The Sunday Times

The Sunday Times – 16 April 2015

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A bit of a blur

They transcended Britpop, but split acrimoniously. Now, almost by accident, Blur have made a new album to rank among their best

By Jonathan Dean

When, I ask the four members of Blur — who have made an album together for the first time in 16 years — did this all seem most unlikely? Was it in 2004, when the guitarist Graham Coxon (fidgety, frail) said being in the band was like being “dragged around on someone else’s megalomaniacal trip”. Or, perhaps, in 2007, when the singer Damon Albarn (beaming, alleged megalomaniac) said Coxon hadn’t stretched himself and “that bothers me”. Maybe it was after the photo of the bassist Alex James (gregarious, cheese) with David Cameron near their Oxfordshire homes. As for the drummer, Dave Rowntree (wary, busy)… Well, he’s a solicitor.

“I didn’t think it was going to happen,” Coxon says, quietly. “Well, it was least likely when we made Think Tank, as there were three people in the band at that point,” Albarn booms, factually. “God. The longer it went on, the less likely it was,” James frowns. Finally, Rowntree shrugs and says: “I thought it was going to happen. I’m baffled why everyone didn’t.”
The new album is The Magic Whip, and it’s Blur’s first full set since their melancholy masterpiece 13 (1999), an album that broke new ground and broke the band. By Think Tank (2003), Coxon was on only one track, whereas the highlights of the new recording either feature his prominent, dysfunctional guitar (the stunning, trippy Thought I Was a Spaceman, the raucous I Broadcast) or, on the acoustic ballad My Terracotta Heart, tackle Albarn’s relationship with his old friend. Key lyric: “When we were more like brothers, but that was years ago.”
The past two decades are stuffed with vitriol and denial. When I ask Rowntree — the calm one — how much attention he paid, he holds eye contact (rare for his bandmates) and rolls off a lengthy theory about dishonest interviews. He doesn’t really focus on the question, but then he is in politics. As well as practising law, he is also a Labour activist in Norwich. Read More

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Relative Values

Damon Albarn, 42, former Blur frontman, now the brains behind the virtual band Gorillaz, and his sister, Jessica, 39, artist, on their ‘magical’ childhood, rebellion and becoming parents

Jessica: Right from the start, Damon was musical. Mum says he could play a mouth organ in the pram, and I can half-believe that, because he just took to instruments straight away. He always had that natural ability. We both had piano lessons, but I knew Damon had something special. Whereas I’d come home and practise my sheet music, he’d already be banging out his own stuff. He was always free like that, you couldn’t contain him, and he’s been like that ever since. Read More

Damon Albarn: From pop to opera.

He’s indifferent to money and drugs. He hates the celebrity circus. And he famously said no to Tony Blair — but yes to getting drunk with John Prescott. Damon Albarn tells all.

By Robert Sandall.

Everybody who has known Damon Albarn for any length of time comments on two things: his extraordinary self-confidence and his competitiveness. He is, by all accounts, alpha male in excelsis. His schoolfriend from Stanway Comprehensive in Essex, Graham Coxon – with whom he founded the band that became Blur – remembers how, in the early days, Albarn would drive them, uninvited, to other groups’ gigs and hustle a half-hour slot on the bill. “Damon was absolutely terrier-like, quite unlikable in a way,” he says.

After the band signed to Food Records (later acquired by EMI) in 1989, their go-to guy at the company, Tony Wadsworth, noticed how “Damon was so cocky he found it difficult to go anywhere without getting punched”. Wadsworth was convinced that Albarn would succeed: “He had huge talent and he was relentlessly ambitious,” he says.

Later on, in 1995, there was the Britpop “battle of the bands” episode – a chart contest initiated by Albarn in which, in a blaze of skilfully orchestrated publicity, Blur’s single Country House beat Roll With It by Oasis to the No 1 slot. That joust turned nasty, with Noel Gallagher publicly stating that he hoped Albarn would die from Aids. But many of Albarn’s enduring friendships seem to have had competitive roots too. Jamie Hewlett, the creator of the Tank Girl cartoon strip and, since 2000, Albarn’s partner in their virtual band Gorillaz, says that when they first met in 1990 they “didn’t like each other, and I think that was because we were quite similar, equally confident, a bit arrogant”. It was eight years before the two men really spoke, and in no time at all they became flatmates, bandmates, and soulmates who still live across the road from each other in west London, and sometimes holiday together, now that they’re settled with kids. Read More