For those of you reading this, who have not known me for a number of years, I should probably tell you that I’ve been a rather huge Blur fan for most of my life (pretty much from the age at which decent music opened up to my little ears and walked all over everything else)! Being that Damon Albarn is such a talented, musical genius (with an open mind and a rather different and refreshing attitude to music), it therefore opened up lots of new musical experiences to me over the years, as he changed, evolved and experimented with his music style. As well as numerous Blur gigs, I’ve followed this guy around the country to see him perform in Gorillaz; Africa Express, The Good, The Bad & The Queen, and most recently, with the Heavy Seas, as he finally launched into a solo venture.
I’ve seen the earlier days of Blur, and those without Graham Coxon (Think Tank Tour), small, cosy locations including Bournemouth and Margate, and the huge and overwhelming Hyde Park affairs. All have been wonderful in their own rights, although I must say, being at the front in a teeny tiny hall, is by far the best way to immerse yourself in the atmosphere (which is never ever lacking when Damon Albarn is singing).
So, as it approaches two years since I saw Blur perform at the Olympic Closing Concert in Hyde Park. A rather bustling and crowded affair, where, to be honest, I was not anywhere close enough to the stage for my liking; you can imagine my delight at the announcement of not only new material by the man himself, but two intimate (and I mean really tiny, no more than 750 people) London gigs. I was an early bird on the morning of the sale, and bagged myself and my hubby two tickets. I do count my lucky stars – but then I always knew I would get them really!
I’d only had a chance to listen to the album a little before the gig, as it was released only a couple of days before. However, I knew I was expecting wonderful, melancholy, deep and through provoking music. I knew it was going to be something wonderful. I just never expected quite what was coming – it was truly out of this world! The Great Hall, at Queen Mary University of London, is a lovely, intimate and historical location and definitely matched the evening.
Damon came on stage, his usual happy, lively self and began to perform the two previously released tracks from the album ‘ Everyday Robots and the haunting Lonely Press Play. The album recording of these titles by no means did them justice, compared to the live performance, supported by a fantastic string section and the Heavy Seas. Following this, Damon played an absolutely wonderful and, somewhat unexpected set which spanned his musical career, from the lively Blur B-Side All Your Life, the upbeat tones of The Good, The Bad & The Queen, and a perfect selection of Gorillaz numbers. If you had come for the melancholy Damon Albarn, well you certainly got that, but no-one was allowed to be calm for too long. Damon just had to get in the opportunity to throw water over the crowd, dish out some handshakes and be completely overwhelmed, as always, when the crowd were singing his own words back to him. Damon was clearly in his element being on stage, and took the opportunity to play random tunes on the piano as the Heavy Seas stood watching!
In probably one of the most energetic encores I’ve seen, Damon bounded onto stage and performed Clint Eastwood, with Kano as the special guest rapper. This was a privilege to ears and eyes, Damon leaning on the piano to watch Kano do his work. The crowd went crazy for the Gorillaz tune, and it was clear that old or new, Damon can really put his musical hand to anything.
Just to make sure he didn’t leave the crowd disappointed, and with too much energy, on came the wonderful Gospel Choir pictured above, to perform the song which was written for a Baby Elephant (and Damon said he never expected to be playing to an audience), Mr Tembo. This song is currently in my head 24/7 and I think I’m driving my husband crazy with renditions of the chorus. Ah well, he knew what he was getting into! The energy in the Gospel Choir blew me away and they were having so much fun on stage. What a wonderful, and simple song, yet one which will capture the hearts of many, I am sure.
There are many times during the gig, where I felt the hairs start to stand on the back of my neck. The performances of You & Me, and The History of a Cheating Heart, were ones that left me somewhat breathless and were way better than when I heard them through my earphones. Yet, the moment of the night for me, if I really had to choose would be the final moment, where I heard those first few chords of my favourite, ‘This is a Low’. Played solo on the piano, with the strings joining in and some bass at the last moments, I was brought to tears – I am not ashamed to say this, I often cry at this song when played live, anyway. It was an absolute perfect few minutes, and the best end to a wonderful performance. There was no better way that Damon Albarn could have showcased his new work, wrapped and blended with some of the best of his lifetime of musical achievement.
Both myself and my husband left almost wordless, really only able to agree that we had just witnessed something truly wonderful. Truly representative of a genius, who can turn his musical hand to just about anything. Slow and thoughtful, to crazy and obscure. Such a wide range of musical experimentation and combinations which are only heard when listening to Damon Albarn. I left this gig, with memories that will last a lifetime, and so inspired by the never ending talents of one man.
Damon, please never stop making music.