Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Blur's Graham Coxon talks reunions, re-elections, and regrets.

I have been sent the following extraordinary interview by my future self from the year 2020.

Blur's semi-reclusive guitarist Graham Coxon meets me in front of his favourite Camden pub.

'This wasn't always my favourite. But all the others in Camden have gone digital.'

He complains as we warm our hands around our large cups of herbal tea.

'I want to look out of the window and see the real world however bleak it is you know what I mean?'.

I nod, though I'm not sure I agree. This pub has certainly found a niche market catering for men of Graham's age who seek refuge from augmented reality, but staring out onto the wasted greyness of post-2015 Camden High Street it's hard not to crave a ray or two of augmented sunshine. Nobody here seems particularly happy. I ask Graham if he is.

'Happy?' He shrugs. 'As happy as I can be. I'm not unhappy. Can't complain considering the plight of pretty much the rest of Europe.'

We're here to talk about Graham's new solo retrospective 'Crashing In Camden', but I can't let the rare interview pass without getting the Blur question out of the way, and it turns out Graham is only too ready to warm to the subject. He stares out the window but focusses on something beyond the radiation warning signs,

'With hindsight, 2012 should have been the year we went all out for a new Blur album. Do you remember in February 2012 we were given the Outstanding Contribution to Music award at the old Brit Awards? Then we headlined the Olympics closing ceremony gig in Hyde Park, and the warm up gigs for that were ace. Small venues in towns that don't even exist now... That was the last time all four of us were talking about a new Blur album and REALLY meaning it. You know, when we've met up recently we've mentioned it, but you can tell nobody really expects it to happen. I guess the first time I thought 'this could mean Blur is totally over' was when Alex (James, Blur's Bassist) got his X-Factor gig. People forget, even though the X-Factor was in its death throes by then, being a judge on that show was a big deal and that was his ramp onto a global stage.'

I remind Graham that in 2013 he was less generous about this 'ramp', referring to it instead as 'he's not milking cows or making cheese anymore, he's sucking the most satanic man on Earth's cock instead'. Graham chuckles, cracking a smile for the first time since we met,

'Well we all say things we regret in the heat of the moment. I was genuinely happy when the WigWam album became such a massive global hit, because I remember how much effort he put into recording it; not many people realise how much Alex tortures himself to make music, he puts a lot of himself into it, but I could tell in the mid 2000s people just weren't ready for WigWam, it was way ahead of its time, people had to catch up with Alex's vision, so yeah, nobody was happier than me when it exploded onto a world stage. If I made any negative comments it was because I felt upset for Damon (Albarn, Blur's vocalist). It's been hardest on Damon because, you know, for him it's been a downward spiral these past few years whereas the rest of us are either on the up in some way, Dave (Rowntree, Blur's Drummer)'s obviously insanely busy putting the country back together, or like me, just the same as ever. I don't have a great height to fall from, I just carry on doing my own thing, I mean, I live in the same house I always have, I still make records and even sell one or two from time to time. But I think people forget that a decade ago Damon was still selling out arenas with Gorillaz. The lawsuit with Jamie (Hewlett, Gorillaz artist) totally cleaned him out – the fact he didn't even get called to be part of the Gorillaz movie and nobody even noticed he wasn't doing the music any more; that must have been desperately painful – I mean, I think Bret (McKenzie, Gorillaz / Flight of the Conchords / Doctor Who On Ice) did an ok job, but you can't have Gorillaz without Damon.'

I remind Graham that the accompanying album was CloudSwiped more times than sales of all Blur and Damon-led Gorillaz albums combined, and he grimaces.

'Yeah. What do I know? I can't even accept U2 touring their hits with Chris Martin, and nobody else seems to be bothered about that.'

I suggest this is different; surely more of a tribute to Bono? But Graham remains almost disrespectfully unrepentant.

'Yeah, the Filthy Lucre Tribute! Every last martyred piece of him must be spinning in the grave.'

I'm beginning realise that this pub is a refuge for men like Graham from more than simply augmented reality, it's the closest they have to remaining in stasis within a pre-2015 world. I'm not sure how to connect with Graham on this level, and Graham stares into his tea for a long, silent minute. I think the interview might be over, when he mumbles,

'Well the world's changed a lot since Blur last played a gig hasn't it? Anyway, I think it was pride stopped Damon getting the four of us back into the studio after Alex's success. He was hit hard when 'Bootiful' failed – he'd pumped most his savings into it. He called me up distraught, he couldn't understand why nobody wanted to see a musical based on the life and times of Bernard Matthews. I tried to tell him it might have worked a few years previously, but with the dawn of stem cell meat people just couldn't sympathise with the life of an old-style turkey farmer.'

I ask if Graham has heard Damon's latest iPad album?

'Is there another one? God, it must be the oldest working iPad in the UK. Where does he get parts? Anyway, no I haven't heard it, I don't have the hardware to download it anymore – he insists on releasing everything in MP3... I don't know, it's sad. I don't think he's pushing himself to his best anyway, the last three were just him moaning into a microphone about the price of broccoli... I sympathise, but you have to move with the times.'

I suggest that meeting in a non-augmented pub might cause people to think he hasn't moved with the times either.

'That's different! This is a reminder of reality, that's essential, I can't write songs without inhabiting reality, but if I stay stuck within it I'll never get them heard. I record directly into the Cloud, and I put my albums up for CloudSwipe. I miss CDs and all that sh*t, but I will say this; I don't miss record companies!'

I ask Graham if he's heard the rumour that Damon isn't even chipped? Graham's eyes flash with irritation.

'You're not drawing me on that. No comment. I don't know.'

It's obvious we need to move on quickly so I sidestep. 'Let's talk about Dave. Surely he must be the most difficult to pin down even for a catch up?'

'Actually, it's usually Dave who suggests getting together these days. You know what politicians are like, they've got slick PR machines behind them, and still being in Blur boosts him in the opinion polls with the forty-somethings. Alex is his unofficial style guru, and I bet you in the run up to the General Election he'll be desperate to be photographed back behind those drums with his shirt sleeves rolled up 'Rowntree the sweaty drummer Prime Minister', it's a good image.'

Will it happen?

'Probably. He's done an ok job of rescuing the country from certain death so I suppose people will be grateful. You can never predict people though. C**ts.'

I say I was actually I was talking about whether a Blur reunion would happen with Dave's motivations... Graham is ready to leave, he drains his tea and resumes staring out of the window.

'Oh like I said, I doubt Damon can swallow his pride; he's not keen on playing with Alex these days. You have to see it from his point of view - all the kids at the front chanting for WigWam's latest global f***ing chart topper.'

He stands up and grabs his coat, extending his hand as courtesy, but clearly unsettled.

'I don't know if reforming Blur would ever really work now. I stick to what I said earlier. 2012 was it. That was our last chance. We let it slide by.'

With that he leaves the pub waving to the barman on the way out. Through the window I watch the shuffling green-coated guitarist move through the grey rubble on Camden High Street in the decreasing wan light. Ignoring the radiation warnings, he vanishes into a side street.

You can CloudSwipe Graham Coxon's new solo retrospective 'Crashing In Camden' compatible for all GoogleMind chips from Monday. (Also available on limited edition heavyweight vinyl).