Blur | Select – July 1995

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How do they do that?
[Blur song facts, part 1/2]

All the quotes that follow are from lenghty interviews conducted in May 1995 with Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, Dave Rowntree, Stephen Street, Dave Balfe and Andy Ross. The songs appear in the order they were recorded, not in the order they were released. For example, a typical Blur song from late 1991 or early 1992 might sit in the vaults for two years before a home is found for it on the b-side of a 12-inch single or CD. Thanks to Mike Smith and John Smith for chronological guidance.

David Cavanagh and Stuart Maconie are the two writers who’ve been closest to Blur in their six year history. Cavanagh insisted that Select put the band on the cover in 1991 when most around him shared the “Balfe view” – and he was right. Maconie’s abiding Blur memory is of sharing a taxi around Tokyo with them, with Dave Rowntree asleep on top of him and Damon shouting at passers-by through a megaphone. Maconie is now half of Radio One’s Collins & Maconie. Both he and Cavanagh now write mainly for Q.

‘Tell Me, Tell Me’, ‘Long Legged’, ‘Mixed Up’, ‘Dizzy’, ‘Fried’, ‘Shimmer’ (B-sides of ‘Sunday Sunday’ 7-inch, 12-inch and CD. Produced by Graeme Holdaway.)

These songs are not, strictly speaking, Blur songs. Intended as ear-catching demos to further the struggling career of Blur’s previous incarnation Seymour, they were recorded at the Beat Factory on Euston Road (where Damon worked as a tea-boy) at a time in 1989 when, as Alex puts it, “I was learnings to speak French during the days, Graham was putting telephones in washing-up bowls and Dave was driving a brown Ford Escort estate around Colchester and working for the council”. Damon’s job meant he could use the studio out of hours. “That’s why I joined,” Alex says. “I thought he was a bit of a wanker but he had the keys to a recording studio.”

Eventually released in October 1993 as B-sides of ‘Sunday Sunday’, these songs depict a trebly crayon print of baby Blur. At times meekly suggestive of Factory-era James, at times as irritatingly helter-skelter as the Cardiacs, the songs test both the patience and the ear. Graham Coxon says of their 1993 release: “I think we realized that Seymour was still there in us and it was a shame to keep him locked up. We wanted to release him.”

1. ‘She’s So High’ (Single, released 15/10/91. Also on ‘Leisure’, 27/8/91. Produced by Steve Lovell and Steve Power.)

Re-named Blur in November 1989 over dinner with Food Records’ Dave Balfe and Andy Ross at Soho Pizzeria, the band signed to Food the following March. For their debut single they returned to the first song they had ever written together. ‘She’s So High’ had been conceived in March 1988 as a loose rehearsal jam based around a four-chord sequence supplied by Alex James, the last member to join. The sequence – the same for the verses and chorus – was simplified by Graham who also wrote some lyrics to the verse while Damon was on holiday in Spain. ‘She’s So High’ remains the band’s most democratically-written song. Overseen by the former Julian Cope producer Steve Lovell and his colleague Steve Power, it was recorded at Battery Studios in Willesdon in June 1990 during the World Cup.

Progress was slow. The looped bass took two days. The drums took a week. Lovell and Power doubted their musical ability – particularly Alex’s – and insisted on “looping” as much as possible, mechanically repeating the same one-or-two-bar bass part troughout the song. But Blur were delighted to be in the same studio as the Stone Roses had used for ‘Fool’s Gold’. And Alex was convinced ‘She’s So High’ was destined for number one.

Although lyrically negligible – a complaint common to much of Blur’s early material – ‘She’s So High’ is both a masterful debut and proof positive that emotions in pop songs need not rely on the vocabulary of the writer. Simple and ingenuous, it has a ghostly melody and a daringly unhurried tempo – the only busy sound is the bass guitar – and in its long middle section, announced by Graham’s backwards guitar (2.24), the song bursts into a six-second passage of disconsolate beauty (3.32-3.38). Before the backwards guitar finally exits – a full 90 seconds later – it has taken the song on a near-psychedelic excursion without a single note being wasted or the attention of the listener wavering.

While sluggish in material terms – it only got to number 48 – the song’s artless charm and popularity reserve a place for it in Blur’s live set even today.

2. ‘I Know’ (B-side of ‘She’s So High’. Produced by Steve Lovell and Steve Power.)

Recorded in the same session as ‘She’s So High’, this Seymour-era song was briefly considered as a possible A-side. It’s easy to see why. Unlike its introspective flipside, ‘I Know’ is a bare-faced ‘indie dance’ production number (especially the extended version on the 12-inch and the CD.) Self-consciously trippy, it clutches the coat-tails of 1990’s biggest music phenomenon – the shuffling dance beats of Manchester. Graham now acknowledges, “Obviously, we used that [beat] as a stepping stone to getting noticed.” Despite its pleasant harmony vocals, the song is vapid, of note chiefly to those who cannot get enough backwards guitar. A keen fan of Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd, Graham’s versatility as a guitarist was important in Blur’s shift from Seymour’s ragged punk towards a more psychedelic sound. For the next year, Damon’s lyrics would skirt lethargy and melancholia in increasingly banal ways, selling the group’s musicality short and also implying that Blur had nothing in their heads except radio silence.

3. ‘Sing’ (B-side of ‘She’s So High’ 12-inch. Also ‘Leisure’ album track. Produced by Blur.)

Left to their own devices Blur could often sound like a different band. ‘Sing’, one of the most mature tracks on ‘Leisure’, originated from Seymour days when it was, as Damon recalls, “the first time, playing as a band, that I thought we really had something.” According to Graham, “Even people who hated us would come rushing up and say, What was that song?”‘Sing’ is an exercise in mantra-like melancholy constructed largely around plaintive, enormous minor chords in E, F-sharp and C. There are two looped bass patterns and the percussion track consists of a sampled snare whack repeated for most of the song’s six minutes. ‘Sing’ is a demo produced by the band (and engineered by an Irishman named Leo whose surname is lost to posterity) at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, that was adjudged good enough to be released as it stood.

4. ‘Berserk’ (B-side of ‘Bang’ CD, released 5/8/91. Produced by Blur.)

