Damon Albarn makes full live debut at BBC 6 Music Festival

Blur and Gorillaz star performed career-spanning set at inaugural event in Manchester

Damon Albarn made his live solo debut last night (February 28) at the inaugural BBC 6 Music Festival in Manchester – with a career-spanning set that included songs from Blur, Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad & The Queen.

Headlining the Friday night of the two-day event at the Victoria Warehouse, the singer-songwriter thanked the station “for being brave enough to put on a band who have never played a gig before.”

He took to Stage One at 9.35pm, and was joined by his new backing band, The Heavy Seas – comprising guitarist Seye, drummer Pauli The PSM, bassist Jeff Wootton and keyboard player Mike Smith – to air material from his forthcoming solo record ‘Everyday Robots’, due for release on April 28.

Clad in a burgundy leather jacket, he began with the album’s title track and ran through nine new songs, alternating between piano and guitar and including ‘Heavy Seas Of Love’, his forthcoming duet with Brian Eno. The performance was also broadcast live on 6 Music. “This is our first ever gig and it’s quite nerve-wracking to not only be playing your first gig but playing it live on the radio as well,” he told the audience, before grinning coyly: “But I suppose I should be used to it by now.”

Fresh from picking up the NME Award For Innovation at the NME Awards 2014 with Austin Texas on Wednesday, the gig was very much about looking forward. However, in addition to previewing the new record, Damon paid tribute to his time in Gorillaz (with the songs ‘Tomorrow Comes Today’, ‘On Melancholy Hill’, and ‘El Mañana’) and rock supergroup The Good, The Bad & The Queen (‘Kingdom Of Doom’). He also unleashed a rare Blur track – ‘All Your Life’, the B-side to the group’s 1997 single ‘Beetlebum’. “I don’t recall ever playing it before so I thought it would be okay to play it,” he said. At the end of his hour-long set, he thanked the crowd “for your patience”, adding “Sorry it was a bit rough around the edges but that’s the way it is.”

On stage two, The Horrors were faced with the unenviable task of going up against Damon. “It’s a shame we’re performing at the same time because I actually really want to watch him,” guitarist Joshua Hayward told NME. Opening with ‘Mirror’s Image’ and culminating with ‘Moving Further Away’, they only performed one track from their forthcoming fourth album, ‘Luminous’ – the new single ‘I See You’

“This festival slot is like the last chapter in a book,” Joshua added. “The next time we’ll be playing loads of songs off our new record and this is like putting to bed a fair few years of touring.”

Like Damon, Kelis used her appearance as a way of road-testing new material, describing it as “my first time really performing everything that’s new live”. Dressed in a gold lame, she resembled Diana Ross – which suited the Stax-soul and brass-funk of tracks from her imminent, Dave Sitek-produced sixth album, ‘Food’. Bookending her set by singing Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’, and accompanied by a full horn section, she also served up revised versions of ‘Milkshake’ and ‘Acapella’.

Other bands who performed included Haim, Metronomy and Drenge. All 8,500 tickets to the festival sold out within minutes of their release last month. It concludes tonight (March 1) with headline sets from The National and James Blake.

Damon Albarn played:

‘Everyday Robots’
‘Lonely Press Play’
‘Tomorrow Comes Today’
‘The Selfish Giant’
‘You And Me’
‘On Melancholy Hill’
‘Hollow Ponds’
‘Photographs (You Are Taking Now)’
‘Kingdom Of Doom’
‘All Your Life’
‘Mr Tembo’
‘El Manana’
‘Heavy Seas Of Love’