Wednesday, 6 June 2012

GIG REVIEW: Dodgy, Mark Morriss - Victorious Vintage Festival - 02/06/2012

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The 1990's undoubtedly produced some of the finest music ever made, and one group whose music was popular yet sorely underrated was The Bluetones. An even more overlooked act were the power pop trio Dodgy, who I discovered during the peak of their chart success in 1996 and 1997. However it wasn't until I purchased 1998's Best Of collection 'Ace A's And Killer B's' that the band became one of my favourites. It was sod's law that just as I had realised the brilliance of this amazing musical unit, the band split up following the departure of frontman Nigel Clark. It seemed that I had missed the chance to witness Dodgy playing live, and all that was left of them was a collection of fantastic records. 

So imagine my joy when the original line up reunited in the late 2000's and began playing again. Frustratingly all the gigs seemed to be difficult for me to get to (since I don't drive) and would have ended up proving rather costly after paying for a train and a hotel. Even more frustratingly they played at least four gigs around my local area, none of which I could go to for various reasons beyond my control. Now after waiting no less than fourteen years, I am finally lucky enough to experience the magic that Nigel, Mathew and Andy produce on stage. 

But why mention The Bluetones at the start of this review I hear you ask... Well this is because the band's former frontman Mark Morriss has embarked on a solo career, and is playing a set at the Victorious Vintage festival, an event held at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in Southsea. I've come here to see headliners Dodgy, but I have also been looking forward to seeing Mark, who I haven't watched in over 12 years. Beginning his set with a brilliant rendition of 'A New Athens' he takes to the stage armed with only his voice, an acoustic guitar and his superb collection of songs which pleasingly includes some Bluetones numbers for good measure. He engages with the crowd as well as he ever did, and exudes a particular warmth while the bond between him and the audience lends his delivery added charm. 

'Bluetonic' sounds just as fresh as it did all those years ago, while the new material from his upcoming solo album comes across just as well as the old classics. 'Low Company' is particularly fantastic, showcasing Morriss's melodic gift and proving that he deserves much more recognition as a songwriter. The lost Bluetones classic 'Keep The Home Fires Burning' is reimagined as an Elliot Smith-esque ballad, and despite having played the smash hit 'Slight Return' hundreds of times over the years, he still delivers it passionately and with maximum enthusiasm. Due to a section of the audience calling for the great 1998 single 'If...', Morriss treats us to a brief "Elvis style" version, prompting much amusement, before finishing with the sexually charged suspense of 'Sleazy Bed Track', which in its stripped down form reveals itself as one of Morriss's finest moments. Still a witty, entertaining and genuinely nice guy who hasn't lost his edge after all these years. Maybe going at it alone could eventually see him surpass the work of his old group, and judging by this evening's evidence he's certainly going the right way about it. 

The thought of Dodgy playing festivals conjures up images of crowds jubilantly bouncing around in sweltering sunshine, a mental picture which turns out far from tonight's reality thanks to the rain making an unwelcome appearance. But it matters not, and maybe the bad weather has made the band even more determined to turn in an amazing performance as they open with the slow groove and magnificent chorus of 'So Let Me Go Far'. After one or two unsteady notes at the beginning, 'What Became Of You' is delivered in a truly incredible fashion, such a great song that it seems like it was released years ago, and the gorgeous 'Shadows' (also from the recent album 'Stand Upright In A Cool Place') resonates with a sad elegance and a sublime chorus. They bash out a terrific 'In A Room' with energy and enthusiasm, and win hearts with the understated charm of the sweetly engaging 'Did It Have To Be This Way', demonstrating how the new songs fit in to the set nicely alongside the old classics. 

'Good Enough' has a slightly subdued feel to it tonight, perhaps the lack of sunshine may have had an effect, and even though the band would never get bored of such a fine anthem perhaps they wanted to get it out of the way so they could concentrate on the new songs, which certainly deserve maximum exposure. The fact that their best known hit is played during the first half of the set proves that this group are far from being a nostalgia act and also shows the confidence and belief they have in their excellent new material. Even so, the Britpop-era classic still sees the audience belting out every word like it's 1996 all over again. Back to the present day, the stunning new single 'Only A Heartbeat' is sad and highly emotional but somehow incredibly uplifting. Some look to the skies, reaching for the air and singing at the top of their voices like they feel every word, while others listen in carefully, seduced by this poignantly beautiful song.

An excellent 'Found You' reminds everyone what a superb single it was, and a jubilant 'Staying Out For The Summer' sees the audience jumping for joy and saying a big "fuck you" to the rain. A perfect 'Melodies Haunt You' instantly brings back sweet memories of the glorious 90's, while 'Waiting For The Sun' sparkles with wonderful harmonies and simple, alluring hooks. It's a lovely image as ships light up the night, passing into the view behind guitarist Andy Miller while he picks out the intricate notes during 'Raggedstone Hill''s intro. The thundering power of the chorus reveals an epic musical peak and a number that could very possibly be their finest moment yet. The mournful, heartfelt plea of 'Happy Ending' is complimented superbly by the fantastic backing vocals of Vanessa Best from Ultrasound who is invited on stage as a special guest, providing extra depth to the music before the song ends with an example of why bearded skin-thumping legend Mathew Priest is a true asset to the band. 

They come back on for an encore and pleasingly bring Vanessa back on stage with them for a surprise rendition of an old northern soul classic. As the rain lashes down harder than before, Dodgy thrill fans with the climactic 'Grassman', one of the band's greatest moments that sounds better than ever tonight as they deliver a thoroughly powerful performance of the song. It's the overwhelming moment of this show that will forever stick with me: arms in the air, singing my heart out in the pouring rain as my clothing gets absolutely drenched. 

Well worth the fourteen year wait and a truly magic moment I will treasure for years to come, much like the magnificent records released by this undercredited musical unit. With an amazing new album out and the old songs sounding as great as ever, there has never be better time to come and see Dodgy play. As the rain continues to pour and obnoxious security staff hustle any remaining fans away from the stage area, nothing can put a dampener on this night, a night when Nigel, Andy and Math found their way even deeper into people's hearts.

To see more photos of Mark Morriss at the event, go HERE.
To see more photos of Dodgy at the event go HERE.
Buy Dodgy's magnificent 'Stand Upright In A Cool Place' HERE and read a review HERE.

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