Posts Tagged ‘damon albarn and blur’

Albarn and self-discovery

Posted 07 Apr 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Music

Ever the contrarian; there’s a nice little interview with Damon Albarn in the Guardian today. The paper’s John Harris is, along with Stuart Maconie and Steve Lamacq, perhaps the music journalist with the most long term insight into Blur, so he normally manages to extract the most sense out of an interviewee who is notoriously difficult to pin down, and as changeable as Easter weather.

Oddly, he chooses to focus, again, on Damon’s flirtation with hard drugs in the late 1990s, which is neither newsworthy nor terribly interesting, but perhaps instructive when viewed not as a historical detail but rather as the starting point from which Damon embarked on a long period of un-selfconscious musical discovery. Rightly, Harris notes that Albarn, who was raised in a hippy household – always a bead-wearer despite the Essex branding – follows in a tradition of sorts which is “common to a lot of musicians from bohemian backgrounds”. Harris writes.

For all its grave dangers, that drug – perhaps in moderation, if such a thing is possible – sometimes opens up a side of them that they didn’t know existed.

Albarn certainly has little interest in talking up the mind-altering effects of drugs (he prefers the rigours of the 9-5, albeit with the help of an “early morning joint”), so the interview doesn’t dwell. I’m even less interested (in fact, utterly uninterested) in drugs – but I’d gladly hear more about either John Harris or Damon Albarn’s thoughts of un-selfconscious music-making, because it strikes me that that’s exactly what Damon has spent the last 13 years doing – making free, largely unedited rock music with a meandering but always curious emotional and spiritual urgency.

Full interview is here.

Blur in the studio with William Orbit

Posted 22 Jan 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Music

My suspicion is that the band are just testing things out rather than definitively recording with a view to releasing new material, but nonetheless, this is incredibly good news. Following plenty of teasers and rumours surrouding the possiblity of Blur recording new stuff, William Orbit – who produced 1999′s 13 – has posted the following on his Facebook page.

Hope it’s not a wind-up.

Sumthin Like This Night

Posted 22 Mar 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Music

Back in the mid-90s I had a summer job in central London, working for Liberty, and spent an inordinate amount of time walking round the city listening to my walkman. Every other lunchtime I’d go to Mr Bongo’s in Soho and buy an imported hip hop 12″ – Nas, Smoothe da Hustler, Ugly Duckling, Dilated Peoples, Wu Tang – and the next day listen to it over and over on tape. Apart from all the 12″s, the only album I still listened to all the time was Snoop Doggy Dog’s ‘Doggystyle’, by that point quite dated but still the perfect summer record. To my dismay, it took about another 15 years for Snoop to make another record I really liked – and here it is. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s produced by Damon Albarn, who coaxed Snoop into a terrific performance with Gorillaz at Glastonbury last year. This track, from Snoop’s new LP, is clearly descended from Damon’s ‘Doncamatic’, but that matters little – it’s a characteristically lop-sided bit of music (the drums owe a lot to Tony Allen), and Snoop sounds reinvigorated. Great stuff.

I’m a much more convincing indie kid than I am a b-boy. I tried to be street but just ended up looking like a member of The Charlatans. My baggy trousered phase was, thankfully, shortlived. Here’s me back then, up a tree. Because I am now a respectable grown-up, I’ve cropped the jazz cigarette out of the picture.

Charlie Gillett and Damon Albarn

Posted 28 Mar 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Music


I remember quite clearly when I first had access to the internet; it was in my first year of university. I didn’t really know what it was for. I had an email address and subscribed to various mailing lists, and used the web itself infrequently – this was back in the day when it would never have occurred to me to get my news from anywhere except Radio 4 and newspapers. I’d fallen out of love with music, too, and think I mainly used it for that most prosaic of reasons – to look up essays about James Joyce that I could plagiarise. It had no role as a communication tool at all – I didn’t send an email to a friend ’til after I graduated.

But I remember quite clearly an incident one weekend in the late 90s, when I was back in London to stay with my parents and get a home-cooked meal. We had the radio on, and were listening to a show presented by Charlie Gillett, who I had listened to, occasionally, all my life. My loyalties at the time lay with John Peel, Mark Radcliffe and Gary Crowley, and I found Gillett – who, like Andy Kershaw, played a lot of strange, exotic world music – a bit too ‘grown up’ and sophisticated for my tastes. But my parents used to play African music a lot at home, and I was powerless to deny the immediate, propulsive thrill of the music he played.

