1Which pop star performed Blur’s ‘Girls & Boys’ on The Masked Singer in 2020 dressed as a unicorn?
“I don’t fucking know! [Laughs] I’ve never seen The Masked Singer. Although I write TV soundtracks for a living, I’m not a big TV watcher. As a kid, I was obsessive. I got obsessed with the drums which allowed me to put the thousands of hours of practice necessary to do it for a living. But another thing I was obsessive about was TV. If I didn’t watch a certain amount of TV per day, I would feel unsettled – but I’ve scratched that itch now. No disrespect to The Masked Singer, but it doesn’t sound like a natural fit for me!”
“It’s a relatively burlesque song intrinsically so that works. Blimey, what’s next?! [Laughs] I thought it was going to be a geography quiz, so I’ve swotted up on my capital cities!”
2In 1991, Blur dressed as Blondie, recreating their ‘Parallel Lines’ album cover, for NME. But which Blur track shares its name with a Blondie single?
“Dunno! We didn’t do a track called ‘Heart Of Glass’ – I would have remembered that! We were onstage once in front of tens of thousands of people and I didn’t recognise the next song on the setlist at all. I was protesting: ‘We’ve never done a song called that!’. Worse, everybody was looking at me to start it, and I had to call over one of the stage crew to sing it in my ear!”
“Even in the dark depths of Blur’s fandom, you’d struggle to find anybody that’s ever heard of that track! [Laughs] On the ‘Obscure Blur B-sides’ album, that would be the last track!”
“It was bizarre how convincing we all looked in that Blondie photoshoot. It’s become iconic. It was a fun alternative to the endless string of tedious photoshoots where your only instruction is: ‘Can you all just get in a bit tighter and be more compact?’ That was our 9 to 5 for years. Yes, we occasionally got to play our instruments but, by and large, our job was to be welded into one eight-legged-and-armed beast that could fit into the camera viewfinder.”
Any chance of reprising the look on Blur’s world tour?
“I’m not sure we’d look quite so convincing today! [Laughs] Time has taken its toll – sadly on me at least.”
3In 1996, guitarist Graham Coxon and bassist Alex James were missing from a performance by Blur on Italian TV. What novel way did you deal with their absences?
“Finally… one I can answer! We performed halfway through the final of Sanremo Festival, one of the biggest betting events in Italy – it’s like The X Factor merged with The Grand National. Graham couldn’t do it, so we thought it would be a wheeze to put a cardboard cutout of him onstage. We were miming ‘Charmless Man’, so it didn’t matter. Alex didn’t show up for the flight – nobody knew where he was – so [Blur’s bodyguard] Smoggy, about whom our new album ‘The Ballad of Darren’ is partially written, took over his bass role, having the time of his life strutting around the stage gurning like an idiot.
Halfway through the song, the cardboard cutout of Graham fell over, and when Damon walked over and stood it upright again the audience burst into applause – clearly thinking this was part of the performance! [Laughs] It’s the most shambolic performance by Blur possible. Whenever a gig has gone badly, one of us will bring it up, and it makes everything seem all right in comparison!”
4You served as a Labour councillor for Norfolk County Council from 2017 to 2021. When asked by NME in 2017 whether he preferred Blur or Oasis, who did the party’s then-leader Jeremy Corbyn choose?
“I had no idea he was asked that. I know Gordon Brown was asked it – by me. When I interviewed Gordon Brown, who was prime minister at the time, in 2010 to launch a Labour entertainment strategy, I deviated from the scripted boring questions by asking him whether he preferred Blur or Oasis. He laughed and replied: Blur and Oasis. As for Jeremy Corbyn…. Oasis?”
“[Laughs] I doubt [Jeremy Corbyn] even knew who I was. I’m a very low-ranking Labour person; the kind that knocks on doors and asks people if they’re all right, rather than somebody who swans around Westminster proclaiming what we should do.”
How do you feel the current Labour leader Keir Starmer is faring?
“Well, the test is at General Elections. If he wins the General Election, he’ll be widely touted as the most visionary Labour leader of modern times and will join the incredibly small number of Labour leaders who’ve gone on to become prime minister. If he loses, he’ll be regarded as an idiot who wrecked the Labour party and achieved nothing. That’s how politics works – it’s pointless saying how he’s doing at the moment. The purpose of being the leader of the Labour party is to win the General Election. He’s either going to do it or he isn’t.”
5An easy one now: which Scottish band once had a range of merch T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Blur: Are Shite’?
“You say it’s easy but I can’t remember their name. Was it Arab Strap? I remember the incident. When asked about it, the band said it was like a dictionary definition. It isn’t. [Deadpan] Blur is a noun – to be shite is clearly a verb [Laughs].”
WRONG. It was Mogwai.
“In those days, your celebrity was measured by how many column inches you got in the music press, so everybody was constantly slagging everybody else off. We were doing it, they were doing it. We took it in the spirit in which it was intended, as part of the big shouting match. It was all about getting noticed. That’s how the Blur v Oasis spat started.”
Creation Records impresario – and the man who discovered Oasis – Alan McGee once told NME: “Oasis were utterly sincere about hating Blur; that’s what’s been lost in translation. Blur thought it was comedy and a joke, but when Oasis were saying they wanted to kill them, they meant it.”
“Did they really want to kill us? I don’t know! They were pretty angry in those days. I think they wanted to kill each other more than anybody else. To this day, the Oasis question features in every interview I do, but journalists ask it as the last question in case you storm out! As if it still rankles so deeply after all those years [Laughs]. The Blur/Oasis spat only lasted a few months, but it’s one of those things that defined us both. It propelled both of us to the bottom rung of the top ladder and made us household names, but equally it stapled both band bands together at the hip when musically, we didn’t have much in common. Anyway, we’re all friends now and they’re nice people.”