Developing his admiration for Syd Barrett, Graham instigated this 6.50 instrumental freakout that combines elements of four songs (‘No Good Trying’, ‘No Man’s Land’, ‘Baby Lemonade’, and ‘Late Night’) from Barrett’s two solo LP’s of late 1970. A loud guitar/organ drone, it features Graham on heavily distorted guitar, run backwars – a sound he likens to “a wasp buzzing all the way trough it” – as well as playing one of two drum loops (Dave plays the other). Listeners who stay the distance suffer repeated aural shocks as Graham overdubs as additional guitar at formidable volume (particularly severe at 4.49 and 6.06), and after the cacophony has abated the song appears audibly to smoke in the air. Reactions are mixed. “This is what Graham’s solo album will sound like,” says Alex. “Not worth dwelling on,” says Andy Ross. Indisputably the most unhinged of the early Blur recordings.

5. ‘I’m Fine’ (B-side of ‘Popscene’ 12-inch, released 30/3/92. Produced by Blur.)

Cheesy Seymour-era tune recorded during the same sessions as ‘Sing’. Blur (especially Damon) are now irked by it, not at least for its breezily inane sentiments which Alex had characterized as “a little Jason Donovan”. This passable ’60s pastiche sports McCartney-esque bass and a Townshend-style main riff. Graham had just acquired a new 12-string guitar, hence its prominence.

6. ‘I’m All Over’ (B-side of ‘There’s No Other Way’ 12-inch and CD, released 15/4/91. Produced by Blur.)

A song from the Blur live set of early 1990, ‘I’m All Over’ is a short (1.57) but endearing sprint on the subject of detachment, with Graham’s voice harmonizing loosely on the choruses with Damon’s rather in style of early REM. The inspiration for Dave’s spluttering, jerking drum-and-cymbal pattern was ‘Where Are You Baby?’ by Betty Boo, which Graham instructed him to copy. Graham takes little pride in this, calling ‘I’m All Over’ “a ridiculous song with a terrible, synthetic drumbeat.”

7. ‘Won’t Do It’ (B-side of ‘There’s No Other Way’ 12-inch remix, released 19/4/91. Produced by Blur.)

Another Seymour-era song, typically frantic and brattish. Alex: “The idea was to have a chorus written around one note.” While the middle section aspires to a supersonic dance groove, the song has little to distinguish it from other frantic, brattish Seymour material demoed the previous year. Graham disagrees, retaining a soft spot for such energy-noise songs as this and ‘Day Upon Day’. “It was all very fuzzy,” he says, “but I think if I’d just strummed along the songs would pretty much still stand up.”

8. ‘Explain’ (B-side of ‘Bang’ 12-inch and CD. Produced by Stephen Street.)

Today much is made of Blur’s supposed antipathy towards American music. Their tastes, however, have often belied this. ‘Explain’, an old Seymour song written during the manic nights at the Beat Factory, reflects one of the band’s then obsession with the Pixies. (“The last great American band. They piss on Nirvana” – Alex.) The band always referred to the song as‘Can’t Explain’, the title of The Who’s first single from 1965. The song still commands the band’s affection. As Damon points out, “We didn’t want to get rid of Seymour songs because they were part of what we were.” ‘Explain’ was recorded with Stephen Street during the same May ’91 session at Maison Rouge that produced ‘High Cool’.

9. ‘Down’ (‘She’s So High’ B-side. Produced by Blur.)

Perhaps the first song written by Blur – as opposed to Seymour. It was a conscious attempt to move on from Seymour’s lunatic diversity and be a rock song of its time. Damon, while a fan of Julian Cope, knew little of current trends. Graham, however, was immersed in the abstract guitar soundscapes found on My Bloody Valentine’s 1988 LP ‘Isn’t Anything’. “But I was very crude and simplistic at the time,” he adds. Nontheless, the influence of MBV and other indie luminaries of the day can be heard in ‘Down’’s frazzled languor. Assessments of the song’s worth differ. Andy Ross feels that “‘Down’ is a really good song but it belongs to another incarnation.” Less charitably, Alex sees it as “all over the place.”

10. ‘Mr. Briggs’ (B-side of ‘There’s No Other Way’ 12-inch and CD. Produced by Blur.)

Blur were now taking their b-sides seriously. The business demanded many new (or unreleased) songs for multiple formats, and though privately uneasy about the morality of such a scam, Blur determined to make each of their b-sides different. They also realized that in them lay true freedom. Recording ‘live’ in small studios, without a producer and away from the sequences and Balfe, Blur took risks, tried musical experiments and nudged closer to the hazy suburban grail of Syd Barrett.

‘Mr. Briggs’ is their first song to tell a story. The apathetic Briggs is based on a Liverpudlian Damon encountered in early 1990 while living in a Greenwich bedsit. Dismissed as “a crappy Pink Floyd demo” by Graham’s girlfriend of the time, ‘Mr. Briggs’ is not too far removed, thematically, from Pink Floyd’s ‘character’ songs such as ‘Arnold Layne’ and ‘Corporal Clegg’, and a Barrettesque note is struck with the humdrum lyrics: “He has a tree-bar heater but it don’t keep him warm/If he bought another, then he’d have three more.” Graham’s three guitar tracks show the triple-pronged range of 1990 Blur: dexterous, bluesy chording; MBV-esque shrieking; and random, punky mischief.

“We still hadn’t gotten over the novelty of someone paying us to go into recording studios,” says Alex.

11. ‘Day Upon Day’ (B-side of ‘There’s No Other Way’ 12-inch remix. Recorded by Drac.)

Blur’s first release of a live song was recordeed at Bath Moles on December 19, 1990 by their then-tour manager Drac, on the tour to promote ‘She’s So High’. The song – which ended Blur’s set each night – is admirably frentic and holds together surprisingly well; earlier during the gig, Damon’s nose was accidentally broken by the machine heads of the maniacally twirling Alex’s bass. Touring the provinces was not uneventful. “We did a gig at the Duchess of York in Leeds,” Graham remembers, “and Damon said, We’re from London. And someone said, Well, fuck off back there, you cock.”

12. ‘There’s No Other Way’ (Single. Also on ‘Leisure’. Produced by Stephen Street.)

Blur’s intended second single, ‘Bad Day’, had been shelved after an unhappy session which saw Graham play bass in place of Alex, at the behest of the producer Steve Power. Stoned, ‘baggy’ beats were in the ascendant, and the period’s other main genre, ‘shoegazing’ (a term coined by Andy Ross), while commercially redundant compared to Madchester, was a cause celebre in the London-based music mafia, and at ‘indie’ establishments such as the Thursday-nights club Syndrome in Oxford Street.