That weekend, back at home and enjoying my mother’s cooking, and well into the second bottle of wine of the evening, Charlie Gillett played a song which sounded truly wonderful. If you’re at all interested in music or British radio, you’ll know that Charlie died last week, and I hope you know what an enormous loss that was. I’m going to dig into my blog archive now, and quote myself, telling this exact same story, back in 2006, when I first learned that Charlie’s health was poor.

When I was a student, home from university one week, I sat in my parent’s kitchen, eating dinner and talking to my mum and dad, when a song from the radio behind us stopped us all in our tracks; it was the kind of song which you only hear every few years, something dynamic and surprising and new, and though I can’t now remember what the song was, I remember how I came to hear it and who was playing it. It was a song played by Charlie Gillett, world music specialist on what was then called GLR and is now BBC London 94.9. I remember particularly because although I missed him saying what the track was, I did notice him reading out an email address towards the end of the show. So I wrote a quick and fairly hopeful email asking if the song could be identified. I suppose I imagined some producer or tea-boy receiving it and digging through the playlists to answer my question.

What I received, very shortly afterwards, was an exquisitely polite and helpful reply from Charlie Gillett himself, expressing – absurdly, really – pleasure that I had enjoyed the show and identifying, and providing information on, the song in question. This struck me then, and now, as a surprising and generous gesture, much more so for this was well before the time when it became the norm for a radio show to interact with their listeners via email. Although I have lived for much of the time between then and now away from London, and have thus not followed his show closely, I have always had a particularly high opinion of the man, and an opinion which has heightened with each and every encounter of his show. He is, plainly, a true radical, never compromising his passion for music nor resting on his laurels when there is new music to be explored. It is plainly absurd that a DJ of his incredible originality and passion never made the leap to national radio (apart from the World Service), especially as he is a real trail-blazer in his field.

On the other hand, I have a suspicion that his charm might actually be best observed in the spartan surroundings of local radio. Unlike other DJs of his calibre, Gillett has always worked alone, producing his shows as well as curating them. He is the only radio presenter I have ever heard who played more records at the wrong speed, or failed to turn the volume up more often, than the famously shambolic John Peel. Somehow it would hard be hard to imagine him in the plush surroundings of radios 2 or 3. Like Peel he trades not on his smooth delivery or consistency, but rather on his insatiable curiosity and enthusiasm. His ‘Radio Ping Pong’, where he and a weekly guest cheerfully bat records spontaneously back and forth between the two, is a typically vibrant feature. I particularly remember Damon Albarn guesting last year and flumoxing Gillett with a series of increasingly erratic and arcane choices.

“Oh, you’ve got me confused now”, he eventually conceded.

I never expected a reply from Charlie, and I was honoured to receive one. Years later – after I wrote the paragraphs above – me and Dan went to Womad, in Reading. Charlie’s health was still precarious, and it seemed to be on everyone’s mind. Every artist seemed to mention him on stage. Little wonder.

Regular readers of this blog will associate my musical tastes much more closely with Damon Albarn than they will Charlie Gillett. But his relentless love of music and tremendously catholic taste was one of the sweetest gifts I ever encountered. He was a genuine hero. Here, by way of tribute, is the edition of Radio Ping Pong he co-hosted with Damon. Right click and ‘save target as’ to download.

Thanks, Charlie. In a small, important way, you changed my life.

Damon Albarn and Charlie Gillett, Radio Ping Pong, 2005.
1. Emmanuel Jal & Abdel Gadir Salim - Baai
2. Carol Fran - Tou' Les Jours C'Est Pas La Même / Coalishun - Thundah
3. Charlie and Damon
4. Assa'd Khoury - Ana Jar
5. Los Zafiros - Bossa Cubana
6. Oboto Sukuma - Nakatiye
7. K'naan - Hoobale
8. Miow People (field recording by Damon) / Arto Tuncboyaciyan - Dear My Friend Onno
9. Mehr Ali & Sher Ali Qawaali - Man Kunto Maula

With love.