6How many sun loungers adorn the cover of Blur’s latest album ‘The Ballad of Darren’?
“I’ve no idea! It’s somewhere between one and a million! Do I get a point for that? It’s definitely not more than a million because it’s a relatively compacted frame. I can see the photographer saying to the sun loungers: ‘Can you be more compact?’ That photo was suggested to us and it captures the album’s essence. The story of the swimmer who appears in the photo is inspiring too – he was a guy who had been in a dreadful accident and was told he’d never walk again, but went swimming every day in the pool and fought his way back to fitness. However, if I questioned, I will always make it clear that I never have – and never will – count the sun loungers on the front of the album. That’s one way of proving my sanity!”
WRONG. It’s 24. The album is steeped in a sumptuous melancholia. What did you think when Damon first played you the demos?
“It was immediately clear that these were a lot more detailed demos than he often does, and all the songs seemed to naturally fit together. He’d taken his engineer on the road with him in America [with Gorillaz] setting up studios in hotels so it was obvious what direction [the songs] were heading in and easier to start recording rather than having to spend time figuring it all out. Which was lucky because we had very little time to make the record – it was touch-and-go as to whether we’d finish an album.
There was magic in the air. Everything we tried, worked. It’s like when you’re playing tennis and it seems like your racket is 10-ft across, your ball is 5-ft across and every shot goes in. And people in the neighbouring courts stop and watch the game. Most of what you hear on the record are first or second takes, which gives it a freshness. In the end, we started about 25 songs and finished 18, maybe. Halfway through, we were thinking of maybe doing two albums – but that didn’t happen.”
7In 2018, you cameo-d in the video for Soft Play’s single ‘Chokehold’ auditioning to be the band’s drummer. Name any of the seven requirements they asked for in the recruitment poster.
“Oooh no, I can’t!”
WRONG. They were: ‘Be committed, Have own car, Be nice, Like rats, Dance good, Have sticks, Be Cool.
“Dance good – that’s why I didn’t get the job then clearly! Always read the job-spec. It was nice to be asked to do that and a fun day.”
Can you see any guitar band starting today becoming as big as Blur did?
“Probably. We’re in the same landscape as when Blur started, where the idea of a guitar band like us being in the charts or on Top of the Pops was laughable. NME once wrote a column making fun of the idea that Blur would ever make any money, imagining us as millionaires and me saying: ‘Yes, I’ve got a string of polo ponies. If you’ve got it, flaunt it!’. The idea that we’d do anything other than languish in indie-misery, bitter and cantankerous with advancing years, was laughable. And now I do actually have a string of polo ponies – just to spite the journalist who wrote that. I don’t hold a grudge, but I’m going to take them round his house and they’re going to SHIT ON HIS LAWN!”
“So… the landscape changed suddenly and we went from being outsiders to the mainstream. I see no reason why that couldn’t happen again. The fact that guitar music isn’t wildly fashionable at the moment would be no obstacle. Whatever you think of Blur, we write classic songs – and that’s what it takes.”
8In 1995, which businessman wrote a bizarre letter to NME branding Blur ‘the most obnoxious little shits I’ve had in my club in a long time… their attitude is pretentious and phoney’, and called you ‘sad young kids’?
“Peter Stringfellow [Laughs]”
“We were drunk walking past his club [Stringfellows] and thought it would be fun to go in, But actually it wasn’t fun at all, so we left soon after and he didn’t like that. After that letter, he invited us back and we turned up – sober this time! – and said how nice it was so we left on good terms again. I’m sure everything he said was true though. We probably were – and certainly tried to be – phoney and obnoxious! That was our USP! [Laughs]”.
In 1995 Peter Stringfellow sent NME this letter. Turns out he was more of a Pulp man. pic.twitter.com/kTCKkYSztE
— David Renshaw (@ddavidrenshaw) July 24, 2015
9What was so special about the Japanese edition of Blur’s ‘Parklife album’?
“Is that the one with the flashing eyes?”
CORRECT. It barked when you opened it and the greyhound’s eyes lit up when you pressed them.
“I think one of the reasons that was so successful was because car alarms used to have flashing red LEDs in, so people would buy a copy and leave it on their dashboard so there would be a red flashing light in their car and people wouldn’t steal it! [Laughs] It pays to have a double-utility for these albums. We need to release one that also works as a dishcloth or a pair of trousers.”
How does it feel that ‘Parklife!’ has entered the vernacular as a way of describing someone pontificating?
“We fought for years to be against the drudgery of the mainstream and then overnight we became the mainstream – we became the establishment. It’s weird. I suppose it’s the power of longevity and music matures in the same way that architecture does; everybody is horrified by it when it first appears and then 30 years later, it’s a national treasure [Laughs]. Do I feel like a national treasure? Before the recent Wembley shows, I probably would have laughed at that suggestion, but now I’m beginning to wonder. Soon the National Trust will have to acquire us and we’ll have to show people round our houses!”
10Your aforementioned new album is ‘The Ballad of Darren’. Can you name any other three Blur album tracks with men’s names in them?
“Well, ‘Tracy Jacks’ is a man. ‘Colin Zeal‘? Is one of them an anagram of Damon Albarn? No….you’re going to have to tell me! It’s too early in the morning.
The verdict: 4/10
“Perfect! That’s exactly what my brain deserves. If proof were needed that yes, rock ‘n’ roll does indeed atrophy your brain, it’s me!”
Blur’s ‘The Ballad of Darren’ is released July 21