To compete, Blur were pushed into an area midway between Madchester and shoegazing – where they could hear both trenches but see nothing – and encouraged to go easy on their art-school leanings, going instead for the floating voter with their upbeat ‘indie dance’ songs. ‘There’s No Other Way’ was a single that would unite both dance and indie factions. Yet Blur were, in truth, aligned to neither.

The band’s first recording session with ex-Smiths producer Stephen Street (still Blur’s producer of choice) was at Maison Rouge Studios in Fulham in the first week of January 1991. The session also yielded ‘Come Together’, which they held over for the first album. ‘There’s No Other Way’ had been written quickly by Damon and demoed by the band as a fairly throwaway, non-groovy prototype – until Street bolstered Dave Rowntree with a ‘Funky Drummer’-esqye loop.

Despite being a straightforward dance-pop number with meaningless lyrics, ‘There’s No Other Way’ is enjoyably dumb. Vocally, it recalls Syd Barrett when he was still enjoying himself, circa ‘See Emily Play’, 1967. Like Barrett on that song, Damon and Graham’s harmonized voice almost smile on the choruses, as if in a secret druggy joke. (The fascination of young bands with the 49-year-old, reclusive Roger ‘Syd’ Barrett is easily explained. Barrett – Pink Floyd’s founder, singer-songwriter and guitarist – was an attractive genius who lost his mind in 1967, aged 21. He is thus a sexy, mildly dangerous role model for easy-going, artistic, well-educated, white, English males. Also, trippy. Barrett-like music is fun to write and play.)

As well as the arresting, funky intro, Graham contributes another backwards guitar solo, for added trippiness, and Damon adds a two-note organ part. Alex, contemptuous of the bassist’s role of adhering to the root of hte relevant chord, soars out in counterpoint and has enourmous fun.

‘There’s No Other Way’ reached number 8, but its life is now over. It will never be played live again by Blur. Damon’s prosaic writing songwriting vocabulary, a key offender here, would be cruelly exposed later that yeat on the inner sleeve of ‘Leisure’. In 12 songs, the word “you” appeared 82 times; he used “day”/”say”/”play” rhymes on a shameless 35 occasions. His hazy, lazy, nihilistic thoughts were delivered in a Syd-like twang or a souped-down, southernised Ian Brown whisper. As for their performances on ‘There’s No Other Way’, while by no means disgracing themselves, Blur were about to marginalise themselves perilously on the ‘baggy’/FX-pedals cusp. With their next single ‘Bang’, they would come to be perceived as shallow and limited. In reality they were anything but.

13. ’Come Together’ (On ’Leisure’ and also Select’s free ’Parlophone Tape’, June 1991. Produced by Stephen Street. Live version from Glastonbury.)

From the same Stephen Street session that produced ‘There’s No Other Way’. ‘Come Together’ from 1990 soon became a frenetic highlight of their live set. The recorded version is tamer, and Graham would have preferred it to have more “abandon”. At several points he bends a note from a minor to a major third, which audible strangeness moved Street to ask what on earth he was doing. “Fucking it up,” replied Alex, which Street found “fine”. Street remembers Graham, originally being painfully shy of the former Smiths producer, slowly gaining confidence and taking more decisions regarding his own guitar sounds at this time. It was beginning to dawn on Street that “I had met the best guitar player I had worked with since Johnny Marr.”

14. ‘Inertia’ (B-side of ‘There’s No Other Way’ 7-inch, CD and Cassette. Produced by Stephen Street.)

Like ‘High Cool’ (see 24), ‘Inertia’ came into being during rehearsals at The Premises on the Hackney Road, a jazz studio memorably snooty towards this fledging rock group. ‘Inertia’ shares the blessed-out mood of ‘Slow Down’ but is much more successful. This track, recorded at Matrix Studios in Little Russell Street in early 1991 along with ‘Luminous’ and ‘Uncle Love’, marked Blur’s first collaboration with engineer John Smith, a sympathetic ear who still works with them today. Smith came up with new sound and unusual textures. All of the band now wishes that ‘Inertia’, ‘Mr. Briggs’, ‘Luminous’ and ‘Uncle Love’ had been included on ‘Leisure’.

Damon: “It would actually have made sense than as the link between Seymour and ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’.” Oddly, ‘Inertia’ was chosen to open Blur’s set when they supported Lush at The Venue in 1990.

15. ‘Luminous’ (B-side of ‘Bang’ (all formats). Produced by Blur.)

‘Luminous’ comes from the first session with John Smith at Matrix. Recorded “drunk and stoned” (says Alex), it appeared on Japanese copies of ‘Leisure’.

Again, all the band rate the song highly. (“I love that song, it’s got a really lovely feel to it,” says Damon). They tried to include ‘Luminous’ in the live set but were comfounded by the problems of Graham playing and singing simultaneously, and in re-creating a nightmare of studio effects. Although it was attempted live, the results were often embarrassing. ‘Luminous’, a seductive and luscious few minutes far in advance of their baggy workouts, is a highpoint of this psychedelic phase. The vocal melody is also reminiscent of ‘Far Out’, Alex’s song from ‘Parklife’.

16. ‘Uncle Love’ (B-side of ‘Bang’ 12-inch. Produced by Blur.)

‘Uncle Love’ was written and recorded one Thursday evening between watching Top Of The Pops and setting out for Syndrome (see 12). Cute, vibrant and instantly engaging, highly economical and well arranged, it was one of the best things the band had so far produced. Yet it was buried as the b-side of the ‘Bang’ 12-inch. Graham has described the song as “if J Mascis were on Prozac”, but comparisons to the lugubrious Dinosaur Jr don’t do justice to this track, much more in the tradition of Bowie and Barrett’s hallucinogenic Cockney character studies.

17. ‘Fool’ (On ‘Leisure’. Produced by Mike Thorne.)

After ‘There’s No Other Way’, Stephen Street headed for New York to produce what was the final Psychedelic Furs LP, ‘World Outside’. Mike Thorne (“A moody, arty fucker by reputation” – Andy Ross) had produced Wire in the late ‘70s. He was brought in to record the less indie-generic material being considered for the first Blur album. “He looked like Billy Bibbit from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” recalls Graham. “Really nice bloke. He’d jog home from the sessions every night and get lost.”

