Gashead's Blog Wonders

26Apr/111

Stalking Damon Albarn

Early Days

The first time I heard Blur's There's No Other Way it was like discovering an outtake from Pink Floyd's Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. Throughout their lifetime Blur drifted in and out of my mainstream, Country House doing much to persuade me Oasis had won the phony Britpop war. I heard the occasional gem like Out Of Time but they never quite made my elite Buy Every CD The Day It Comes Out list that is already far too big.

Their time passed and the boy moved on and I started hearing about Gorillaz. Some sort of cartoon hip hop band you never see, or so they said. One day I bought a compilation for Warchild called Help! A Day In The Life, ready to be copied onto my NAS drive for later listening, maybe when I retire. I played a couple of tracks then noticed a song called Hong Kong by Gorillaz, big heavy beat, miscellaneous hip hoppers bouncing around the studio no doubt. No, complete generalisation fail on my behalf. I played it 10 times or more that day and a week will not pass when I don't listen to it again.

As is my way when I hear something so utterly amazing I nipped out to Selectadisc in London's Berwick Street and bought everything I could lay my hands on by Gorillaz in search of that magical other track or two. As is also my way I backed the CDs up onto my network, filed them away and didn't really register the brilliance of Demon Days El Mañana and the stonking closing of Don't Get Lost In Heaven and Demon Days itself. This has since been corrected.

Africa Express

Glastonbury 2007, my second attempt at surviving the hellish conditions of Michael Eavis' fields in Somerset where trench foot and hypothermia are common ailments in late June. That weekend we had decided to stalk The Magic Numbers who had played the Pyramid Stage and then had to look at me 4 feet away from Romeo in the Guardian Lounge.

We were all clapping for more at the end of a 45 minute set but Romeo apologised and said they were playing shortly on The Park Stage and had to go. So off we trooped up to the stage we had been at the night before when Michael Eavis spoke proudly of his daughter's first project and introduced Lily Allen as the "very special guest" to kick things off. We, like many, were expecting something more along the lines of Radiohead but Lily had been at every Glastonbury since she was in her mother's womb and had to endure the childhood embarrassment of her dad Keith selling booze from the boot of their car. As such it was an inspired choice.

There were a hundred or so people up there when we arrived and some spawny kid called "The Human Beatbox" or something like that was entertaining the crowd with his mouth and a microphone. Various Land Rovers arrived to the left of the stage and people got out, including The Magics, Sir Billy Bragg and some heavy looking African dudes in clothes that would look strange anywhere but Glastonbury. I will choose another day to fully document the wondrousness of the evening, meanwhile read here and here for a flavour of what 169,000 people missed. Terry Hall and Lynval Golding came on after an hour or so of amazing African jam sessions and the full orchestra of world music kicked off A Message To You Rudy with Damon Albarn on the keyboards just where we were standing left of stage.

At one point he looked down at me as if he saw the joy in my face and smiled as if to say "you're fucking loving this mate aren't you" and I was. The evening was a triumph, we never got round to seeing Madness playing at Lost Vagueness, this was what Glastonbury should be about and after five hours the Africa Express gig ended, reluctantly, with what seemed like fifty musicians and a crowd of by then around a thousand belting out Rock El Casbah.

Afterwards I sussed out that Damon was the curator of Africa Express, the ultimate collaboration. One year later after one of the worst ever periods of my life I read that Africa Express were playing at Koko in Camden as a part of the 2008 BBC Electric Proms. This time around kick off was 8pm with a scheduled finish of 3am! Damon was everywhere that evening joining in onstage playing his melodica Augustus Pablo style or just being there

From Africa Express Koko 2008

The usual suspects turned up including The Magic Numbers

and significantly Chicago's Hypnotic Brass Ensemble who were later to join Damon both with Blur and on Gorillaz 2010 Plastic Beach world tour. The evening ended with a suitably refreshed Rachid Taha leading Rock El Casbah once more but the highlight was earlier in the evening when Baaba Maal, Amadou et Mariam and the best of Africa turned up the heat for what seemed like hours of magical, mysterious tunes.

