Stop the band, I wanna get off!
Are BLUR really going to the dogs? Behind all the adoring screams, we hear internal bickering, the tell-tale snii-ii-i-iff! of media -centric decadence, a hollow champagne clink… Adrian Deevoy finds them on the edge of a verge of a nervous break-up: “Bands just fizzle out, don’t they?”
Alex James, Blur’s louche bass player, has a joke.”What’s 40 yards long, has no pubes and goes ‘Aaaaaaah!’?”
Drag on cigarette, draft of champagne.
“The front row of a Blur concert.”
It is shortly before Christmas and Blur mania has gripped, if not the whole world, then certainly a good proportion of Middlesex. Up on the Wembley Arena stage, the four members of Blur – Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree – augmented by keyboards and a brass section, are mid-way through their two-hour show. The set list serves as a neat resume of the band’s six-year career: there’s a spattering of cod-psychedelia, some panic-stricken hardcore and even a soupqon of easy listening, but, for the most part, the set calls upon the misty-eyed melodramas and salty English vignettes that formed Parklife and The Great Escape. These are the songs the audience have come for. You can almost smell the hormonal rush that greets the introductions to Tracy Jacks, End Of A Century and Charmless Man, and the ballads For Tomorrow and The Universal prompt outbreaks of uninhibited shrieking. “Daaaay-mun!”, they go, knickers a-fire. “Aaaliix! “,”Graaay-yum!” And, when they get really over-excited, “Dave!” Blur are on the home straight of a six-month tour. It’s been a phenomenally successful but physically gruelling year. They are all unwell. A ‘flu bug – the dreaded Blurgi – has most of the band and crew on powerful antibiotics.”This particular strain of ‘flu,” improvises Alex, embarking on one of many flights of intellectual fancy,”is due to the fact that the Chinese farm their pigs alongside their ducks.” “Shut up, you bollocker,” says Graham.
THE FIRST TIME WE ENCOUNTER Damon Albarn in the offstage flesh, he pads barefoot into the makeshift backstage canteen in Cardiff Arena. He’s a dishy fellow – something to do with the fair hair and dark lashes. Or the combination of Pinocchio’s nose and Steve McQueen’s eyes. That and a smile that could charm the birds out of the trees. His speaking voice, Estuary vowels with Cambridge cornering, is surprisingly deep and sibilantly precise. He is wearing, one can’t escape but notice, a karate outfit. (It transpires that all of the members of Blur, Alex excluded, practise an hour’s Tie Kwan Do – the ancient martial art of punching things – prior to the evening’s performance, in order to exercise limbs, exorcise demons and focus their inscrutable minds on the task in hand.) Damon noisily tucks into a plate of potatoes and sweetcorn and studies the sports section of a roadie-discarded Daily Mirror. Suddenly he jerks to attention, ears pricked. Frowning now, he radars in on the source of his discomfort. “Fucking hell,” he snaps, moving with gathering speed towards the catering ghetto blaster. “Get this shit off.” Oasis’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? is unceremoniously ejected from the machine and the singer returns serenely to his nutritious vegetarian repast.
Across the room, a familiar voice is dispensing chunky knit philosophy and by the-yard advice to anyone listening. “That, you see, is the fundamental problem with your Italians”, “You wanna put a bit of mustard on that, be lovely”, “What? League or cup? We’ll destroy ’em.” Phil Daniels, for it is he, is joining the tour whenever his acting work permits, to give the live version of Parklife the official seal of authenticity. For the band, the chirpy thespian’s presence is seen as a blessing and curse, for he is marvellous company but also something of an unwise bedtime specialist. Both he and Damon are dedicated and knowledgeable Chelsea fans and are soon baffling non-followers with talk of near post misses, four across the back and Dennis Wise’s ability to run off the ball. Football aside, the two communicate in a series of private jokes, knowing smirks and sideways glances. Phil, Damon reckons, is a great geezer to have around.
But when Alex is seen stumbling towards the tour bus the following morning, all stained-glass eyes and furry tongue, he can but croak one word of explanation for his condition and that word, accompanied by a rueful shake of his formidable fringe, is “Daniels”.