Gorillaz, Stylo review

Posted 20 Jan 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews

If you’ve not heard it yet, ‘Stylo’, the new single by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s subversive, always-interesting pop project, Gorillaz, is all over the internet today, and you owe it to yourself to track it down forthwith. Whisperings about the forthcoming LP, ‘Plastic Beach’, imply it will be a typically dynamic, eclectic affair, boasting guest spots from Snoop Dogg, Mark E Smith, Lou Reed and many many more.

Albarn has dropped some interesting clues about where Gorillaz is headed over recent months, hinting that his new songs have roots in his abandoned stage project ‘Carousel’, and that the Blur gigs in the summer persuaded him to revisit his vocals for the LP and abandon his recent usage of guide vocals, preferring instead to sing more directly. The title of the LP suggests that, lyrically, a recurring theme will be the environment, one of Albarn’s current passions (he recently told Paul Morley that the two things he is most passionate about are “the effects of our waste and the healing properties of Africa”).

But for all that this is interesting, the most intriguing thing about the band – apart from Hewlett’s wonderful drawings and Albarn’s staggering musicality – remains the dichotomy between Damon’s critique of manufactured chart music and his self-evident, not at all contradictory, love of pop.

‘Stylo’ expresses this perfectly – built on a platform of thudding beats and a persistent, electro bass line, it may feature a stunning, deeply pretty melodic line from Damon, but it also completely lacks a conventional chorus, providing instead a terrific, unhinged hook vocal from Bobby Womack. It sounds stranger, more challenging than previous Gorillaz records.

But it is also easily the most catchy thing Damon has done in years. The bass line alone is stunningly memorable, and the jewel may be Mos Def’s short, rhythmically perfect verse in the closing stages. The whole thing swaggers and shines.

It’s too early, of course, to say whether it’ll engage daytime radio and the general populace in the same way as previous Gorillaz singles, but for me it’s superior to every single from the last two LPs with the exception of ‘Dare’. And if it IS successful, Damon’s genius will have been to have crafted a perfect, vibrant pop single which harks back to the bassy, vibrant electro of early Compass Point (think Grace Jones or Tom Tom Club) and the euphoria of late 80s house music, but which is in no way nostalgic, formulaic or predictable.

In short, I think it’s one of the best things he’s ever done. And elsewhere? There’s really no one, creatively, anywhere near him.

early blur footage

Posted 08 Dec 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Video

Some early footage of Blur has turned up out of nowhere – brilliant. Unfortunately the embedding is turned off for this video, but it’s essential viewing anyway, so you’ll just have to follow the link below. Not quite sure where it came from all of a sudden – perhaps it was uncovered during the research for the new Blur documentary – but it’s amazing – this is Seymour (the band that would become Blur) playing ‘Superman’ in Harlow, Essex in December 1989. Twenty years ago. God.

Wish the first Blur album had sounded all fuzzy and frenetic like this – we’d have realised how wonderful they were that bit earlier…

Seymour – Superman

UPDATE: Ah, Scimmy has obliged by sticking the mp3 version on divshare – great; still – you’ll probably want to watch the vid, too.

the papers laud blur

Posted 29 Jun 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music

I’ve been having laptop troubles this week, so I’ve lost the Blur review I’ve been working on, so it’ll be a little while before I get a write up posted of last week’s Southend gig. In the meantime, you’re probably up to speed with how effective and moving a reunion their return is proving, courtesy of last night’s (annoyingly brief) Glastonbury highlights on the BBC. Today’s papers seem to echo my view; that although the band started ever so slightly slowly, before long they gelled perfectly, and played pretty much the perfect festival set. Here’s a quick run-down on the reports I’ve been reading in the Nationals…

Tim Jonze from the Guardian was fabulously impressed, choosing to contrast Blur’s hi-energy performance with the workmanlike sets of Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. He writes:

“Tonight Blur are sticking their fingers up to dad-rock by falling in love all over again with the dumb art of playing pop music – and playing it loudly. Girls and Boys literally throbs with sordid energy, Song 2 sees the crowd threatening to pogo themselves off the earth’s axis, and Parklife turns every man, woman and anarcho-crustie into a cockney geeza. It’s hit after hit after hit. From She’s So High to the Universal, via Popscene, For Tomorrow and Country House, it’s nothing short of relentless.

