“I can’t remember where we first saw each other. I’ve got a terrible memory. But I’m sure Graham remembers it.” Damon Albarn turns to Graham Coxon, who nods neatly.
“It was next to the music room practice portakabin near the music block. But I firstnoticed him singing ‘Please Officer Krupke’ from ‘West Side Story’ in school assembly and I thought what a particularly extrovert chap. Completely the opposite to me, because I was very shy. Then, not long after that he had brogues that all the ska lot were wearing. I really wanted some but couldn’t really afford them, so I had similar things. And he came up to me and just said, They’re crap shoes, look at these, these are the proper sort. Then he sort of put his hair right and walked off! I thought, God, cheers, you know. I don’t think I’d ever met anyone with such a full-on attitude.”
They first started really talking over a song that Damon had written – at the instigation of one Mr Hildreth, their music teacher.
“In those days,” remembers Damon, “Graham played saxophone and drums, and I played violin and piano. I’d written this song which needed sax so we went round to a friend’s house…”
“…It was Michael Morris’ house,” adds Graham.
By now they were both aware of being school oddities. A realisation which helped forge a Secret Seven style relationship.
“Graham’s house was at the back of the school playing field and we used to go round there virtually every lunchtime,” says Damon.
“We used to eat loads of biscuits and drink tea and watch videos,” adds Graham. “When we were a bit older we used to go to Damon’s house every Friday night after school, where his mum helped me with my art.” (Both Damon’s parents were artists – his dad ran the local art school.)
Damon liked classical music and wanted to be an actor. But Graham liked The Jam: “Graham had this minute bedroom, but there was a drum kit in there, and all these posters of The Jam.”
Graham recalls Damon’s room as a less romantic affair: “It had a wardrobe and bits piled up and it was painted grey basically. No posters in it.”
Damon: “I had lots of fossils and stuffed animals – I had a stuffed fox. I was a very keen fossil hunter and bird watcher…”
Graham: “Yeah. It was the other side of the coin for me. I’d go in there and root around and find things that I’d be really interested in, because my room was completely different.”
Childhood in deepest Essex was very sheltered. No drugs. No under-age drinking – Graham didn’t even smoke until he was 18.
“We went to a couple of parties that were thrown at people’s houses and we’d drink a couple of tins of lager and feel a bit tipsy. But that was it. It was a very innocent country life that we led,” says Graham. He leans towards Damon and in hushed tones asks, “Can I say about the wine?”
“What? Yeah, OK.”
Graham: “This is a really lovely bit – quite Enid Blyton. We’d go for walks by the river at the back of Damon’s house. One day he took me there and there was this lovely gnarled tree, and he’d got a couple of bottles of wine and tied them with strings to the roots of the tree so that they dangled in the water. He pulled one up and we sat there drinking it. That was the first time we got legless together.”
After that, by his own admission, Damon became a loud-mouth and aggro-magnet.
“I had to give up going into town to the pub with him, because it would always end in trouble.”
“Remember Brites?” nudges Damon. “Brites was one of those early ’80s fun pubs.”
“Yeah. We’d go down there and drink three or four Holsten Pils and be legless. Damon was always staring people out. Once this bloke came over and there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing. He said to Damon, I’m gonna kick your bloody head in in a minute. And Damon applauded him slowly and said very sarcastically, Oh you’re so hard. So this bloke just went Bam! and knocked him into these tables. But it was always happening.”
“Every time this happened Graham was nowhere to be seen. I’d be in the loos and some nutter would try to head-butt me and I’d look around and he’d have disappeared! I tell you what, when I first knew you, you wouldn’t say boo to a goose. But now when you’re drunk you’re just as annoying as I used to be. Graham’s very lucky someone hasn’t given him a really good kicking.
“We’re interchangeable when we’re drunk.”
Graham’s drinking is an issue today. Posing for photos Graham is intent on drinking all the prop beers. Damon constantly ticks him off. “Graham! Don’t you dare drink that beer! Get a cup of tea, come on.”
Minutes later, between poses, Graham shakes up his bottle of Grolsch and as it explodes in his face and bubbles over he tries to save it from spilling on the floor by gulping the froth.
“Sorry,” says Graham quietly and immediately spits the beer out on to the floor.
As Damon turns his back, Graham sees his opportunity and takes an epic swig anyway.
Damon admits to being the “dad” in the friendship: “I’ve always felt like an older brother to him – although I do rely on him a lot.”
Of the various catalysts which spark off Damon’s sense of protectiveness over Graham, the girlfriends issue is the most powerful.
“He never likes my girlfriends,” sulks Graham.
“That’s not true, Graham. I do but I just want to make sure he’s OK. So I treat anyone he gets emotionally involved with in that way. Just like I do with my sister.”
Which brings us to the delicate subject of Damon’s girlfriend Justine from Elastica and her best friend and Graham’s ex, Jane Oliver. At the very mention of Jane, Graham stops the interview and asks for a cigarette. Damon cracks up: “He can’t go on without a fag!”
“It was a very weird time when I was going out with Jane…” Graham begins. But that’s all he can manage.
After school, Graham did art at Goldsmith’s. Damon had been to drama school and was doing a part time course at the same university. It was here that Blur came together in 1989.
“It’s funny being friends and being where we are now…” ponders Damon. “It’s not like we’re best friends any more.”
“It’s beyond being best friends. It’s more brother orientated,” agrees Graham pensively.
“Graham and I don’t go out any more. We don’t really even talk to each other now do we? It’s gone way beyond that. We both have other friends outside of the group and we have a different idea of a good night out now. I like cooking and watching football and he likes to go to the pub!”
Do you love each other?
“Definitely,” says Graham.
Damon: “Without a shadow of a doubt. We’ll always be friends now. I like the idea of seeing each other being really old and doddery.”
Damon: “I mean, it’s important to make it to that point, isn’t it?”
Graham: “Yeah I can’t wait.”
Damon: “He can’t wait…”