REAL GONE GOES OUT: The Bluetones – Dreamland, Margate, Kent 28/6/2024

It’s approximately 7pm on a slightly overcast summer evening and a few rather unassuming figures wander onto Dreamland’s massive Scenic Stage. They are Britpop legends The Bluetones, a band who were never as good at generating their own press as Oasis, and never had the pin-up status of Sleeper’s Louise Wener, but their best singles were among the Britpop scene’s finest, and as musicians, their 60s meets 90s jangle was always exceptionally tight. This is actually their second visit to Margate in under a year – they played the Dreamland Ballroom back in October 2023, playing the whole of their ‘Return To The Last Chance Saloon’ album – but, tonight, their support slot with Scotland’s Deacon Blue promises to be just as special.

With no time wasted, the band launches into the opening chords of ‘Bluetonic’. As the chopping riffs and a solid jangly melody fills the air, it’s immediately clear that the sound quality at the theme park is genuinely excellent tonight, and Scott Morriss’s bass sounds especially punchy without being too dominant. Mark Morriss’s voice is equally on point; as he croons through the stripped down verses, his performance has the same youthful clarity as it had at gigs almost thirty years previously. Half way through this old indie club favourite, the band really find their groove, and even from the back of the venue, it’s great to witness them clearly enjoying the moment.

If only the same could be said of the audience. Half of them haven’t arrived yet, and most of those present appear to greet the track with a general indifference. Not that it’s going to discourage the ’Tones, and with barely a pause, they break into an equally sharp ‘Cut Some Rug’ which, as before, offers a superb sound, and the fuzzy opening riff cuts through with a real intent. As ever, the track’s contrast of dirty guitar and clean vocal sounds brilliant, and drummer Eds Chesters appears to be particularly precise in the way he approaches the number’s complex rhythm. The track’s poppier chorus holds up brilliantly as peak Bluetones, and this quickly becomes one of the set’s greatest performances.

Taking a moment to greet the crowd, Mark tells everyone that ‘Down At The Reservoir’ is “…an old song – nearly as old as the audience tonight.” His snippy and often depreciating humour has become an important part of the band’s own sets, but is somewhat misjudged tonight, and there’s a feeling that goading the crowd in this way – whether meant humorously, or otherwise – really isn’t going to to endear him to some of the indifferent figures gathered in front of the stage. He continues by telling everyone that ‘Down By The Reservoir’ was “almost a single, but we released something different instead, and you didn’t buy it.” Kicking into ‘Reservoir’, Adam Devlin’s guitar comes with plenty of crunch, and on this night, it becomes one of those tracks that captures the band in top swagger. In a change of mood, the swooning jangle pop of ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning’ acts as a solid reminder of one of the more overlooked Bluetones singles, and its huge chorus hits everyone with a perfect clarity, ensuring that for any actual fans who are present this evening, the number becomes an instant set highlight.

Given that time is short, you might expect a quick fire selection of other hits – that would be a wise move, and worked brilliantly for Del Amitri opening for Simple Minds at Dreamland just eight days earlier – but The Bluetones take this occasion to explore a couple of other avenues. ‘A New Athens’ – the title track of their sixth album – gives the set another solid rocker, but will be unfamiliar to almost everyone, and a new number ‘Billy Balfour’ rocks even harder with a busy riff, which beyond the front row, seems to be greeted rather nonchalantly. It’s actually great to hear The Bluetones not just relying on cheap nostalgia, though – and it’s good to know there’s likely a new record on the horizon – but, in fairness, this evening probably hasn’t been the best time for a deeper dive or to road test anything unfamiliar.

The rest of the set bustles with more “radio friendly” fare: there’s a great ‘Marblehead Johnson’ driven by a repetitious ringing guitar and punchy vocal; a superb sounding ‘Slight Return’, surely familiar to even the most casual observer in tonight’s crowd (introduced by Mark as “an oldie…well, it’s an oldie where I come from”, suggesting he knows that the audience aren’t really behind the band tonight), and a rousing ‘Are You Blue Or Are You Blind’ which attacks with a genuine enthusiasm. As the last notes fade and the musicians leave the stage, there are some visibly appreciative hands at the front of the crowd suggesting a few fans have made the trip to see the lads this evening – there are a few folk on Twitter who are very vocal and clearly follow them everywhere – and that’s rather heartening to see.

The condensed set time has meant some of Mark’s amusing banter has fallen by the wayside, but every one of the tunes have really shone this evening. With a mix of bristling energy, welcome nostalgia and a nod towards the future, it’s felt like a complete live experience, despite its brevity. Being the first act on stage is an unenviable job, but for The Bluetones tonight, but it’s been an especially tough sell, despite grabbing the opportunity with both hands. And that’s a shame. They’re a fine band and they’ve sounded great, but for most, that’s just not been enough. Their loss.

June 2024