(…) But for all their energy, it’s the sad songs that work best: To the End, The Universal, This is a Low. Weirder still is the reaction to Tender, a song never really rated (at least by me) as a classic, transformed into a joyous hug-a-long that reverberates around the crowd after the first encore and the second encore.
It’s at this point – when previously dismissed tracks acquire a new life of their own – that you realise something truly magical is going on. Because tonight’s headline slot is not just about the music. It’s not even about nostalgia. It’s about friendship – and the truly heartwarming sight of two best friends throwing aside their differences and starting afresh.”

Nick Hasted, writing for the Independent, noted the emotional undercurrent in the band’s performance, too:

“When Damon Albarn starts to grin five songs into their great Glastonbury comeback, Blur start to look like a band again. And when he breaks down weeping near the end, you know how much it meant. “Beetlebum” is the song where Albarn’s errant guitarist and childhood friend Graham Coxon fizzes up his effects pedals, bassist Alex James starts to spin, fag dangling, and you remember Blur were the 1990s’ great psychedelic band. (…) It is just before “This Is A Low”, the best of Albarn’s often deeply personal songs, that he sits on the stage and weeps, utterly overcome by all the times that have just been unstopped. Getting up to sing it is almost heroic.”

Here’s Pete Paphides in the Times.

“As for Blur, a simple “Wow!” from Damon Albarn hinted at the scale of their reception. The love their music continues to inspire was measurable in countless moments: the sight of four fans who had gone to the trouble of dressing up as the sad-faced milk cartons in the video of 1999’s Coffee and TV; the spontaneous communal “Yesss!” that greeted Girls and Boys; the way almost everyone present continued to sing the “Oh my baby” refrain of Tender — even after a hair-raisingly beautiful seven-minute performance of the song — so that Blur eventually had to start Country House over it.

If there was one thing that the group’s warm-up gigs of the previous weeks had lacked, it was a fitting arena for Britain to show how much it had missed them.
Not here though. Not a chance. A guesting Phil Daniels came on for Parklife and 100,000 people absolutely bellowed the chorus into the night sky. It was perhaps at this point that our memory of how good they were intersected most dramatically with their readiness to confirm it. Had we just witnessed the greatest headlining set in the festival’s history? The eno-o-ormous sense of wellbeing that swept through Worthy Farm suggested we most definitely had.”

And lastly, back in the Guardian, the most lyrical, evocative description of the lot, courtesy of Laura Barton.

“The audience, elated, even a touch delirious, wills them on; when Albarn’s voice gives way a little in Beetlebum, the crowd rushes to catch it. Tender, one of the set’s many highlights, is greeted with a warm rush of approval. “I’d forgotten they’re a singalong band!” says the man to my right, as the band stops and starts, revs up the chorus once more and then falls silent, the sudden quiet filled by several thousand festival-goers softly singing the song’s chorus: “Oh my baby,” they lilt, “Oh my baby. Oh why. Oh why.” It is one of the sweetest moments of the festival. Their efforts are duly rewarded with an ebulliant rendition of Country House, a song which acquires greater resonance here tonight for the muddy-booted masses. And for Alex James of course.

They haul out the hits: Parklife, This is a Low, To the End, to an increasingly enthusiastic reception. Returning to the stage for a rousing rendition of Song 2, and then again for The Universal, the band looks genuinely delighted as they look out over the flags, over the crowd with its sunburned noses and glitter-smeared faces, and peacock feathers in its hair, and far off to the countryside of Somerset and the floating candles flaring up into the sky. There is a pause as they seem to take in the magnificence of what they have done. And then comes the guitar, and the great singalong continues.”

my heart stops

Posted 15 Jun 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Video

…and then it starts.

Here’s a youtube clip of Blur’s comeback gig at Colchester on Saturday. Wow.

it felt like a kiss

Posted 07 Apr 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music

Regular readers of Assistant Blog will know that this site is nothing without regular, obsessive updates on the cultural whereabouts of Damon Albarn; so here’s this week’s helping.

