The Bluetones man Mark Morriss heads to the Wedge for his annual Christmas gig
In one corner of Portsmouth, a visit from sometime-Bluetones frontman and solo artist Mark Morriss has come to say 'Christmas time' as much as mince pies, presents and panto.
The affable singer-songwriter will be paying his ninth annual December-time trip to the city, where his loyal fans can expect a mix of the old and new, and maybe even a few surprises.
And this year he's got a whole new album's worth of materialÂ '“ not that you would have heard it yet, unless you were one of his fans who contributed to its crowdfunding campaign through the PledgeMusic website.
'That's gone very well, and been very well received, butÂ it's not come out properly yet,' Mark explains, 'it's only the pledgers who've received it so far, and we're going to be licensing the record in the new year.'
The album, Look Up, will be his fourth full-length solo release.
'It's not really available anywhere yet '“Â only in my kitchen,' he laughs.Â 'I want to do the release properly so it finds as wideÂ an audience as possible, I've been taking my time to find the right home for the record.
'It's looking like a March or April releaseÂ now. I've got a couple of possibilities lined up - it depends on who can give me the most budget, it's not about money for my pocket, it's money for the marketing and all that kind of thing, that's what I care about.'
For the second year running the gig will be at The Wedgewood Rooms, although he confesses he still misses the now-closed The Cellars at Eastney, where he used to play the December shows.
'Last year was the first one there, and I thought it went really well,Â they did it really nicely '“Â they laid it out like a Las Vegas basement with lots of tables and tealights, and I really enjoyed it, IÂ thought it was the perfect setting.
'The Cellars at Eastney which is obviously sadly no longer there,Â which is unbelievable, that place was great. It breaks your heart.'
MarkÂ remains best-known for fronting The Bluetones, who scored Britpop-era hits with Slight Return, Marblehead Johnson and Solomon Bites The Worm. They split in 2011 after finishing the tour for their sixth album, A New Athens.
But they reunited in 2015 and have played frequently on-and-off since. In fact the band are booked to play at The Wedge in May.
'We can't stay away! We've been playing in that room for years and years now - it's probably 20 years now since we first played there.'
The band's last major tour marked their 20th anniversary as a band. Is there any special reason behind this one?
'Do we need a reason?' he chuckles. 'The theme for this one is that we're sticking to songs from the first 10 years,Â which is the first four albums, and we'll be playing the singles and some favourites. When I say favourites, I mean our favourites, I don't know what anyone else likes'¦'
It's seven years since the band's last album, but Mark adds: 'There isn't a new album in the pipeline now. I realise that some other acts are doing well, and look at Shed Seven '“Â they're having a blinding year, good luck to them.'
Their Britpop peers recently released their first album in 16 years, which went top 10 and has seen them riding a wave of renewed attention. Does Mark feel they're missing out on something by not releasing a new album?
'I don't think like that at all, people do ask me that a lot lately. The Shed Seven story is completely different to us, they're on a completely different ride to us and they've been making this record for a while '“Â it feels right for them, and right for them to do this now, but I don't think that should be the impetus for us or anyone else to go:Â "Hang on a minute, I want a piece of that pie", that's not how we feel. Our mojos don't work that way. Who knows in the future, but not now.'
Also on the horizon for Mark is playing on the Shiiine On mini-cruise in March '“ a three-day festival of '90s indie music on a cruise from Hull to Amsterdam and back again.
'Wish me luck, IÂ might not come back!Â I've not done anything like this before.Â The first I heard of this sort of business was when Weezer did it a few years ago andÂ I thought, that's a brilliant idea, we should steal that, but never got around to it, so I guess this is the closest I get to being Weezer '“Â and being held captive on the high seas.
'I'm looking forward to it, I play on Friday night, so after that I'm going to be a touristÂ as well.'
Mark is joined at The Wedge by local singer-songwriters Andrew Foster and former B of the Bang frontman, Wit.
The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea
Thursday, December 28