Blur Drummer Dave Rowntree On The Band’s Future And His Celebrity Carboot Sale For Syrian Refugees

Blur drummer, former Labour candidate and political activist Dave Rowntree is holding a ticketed carboot sale at the Old Truman Brewery on east London’s Brick Lane on May 22. Or, rather, he’s calling it the Star Boot Sale and inviting some famous friends to sell their bric-a-brac, with all the proceeds going to help Syrian people who’ve sought refuge in Jordan to escape the devastating civil war in their own country. We got Dave on the phone to chat about the ‘boot sale – which you should definitely go to – as well as Labour in London and, of course, the future of Blur.

What’s going to be on offer in the auction?

It’s basically a car boot where musicians, actors, comedians, models and TV presenters have all been donating bric-a-brac, stuff lying around the attic. A celebrity carboot sale and some of them will turn up on the day to flog it themselves.

Amazing. Who can we expect to see there and what will they be flogging?

There’s going to be thousands of items of memorabilia to rummage through, each one with a tag one saying who owned it, or what did it is, or why it’s on sale. Coldplay have given us a gramophone with a big horn on the side. Paloma Faith’s given us some pink shoes that say “PF” on the front and I’ve donated a signed gold disk for [Blur album] ‘The Great Escape’. Russell Brand sent over some boxes of clothes. Mel C, Hot Chip, Rumer, KT Tunstall, Erin O’Connor, Phil Daniels and Dom Pattison – and artist whose studio Zebra One will be selling art – are all going to be there.

Coldplay’s gramophone

Can you haggle for stuff like at a proper ‘boot sale?

You can absolutely haggle with the celebrities. There’ll be prices on the price tags, but you can take those with a pinch of salt. We all enjoy a good haggle – haggling with Phil Daniels, that’s worth £15, surely?

Where on Earth did the idea for a carboot sale come from?

Graham [Coxon, Blur guitarist] and I both moved house relatively recently and we were laughing about how every time you move house you kind of add a box that you’ve never opened. We’ve both got a shed full of these boxes now that we just never opened – clearly we don’t need the stuff because otherwise we’d have opened the boxes. We should just get rid of it!

And what made you choose this cause?

It started last year when the refugee crisis was all over the news. There were pictures of the TV of Syrian children being washed up on beaches, you know. I felt very powerless. And everyone said somebody should be doing something, but it wasn’t quite clear what. It didn’t seem that the government was taking this seriously. I got in touch with Dave Miliband, who’s an old friend of mine and now runs one of the biggest and most widely geographically located charities, the International Rescue Committee. I said: “If I can raise the money would you be able to do anything with it?”, and he said, “Yes, definitely.” So, last year we had a straight memorabilia auction on eBay raised about £70,000. I went out to Jordan a couple of months ago to see how the money was being spent.

Dave with his ‘The Great Escape’ gold disk

How was the money spent in Jordan?

We visited the two big refugee camps in Jordan, Azraq and Zaatari. The money was spent on a project in both of the big refugee camps to help unaccompanied children, many of whom have been separated from their parents because of the chaos of fleeing home under fire. Or their parents have been killed, which is often why they’re refugees in the first place. Where possible, this project reunites the children with the parents. That can be a detective game in itself, because the parents can be thousands of miles away.

Were you surprised by anything you saw there?

Weirdly, what you see on TV is formatted to fit our expectations of what things ought to be like. The situation in Jordan was nothing like the pictures I’d seen of refugee camps on TV. The iconography for these kinds of disasters was set during the 80’s, during the famines in Africa. It seems to me that when film crews in Europe go to the scene of a crisis, they look to – probably subconsciously – film things that seem to fit that fit those expectations. They’re looking for children with no shoes on, shuffling through dirt. While they certainly exist, that isn’t what the refugee camps are all about. Mainly it’s teenagers and young adults and they’re getting on with it. They’re not sitting there crying. They’re trying to rebuild something in this place. They’re trying to build the city out of tin cans and dirt.

So there’s a lot of hope there?

Yeah. The camp is basically these bright silver shiny huts, as far as the eye can see in every direction. And there’s a main road down the centre, which is either called Oxford Street or the Champs-Élysées. And there are huts set up all down this, would be a mile long street, and shops on either side. The Dutch government donated thousands and thousands of bicycles so everybody gets around on bicycles.

Star Boot swag courtesy of David Walliams

Back in the UK, Labour candidate Sadiq Khan was just voted Mayor of London. Having campaigned for Labour in the past, how do you feel about his success?

Putting my Labour Party hat on – this is not a Blur position, I wouldn’t speak for anyone else – I’m very happy he’s won. I know Sadiq, a fellow lawyer, from campaigning in the Labour Party and he’s helping me campaign against cuts to legal aid.

Is he going to be a better London Mayor than Boris Johnson?

I don’t know what Boris did! I’ve been struggling over the four years to say, “Oh, yes, Boris did that’. He didn’t even do the Boris Bikes – Ken [Livingstone] bought them in. He set himself up well for a campaign to become the leader of the Conservatives, I guess.

Speaking of the future, what’s on the horizon for Blur?

That is an excellent question. I’d like to know the answer to it as well. Last year kind of took us all by surprise. We made an album [last year’s excellent ‘The Magic Whip’] and it was so good we had no choice but to abandon our individual plans for last year, get back together and promote it with a tour. So a lot of our individual projects got put off till this year. So we’re going to put our thinking caps together at the end of this year and see where we go next.

Have a nice cuppa on The Libertines

Graham said in one interview that The Magic Whip will probably be the last Blur album. What do you reckon?

Well, you can never say never. But if we ever do decide that’s it, we’ll announce it – we probably won’t sneak that announcement under the radar individually. The trouble is, if you speak to a different member of the band on a different day, you’ll get a different answer. These days, we’re not a band with a long-term plan for the future.

Is that different to how it used to be?

Yeah, there was a time in Blur’s history when the next five years would be mapped out. I think that’s one of the reasons it fell to bits when it did. That kind of pressure is quite intense; nobody wants to go back to those days again where everybody kind of feels resentful for being in Blur because they don’t get to have a life. These days, if somebody comes up with an interesting idea and we’re all around, we’ll give it a crack. That’s worked well in the last few years. We’re going to wait for the next interesting idea. It’s a real treat to have that kind of a freedom, isn’t it?