This looks magnificent; the latest project from pop’s most versatile musician is ‘It Felt Like A Kiss’, a collaboration with Adam Curtis (who created the BBC’s magnificent ‘The Power of Nightmares’ series) and the Kronos Quartet. The website of the Manchester Festival, where the performance debuts this July, describes the project thus:

“Imagine walking into a disused building. You find yourself inside a film.
It is a ghost story where unexpected forces, veiled by the American Dream, come
out from the dark to haunt you…

It Felt Like a Kiss tells the story of America’s rise to power in the
golden age of pop, and the unforeseen consequences it had on the world and in
our minds. Beginning in 1959, the show spotlights the dreams and desires that
America inspired during the ’60s, when the world began to embrace the country
and its culture as never before. But as this daring production unfolds across
five floors, blending music with documentary and the disorientating whirl of a
fairground ghost train, the audience is forced to face the dark forces that were
veiled by the American dream – a dream that ultimately returns to haunt us
all.”

Awesome. More details here.

coxon on the web

Posted 10 Mar 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Uncategorized

Can I just draw your attention, readers, to how bloody brilliant this website is:

http://www.grahamcoxon.co.uk/

Turn up your computer’s volume. Click on the eye. Ace.

true love will find you in the end

Posted 26 Feb 2009 — by Jonathan
Category Music

Once upon a time, of course, Blur played on just about every TV show or awards ceremony going, and it got to the stage where I was so used to hearing them play live that it almost didn’t feel special any more. But it’s been nine years since they last played in public live, so any sense of fatigue or familiarity has long since abated.

Actually, scratch that, it’s been something like nine hours since they last played in public together. This clip is terrible quality, but it brings me out in a million happy goosebumps, so I think it’s still worth linking to (embedding is disabled, unfortunately).

Blur playing ‘This Is A Low’ at the NME Awards last night.

blur reunion confirmed

Posted 09 Dec 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Music

According to today’s NME, the Blur reunion is now, at last, official – what wonderful news; they’ve been my favourite band for something like seventeen years now, and that love has never come close to fading. They remain, for me, the best British pop group of the last twenty years, bar none, and what’s more they’ve got better and better rather than worse and worse, a more typical trajectory. Although not all of their fans agree, I’d pinpoint their ‘Think Tank’ as the best record of this decade so far, and one of their finest – and Damon’s work since has not been far behind. So the prospect of them being back together, whether it’s just onstage at Glastonbury or possibly even working on new material, fills me with happiness. Hurray.

Here’s a lovely, sentimental quote from Graham on the Blur message-board:

i have plunged headlong into self destruction as reaction to others doing what i have done many times- falling in love.it is a pathetic resentment…and after so many years of what can almost be considered (…having to make a few journies alone…) a coma of sorts all that we thought stuck to us, keeping us apart just fell away in seconds of seeing each other and a lightness replaced it all see…terrific relief….the festering and paranoid conjecture….the inferiority complexes..the double guessing…all seem such a waste of time…what the press called falling out and friction…. there was no friction…we never saw each other for there to be friction….that rubbing together and causing of heat/irritation……there came a time where we had to travel the path without each other’s support. if it hadnt happened in 2001/2 it would have happened later. it was painful enough to realise we had forgotten how to look after each other….without those in the media telling us it was actually alot worse than it was!

its heavy….its a life regained…not just 4 friends but all those surrounding the friends..the surrogate family, the real family…the extended family, the tree…its many!!! not just 4.”

Here’s the cover of today’s NME – masthead stripped out:

sabali

Posted 22 Oct 2008 — by Jonathan
Category Music

A couple of years ago I picked up Amadou & Mariam’s stunning ‘Dimanche à Bamako’ album and was blown away not just by the wonderful songs but by the fact that on several occasions the vocal melodies the husband and wife duo struck up seemed like exact echoes of the melodies that Damon Albarn has been using – not just in the last few years, when his interest in African music has been well known, but right through his career. It seemed like an incongruous but strangely apt comparison, and one of those happy accidents of art which sometimes magically occur.

Their new single, the gorgeous ‘Samali’ contains yet more of these hypnotic melodies, but if the rest of the song also rings bells it’s because it’s been produced (and, one suspects, co-written) by Albarn himself, who spins a spellbinding concoction of echoey keyboards, beats and atmospherics around the vocal, producing along the way a song that sounds utterly modern without ever sounding contrived. It’s a magnificent single, and deserves to be a hit. You can stream it here.

don’t call it a day

Posted 20 May 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Music

Okay, so we’ve already established that we have to take every rumour concerning Blur reforming with a pretty massive pinch of salt. The latest round of speculation looks very positive, but the only problem is that it’s hard to find a concrete source for the original quotes. Either way, the latest stuff sounds positive, although it’s telling that the quotes once more come from the band member who seems most invested with encouraging a band reunion. According to, well, pretty much every music website in the world, this is the latest from Alex James:

“We’re all heading into the studio together this summer – Graham’s coming too. We’re gonna see if we’ve still got it. If not, I think we’ll just call it a day.”