Sickness, fatigue and over-famliliarity have left their mark on inter-band relations: Graham is grumpy and drinking too much, he thinks Alex is being a tosser; Alex and Damon aren’t seeing eye to eye, Damon thinksAlex is taking too many drugs and overdoing the pop star bit; Alex thinks Graham and Damon have sided against him and that Damon is becoming a little too megalomaniac for his liking. Dave sits on the sidelines and takes it all in. No-one can quite figure out what Dave is thinking. Graham privately suspects that Davemight be an alien.
But they still travel together, sleeping, watching kitsch, ultra-violent kung fu films and complaining aboutGraham’s love of high volume hardcore. “The passage from irresponsible adolescent to level-headed adult is difficult enough,” says Damon, ever the diplomat, “but when you’re spending three quarters of your year on a tour bus drinking, it becomes extremely hard. I think we’re handling it quite well.”
Dave is more forthcoming: “It got to the point on our interminable US tour where one morning we all had a black eye,” he laughs. “Within a three-day period, we’d all managed to twat each other.”
“OH, HERE HE COMES,” SNIFFS THE tour manager taking in the lanky vision of perma-fag, scarf and overcoat that is the alfresco Alex James, “Bloody Withnail.”
Alex smirks, but he has other things on his mind as he enters the chintzy lobby of this particular hotel. For tonight’s show is in his hometown. This, he tells you proudly, is the hotel that his grandfather worked in, the self-same four-star establishment that young Alex was frequently reminded was the very best hotel in all of Bournemouth. Had he not applied for the position of top pop star, Alex could well be working here serving cream teas to creaky toffs. Instead ,he is staying in one of its best rooms with a view of the sea and a view to drinking the place out of champagne as soon as the gig is over.
Before the show, Alex meets up with his family and friends in the band’s dressing room. He ostentatiously opens a magnum of champers and his parents toast their son and his bandmates. They’re classic parents, the sort of people Jerry and Margo would have had over for a mixed four-ball and a fondue in The Good Life.
Dad discusses computers with Dave, Mum musses Damon’s hair and fusses over the food, Dad’s friend, as Dad’s friends are contractually obliged to do, expresses a keen interest in “having a look at the gear”. Alex’s sister tugs at the loose fabric of her sibling’s supposedly tight trousers and says, “Alex, you’re getting too thin.” He looks delighted.
As the show begins,Andy Ross, the man who discovered Blur and signed them to Food Records, slips behind the guitar tech, sidestage. Watching him silently mouth albng to She’s So High, the band’s first single, and flush with pride as the entire crowd sings the middle eight of Country House (“Blow, blow me out, I am so sad, I don’t know why”),is a touching sight indeed. To observe Blur’s stagecraft at such close quarters is riveting. Dave Rowntree has mastered the art of making the most complicated drum fills look effortless.Alex James plays some tortuously difficult bass whilst simultaneously smoking a cigarette and, at one point, opening a bottle of champagne with one hand. Despite having earlier described himself as “probably the best guitarist in . . . Britpop”, Graham Coxon is an astonishing musician. His restless playing style, all chord slides, rapid pulloffs, mini-arpeggios and fractured runs seems to owe more to his saxophone training than any conventional guitar tuition. Just as Coxon is lost in his own world when he performs, Damon Albarn is pure repertory theatre from the moment he hits the boards. Pouting into the wings, gazing forlornly into the middle distance, appealing to the Gods, wagging his finger at the naughty audience, clutching his aching heart and tilting a butter-wouldn’t-melt expression to the light like Mark Lester in Oliver!
Apres gig, agreed by all to have been a thing of great beauty, Graham begins to get drunk. This kicks off in the dressing room with a bottle of feisty red, then proceeds to the tour bus where he drinks another and plays a CD of incidental cartoon music and begins to bite people’s legs; it continues at a small student venue where fellow Food label-dwellers Dubstar are playing and triple Scotch and cokes are two quid. It winds up, by now incoherently, back at the hotel bar with a champagne and lager finale, during which Graham loses the plot completely and thumps an innocently by-standing Andy Ross square in the face.