Thorne produced four tracks: ‘Come Together’, ‘Wear Me Down’, a version of ‘Repetition’ which was scrapped, and this old Seymour tune. The weakest song on ‘Leisure’, ‘Fool’ apologizes for itself as early as the first line (“Sorry, but I don’t understand”), a blemish repeated on ‘Come Together’. “It’s Damon trying to be Morrisey,” says Alex. The song’s chaotic middle section (starting at 1.30) is clever, but a direct imitation of a My Bloody Valentine song ‘Nothing Much To Lose’ (on the 1988 album ‘Isn’t Anything’, which Graham had by then absorbed to the point of obsession). Graham plays drums, uncredited, in this brief passage of ‘Fool’.

18. ‘Birthday’ (On ‘Leisure’. Produced by Mike Thorne.)

Both Andy Ross and Dave Balfe were taken by ‘Birthday’, not least for its dissimilarity to Blur’s usually energetic live style. Produced by Mike Thorne, it consists of mainly piano, backwards guitar, tambourine and multi-tracked harmony vocals, although there is a rather pointless grungy explosion of ensemble noise at 2.42 – something about which Damon had well-founded doubts. Written by Damon at the piano and reflecting his non-rock sensibilities, this limpid, dislocated tune contrasts with almost everything on ‘Leisure’. Graham was envious, thinking it “one of the greatest little songs I’d ever heard”. It dates back to when Graham and Alex were in the halls of residence in Camberwell and Damon was living in East Ham. It was written the morning after a legendary night out. Alex, Graham and a friend had attended the annual private view at the Slade School of Art and, armed with a stolen credit card, had got hammered. “We were rolling around on the floor, snogging and shouting, We are Art!” In the aftermath, Alex fell asleep on a night bus and arrived in Thamesmead (nine miles away). Graham ended up in bed with his best friend and the latter’s girlfriend. Damon spent the night in the cells at Holborn police station with a Ghurkha. Returning home next day, he wrote ‘Birthday’.

19. ‘Wear Me Down’ (On ‘Leisure’. Produced by Mike Thorne.)

Balfe had thought Mike Thorne’s production might compliment the darker songs in the Blur canon. Thorne was put to work on ‘Wear Me Down’, a popular live track. “A pretty Zen producer, pretty out there,” according to Graham, Thorne had the band play the song as slowly – and then as quickly – as human possible. They settled for a medium tempo, still far faster than the way they played it live. There is a plethora of loud, uncontrolled cymbal crashes, something the more fastidious Street would not have sanctioned. Thorne was adamant that the song, which struggles to leave dreariness behind, should be a single, evidence of his non-mainstream views. The track was engineered by American Fernando Kral, with whom the band never hit it off, but who proved an invaluable source of Prince anecdotes.

20. ‘Bang’ (Single, released 29/7/91. Also on ‘Leisure’. Produced by Stephen Street.)

Street returned from New York in the spring and was hired to produce the remaining half of the first album. ‘Bang’ was being mooted by Food as the third Blur single. It was written in record time – Alex suggests 15 minutes – at The Premises (see 14). Cometh the hour at Maison Rouge, cometh the dreaded shuffling rhythm used by almost all English pop bands – from Northside to Ned’s Atomic Dustbin – in 1991. An awful song, ‘Bang’ is taken as a showcase for Alex’s inventive bass-playing. Or to quote Damon: “There’s just something about ‘Bang’ which is shit.” Peaking at 24, ‘Bang’ was an under-achiever after ‘There’s No Other Way’. “It felt right,” argues Andy Ross. “A good video. A summer sound. It wasn’t an own goal but it didn’t do as well as it could.”

“They still shout for it in Italy,” confides Alex. ‘Bang’ will be left off any future Greatest Hits album…

21. ‘Slow Down’ (On ‘Leisure’. Produced by Stephen Street.)

Even more than ‘Down’ (see 9), ‘Slow Down’ reveals blur’s then-infatuation with My Bloody Valentine. Indeed, during celebrations at the Paramount Hotel after Blur’s debut New York gig on November 1, Alex and Damon met MBV singer-guitarist Kevin Shields, who delighted them by declaring himself a fan of ‘Slow Down’. Graham’s urge to emulate the inchoate, kaleidoscopic soundworld of MBV contrasted directly with Balfe’s orders to Street that the group should use sequencers and metronomic drumbeats (for possible remixes). In the end, a compromise was reached. Graham, though, began to commandeer the group at this time, resulting in ‘Leisure’‘s heavy guitar bias. Damon thinks this spoiled the album. “Graham has obsessions,” he says long-sufferingly. “At the moment it’s American hardcore. They last from six to eight months, and it’s very hard for him to see anything else.” Graham admits, “I did have an obsession with guitars being loud, but that’s how those songs were written. It was the excitement of being in a studio. High spirits.”

22. ‘Repetition’ (On ‘Leisure’. Produced by Stephen Street.)

The only song on ‘Leisure’ attempted by both Street and Thorne, ‘Repetition’ had been in the live set since the days of Seymour. Its hook was an intriguing trick of Graham’s: bending a guitar string up, hitting it, and switching from one pick-up to the other (one turned down completely, the other up loud) so that the sound went from silence to noise. “It was an old trick of Pete Townsend’s.” Of the two versions of ‘Repetition’, Street’s was preferred over Thorne’s earlier one, although to this day Alex likes neither.

23. ‘Bad Day’ (On ‘Leisure’. Produced by Stephen Street.)

‘Bad Day’ was written by Damon while suffering from a streptococcal viral infection and holed up in a Hampstead flat that he only kept for the fortnight’s course of his illness. Good rather than great, the song begins brightly, with the theme played by Damon on melodica (a cross between a mouth organ and a small keyboard, much beloved by New Order) before transferring to distorted wah-wah guitars. It’s in the unusual time signature of 6/4 and features strong harmony vocals by Graham and Damon. “There are three things going on in there,” Damon reflects. “Trying to write a good tune. Trying to sound like the Beatles on one hand. And My Bloody Valentine on the other.” ‘Bad Day’ has a chequered history in other incarnations. It had been attempted as a follow-up to ‘She’s So High’ (see 1, 12). It later appeared, with ‘High Cool’, as a non-commercially available Food 12-inch now worth extravagant sums. Andy Ross asked a member of a band called Nixon (now defunct) to do some exploratory work on the track and he, without anyone’s permission, remixed the track as a club tune for the Japanese market. This, too, is now a collector’s item.

24. ‘High Cool’ (On ‘Leisure’. Produced by Stephen Street.)

An undistinguished tune in the mould of ‘There’s No Other Way’, ‘High Cool’ takes its name from a setting on the air-conditioning unit at The Premises (see 14). Alex regards this song as the acme of Blur’s ‘blank’ phase. The bassline is modelled on the offbeats in ‘Mountains’ by Prince from the ‘Parade’ album.