They’ve still got it in them. I hope this comes about. I know I’m a bore about Blur, but I’d be so happy to have one more record. Just one more really would be great.

three changes

Posted 21 Feb 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Music

I’ve been meaning for a while to write about the recent album by Damon Albarn, Tony Allen, Paul Simonon and Simon Tong, The Good, The Bad and The Queen, but if you’ve seen reviews elsewhere they’ll most likely have summed up what I want to say, which is that it’s an absolutely marvellous record, doomed and romantic, and yet another superlative project from Damon Albarn. Simonon’s basslines are gleefully monochrome and monstrous, Allen’s drumming sparkles and in ‘Nature Springs’, ‘A Soldier’s Tale’ and the devastating ‘Herculean’ Albarn is arguably writing the best songs of his career. But rather than go into more detail, and sling around familiar turns of phrase/praise, I’m just going to look at the album’s densest, most interesting songs: ‘Three Changes’.

Firstly, it’s the most successful collaboration on the record, by which I mean it’s the song where the diverse talents of the band are most evident. Albarn is at his lyrical best, pinning England as ‘dull and mild, a stroppy little island of mixed up people’, Simonon does what he does best all over the record, which is pick out the simplest, most effective bassline he can and stick ruthlessly to it. But trying hardest are Tong and Allen, the latter producing the most dazzling, unpredictable rhythm track I think I’ve ever heard on a pop record and the former impressing simply by virtue of pretty well keeping up.

It’s actually Albarn who lays down the first rhythmic challenge, thinking about it – his frantic hammond organ intro (which maps out most of the song, in fact) sounds simultaneously influenced by the Small Faces and arabic scales, setting a pace much faster and more frantic than the rest of the record. Tong and Simonen both take turns replicating the riff, but do so to Allen’s almost unbelievably difficult yet precise drumming. His sound, which drops the beat down to a crisp click, so that you almost lose it, is somewhere between free jazz and afrobeat, and – I confess – initially utterly bewildering. You have to wait ’til you can pick out the bass drum and almost force yourself to nod along before the rhythm begins to make sense. When it does, it makes the drum track on every western rock record sound almost obselete.

Albarn’s sonic adventurousness never quite lets the song settle down, fizzing along on an increasingly aggressive bent ’til the song vanishes amongst a fury of white noise and is replaced by what sounds at first like Albarn crashing around in a kitchen and then like badly taped Ethiopan jazz. Then the organ riff returns and the song drops back in, transformed. Tong weighs in with a more melodic riff but – crucially – this time Allen plays it straight, replacing his detailed clatter with a punchy 4/4 beat that could have come straight from a Gorillaz record. The final minute of the song is number one material. It’s an amazing, hilarious transformation and it heralds the shift of the album’s tone from fraught to celebratory. ‘Green Fields’, one of Damon’s sweetest songs follows (“above all things I’ve learned – it’s the honesty, that secures the bond in the heart”) before the album’s knees-up finale.

Were Albarn’s restless, relentless spirit not immediately obvious in the path which Albarn has taken from 1999′s soupy and disappointing 13 – the kraut-funk of ‘Music Is My Radar’, the delicate West African love letter to Mali, Mali Music, the dub-pop and hip-hop of Gorillaz, the thrilling Think Tank, TGTB&TQ – then ‘Three Changes’ would be a perfect summary; it showcases everything awkward and irritating about Albarn, as well as his unparallelled talent.

And some fucking amazing drumming, too.

The Good, The Bad and The Queen

Posted 07 Jan 2007 — by Jonathan
Category Music

The BBC finally got round to showing the The Good, The Bad and The Queen concert which myself, Andrew, Anne-Sophie and Jeanne attended in the autumn, and it was nice to watch it back and marvel over what a lovely new set of songs Damon has written (delicate folky hymns to london with maurauding dub basslines, ace) as well as try to ignore the fact that he had a hissy fit half-way through. Still, what a brilliant band – excited about the album in a couple of weeks.

