19. The Bluetones – Lemon Grove, Exeter – 18/05/2003

Previously on Sweating With Strangers: I get all giddy and light-headed at the thought of a really good Status Quo album, even if I have to pay people to attend the gigs with me.

Let’s move on from 2002 – the rockingest year of my life so far, with a total of six gigs – and into the warm, comforting bosom of 2003, which will beat it’s predecessor by two. There are some pleasing highs and some crushing lows to come in the year ahead, so do stick around if massive disappointment is your kind of thing.

The year was pleasingly bookended by two Bluetones shows in Exeter. After the release of their Greatest Hits album the year before, the band had seemingly hit a wall that all but the biggest of acts tend to hit at some point – the wall where radio, TV and press seemingly decide that you’ve had your time and no longer warrant any of their attention. Does it matter that you’re still putting out quality records? No. Does it matter that you’re still playing great live shows? No. You’ve ticked over into irrelevance and we will no longer be bothering with you, meaning that anyone who doesn’t follow your website daily will now automatically assume you’ve split up.

It’s an understandable approach – music has to change, after all, and radio stations can’t keep playing the same bands forever – but it still frustrates me, for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t understand the type of ‘fan’ that just forgets bands exist because they’re not shoved down their throats by radio and magazines anymore. And secondly, because it’s often at such arbitrary moments in careers. The media just decide you’re done, rather than waiting until a bad album is made and fans start to reject you naturally.

There seems to be a couple of approaches to take when this happens. You can start doing anything and everything you can to get any kind of publicity and remain ‘relevant’ – ie, the Status Quo approach. Or you can embrace the change, and just continue to make music for yourselves and your remaining fan-base, enjoying the creative freedom that comes from no longer having the pressure of needing a top 10 album or a radio hit.

The Bluetones  – certainly in the long-term – seemed to take the second option, and continued to release brilliant albums and put on great live shows until they split, briefly, in 2011 (more on which, much later).

In the short-term, their tactic for overcoming any lack of exposure for their new album was to take it to the people, embarking on a fifty date jaunt around the UK in spring 2003. The record was only released in the last two weeks of the tour, but formed the vast majority of the set-list throughout.

That’s a brutal schedule, but a highly effective way to get your new music heard by the people who actually might want to buy it, and it really takes touring back to the idea that it is to promote the album. These days it’s almost certainly the other way around for many acts.

As I mentioned in a previous post, The Bluetones always seemed to make albums that sounded different from their other records, whilst still being uniquely them, and Luxembourg highlighted that perfectly, as it doesn’t really sound like any of their other records, but it couldn’t really be by anyone else.

Image result for bluetones luxembourg

Aptly named after the small yet powerful country, Luxembourg clocks in at a little over half an hour, but features some of the band’s punchiest tracks. Crunching and fuzzy distorted guitars feature more heavily here than elsewhere in their back catalogue, and the record sounds far less produced than their previous work – it’s certainly stripped of the trumpets and other accoutrements that adorned 2000’s Science and Nature – making it the perfect album to promote in a live setting.

Of course, the pay-off for this approach is that much of the show will be spent listening intently, rather than rocking one’s socks off, and while it makes for a convincing sales pitch, it doesn’t necessarily equal a memorable gig experience.

Despite the album having been released the week before the show, I didn’t yet own it when gig day rolled around, as it could not be found anywhere in Exmouth, further highlighting the lessened publicity this album was afforded. So I was one of the many, many people who heard these songs for the first time on this tour, and I was anything but disappointed in the new tunes.

Of course, the set was also peppered with older favourites, which went down well, but I do recall thinking the whole experience was just a bit flat, compared to the last time I saw them at least. This was not through any lack of performance on the part of the band, but more a combination of the lacklustre venue and the abundance of new songs being played. But while it didn’t make me want to dance my heart out, it definitely did make me want to buy the new album just as soon as I could get my dirty little hands on it. As that was the main point of the tour, it must be classed as a roaring success!

It also made me hope The Bluetones would come back soon, once these songs were better known, and that they would play at a much better venue. Luckily I wouldn’t have long to wait for that little dream to come true. But more on that, another time.

Set-list thoughts:

The Bluetones Setlist University of Exeter, Exeter, England 2003, Luxembourg Tour

 

  • It is heavy on the new stuff (tracks 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13 and 19, in case you’re not in the know), but nicely spaces them out so that we were never more than a couple of tracks away from a classic. That’s the way to do these kind of tours I think, although I’ve also known acts play their entire new record to start a show and I’ve not complained (see also David Ford, 2010).
  • No ‘Slight Return’! That must be a rarity for Bluetones gigs. I’m not sure what the specific reason was – perhaps a more knowledgable reader can enlighten me, but I do remember the gig ending and thinking “Did they play ‘Slight Return’? I don’t think they played ‘Slight Return’!!!”
  • The new songs that really hit home were ‘Here It Comes Again’, ‘Turn It Up’ (both retaining their opener/closer album positions to hammer home that this is a tour about a record) and ‘Never Going Nowhere’. The latter really is a wonderful song and one of those lyrics where a song puts into words a real life experience better than you could hope to do it yourself. For anyone who has dumped or been dumped, it’s a cracking tune. Check out the video, which seems to have been filmed during this very tour.

Thanks for reading.

What are your memories of seeing bands promote new albums before they were released?

Can anyone remember who the support act were on this tour?

Please share this around so I’m not talking to myself.

And come back next time, to discover if one human being can ruin an entire gig. Spoiler alert: (they can)!

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