25. ‘Oily Water’ (On ‘Volume 2’, published November 1991. Also on ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’, released 10/5/93. Produced by Blur and John Smith.)

Happier with their b-sides than with their number 7 hit album ‘Leisure’, Blur headed back to Matrix (see 14) to begin demoing for the second album. With the sympathetic John Smith engineering, they delivered a four-song salvo that horrified as many people as it electrified. Gone was any pretence of being a happy band. The new material – ‘Oily Water’, ‘Bone Bag’, and ‘Resigned’, with ‘Turn It Up’ as the sole uptempo track – was hard-edged, defeatist and ill-sounding. Ironically, they were enjoying themselves. “We felt that we could relax now because Balfe was off our backs for a while,” Damon recalls. Food Records owner Balfe, a former member of Teardrop Explodes, is often cast as the villain of the Blur piece. He insists his intentions were good: “I wanted them to conquer the globe. There’s more to life than just getting NME and Select covers.”

‘Oily Water’, the first of the four songs to be released to the public, was included in demo form on Issue 2 of the CD-magazine Volume. It confirmed what ‘Luminous’ and ‘Inertia’ had implied, that a darker, more glutinous Blur sound was being created. Not the least impressive aspect of the stunning ‘Oily Water’ is the leap in quality of Damon’s lyric writing. He would never have included as strong an image as “In a sense of self in decline/Growing fat on sound” on ‘Leisure’. Throughout, the song is as polluted as its title. Distorted, howling, anarchic, ‘Oily Water’ is the first of Blur’s ‘hangover’ songs – literal dissertations on acid throat, trembling hands and clumsy heads – and a greasy window on to a post-‘baggy’ world.

From the opening guitar sound – Graham ‘tap-dancing’ on his FX pedals – to the music’s final, overloaded roar, the song baffles and flails. Graham sings the long passages (“ooh-ooh-ooh”) and plays guitar with all strings tuned to E, using wah-wah and reverb to create a cacophonous, unearthly, siren-like sound. Damon sings the verses through a megaphone. “It’s gratuitously nasty and My Bloody Valentine all over,” says Alex proudly. Widely acclaimed at the time, ‘Oily Water’ would turn up, as planned, on Blur’s second LP – 19 months after its conception. And like all subsequent Blur songs bearing the “produced by Blur and John Smith” imprimatur, ‘Oily Water’ was a demo adjudged good enough to be released without further tinkering.

26. ‘Resigned’ (On Rollercoaster EP and ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’. Produced by Blur and John Smith.)

Though only recorded once, the band got excellent mileage from this track laid down with John Smith at Matrix at the same sessions as’ Oily Water’ (see 25). It was made available on a 2,000 copies-only limited edition cassette given away to revellers at the Food Records Christmas Party at Brixton Academy on December 14, 1991. (Andy Ross told punters only 1,000 were available to encourage them to arrive in time for the first bands. All monies from the party went to the Great Ormond St Children’s Hospital.) The following February, it appeared on an EP to promote Rollercoaster, an indie-noise package tour of The Jesus & Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur JR and Blur (see 35, 39, 49). Two years later, this fine song with its bittersweet D-minor 7 change, resurfaced on the ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’ album.

27. ‘Bone Bag’ (B-side of ‘For Tomorrow’, one of two part CD, released 19/4/93. Produced by Blur and John Smith.)

A largely undiscovered gem from the same October 1991 sessions as ‘Oily Water’ (25) and ‘Resigned’ (26), ‘Bone Bag’ sat around for 18 months waiting for release. The distinctive percussive effect at the start is a sample of an Indian tabla. Dave programmed the rhythms and adjourned to the pub. He returned to find the song finished. Two tremolo guitars slightly out of phase produce a sleepy, dislocated ambiance. Graham says of the tender lyric, “I quite like it when Damon gets soppy but sometimes he’s embarrassed.”

28. ‘Badgeman Brown’ (B-side of ‘Popscene’ CD. Produced by Blur.)

Blur’s greatest debt to Syd Barrett, ‘Badgeman Brown’ brought the full contempt of Balfe down on the band in December 1991, and is still loathed by Andy Ross. “If ever Blur got too cocky or we began to think too highly of them,” he says, “we’d play ‘Badgeman Brown’ to remind us – and them – that they were, in fact, human.” An exercise in nothing more than Syd Barrett emulation, ‘Badgeman Brown’ borrows his ideas about heavy riffs dissolving into echoing murmurs (‘Vegetable Man’) and expertly-judged deflations in tempo (‘(Scream Thy Last Scream) Old Woman In A Casket’), and conveys a Syd-like sense of something being not quite right.

“It was a loose sort of melody tracked up with shouting through a megaphone,” Graham suggests. “It’s a pretty creepy vocal.” Much maligned, ‘Badegeman Brown’ is a great little song originally for a soundtrack Blur intended for a film directed by Storm Thorgeson – half of the legendary Hipgnosis album sleeve design partnership and an old Cambridge friend of the aforesaid Syd. As to the film… “It was a big deal about a man walking out of his house and just vanishing,” remembers Alex dimly. “But the whole thing was a castle in Spain, a pipedream.” Food, faced with an unwanted soundtrack as the follow-up to ‘Leisure’, fought their cornier. Andy Ross insisted the album would fulfill no contractual obligation. He also reminded them that Pink Floyd’s soundtrack albums had sold “fuck all”.

29. ‘Beachcoma’ (B-side of ‘For Tomorrow’ second of two-part CD, released 26/4/93. Produced by Blur and John Smith.)

Originally called ‘Hole’ (as in “sitting in a hole/going round and round” – a line that causes all members of Blur much hilarity), this was written in late 1990, just after “There’s No Other Way’ – a time when Blur were oblivious to Courtney Love and her band. Demoed as ‘Beachcoma’ in December 1991 (along with the unreleased ‘Seven Days’), the innocuous ‘Hole’ was rearranged as a subdued, woozy little Blur pearl. So many guitars were tracked by Graham that “I had to visually draw out a map of the song because there’s so much going on.” A typically languid Barrett-esque, late 1991 Damon vocal whispers over the delicately layered guitars. Had his lyric been better, he would have lobbied for its inclusion on ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’. Although Street would doubtless disagree, the purists among us are saying ‘Beachcoma’ boasts the most perfectly recorded drumkit of any Blur song – deep, distant cymbals, hard slaps of snare and Ringo-esque toms.