“Birdsong in the night
The sound drags a net through the twilight
Emptiness in computors bothers me
These are the seas in our minds
We make our own confine in time”

blur reform?

Posted 30 Dec 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Music

No idea whether this is true or not, but I do hope so. It is according to The Sun, mind, so…

“DAMON ALBARN and GRAHAM COXON have finally buried the hatchet and agreed to reunite. For the first time in almost five years Damon, Graham, ALEX JAMES and DAVE ROWNTREE are set to make sweet music together.

The kings of Britpop made their mark in the Nineties with No1 album Parklife. And their 1995 single Country House beat arch rivals OASIS in a huge chart battle. But by the end of the century Damon fell out with Graham over his persistent drunken antics. In 2002 Blur’s management revealed Graham had been replaced on tour by former VERVE guitarist SIMON TONG.

But that was short-lived and the lads went their separate ways — with Damon setting up GORILLAZ and THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE QUEEN and Graham releasing a string of solo albums. Alex set up a cheese farm at his country house while Dave worked on animation show Empire Square. But it wasn’t until Damon appealed to Graham back in April to reform for one last show that they considered a revival.

And Graham took a lot of convincing. A source said: “Graham left Blur under a hazy cloud. He was worried that returning to the studio with the lads would be like moving backwards. Graham is over getting smashed every night and he didn’t want to go back to an environment where he will be tempted. But he has finally realised Blur have grown up and have families now. They are a totally different band to the one in the Nineties. As soon as Damon has finished his tour with The Good The Bad And The Queen in February they are planning to go into the studio. It will be one step at a time. It may not be a long-term project — it will probably be one last final Blur album to bring closure to the band. Just how it should have been.”

more on blur and pavement

Posted 08 Dec 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Music

This is like a monthly column now, I know, but I’m duty bound to once more report on the various movements in the Blur camp and the ongoing speculation about a reunion. Damon’s obviously pretty busy with his The Good, The Bad and The Queen project (in fact, they’re on Jools Holland tonight) but Alex is, as ever, using his time wisely; not just living in a very big house in the country, but continuing to bug Graham about coming back. A couple of months back, he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, so when he said the following on BBC Five Live yesterday, I didn’t think much of it:

“I saw Graham last week. There may be some news there but I don’t want to rush anything.”

But Graham’s recent interview with Pitchfork gives much more reason to be hopeful – this is sounding positive:

Coxon was significantly less dour about the possibility of a reunion with Blur. The band’s former guitarist admits he hasn’t “spoken to them for a bit, [except bassist] Alex [James]. I’m going to see him tomorrow at his birthday…Alex will always be my friend. I guess they all will be in some way, but it’s somewhat strange.”

“I haven’t been approached about it,” reported Coxon about getting back together with the Brit-pop titans. But “I think about it, yeah. I think about it: would it be fun? Would it be a bit too scary? What would the dynamic be in a studio? Would I have to do promotion? Would I tour? You know, it’s a lot of thinking. So I guess I still mull around and think about it every now and then.”

So it’s not completely ruled out, then? “No, no.”

I know what the nay-sayers will say (“nay”), but having seen an absolutely electric reunion at the Dinosaur Jr show in Brighton this week, I’m feeling good about reunions right now. And Blur reforming is not the only possibility on the horizon either. Also speaking to Pitchfork, this was interesting stuff from Spiral Stairs, too.

So, Spiral, is there going to be a Pavement reunion?

“I guess, yeah, we’ll see.”

Um, what?

“[Laughs] I mean, I can’t tell you. I don’t know. I mean, yeah there’s been some talk over the last year about kind of getting together eventually. But I think it makes more sense to let more time go past, you know? It would probably work well for a 20 year anniversary or something like that. But I don’t know. I’m going to Steve [Malkmus]‘s wedding, I think, so we’ll see, maybe we’ll have a reunion there.”