All is forgiven (or, in Graham’s case, completely forgotten) the next morning. Smoggy, Blur’s beefulous Wolverhampton-twanged head of security, cheerily reports that before retiring, Graham had punched him as well, for good measure. “He doesn’t mean it,” Smog shrugs. “It’s just his way of dealing with the pressure.”
A WEEK LATER,THE TOUR IS FINISHED, having culminated in two further nights at Wembley Arena. But the year isn’t over and Blur’s schedule remains tighter than Jon Bon Jovi’s trousers. At Elstree Studios to record a performance of Country House for the Christmas Top Of The Pops, we find Damon slumped across a canteen table wearing a pair of Elvis shades and nursing a nasty hang-over. He blearily recalls having been “smeared across the walls” of a Soho drinking club the previous evening and being so drunk that he entertained the idea of visiting Stringfellows for an unnecessary nightcap.
Beside him, Graham is mournfully fingering a livid red scab on his chin (the result of an absent minded moment with a Gillette Contour),understandably sheepish about the Boumemouth out-burst. But time is a great healer and it’s not long before spirits have lifted and Blur are busily debating who they’d shag if they were gay.
“I’d shag Christian Slater,” declares Damon. “I probably wouldn’t be able to get an erection with a man but he’s a beautiful bloke.”
“I think it’s better if blokes can admit that they can have crushes on other blokes,” says Graham carefully “I’ve probably had crushes but never really sexual crushes on men.” Later, in the cramped Top Of The Pops dressing room, the subject of money arises. Alex, as he is not yet here, is unanimously declared the most financially prudent member of Blur. “He’s a fucking right tight-arsed bastard,” says Graham, before casually mentioning that he himself has just bought a house in North London.
“God,” says Damon, “I can’t imagine you with a mortgage.”
“I haven’t got a mortgage,” says Graham growing increasingly uncomfortable. “I bought it for, you know… cash.”
As attempts to put 1995 into perspective continue, the inevitable subject of Oasis arises. “The only thing that we’ve really got in common with Oasis is the fact that we’re both doing shit in America,” says Damon, ignoring the fact that Graham is quietly strumming the opening riff to Roll With It on an acoustic guitar. “But I like Liam. He’s the heart of that band. He is the band. And he’s a good singer. I think he does really well considering some of the fucking twaddle lyrics he’s given to sing.”
Talk of the shadow cabinet, consciously or otherwise, galvanises Damon into stern bandleader action. “Next week,” he says sharply to Graham, “we’ve got to start some serious guitar work on the new album.”
Soon, Damon says, he intends to take a short holiday with his girlfriend before full-time work on the new LP begins: “Goin’ to St. Lucia, man. (Adopts thick Jamaican accent) Spend a week smokin’ big spliff and lovin’ ma woman good.” Graham chops out a little reggae rhythm. “Actually,” Damon sighs, snapping out of his reverie and suddenly sounding like a character from one of his own songs, “it won’t be like that at all. The mother-in-law’s coming with us.”
WITH TOP OF THE POPS MASTERFULLY negotiated after just three rehearsals (one scampishly undertaken with Damon on bass, Alex on drums and Dave on appalling lead vocals), Blur head barwards, hell-bent on over-refreshment.
As he gets the round in, Damon divulges his philosophy of karmic niceness. “Always be pleasant to people,” he warns, “because you never know when you’ll meet them again. I worked in the bar in the Portobello Hotel when U2 used to stay there a lot and one night Bono was really rude to me and I’ve never really forgiven him.The Edge, on the other hand, was always really polite.” He thanks the barman generously for his help in securing two pints of Guinness and lowers his lips towards the white foam as he ponders the first question.
Did you ever imagine yourself reaching this point in your career?
No, not specifically. But I’d always felt that if I kept on doing it that at some point I’d do something really good. The thing I’m most proud about after having come through this tour is that we’re established now. We’re not going to go away. That’s an enormous barrier to have overcome. I’m jumping up and down and can’t wait to go and make another album now. Half of what the creative process is about is mustering that enthusiasm and I’m very enthusiastic and confident now. It’s not about taking drugs or shagging girls or having lots of money, it’s about something unique inside your head that just triggers off the right chemicals The last time it happened was when I realised that Oasis were selling more albums than us. It made me feel very competitive. Then I let go of that and it was enormously liberating. I realised it wasn’t as important as I’d made it in my head.