30. ‘Hanging Over’ (B-side of ‘For Tomorrow’ 12-inch and cassette. Produced by Blur and John Smith.)

A likeable but inessential Matrix track that Ross was keen to include on ‘Modern Life…’. The strange treatment of Damon’s voice makes him sound unlike his normal self. The song, explicitly about a hangover, dates from the ‘Bang’ period, when Damon and Justine Frischmann were establishing a relationship. Graham: “We were just having fun. We were off our rockers most of the time.”

31. ‘My Ark’ (B-side of ‘Chemical World’ 12-inch and CD, released 5/7/93. Produced by Blur.)

Unloved dirge demoed around the same time as ‘Popscene’ (see 39) in October 1991. During a b-side famine in 1993, ‘My Ark’ came out on some ‘Chemical World’ formats. Driven by an ascending lick which Damon compares to late ‘60s West Coast rock bores Blue Cheer, its nasty transatlantic vibe is dismissed by Dave as “Lenny Kravitz drinks a cup of tea.” “It’s a bit dreary,” is Graham’s estimation.

32. ‘Miss America’ (On ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’. Produced by Blur and John Smith.)

On December 10, 1991, Blur had been to The Plough (see 38) near Matrix with publisher Mike Smith, who was celebrating his move from MCA to EMI Publishing (where Blur have since rejoined him). Graham returned to Matrix to add guitar parts to ‘Miss America’ while the others went with Smith to see Pulp play at the Polytechnic Of North London. On their return they found a very drunk Coxon banging on a chair-leg – it can be heard clearly throughout the track. Spotting Smith entering the studio, Graham shouts the acknowledgment (“Michael!”) that can be heard at the track’s start. Rumours on the Internet that the cry is from Interview with a Vampire are incorrect. Smith, incidentally, is the man standing to the left of Graham’s head on the back cover of ‘Parklife’. Dave does not play on ‘Miss America’ and is credited on the ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’ sleeve as being in The Plough. Blur had just finished their first US tour (see 21) and their grim experiences contribute to the song’s sour mood.

33. ‘Garden Central’ (B-side of ‘Popscene’ 12-inch. Produced by Blur.)

A January 1992 instrumental wrenched from the many guitars of Graham Coxon, ‘Garden Central’ (NE ‘Garden Center’) began life from his darkly jangling chord sequence. He and Damon moan eerie, wordless parts as the song proceeds. An epic trance affair, it remains unheard by most Blur fans but is powerful, richly textured and fascinating – as if The Byrds were playing side two of Pink Floyd’s ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’ on blackened, melting 12-string guitars. The Beastie Boys, reviewing the singles in NME slated Blur’s current single ‘Popscene’ (see 39), and declared that ‘Garden Central’ ought to have been the A-side.

34. ‘Peach’ (B-side of ‘For Tomorrow’, one of two-part CD. Produced by Blur and John Smith.)

Recorded in January 1992 in the same time as ‘Mace’ (36), this spectral ballad became a favourite on US college radio. Unusually, it features a harmonium (an antique foot-pumped keyboard often used in churches and on Nico albums) that Damon had bought in Clapham. “It cost about five pounds and then he spent about a thousand doing it up,” recalls Alex. Dave describes it as “the Victorian’s idea of a portable keyboard. We tried to use it onstage a couple of times but it looked like a man riding a child’s bicycle.” The song’s anarchic, disintegrating sound reflects the group’s mood at the time, but it remains a favourite of Damon’s: “I still strum it to myself on acoustic guitar for fun.” The ending imitates a record sticking in a groove.

35. ‘Into Another’ (B-side of ‘For Tomorrow’ 12-inch and cassette- Produced by Blur and John Smith.)

Originally called ‘Head’, and subsequently ‘Headist’. As ‘Headist’ it was in Blur’s live set when they played at Glastonbury in 1992. Heavily influenced by Wire, it starts with a clavinet keyboard played by Damon. In this mostly unreported, frantically-demoing chapter of Blur’s career, Damon began to play keyboards more and more. Written and recorded around January ’92, ‘Head’ was another ‘hangover’ song. Graham was drinking a bottle of vodka a night during the Rollercoaster tour (see 26, 39, 49) and the band’s mood was one of forlornness and rejection.

All the songs for their second album had now been demoed at Matrix. Optimistically, they imagined a spring 1992 release. The tracklisting included ‘Oily Water’, ‘Mace’, ‘Badgeman Brown’, ‘Popscene’, ‘Resigned’, ‘Garden Central’, ‘Hanging Over’, ‘Into Another’ (aka ‘Headist’), ‘Peach’, ‘Bone Bag’, ‘Never Clever’, ‘Coping’, ‘My Ark’ and ‘Pressure on Julian’. In retrospect, it is a safe bet that the gloomy shadows of their music would have forced people to re-evaluate Blur there and then. But Dave Balfe hated almost all of the songs. That album was never made and can now only be pieced together from b-sides.

36. ‘Mace’ (B-side of ‘Popscene’. Produced by Blur and John Smith.)

Even as Seymour, Blur had a knack for getting into drunken scrapes. Supporting defunct Manchester outfit Too Much Texas at Dingwalls, they got embroiled in an incident which involved them being maced by bouncers. Temporarily blinded and in agony, they hailed a passing WPC in the street outside. Later, in casualty, an old lady chastised the group for drinking vodka in the waiting room. ‘Mace’ relates – obliquely, with references to bikes and double glazing – to this incident. Musically nondescript beyond some pleasing guitar effects and a distorted Strangles-style bass – nowadays a favourite ploy of Elastica’s. Alex refers to ‘Mace’ as a “bash it out after tea job.”

37. ‘Intermission’ (On ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’. Produced by Blur and John Smith.)

Originally ‘The Intro’ (aka ‘The Opening’). In 1989 Seymour used to begin their gigs with it, if the venue had a piano. ‘The Intro’ and ‘Commercial Break’ (aka ‘The Outro’) opened and closed the gigs. “Damon would look like a panda afterwards,” Graham recalls, “and he used to be sick onstage. We used to drink so much. I’d have a bottle of wine under the chair my amp was sat on, and I’d swig my way through that.”

Demoed with John Smith at Matrix in January 1992, ‘The Intro’ was chosen specifically to annoy Balfe, who hated it and was baffled by Blur’s bloody-mindedness. The Matrix demo would later be judged by Stephen Street to be good enough to go on ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’ as it was. Balfe still hates it.

