I can remember first hearing blur when I was 16 or 17. The track was Theres No Other Way, a great tune, heavily aligned with the baggy sound of Madchester and the pre-Britpop indie dance cross over. I recall my friend Matt saying he had discovered this new band. We lived in Grantham, there was no discovering going on, we had been listening to the Radio 1 Evening Session while doing homework.
The parent album passed my by a bit. It seemed OK, but I was tuned into the big hits, and didnt really appreciate the Syd Barret-isms that the band were into. Shes So High, Bang and the aforementioned Theres No Other Way were enough for me.
I was aware of Popscene, the punky reaction to the band struggling to break America, and becoming disheartened with the music business. They had been on the Rollercoaster tour around the UK headlined by The Jesus and Mary Chain, with My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr. Blur were seen as the pop band to keep the teenage girls happy, and lead singer Damon Albarn took to that badly, frustrated with their perception. Later years and music would show they had more in common at that time than we realised.
Modern Life Is Rubbish came out at the end of my secondary school days. For Tomorrow was the tune for me, I loved it, and the cd had a great extended version, along with some very British B sides – I recall alot of brass on songs like When the Cows Come Home. I like this new phase of blur, they had embraced British song writing, and moved on from the baggy dance beat. The guitar cut just right, and really pre-empeted the cliche Britpop sound.
By the time I started Uni, Parklife was about to be ready. Second in the Life series, this was preceded by Girls and Boys, a squelchty sounding number, perfect for those early days on the student dance floor. It wasnt dancey like their big hit before, was well played in my room. The album I loved. Every track was great. We had what felt like a long hot summer, and I played Jubilee and End Of The Century over and over.
That summer, 1994, I went to the Glastonbury festival, and blur played the second stage. It was an eventful weekend in more ways than one. The Pyramid stage had burned down a few days before the start, there were some drug related shootings, and the Manics proclaimed their feelings that a flyover should be built over the site. It was also a weekend dominated by acts that would soon become massive in my eyes, and be on Top of the Pops most weeks. blur of all of them were amazing, having Phil Daniels join them on stage, and I loved it. It felt right at the cusp of something, which in hindsight it was. I was the right age, and they were the right band (along with Oasis, Gene, Echobelly, amongst others!)
Parklife was played nonstop in my room, alternating with The Wonderstuff and Oasis recent albums. I could automatically program the tracks I wanted by memory on the CD player, avoiding the instrumentals. The band also got noticed much more by people who maybe didnt listen to as much music as me, leading to the infamous battle of Britpop in 1995.
In hindsight, it is strange to think of the trajectory of blur and Oasis in that short space of time. They went from Indie darlings in 1994, to front page news in 1995. The reasons and cultural impact are for another time, however for me this was music I loved being played by people close to my age, that was catchy, accessible and looked and sounded cool.
Country House maybe wasnt their greatest song however. And the accompanying album, The Great Escape, whilst I played it alot in my car, hasnt lasted well. I saw them on the tour, in Sheffield, and it was a great show, but not as memorable as the year before. And some of the tracks, Mr Robinsons Quango for instance, have a tweeness in the lyrics, an over attempt at being cheeky, that came to embody all that I disliked about Britpop. I can see how Graham Coxon became disgruntled with being in the band. There is a certain Oompah sound to it, a music hall edge that feels like the Kinks in overdrive.
The punkier tracks still hold up, but revisiting the album is a tough ask now. I understand why Graham wanted to move the band towards the new alternative sounds coming out from the US.
And that is where we end up. Woo Hoo! Beetlebum was out first, number in that post Britpop, druggy, hazy time. Was it about heroin, was it a way of skewering Oasis and their indebtedness to the Beatles? Whatever it was a long trip from the country house. Less obvious crowd pleasing bangers at first, until Song 2 took hold. Then we were with the jet plane. This album soundtracked my final year at Uni, a time of melancholy, and longing for what had gone and what might be. The shuffling lo-fi sound was perfect.
Post Uni though, I was living in London, and soon bought our first house. I can recall playing the next release from blur on a loop. Tender was backed by a gospel choir, and was even more downbeat than Beetlebum had been. No Distance Left to Run also cast a shadow across the music scene. Damon was battling demons, and we sure knew about it.
That year I saw them play Wembley Arena, on their Singles night gig. They played all their A Sides in order, and the progression and change was startling. The band were not keen on the poppier aspects of their back catalogue, that much was obvious. This was December, and really felt like the end of the century.
Graham Coxon left during the recording of Think Tank in 2003, after they had been seen doing various side projects, including Albarns Gorillaz. I felt the album was patchy, and wasnt surprised when they disappeared for a couple of years.
Over the last few years, they have reformed, released a further album The Magic Whip in 2015, and played various live gigs. They have been away for a few years now, but have just announced live shows next year, including at Wembley Stadium.
And this is what prompted me to write. I have followed the band from quite early days, and whilst I preferred them to Oasis at the time, just dont see them as a stadium band. £100 to £140 for tickets also doesnt help. I prefer blur as the arty band done good, Graham firing riffs and wierd solos, Alex looking louche smoking at the side, Dave on the drums, and Damon in oxblood DMs, climbing a speaker. Leave the stadium gigs for the pyrotechnics and bombast of Liam Gallagher or Guns n Roses.
I cant afford to pay those prices (for blur or anyone to be honest), and feel this set of gigs is a money making excercise, that will inevitably be overtaken by the nostalgia crowd, baying for Parklife. Not for me. They backed my Uni days, and that is enough. I will keep those memories, and move on.