Did you feel jealous of them?
It wasn’t jealousy. I’m in an incredibly fortunate position on every level. My girlfriend, Justine (Frischmann, Elastica), is also in that position. People must look at us as a couple and feel sick.
Do you and Justine feel in competition wfth each other? Elastica have, after all, probably been more successful in America than Blur, Oasis and Pulp put together.
No, not at all. We’re a partnership. Just because you never see us having our photo taken together doesn’t mean that we don’t work together. We’re getting it sorted out, but we don’t rub it in people’s faces. We could’ve milked this situation like shit, out every night having our pictures taken, but we don’t. Neither of us likes going out to places like Browns and getting in the tabloids
Ever abused your position as a pop star?
Yeah. But we’re veering into that area where talking about it creates more trouble than it’s worth. I don’t any more. If it had made me happy, I’d still be doing it. But it made me intensely miserable.
When Blur started, you rather pretentiously claimed to have no records, just books.
Well, I was very fucking odd. Idiotic really. But it was jarring,so in that sense it worked. We weren’t the leaders of our genre but that ability to jar helped us survive getting started.
Has your self-confidence ever waned?
After Leisure, the first album, I had a very hard time. And rightly so. It was a shit album. There’s a few good songs but I was an appalling lyricist. Lazy, conceited, really woolly. I hadn’t read enough. Or rather, I’d started reading a lot of books but hadn’t finished them. But the main problem was that I’d spent quite a lot of time trying to get there. I had enormous drive.
You’re similar to the young Sting.
Probably. He was very driven and I was prepared to do virtually anything to succeed. Not turn into Boyzone or something like that, no disrespect to them, but I did go in for a few rather alarming manifestations. Damon Albarn the pop star you know today has got it wrong on several occasions.
Was there anyone whose career trajectory you particularly wanted to emulate?
Obviously David Bowie. During the period between Hunky Dory via Low to Scary Monsters. Hunky Dory is one of the greatest albums ever made. Obviously in the ’80s it went very wrong for Bowie, but it doesn’t matter because he had 10 years of wonderful work. I’ve met him quite a few times now and each time you meet him, his eyes have changed colour. Sometimes they’re brown and blue, and then next time they’re all blue. It’s very disconcerting.
Could the criticism that’s often levelled at Mike Leigh be applied to you – that lyrically you’re having a laugh at the working classes?
It wasn’t laughing at any- one in particular.They were just the fears that any sane person has. It sounds corny but I’m more compassionate now because I’ve suffered a bit more.At the height of my cockiness I was someone who hadn’t experienced death or rejection or anything. I’d had a very good relationship with my parents, a very gentle, open-minded upbringing, but I became arrogant and I wasn’t so much laughing at people as appalled at the possibilities. The dead ends that people can go down.
But you were still writing about them from a superior position. You’d had it easy. I didn’t have it easy becoming famous. I worked hard and made a lot of stupid mistakes. I still do.
What did you think of Liam Gallagher’s description of your songs as “chimney sweep music”.
Well, I do have a big Oliver! problem. I’m completely besotted by Lionel Bart. There’s a great story about him: he’d made a fortune, he was richer than any of the pop stars, worth something like £50 million in 1964, and when he was at his most wealthy and bon vivacious he hired this chateau in France and flew 50 or 60 friends out there for this amazing weekend party. Then he just disappeared and a year later he got a bill and none of the people had left the party. They’d stayed for a year and he hadn’t noticed. Then he sold all the fights to his songs. But I just think he’s wonderful.You look at him now and he’s still got a beautiful face. The man was on it big time.
Have you seen Oasis play live?
Their audience is much older than yours. Would you prefer that to the screaming girls?
Well, it’s weird. We’ll call it the Screaming Girl Thing for want of a better term. But with the Screaming Girl Thing, people carry those experiences for a long time. They may never forget it. So in that respect, this tour has given people a lot of strong and very positive feelings.They haven’t been to gigs before, but they’ve seen something which isn’t cynical but is working at that level. So, in that respect, I know it will pay off in the future. Obviously, that 28-35 male, beer-drinking audience is truer to my own life experience, but going to see a band is more of a throwaway thing to them. They’ve lost that magic of going to their first gig, which a 14-year-old hasn’t.