Damon’s jaunty, faintly sickly piano begins this instrumental, which follows on (at 4.04) from ‘Chemical World’ on ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’. Only a curlicue of guitar feedback portends the violence to come. Graham then enters with a lurching, quasi-ska rhythm guitar pattern, accompanied by grinding bass and thrashing drums. The song speeds up as though its driver was stamping emotionally on brakes that had been cynically pre-cut. Moving away from Kurt Weill territory into outright punk insanity, the tune then erupts (at 5.22) in what sounds like a demented bass solo but is, in fact, Graham de-tuning the bottom string of his guitar with his left hand as his right hand keeps playing. The performance’s effect is that of Postman Pat incidental music gone horribly out of control.

38. ‘Commercial Break’ (On ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’. Produced by Blur and John Smith.)

Formerly ‘The Outro’, ‘Commercial Break’ was demoed in the same session as ‘Intermission’ and likewise included on ‘Modern Life…’ in that form. Appearing at the closure of ‘Resigned’ (at 5.15), this vaguely menacing album sign-off makes itself scarce less than one minute later (at 6.10). Continuing the trend long since established by Blur when working at Matrix, several beers were taken at The Plough in nearby Museum Street (see 32) before the recording procedure was allowed to commence.

39. ‘Popscene’ (Single. Produced by Steve Lovell.)

Debuted at Kilburn National Ballroom on October 24, 1991, and played live on The Word soon afterwards, ‘Popscene’ in Blur’s great forgotten single. A biting attack on the business they now hated, and which invariably dismissed them in a scathing sentence, the song died an ignominious commercial death, hurting them deeply. Fully expecting a hit single – which would have followed with ‘Never Clever’ (see 41) – Blur laid down ‘Popscene’ at Matrix in February 1992 with Steve Lovell (Stephen Street was now out of favour with Balfe), using brass instruments for the first time. Later that day, they flew to Japan for their second tour.

‘Popscene’ starts with a curdling, feverish repeated note from a guitar played through a flanger, quickly takes on an ominous, distorted bass, and a drum rhythm that Graham told Dave to play after hearing Can’s 14-minute space boogie ‘Mother Sky’. The Kick Horn’s blasts are every bit as rude and bullying as Bobby Keys and Jim Price’s obscene sax-and-trumpet salutations on the Stones’ ‘Loving Cup’. The song is punky, arrogant and brilliantly played.

Put to him that ‘Popscene’ represented a turning point for Blur, Andy Ross replies, “Yes – turning into a cul de sac that we thought was green fields.” The reasons for the single’s failure – it made number 32 despite the high-profile Rollercoaster tour (see 26, 35, 39, 49) – are wearily attributed by the band to American rock interventionist tactics. “It was Nirvana going to Geffen that fucked ‘Popscene’ up,” says Graham. Alex reveals that a reissue of ‘Popscene’ was considered to cash in on the New Wave of New Wave mini-buzz last year.

Britain didn’t want ‘Popscene’, or Blur – to the band’s genuine despair. When ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’ was released, in May 1993, the single was intentionally omitted. “We thought, If you didn’t fucking want it in the first place, you’re not going to get it now,” Graham shrugs. Harrowing problems with a former manager tested their resilience. They imbibed their way through the Rollercoaster. Immediately afterwards, they flew to America to begin a tour that would change their music yet again.

40. ‘Maggie May’ (On ‘Ruby Trax’, released October 1992. Also b-side of ‘Chemical World’ 7-inch. Produced by Steve Lovell.)

Recorded in June ’92 for the three-CD charity compilation LP ‘Ruby Trax’ (offered to NME readers), ‘Maggie May’ was Blur’s first cover. They had just returned, angry and humiliated, from the American tour (see 42 and also Select June 1993), and were in no mood to treat Rod Stewart’s 1971 single with any sensitivity or decorum. Alex refused to play on the session, claiming to hate Rod Stewart, and the bass was done on a keyboard. Produced by Steve Lovell at Matrix, this was – incredibly – mooted by Food at one stage as a possible Blur single.

41. ‘Never Clever’ (‘Chemical World’ b-side, one of two-part CD. Recorded live at Glastonbury, June ’92.)

Now an obscurity, this had a more exalted career planned. Food had intended it as the follow-up to ‘Popscene’ (see 39). In the subsequent post-mortem, all plans for the track were shelved and this robust song now exists only in this live version.

42. ‘Sunday Sunday’ (Single, released 4/10/93. Also on ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’. Produced by Steve Lovell.)

Blur’s US tour of 1992 was an exercise in acrimony and misery. Loathing America and often each other (“we all had black eyes,” recalls Dave) they questioned the point of it all. Damon spent one gloomy Sunday watching the soulless antics at a shopping mall from the window of his Minneapolis hotel room. But the lyric he wrote that day refers more to the plastic Sabbath heritage back in England. After the Andy Partridge affair (see 44), Blur were determined to do things their own way. Balfe allowed them to, but was certain they were committing commercial suicide: “When was the last time you heard a hit single that sped up in the middle?” he asks. The result is a brash stomp, enlivened by the Kick Horns’ brilliantly parochial brass, that was worn badly but foreshadows many of the concerns of the latter-day Blur. Graham claims he would not mind if they never played it again. Stephen Street was out of favour, so Balfe returned Blur to Steve Lovell (see 1, 2, 39) as en experiment for this and ‘Villa Rosie’.

43. ‘Villa Rosie’ (On ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’. Produced by Steve Lovell.)

This, the other song recorded in the Steve Lovell session of October 1992, was about an imaginary drinking den, a haven, a fabulous watering hole. Ideally, it was to be a discreet gentlemen’s club (Alex would, in time, move to Soho and become a member of several) with elements of Narnia-like establishment only available through a secret door. “It reminds me of when I lived in Clapham, around 1987,” says Damon, “because of the green there (ie the Common) and those sort of late Victorian houses.” “I’m always worried when Damon starts to talk about the suburbs,” says Alex. Graham: “I was really into ‘Villa Rosie’. I thought it had a bit of a wink about it.” After his addled and low-key Syd murmurs of 1991, Damon’s vocals were now (since the American tour) starting to show a youthful strut, a marked Tommy Steele influence, a diamante geezer imprint, a Cockney what-the-hell quality that would in time seize the public’s imagination (to those who accuse him of putting on the accent, Damon retorts that he was born in Whitechapel Hospital). ‘Villa Rosie’ was one of three guitar songs sequenced together on ‘Modern Life’ (the others being ‘Coping’ and ‘Turn It Up’) and thus tries hard to stand out. “The bass at the intro is played with a bottleneck to produce a fucked-up sound,” reveals Alex. “Goodness knows why. Perhaps we were pretty fucked up at the time.” Better is the brief guitar solo (at 2.38), but note the XTC-like “ooh-ooh’s” of the backing vocals, ironic in the light of the Partridge affair (see 44). Technical note: Jason Cox, Blur’s longtime helper in the studio, is credited on the sleeve with “small stone operation”. This involves turning a phase-shifting knob on one of Graham’s FX pedals while Graham was playing.