Okay, I kind of need to wangle an invitation to Steve Malkmus’s wedding, I think. Any ideas?

the fool-king of soho

Posted 27 Oct 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Books

What are the odds on this being the most enjoyable to read book published in 2007? Just noted, via Dezz at Blur Central, that Alex James is down to publish his autobiography, ‘Bit of a Blur’ in January ’07. The synopsis follows: as well as being an eccentric genius, Alex James has always been a good writer, all Wodehousian gags and an evident joy with language. Here’s the synopsis:

‘I was the Fool-king of Soho and the number one slag in the Groucho Club, the second drunkest member of the world’s drunkest band. This was no disaster, though. It was a dream coming true. I lived in the best house in Covent Garden. I had everyone’s number, a rocket going to Mars, two aeroplanes and a Damien Hirst taxi. Ten years later, everything has changed. I don’t drink, don’t take drugs and I’m married. I live on a farm in the Cotswolds. I’ve sold the aeroplanes because I’ve landed. This is a voyage-and-return autobiography. It’s the story of a rock- and-roll poster boy’s journey from dreams of having everything to getting everything and wanting more. It’s a stroll through the lush scenery of the high life and the low life of the 90s. It’s about growing up bigger than I imagined. It starts where I was born and finishes here, when my son arrives.’

Some more Alex James shenanigans, again via Dezz.
- A Year is a Long Time in Rock (2004)
- My London (2002)
- A Life Less Orderly (1999)
- Oh Dear Diary, Or Am I Unwell? (1995)

The Good, The Bad and the Queen at the Cavern Club, Exeter

Posted 23 Oct 2006 — by Jonathan
Category Music, Reviews
A couple of days have passed since me and Vic travelled along to Exeter to watch Damon Albarn’s new band, The Good, The Bad and the Queen (comprising himself, the incredible Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, Simon Tong and The Clash’s legendary Paul Simonen), and I’m still feeling elated, to be honest. The gig – ostensibly a warm up for the band’s ‘official’ live debut at the Camden Roundhouse on Thursday – completely exceeded my expectations. The songs, only one of which I’d heard before, were low-key and dark, dominated by awesome, delicate arrangements (guitars, hammonds, saxes dropping in and dropping out) rathepr than big choruses, but everything was so thrillingly vibrant and full of feeling. Damon was predictably into it, cheerful and proud, and Paul was literally throbbing with a mixture of malice and cool; he is an enormous presence on stage. Tony Allen’s drumming, meanwhile, was far from showy but rather jaw-droppingly precise, understated, serene, but always imaginative.

In terms of sounds the songs reminded me of a dubby take on the wistful, yearning stuff on Blur’s ’13′, but where much of that record was a mess of pro-tools trickery, everything in the set feels as if it is in its proper place, nothing unnecessary or uneven. Without knowing the songs well it’s hard to tell whether the project is destined to replicate the global appeal of Gorillaz as well as well as garner hyperbolic reviews (like this one), but a few times in the set Damon’s phrasing, way with a lyric or ear for melody lifts the tunes well beyond anything his contemporaries are capable of. In ‘Green Fields’, meanwhile, Damon has written a song which – for the first time in a few years – is as catchy as Parklife-era Blur. What’s perhaps most pleasing about the set is the fact that Albarn, who has increasing used his voice as an instrument in recent years, is singing clearly and soulfully again.

Can’t remember many more specifics, as by thirty seconds in, pretty much, I was quite unable to hold on to my objectivity or presence of mind. There can’t have been more than 100 people in the venue, and everyone seemed to feel the same, inhabited and overwhelmed by the songs.

It was, of course, amazing to grab a moment with Damon afterwards, especially as the room was pulled inward by his short walk from the stage door to the exit. Paul Simonen made a point of making himself available too, sat contentedly in the middle of a group of fans, all of whom appeared to want little more than to sit around him, as if they were children sat round for Jackanory. Shaking hands with him was obviously an immense pleasure. Added to that, Tony Allen was incredibly friendly and conscientous, chatting away with fans and doling out autographs. He signed my ticket and didn’t know how to spell my name, but went to pains to get it right – a small gesture much appreciated.

Predictable of me to say so, I know – not much impartiality when it comes to Damon Albarn – but this new project, The Good, The Bad and The Queen, is quite deliriously good. My friends will soon be very, very, very bored of me talking about it, and of my showing them the photos below, taken by Vic – as good a gig companion and chronicler of my hero-worship as can be found…

me and damon

me and tony allen