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the guardian

‘We live on this stroppy little island’

The Good, the Bad & the Queen have been trying to figure out what’s become of England since the EU referendum. And the answers aren’t comforting.

by John Harris

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‘Well, this is weird, isn’t it?” says Damon Albarn. Six days ago, he was in Mexico City, playing with Gorillaz. Now, he and his bandmates in the Good, the Bad & the Queen are in Kent, taking turns to explain their second album in a fake American diner adjacent to the Maidstone studio where they will be performing on Later … with Jools Holland.

The seats are regulation red leatherette, and there are pictures on the wall of Stevie Wonder circa 1980’s Hotter Than July, a Ford truck and a Route 66 sign. And under glaring lights, as he picks at a vegetarian dinner in a polystyrene box, Albarn is talking about things that feel as if they have no place here at all: English folk myths; the north of England’s coastal resorts; his family’s background in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire – and, more than anything, Brexit. Harking back almost 25 years, he describes the new album as “the next instalment of Parklife. Like Parklife is a world, this is another world. Not entirely the real world, but not entirely far off it.” Read More

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We used to take it in turns to punch each other

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Back in Hong Kong, where they recorded their album The Magic Whip, Damon, Graham, Alex and Dave talk about falling out and making up, the state of British pop music and why 90s Britpop was a wasted opportunity.

Hong Kong in July can be a disorientating place for outsiders: the suffocating humidity, the density of human bodies, the mind-jarring collision of east and west. Perhaps the last thing you need when you’ve arrived there, brain fuddled with jetlag, is a conversation with Damon Albarn in full manic flow. One minute he’s talking about refusing to leave the stage after a five-hour gig with Africa Express (“Am I addicted to work? Clearly”), the next he’s revealing his passion for picking wild flowers. Then he starts talking about fairies …

“I’ve a house that’s built on a piece of land which was a recognised fairy community,” he says, with a straight face, when we meet backstage at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, where Blur are due to play that night. “We had to get a fairy lawyer in. When people come and stay at my house, they go and give them an offering just to keep them happy because we’ve built on their land.” Read More

Damon Albarn, Justine Frischmann and Brett Anderson: Love and Poison.

By John Harris

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Britpop was the most exciting era in UK music for decades; and at the heart of it was a vicious rivalry between Suede’s Brett Anderson and Blur’s Damon Albarn. Lighting the fire was Justine Frischmann, lover of both and founder of Elastica. John Harris untangles the backstabbing, the drugs, the disorienting success locking them together in an indie soap opera

An indie soap opera: Justine Frischmann, Damon Albarn and Brett Anderson

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Me and You.

Damon Albarn’s sister Jessica was key to Blur’s early success – and he, in turn, helped her to be an artist. Now their children are the best of friends, too.

His story
Damon Albarn, 46, musician

Jessica has always been a fantastic ally. She was very much part of the beginning of Blur. When she was at Hornsey [School of Art] and I was knocking around with Graham [Coxon] and Alex [James] at Goldsmiths and we started doing Blur gigs, she and her friends from college came along. They were very important in helping to create that initial buzz. Filling Read More

‘Pop’s gone back to showbiz. It’s like the Beatles or Dylan never happened’

The Blur frontman’s first solo album is an introspective affair that delves into childhood, old English ways and heroin use. He explains why it was time to lower his guard.

When Damon Albarn was nine, he persuaded his parents, who were in the process of moving house from Leytonstone in east London to rural Essex, to let him travel to Istanbul with a family friend. “I found myself on my own a lot and every day I wandered around the city just trying to take everything in,” he says. “I went into mosques to watch people praying and sat in rug shops in the souks drinking tea and chatting. It was quite bizarre when I come to think of it, but I was too mesmerised by the sights and the sounds and the smells of the place to be scared in any way.” Read More

Paul Morley’s Showing Off… Damon Albarn

PM: Let me ask you first of all whether the Blur reunion has given you a better or different understanding of your place in the pop firmament.

DA: That was really strange because it was a very disciplined time. I stopped drinking entirely. I stopped making this Gorillaz record, which has been all-consuming, for three months as well, because I’d got to a point where there was no way I could do that and that at the same time. And bit by bit we got back up to the level we were at when we were at our prime. Where it was stadiums, and everyone was singing, and it was very euphoric. And then after the last gig in Scotland I got on the train and left it all behind. That’s it. I haven’t thought about it since. I haven’t watched any of the gigs, I haven’t watched Glastonbury. I had to approve a few of the live things that inevitably come out of that sort of thing, but I haven’t given it any thought. For me it was so nice to do that again and know that I left on a good note with Graham, Alex and Dave. I didn’t come offstage thinking “I’M A ROCK STAR!” at all, I really didn’t. It was really strange. I enjoyed it, I loved every second of it, it was incredibly emotional, there was a real resonance, I really felt the songs had lasted and in a way they’d been a vision of Britain as it is now. So all of that stuff. But when it finished it was like well, we’ve all got to get on with our lives now, don’t think this was… it was a really nice holiday, a real treat, a real honour to be able to experience. You can’t underestimate the feeling of 120,000 people at Glastonbury just singing every word back to you. It’s an incredible feeling. It’s unbelievable. I suppose the only thing that’s come out of it maybe is that I’ve worked a lot harder making my lyrics and my melodies clear on this Gorillaz album. That’s probably what has come out of this summer’s experience. Read More

The Eccles Cake that Changed Everything

By John Harris 

Is this a Japanese translation?” asks Damon Albarn, staring at a set of his lyrics balanced on a music stand. “All it says is, ‘I talk/I talk/I talk/ The picture.’ ” It’s a Tuesday lunchtime in north London. The four members ofBlur are in a tiny rehearsal room, free of both fresh air and windows. As a crash course in their own history, they have decided to rehearse five of their seven albums in their entirety: today, it’s the turn of 13, a record made with the producer William Orbit which captured the long hangover after Britpop, the end of one of that period’s most celebrated relationships, and the unsettling, troublesome aspects of youngish London living. Read More