He Thought Of Cars and The Universal paint a pretty grim vision of the future. Did growing up in the ’80s do that for you?
That’s something that no-one seems to draw on from my generation. Kids now seem to take it for granted that there is no Cold War. I was a Reagan-Thatcher kid and we were convinced that the world was really a very dark place with sinister people behind the Iron Curtain. CND was huge. Everyone in my school drew the symbol on their books and bags.
If your vision of the future is so bleak, would you consider having children?
My head wants to adopt but my heart would dearly love to have my own child. But I really can’t justify it. I’m a very bleak person.
And what if Justine wanted to have kids?
She’s as bleak as me. That’s why we get on so well.
Are you depressive?
The only depressions I’ve had, I’ve managed to sort out. I’m a great believer in sorting yourself out. You don’t have to run to a doctor immediately.
Do you ever worry that you’re turning into your father?
My father’s pretty cool. He’s just spent six months in Mauritius starting the first art foundation course there. He’s had six months living on beach in paradise, so no, I’m not really worried about turning into him.
Do people assume you’re rich?
I am rich. I fucking am. There’s no point denying it. I don’t know exactly how rich I am, but I’m going to see my accountant next week to find out how much money I’ve got. I know roughly. I’m not that head-in-the-clouds.
You have, In effect, financially, at least, won the National Lottery.
But I’ve fucking worked for it! How can the National Lottery make people happier? How can it make their lives better? The standard statement from the Lottery winner who previously lived in a bungalow is, “It’s not going to change me. All I want is a nice holiday and a new carpet.” I don’t think people should do the Lottery and I don’t understand why people do. And I’d have said that when I had no money whatsoever.
What does money mean to you?
I’ve never been motivated bv money at all. There’s nothing inside me that really respects it. I don’t even know what to spend it on. I can’t blow it on cars because I can’t drive. Failed my test twice. I’ve started going home on the tube.When I had next to no money, I spent virtually all of it on taxis. Now I get on the tube with my woolly hat pulled down over my face like a thug and get home for a quid.
Do you worry about the other members of Blur?
Yes. All the time. Like, Graham has a character change when he’s drunk. I knew Graham before he smoked and drank. He is the sweetest bloke alive and he is the most gifted guitarist of his generation, No-one can fucking touch him and for that I’m prepared to put up with all his lunacy.
Does the amount of cocaine that surrounds the band bother you?
Everyone is taking drugs apart from Graham and me.We are virtually the only exceptions in the entire scene. He drinks too much; I drink a lot but not as much as him and I smoke a bit of dope but that’s it. There’s a fucking blizzard of cocaine in London at the moment and I hate it. It’s stupid. Everyone’s become so blase, thinking they’re so ironic and witty and wandering around with this stupid fucking cokey confidence. Wankers. I mean, I did it but I can’t say I was a cocaine addict. And I can’t say whether that was what triggered the weird experience last year.
You were having panic attacks.
Yeah, and they may or may not have come from taking coaine. After trying numerous remedies from acupuncture to back specialists, I sorted it out myself. Panic attacks are very much a modern condition. People don’t talk about them but they should. They’re terrible things to endure on your own.
Have you addressed them in your writing? You often seem to rely on characterisation to address personal issues.
Country House is about panic attacks. I wrote it when Kurt Cobain died because I think he might have suffered from them. It’s not about him, it’s about myself, but I was feeling pretty fucking down and it somehow mutated into this jolly, uptempo comedy record. So, yes, I have written about myself through characters, but what I’m prepared to do with the next record is dismantle all that and go for a more personal record. I can sit at my piano and write brilliant observational English pop songs, but you’ve got to move on.
Do you ever feel restricted by Blur?
No, not really. I do other things all the time anyway. I’ve done the music for Trainspotting. It’s a fantastic film. It’s going to have the same effect on a generation as Quadrophenia did. It has that sense of, “This belongs to us and not you”
But will there come a point when, like Paul Weller and Sting, you’ll find you’ve taken Blur as far as you can and go solo?