44. ‘Coping’ (On ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’. Produced by Stephen Street.)

The LP that became ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ was to be produced by Andy Partridge of XTC, a quintessential English post-punk psychedelian whom both Food and Blur thought would be ideal. Sessions were convened at Church Studios in Crouch End in the late summer of 1992, after the band’s return from America (see 42). Omens were inauspicious. Damon told Partridge he was a big fan of the old XTC hit ‘Making Plans For Nigel’, a song written by Partridge’s rival, bassist Colin Moulding. Graham was having personal problems and – a rare thing for him – missed sessions or arrived drunk.

Only three songs were ever taped – ‘Sunday Sunday’, ‘Seven Days’ (never released in any version) and ‘Coping’. At first, the band loved the results then dramatically changed their minds. With Balfe fuming, Blur were again back at base. On October 1, at a Cranberries gig at The Marquee, Graham bumped into Stephen Street. Street had remained a Blur fan and said he wanted to work with them again. So, on November 9, 1992, yet another phase of Blur’s hiccuping odyssey began. ‘Coping’ was recorded twice with Street, while Ross thought ‘Coping’ a potentional career-saver. A rousing tune with a catchy, anachronistic synth-line, ‘Coping’ is a song and a saga all on its own.

45. ‘Colin Zeal’ (On ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’. Produced by Stephen Street.)

This was written in America about an imaginary little man’s workday life in England. Playing tapes of The Kinks’ golden period (’65-71), Damon filtered a Ray Davies-like eye for acerbic detail (“he’s an affable man with a carotene tan”) into this fidgely tune, which borrows the vocal melody of Teardrop Explodes’ ‘Sleeping Gas’. Graham thwarted from drenching the song in Sonic Youth guitar, was allowed to play a Black & Decker drill quietly at the end. “The trick with Graham,” says Damon, “is to give him the illusion that he’s making a racket.” The gaps before each “…and then he…” were suggested by Street. And for the one song only, Dave Rowntree tuned his tom toms to actual notes rather than just to a generally good sound. Andy Partridge was keen on this technique. “Never again,” says Dave.

46. ‘Blue Jeans’ (On ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’. Produced by Stephen Street.)

Blur and Street did a great job on this delightful song about a Saturday afternoon shopping expedition in Notting Hill. The gorgeous chord change to an A accompanied by an F-sharp bass (on the “Saturday” of the first verse and repeated thereafter) displays the group’s profoundly musical nature. Particularly since Alex had spent the day drinking with the band’s accountant, Julian Hedley, and recorded the bassline “completely pissed”.

47. ‘Advert’ (On ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’. Produced by Stephen Street.)Energetic and faintly reminiscent of Seymour, ‘Advert’ helped cement the re-marriage between Blur and Street. The crashing A/G guitar riff originally began the song, until the Toytown keyboard phrase was introduced. The siren noises are from a megaphone designed for crowd control that Damon picked up on the band’s first Japanese tour. “Food processors are great” was sampled by Damon from the Shopping Channel at Maison Rouge with another toy, a Casio SK1 (or SKI as it’s fondly known) keyboard with built-in sampler, purchased for 20 dollars in Cleveland. The advert is still running currently.

48. ‘Turn It Up’ (On ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’. Produced by Stephen Street.)

Seen as catchy, ‘up’ track when sessions began, “Turn It Up” has since been disowned by Damon. Graham says, “When we wrote it, it seemed like a good jangly pop song. But it turned out to be an MOR rock song. It didn’t have peculiarities. So we were turned off by it.”

“It’s crap,” says Damon flatly. “I wouldn’t have had it on the album. Balfe thought it was the only song that had a vague chance of doing well in America, so he insisted on it being there.” A harsh reaction, you may feel, to a perfectly good guitar song with a boisterous Cockney chorus. Leave it out, John, and so forth.

49. ‘Pressure On Julian’ (On ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’. Produced by Stephen Street. Also b-side of ‘Chemical World’, one of two-part CD. Live version recorded Glastonbury June 1992.)

A song with a long pre-recorded history. Damon liked to taunt Balfe with lyrical (and musical) references to Julian Cope because “It drove him bananas”. Written around September 1991 and demoed at Matrix in January, ‘Pressure’ was played every night on the Rollercoaster tour of spring ’92 (see 26, 35, 39). The middle segment should last twice as long but this slipped Dave’s mind when recording, and this version was deemed good enough. At a photo shoot for Melody Maker near St Pancras, graffiti was espied that read: ‘Magical Transit Children’. This was incorporated into the lyric.

50. ‘Starshaped’ (On ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’. Produced by Stephen Street.)

Once mooted as a single, ‘Star Shaped’ is a major step forward in Damon’s writing. (Andy Partridge had made them do a samba arrangement of it, detested by all). The idea is from a caption in Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast Of Champions – the star-shaped image refers to a supine figure on a beach. ‘Star Shaped’ means “insensible”. So to the optimistic “I’ve been making plans/for the future” comes the sarcastic riposte “We don’t think so/you seem star shaped”. The woodwind and brass section (cor anglais, oboe, soprano sax at 1.38) is played by Kate St John, ex-Cope cohort, circa ’83. Stephen Street plays finger cymbals (eg 1.34, 2.44 etc). At the close, Graham plays a Moog synth note of increasing pitch which eventually passes out of detectable human range – hence his “anti cat and dog Moog tone” credit.

Though one of Blur’s finest moments, the song gave Alex more headaches than any other. He was struggling to get a satisfactory bassline when Dave Balfe appeared. Listening to the songs recorded thus far, he was less than impressed. When Blur delivered the new LP to Food and EMI in December ’92, it was rejected. Damon was told by Balfe to go back and “write a single”. It was another blow to Blur’s esteem. Having looked forward to a lethargic festive period, Blur faced new rejection.

And it would get worse before it got better.

part 2/2 (There, told you so… – Select, August 1995)


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