The quiet man of Britpop with the broiling punk rock depths, Graham Coxon is one of the icons of British popular music. We can't think of the perfect excuse to raise a glass of Tizer to his greatest achievements, but who needs one anyway? What's more important is that we demand, along with a furious nation, to know when we’ll finally hear those fateful words, “arise, Sir Coxo”? I mean, what did Sebastian fucking Coe ever contribute to ‘Beetlebum’, Eh?
On ‘13’, the brilliantly contrary bugger whacked out one of Blur’s most charming all-out pop songs and in turn invented the Russian meerkat of the 90s that was Milky, the lovable liddle milk carton setting out in search of Graham in the video. Making Graham the first indie rock star to have his own claymation sidekick.
Throughout the height of Britpop, as its various factions splintered and split off to tour the globe, there was always one solid constant, one anchor that kept the scene firmly on course. Every night, tour schedule permitting, Graham Coxon would be sat in his favourite corner of The Good Mixer, usually surrounded by a Menswear or two, getting so drunk he’d have fights with the jukebox. Indeed, Graham kept Camden cool well into the new Millennium.
In a very round-about way. Club NME began in the second room of the Kill All Hippies night in a Shoreditch studio in 2004, and was such a hit largely because Graham’s ‘Freakin’ Out’ was its signature song. So because of that four minutes of fuzz-buggered rock’n’roll genius Koko is full of rock kids copping off to Foals remixes to this very day.
From the cauldron of chord that opened ‘She’s So High’ to the celestial space riffs he doused ‘Battery In Your Leg’ in, Coxon’s guitar playing in Blur was never less than superlative, a sonic alchemist in full flow. We’ve all got our favourites, but to these ears nothing beats the dichotomy of lush arpeggio and bruising balls-out rock that opened ‘Chemical World’, the sound of getting a happy-end massage from Godzilla.
Usually shy and mild-mannered, back in his drinking days the tempestuous rock diva within Graham would occasionally burst out unexpectedly. Exhibit one: on the seaside tour in 1995 Graham insisted the NME journo shadowing the band interview him post-gig, shouted incoherently for ten minutes then smashed the Dictaphone against a wall. Marvellous rock star behaviour obviously, but in an age when we use iPhones as recording devices, try it now and we’ll sue.
Of many febrile and scabrous solo screeches, it was with ‘Thank God For The Rain’ from 2001’s ‘Crow Sit On Blood Tree’ that Graham’s gritty energy and melodic clout really gelled. Taking on the persona of a speed-fuelled psychopathic Dylan going postal, he ranted about “another war… coming soon”, “people’s greed and hating rages”, “violence rising out of hand… getting mugged on your way home/By youths with masks and knives they own” and then retreating into terrified social seclusion. “Lock the doors and board up the windows,” he gibbered, “looks like I’m gonna build my shelter again… Thank God for the rain, maybe it’ll wash that scum away”. Four minutes inside the head of the post-Britpop Travis Bickle.
While the rest of Blur smirked and did Kenneth Williams ‘Ooh Matron!” faces along with the saucy seaside Benny Hill-isms of Damien Hirst’s ‘Country House’ video, Graham sat in a bubbly bath-tub having water poured on him from a teapot by a busty milkmaid with the sort of look on his face that said “y’know what, the second I get my hands on this sodding band we’re going so Pavement we’ll be shitting plaid for a week.” Forevermore, Graham was ‘the cool one’.
Fully solo and thus free of the need to counter-act Blur’s pop leanings with acres of lo-fi massacre music on the side, 2004’s ‘Happiness In Magazines’ was a filthy garage pop delight full of gleaming hooks smeared with rust and guts.
He had a cat called Bastard “but it ran away”. He only eats beef when he’s in Texas. He wanted to make albums that only elves could understand and longed to have long and short hair simultaneously. He can’t dance in public. He finds shoes beautiful. He’s secretly one of the most intriguing characters in rock.
Still at the top of his creative game, Graham’s recent album ‘A+E’ was up there with his best thanks to motorik punk pop like ‘Seven Naked Valleys’, which sounds like ‘Country House’ being dragged through a Black Sabbath album by its horn section.