to the song's sense of disappointment. It's a collage of images, from childhood in the Seventies to being drunk and confused in casualty." A terrific track, I'm Sick reminded us of spaghetti western music with a great musical melody. It made you feel like riding across the open plains, even if the theme and the words seemed a little at odds with this!

All the work of putting together a collection of his own songs has been an inspiring experience for Mark, who started trying them out acoustically at open-mic nights in London way back in 2004. He says: "I'd just turn up with my guitar and play five or six songs along with everyone else. I didn't want any special favours, and just enjoyed the experience of stripping things right back down."

Last year he started recording the material with producer Gordon Mills, also enlisting Grammy Award-winning composer David Arnold: "We first met on the set of Little Britain, ironically. We were both making a cameo in the same scene, and it was here that I learnt that he really liked the Bluetones' music. In fact, it was when he was composing the soundtrack to Independence Day that he first heard Expecting To Fly. I was, naturally, incredibly flattered and never dreamed that I'd have the chance to work with him."

Arnold arranged the strings for How Maggie Got Her Bounce Back, I'm Sick and Lay Low — and he plays piano on Unwanted Friend. The album also features two covers: a light, mellotron-enhanced twist on Teenage Fanclub's raucous Alcoholiday and the album's closer is a take on Lee Hazelwood's My Autumns Done Come — a very dramatic number with well controlled vocals.

Mark comments: "If I view myself as anything it's as an underdog and I relate to the fact that Lee Hazelwood is a songwriter who has been really underrated — most people don't know him beyond These Boots Are Made For Walking. I think The Bluetones are quite undervalued and neglected."

Mark adds: "Bienvenido is also about those dark nights of the soul. That misplaced sense of wisdom at three in the morning when you're in a noisy nightclub and you've got your 'new' best friends around you and you're making a mess of yourself again."

Another major inspiration on the album's pithy, world-weary observations about life, ageing and betrayal is the writer Kurt Vonnegut, especially the track So It Goes. "That's a phrase he used a lot in his books, especially Slaughterhouse Five," explains Morriss. "He's something of a misanthrope, I guess, but with a pitch black wit and, despite everything, a real humanist at heart. He's a real pessimist but with a razor sharp wit. There's always some kind of positivity in there."

Buckle Up, Baby Doll echoes with hints of Latin American music and it is an upbeat and hip-swivelling track where Mark winds his lyrics delightfully around the music.

The lightness in Memory Muscle is often in the music itself — dark lyrics with warm, sunny arrangements: "I wanted to make a Californian kind of album," Mark reveals. "I wanted to re-create the sounds of my favourite records when I was a callow youth. It wasn't stuff from my own generation really, it was music from the West Coast of America in the late 1960s and early '70s — things like Forever Changes, Rumours and Harvest."

Memory Muscle is also balanced with humour. Now in his mid-thirties, Mark clearly revels in the lines from Hazelwood's My Autumn's Done Come: "Let those 'I don't care' days begin/I'm tired of holding my stomach in." He says: "I think a lot of comedians want to be rock 'n' rollers and a lot of songwriters want to do stand up. Performing these songs as a solo artist over the last few years, I've more often than not found myself feeling stuck somewhere between those two worlds." Having appeared in episodes of Little Britain and Spaced, Mark has had a taster of the other life.

"I met David Walliams and Matt Lucas because I loved this thing they did called Mash & Peas. When those friendships started I was the famous one and now I'm the one in the shadows. But I prefer it. It's a bit of a wake up call and it's made me hungry again."

Since those early acoustic days however, Mark has now formed his own backing band, The Mummys, and with the release of Memory Muscle will be hitting the road to share these newly-embellished songs with whoever enjoys a persuasive melody and a nifty way with a word. I think you'll see a number of nifty words around!

I get the strong impression that Mark Morriss could charm the leaves off the trees. He produces such beautiful music but some of the words are quite basic. There is a fantastic use of music and a tremendous mix of instruments that include guitars, omnichord, mellotron, mandolin, flugelhorn and a Glockenspiel — along with, according to the album notes, bits and bobs and this and that!

Mark Morriss releases his single I'm Sick on 26 May (2008) and his debut solo album Memory Muscle on 23 June (2008) on the Fruitcake label.

Tracklisting: How Maggie Got Her Bounce Back | I'm Sick | So It Goes | Buckle Up Baby Doll | Alcoholiday | Digging A Hole | Lemon & Lime | Unwanted Friend | Bienvenido | Lay Low | My Autumn's Done Come.

"The vocals on the songs of Memory Muscle are lovely to listen to and Mark makes
it sound so effortless that it has an almost casual air. With a great West Coast America feel from a few decades back, there's also enough innovation to throw at the 21st Century" — MotorBar

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