I’m not going to turn into either of those, and I’m never going to turn into Let’s Dance David Bowie. I’m more likely to go down the Tom Waits way of thinking. But, of course, yeah, there will come a point when I won’t be able to perform in the way that I’d like to within the current set-up.
Is that what will split Blur up?
Who knows? Bands just fizzle out, don’t they?
AS THE NIGHT IS YET YOUNG-ISH, Damon and Alex decide to head into the West End, where Alex’s friend, the art world enfant horrible Damien Hirst, is having a party.
Before we leave, Damon gets momentarily flustered as he thinks he’s lost a cassette from his guitar case. He finds it in his pocket: “Sorry about that. It’s just that it’s got the songs for the new album on it and it’s the only copy.”
It slowly dawns that he had just misplaced potentially the most valuable item in British music publishing this year.And now, possibly due to the relief, Damon has to go to the lavatory. “I need a pooh,” he whispers.Alex exhales and pulls a copy of Robertson Davies’s 800-page Deptford Trilogy from his pocket. “Damon,” he reveals exclusively, “takes famously long poohs.” Finally clambering into the chauffeur-driven car, he announces that he’d like td see Babe. “So would I,” murmurs Alex, havirrg madt a hefty downpayment on oblivion. “What art they like live?”
“It’s a film,” shouts Damon. “You fucking rock monster!”
We drive in huffy silence for a while until The Beatles’ Free As A Bird comes on the radio. “Oh God,” winces Damon, “can we have Radio Four on instead?”
“Yeah,”Alex slurs, feeling another joke coming on. “Whoever wrote this song should be shot.”
(some short interviews with the rest of the band….)
ALEX: “A fucking right tight-arsed bastard”
Do you feel like a pop star?
I feel dreadful. But I suppose I am a pop star. I think the emphasis gets placed on my roistering because the other members of the band are all in steady relationships. Roistering. That word is actually in the dictionary. “Indulging in unrefined merry-making”. I’m just enjoying going out and meeting people and getting drunk with them. There is a danger, on tour especially of losing who you are and just becoming this hedonistic horror. But, as Robert Louis Stevenson pointed out, the traveller must be content.
Do you worry that you’re becoming a lesser person?
It’s not quite that simple. Touring is an emotional and spiritual roller-coaster. You go from feeling magnificent and gorgeous to feeling… suicidal.
What class do you consider yourself to be?
I don’t know. My grandparents were working-class. My dad earnt money and would be classified as rniddle-class. I don’t think it matters. There are draw-backs with being working-class or middle-class and there are enormous drawbacks with being posh. It’s an acronym, isn’t it,’posh’? Port out, starboard home.
Are you a shag pig?
No, I don’t do much shagging. I’m really not a big shag-athlete, despite what you might read in newspapers. I’ve been linked to the world’s most beautiful woman and probably the world’s most ugly woman too. And many more besides.
You were linked with Helena Christiansen.
By the press.
Did you shag her?
Nah. She’s… very nice though.
Are you an alcoholic?
Well, drinking makes me happy. It’s not like it’s a Brideshead Revisited thing. That’s the definition of an alcoholic: someone who drinks and gets sadder.We drink a lot. But I also have a day off every week and I stick to that. It means you don’t associate everything with being plastered.
What do people think of you?
Probably that I’m a bit of a show-off prat. It can go to your head and sometimes it does. It’s got to the stage now where people have become interested in us as individuals. And they’re even interested if we’re just being boring. It’s in the paper when you go to Tesco. That’s very flattering but all it means is that I’ve been to the supermarket, I’m afraid. I’m also required to talk about myself quite a lot which, obviously, I adore but it must get on other people’s tits.
Do you ever get punched?
Never. There has to be two people who want to have a fight for there to be one.
What would split Blur up?
Me shagging their girl-friends.
DAVE: “He might be an alien”
You’ve always been the mysterious bloke in Blur. Do you enjoy that role?
I’m certainly the one in the band that people know least about. Bu have no desire to be very well known or go out front and sing and throw shapes. You have be a very particular kind extrovert to be able to do that kind of thing and you have work twice as hard at being a celebrity if you’re a drummer. And there’s a bad precedent for drummers that do that because they always seem to die: Keith Moon, John Bonham.
