From “terribly un-rock ‘n’ roll” Colchester come bright sparks BLUR, cocky groovers with a promising single “She’s So High”. STEVE LAMACQ finds a glimmer of hope amidst the dour Essex scenery.
By Steve Lamacq
If your early schooldays were a dull, uneventful affair, then you certainly weren’t in the same class as studying hip-swivellers Blur.
“Our school got burnt down seven times in two years,” explains wide-eyed vocalist Damon, “and in the end they found it was our teacher who was doing it. He said in court it was because he’d been overlooked for the deputy headship and he couldn’t cope anymore…
“But he was still teaching us at the time…burning down the school at night and coming in the next morning and saying ‘Sorry children, someone has set fire to the school again, so we’re going to have to move to another building.’ ”
This kind of anarchic anecdote sounds like it’s straight out of fantasy but Damon swears it’s true. The teacher was put away for six years, he adds, dramatically.
In the punk heyday, it was the done thing to drift through school and on to art college. Both Blur guitarist Graham and bassist Alex were art students before quitting for music, Damon was at drama school in East London before swapping theatre for gigs.
Picking up drummer Dave from their hometown Colchester scene, the four formed a band called Seymour. They sounded like The Wolfhounds, and resembled a ragged, speed-freak Stone Roses (ie, not very good). Enter Food Records, who are developing a knack for taking average bands from the London circuit and helping them fulfil their potential.
Having succeeded with Jesus Jones – previously an appallingly bland outfit called Camouflage – the label signed Seymour and went to work. The band changed their name, cleared up their identity and – KER-CHING! – cash-tills started quavering.
This week Blur release their debut 45, a timely, mesmeric dance-trance 12-inch called ‘She’s So High’. Destined to crack the Top 60 at their first attempt, the powerfully swirling single bears out the craving for Blur which has come, not just from The Business (including a recently signed £80,000 publishing deal with MCA) but from an already burgeoning following.
Everyone wants a piece of Blur. The single is a central point between the current indie Ride-style guitar groups to their left and the acidic Manc mobs to their right. In the middle, occupying a more groove-oriented position than Carter (USM), Blur are a psychedelic, less formularised version of labelmates Jesus Jones. They’re cocky, attractive and flog loads of T-shirts. If the next stop’s the charts, first there’s time for a brief diverson.
TO CELEBRATE the release of ‘She’s So High’ we decide to ‘do’ the interview back in Colchester, where three of the band and I all started out – not far from the aforementioned fire-raising school. It’s symbolic that we leave London Liverpool Street in a blaze of sunshine and arrive in Essex to a grey, overcast Friday afternoon.
When Blur grab Top Of The Pops status they’ll be the first group with Colchester connections to ‘make it’ in years. Colchester, the oldest market town in Britain, once the jewel-like outpost in the Roman Empire, is a claustrophobically conservative enviroment to grow up in: its spurious ‘nightlife’ being governed by two words…SMART CASUAL. It’s a terribly un-rock ‘n’ roll place, at weekends the squaddies from the local garrison go into town to drink their wages and harass the locals. Living here is like living in a wet sponge.
“When I was at school,” says Graham, “we were asked to bring in photos of what people thought of Colchester and everyone just brought in pictures of men digging holes. I took pictures of gravestones…it’s death for young people, this place.”
And Blur? They’re the resurrection – which starts at opening time. The Blur drink is Cider & Pernod in halves (Damon: “15 of these and I’m away”). Andy Ross from Food Records has come along to chaperone the band, which brings up the topic of the record company.
Ross: “This lot, oh, they’ve sold out. But we’re a cool label to sell out to.”
Food, to their credit, don’t so much dictate to bands as direct them – a gentle moulding effect. In Blur’s case they’ve drawn out the more accessible points of the band and focused their ‘image’. The band look cutely rebellious now, compared to their Second Hand Clothes Shop look before. Musically they fit snugly into what’s happening at the moment.
“But we can’t help that,” says Damon shrugging his shoulders, “we’re just one of those lucky bastard bands who’ve come out with the right record at the right time. All the material we started off with a year ago is suddenly ‘in’ now. Like ‘She’s So High’ was the first song we ever wrote – and that hasn’t changed at all. Obviously we’ve been given advice but we don’t worry about it. If people want to percive that we’ve been moulded then OK, that’s cool.”
“We were very messy before,” adds Graham, “But we’re just learning what to do with ourselves, finding our identity. I mean it’s quite obvious what we are now. A f—ing groovy band.”
I’m playing Devils’ Advocate here.
“Yeah, but it’s obvious that we’re still going to look different to other bands,” returns Damon lucidly, “because we’ve got something that draws people to us. There are fundamental reasons why people like bands. They’re drawn to certain groups because they WANT them – whether it’s in an emotional, sexual or intellectual way, they want the band. That’s us.”
DAMON IS a good frontman to have in a group. Despite looking dopey, he’s like a less dicatorial version of Jesus Jones’ Mike Edwards, talkative and volatile. On stage his theatrics include throwing himself off the PA and thrashing around like he’s just plugged his hand into a light socket. “To feel ill at the end of a gig, that’s great. That’s what I’d have liked to have achieved when I was acting but I couldn’t because I was so consious of myself. In a funny way you can get away with more in a band than you can when you’re an actor.”
Although in interviews he deterorates in a dribbling mass of rambling quotes, his middle class tearaway flaws are part of Blur’s appeal. That chemical balance which critics say is always inherent in all good bands is some way apparent in Blur – Graham acting as the foil to Damon’s drunken garbage, Alex the soft-spoken Bournemouth outsider and Dave the quiet type. “I used to get beaten up quite a lot when I lived round here,” Damon admits, “but maybe I’m the sort of person who asks for it because I sound quite arrogant when I talk.
“I wouldn’t say I was particulary volatile but…oh, alright, I am. I’m horribly cynical. I don’t suffer fools gladly. Anything which I think is in the least bit foolish really irratates me. Like people who make a thing out of being weak and insecure, I hate that. But I’m a big fool anyway, so maybe I just hate myself.”
“Wow,” says Graham sarcastically. “That’s deep.”
“Aww, shut up.”
Got it? Blur’s “destructive love song”, ‘She’s So High’, the most frustrated, pent-up moment of their live set, is released on Monday. Blur as a band, with their unpredictable, vunerable character and hybrid pop music will be on TOTP by next March. Latest.