Return to tender
Just when you thought Blur had decided to take a wee break, young Damon Albarn returns to the centre of the stage. This time, though, he’s talking films and soundtracks – and babies.
He’s been a baggy reject, the king of britpop, lo-fi krautrocker and confessional balladeer but right now Damon Albarn is just plain wrecked. As soon as this chat ends, he takes to his bed. No, ten years of excessive rock & roll livin’ haven’t finally taken their toll on our favourite cheeky chappie pop millionaire, he’s just been up all night with his new baby, Missy, named after Ms SupaDupaFly herself.
“We had a particularly late one last night,” he yawns. “And I had to get up early”. Poor dear. “People understand. Other tired young parents.” The fact that he now has the same hairdo as Frannie from Travis must only add to his troubles. He’s making another of his increasingly frequent visits to Dublin to help launch Ordinary Decent Criminal, writer Gerry Stembridge and director Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s own unique take – and the third one committed to film – on the now thoroughly familiar life and times of Dublin crimelord Martin Cahill. The boy Albarn makes his solo movie scoring debut here, having already collaborated with Michael Nyman on bizarro cannibal black comedy Ravenous.
“That was my apprenticeship,” he reflects. “I learned a lot from Michael. I basically had a month in which to learn a lot of stuff. To do one on my own the next time round, I had to take in a lot.”
He credits Nyman with giving him the confidence to go it alone. “He gave me a realistic view of it, which is very important. I did a lot more of the music on Ravenous really that Michael did, but he was always there more as a teacher. I think he would agree.”
He points out that his involvement on ODC came “fairly late in the day. I think that’s what always happens on films with ambiguous budgets.” His eclectic, larger than life arrangements, largely brass driven, have already proven the most universally aclaimed aspect of the finished product. “I definitely wanted to make it seem like there was a kind of folklorish quality to it and Kevin Spacey (as Cahill-a-like Michael Lynch) had turned his character into more of a Robin Hood figure, so I wanted to get that more heightened sense, y’know? Put some colour in.”
Anyone who witnessed Blur’s recent South Bank Show special – when Albarn memorably balled some unfortunate musicians out of it whilst recording the soundtrack – will know that wee Damo has no problem when it comes to conveying his ideas. “It’s great working with other musicians,” he smiles. “It’s just really terrifying when they just don’t understand what it is you’re trying to get. Then you really wish you were with people you’ve worked with for years. It kind of balances out.”
Is he always that exacting when it comes to getting his desired results, then? “Well, it’s the same with the band. I have the same kinds of arguments with them, really, when they’re not doing what I want them to do. Except we’ve known each other a lot longer. They’re less likely to listen to me.”
Scoring someone else’s work offers its own unique challenges. “It’s such a different discipline, and you are working so closely with other people, it’s more a case of expressing what’s in the film than in yourself”. His involvement can also draw an audience’s attention to a movie, but as he himself points out, “that’s nice, but only if what I do is good, though. Otherwise it’s really embarassing.”
Writing for film is something he’s been aiming towards for years and it will occupy his time for another while yet. “I wanted to do it, but I’ve been offered a lot more stuff than I would ever consider taking on.” He’s already turned down a few big Hollywood-type offers in favour of projects that float his particular boat. “I’m doing an Icelandic film next, called Reykjavik 101, with Einar from The Sugarcubes. I still feel very close to that island.”
One thing you won’t be seeing him do anytime soon is step in front of the cameras again, after his low-key acting debut in Brit crime flick Face. “The idea of turning up every day and having to speak someone else’s lines is not for me.” So it was a learning experience, then? “Yeah, it taught me that I didn’t want to do it.” Subject closed.
As for his other gig – you know, the singing-in-the-band one – after a year of severe musical introspection (the “13” album) and retrospection (the Singles Night tour, the box set, the TV documentary, an exhibition, 1,001 confessional interviews), he’s worked hard to extricate himself from the usual grind to focus on daddydom. “Yeah, well, that’s why I’ve stopped touring,” he admits. “Once I knew I was going to have a baby, I did everything I could to speed up the process of decomissioning, so to speak. Today, the subject of parenthood is the only one that truly engages me, it’s given me a sense of purpose. And what that means is that you know when to say no, really.” He’s not giving it all up for a big house in the country just yet, however: “Nah. I don’t really believe in not working. But I believe in working and for the quality of life when you’re working to be good.”
So, while Blur’s future plans remain vague (a greatest hits package is mooted sometime soonish), the aims of our favourite former piss-artist turned thoroughly modern young parent remain true. “I still want to make a good record. It’s always the most exciting thing on the horizon. I always feel some degree of failure at the end of a project, so what keeps me going is the thought that I might get a little bit closer to my original vision.” Bless.