Do you think you get paid too much?
Well, it would be very hard to complain about it. But we’ve worked incredibly hard. Away for six months of the year, haven’t had a day off since God knows when. Nothing worse than moaning musicians, is there? But we don’t actually earn stupid amounts of money. I don’t know if I earn any more than anyone who has slaved away for six years to get to the top of their profession.
But you fly planes.
It’s a rich man’s hobby. Dave Gilmour files planes. So I’m told. But being in a band isn’t all I could do. I could have earned a pretty good living out of being a computer programmer, I was equally good at that as I am at this.
Are you aware of the weirdness of Blur’s world?
You do tend to get a bit cocooned. There’s always people around you making sure you’re all right. It’s a terrible shock when you eventually get to go down to the shops on your own and there’s no-one there to help you do your shopping.
You are teetotal. Have you “done your drinking”?
I’ve had my hangovers. I was a pretty miserable drunk. It hadn’t suited me chemically for a number of years but you don’t realise for ages. You have to be told by absolutely everyone before you take it on board. It’s a hard thing to do. But it was definitely affecting me mentally. A lot of the time in a band, drinking is all you can to do to unwind. For an hour after a gig you’re striding around the dressing room knighting people. I rarely get to sleep before three in the morning. And that’s with the porn channel on.
Do you look out for each other?
It’s very brotherly. It’s interesting that all of us have got one sister and none of us have brothers.And we do look after each other like brothers.
What would split the band up?
If anyone left. That would do it.
GRAHAM: “The sweetest bloke alive”
You had a bit of a dark night of the soul around the time of your Number 1 single, didn’t you?
I went AWOL. Went to see the seaside. I wanted to enjoy being Number 1, I didn’t want to be forced into enjoying it. I didn’t want fucking record company people I didn’t know slapping me on the back. I got freaked out and a bit contrary. Contrariness is one of my biggest sins. Like if you told me that that bottle of beer was Grolsch, I’d say, no, that can’t be Grolsch, it’s too old. I’m terribly guilty of perversity. I know, as an adult, I should be enjoying myself now but I just seem to be getting … angrier.
Do you worry that you get aggressive when you’re drunk?
It’s just frustration. I don’t like being on the road. There’s no emotional stability. People look after you but only to make sure you’re fit and well enough to do that extra little bit that they want to squeeze out of you. I’m not a punchy bloke, I just get uptight. It’s pressure, I guess. This year’s been pretty heavy with touring and my personal living conditions have gone a bit downhill and neglected. Which makes me get down.
Are you comfortable with your newfound wealth?
I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot. It’s quite a relief to have some money at last. But sometimes I get really ashamed and really surprised by the money I’ve made. Before we went on stage at Budokan, Alex, being Alex, said, “Do you know how much you’re going to be earning in the next two hours?” And I just didn’t want to know. I still don’t know how much it was. It would have frightened me. I’m fairly innocent when it comes to business. Maybe that’s a weakness. It’s funny when I go back to Colchester and go to the pub, it’s all, “Oh, drinks on you, is it, Graham?” and when people used to say that, 18 months ago, they couldn’t understand that I was really seriously overdrawn. It was that weird situation where you’d be going on an executive flight to Europe to do promotion and then going home and making dog-end rollies and cadging drinks in Camden. Nothing to eat. Now I look at my bank balance and go, “Fucking hell! what do I do with that?”
Your guitar playing technique is quite extraordinary when you witness it close up.
What, all the chords running into each other and that? Yeah, I like to be fluid. Then I like to chop and go against everything. Like on Boys And Girls; Alex is trying to take it to some Superstition funkytown and I’m trying to fuck it up by slashing these big discordant things across it. Make it more interesting.
Do you like the screaming girl element of your audience?
It’s romantic, isn’t it? I naively thought, when I joined this band, that we’d stay on a sort of Dinosaur Jr level. I didn’t think this would ever happen to us. But the pain in the arse is that Damon writes really good songs. I don’t know whether the very young fans actually think about the subjects like corruption and transvestism that the lyrics look at but they certainly know all the words
What would split Blur up?
Death. Or if we made another Parklife. And I don’t think we could carry on if one of us left… unless it wasAlex.