Blur

In 2009 Blur overcame acrimony and reunited. First up was a gig at the East Anglian Railway Museum, a few miles from my home. I found the Ticketmaster pre-sale, snapped up two of 180 tickets, only to find Ticketmaster insisting I was from The Republic Of Ireland when I tried to pay. This went on for a good ten minutes, I ended up starting again only to be told the inevitable no tickets available. Notwithstanding I had to pick up my granddaughter from a party in Braintree that very same evening so I insisted she be ready by 10pm and we would see if security had knocked off early. We arrived at 10.15pm, Blur had knocked off early so their fans could get the last train home for London at around 10.18 or so!

Next up they were playing at The Cliffs Pavilion, Westcliff-on-Sea. This time there were no ticketing cock-ups and Vicky and I joined the legions of boys and girls now in their late thirties wearing Fred Perry polo shirts for an amazing evening. The Essex boys were highly spirited and at one point my safe position stood half way back ended up on the barrier as I got swept up in the excitement, it was an enormous party after all, even the ever cool Alex James was visibly loving it.

From Blur, Southend Cliffs Pavilion 21/06/09

I managed to get back to my prime video spot though my shirt would not be dry again for several hours.

I changed my opinion on Blur v Oasis, the latter looked increasingly ridiculous with their sibling if not wibbling rivalry destroying the band while Blur came back with the passion I love in all my family of bands.

We went to Glastonbury 2009 but the sheer exertion of finding a camping spot on the Wednesday set off swollen glands and I reluctantly had to leave before they came on stage on the Sunday evening. Still, it couldn't have been better than the Cliffs Pavilion gig, intimate, thrilling...apparently it was!

Massive Attack

Massive Attack are part of my family of bands. They are from Bristol, my home town from birth until I moved to Essex in 1980, rumoured to include fans of The Forces Of Darkness (Bristol Shitty) but despite this amazing musicians. I buy everything they ever release, love them. Of course my Mum in her 80s is too cool for school and when I mentioned Massive Attack recently she told me about the time in Somerfield on the Gloucester Road when she got talking to a tall "coloured" chap who was off to Japan the next day with his band, step forward Daddy G!

In late 2009 the boys were on at Brixton Academy, possibly my favourite venue. They had been recording with Damon Albarn, an unlikely combination you may think until you see this

Yes, that's Vicky and me spotting Damon again 5 minutes in. He went on to perform Saturday Come Slow both that evening and the following February at Hammersmith Apollo.

Earlier in the year I had accused Bono of stalking me having turned up at Coldplay/Killers and Cat Stevens unannounced, now I was being stalked by Damon.

Gorillaz

2010, somebody wakes Gorillaz up from their slumber. They announce they are to play at Coachella but need a little warm up. I signed up for the Sub-Division fan club promising priority booking for their concerts. Probably worth the £25 and I get a limited edition Stylo car, of course the car never got made but I got a fantastic litho instead which is framed and above my bed now.

First up were the "rehearsals" with all sorts of caveats about it being not the full show, no films, just the group. Oh and they are on at the tiny Cambridge Junction but being a rehearsal it's only £15 a ticket for Sub-Division members. Like I cared. Oh...and Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash are in the band by the way. WTF?! I last saw them together at The Bristol Hippodrome on the London Calling tour and completely adored Big Audio Dynamite. I can endure this rehearsal I am sure.

So I decided to take the day off with a spare ticket in hand, drove up to Cambridge with Plastic Beach on the stereo though no Bruce Willis in the passenger seat. When I arrived, way too early, there was a Dutch woman sat reading a book by the door quietly raving about the earlier sound check. I headed to the pub for a couple and came back in time to find a small queue. Nobody wanted my spare ticket and the box office was trying to flog remaining tickets to the public at the £15 fan club price. Not exactly popular it seems. The audience was mainly 30s and 40s, few street-wise kids who you would expect for a band made for the MTV generation. So I let them all go in first to get a few Lambrinis in, emptied my bladder just in case and walked in straight to the front pausing on the way to buy a couple of T shirts.

After much anticipation on came the band, when I say band I mean a small army of violinists, backing singers, guitarists, drummers, keyboard players and of course Damon. It was his birthday and he sat down to a chorus of "Happy Birthday". What followed was special. No dark screens, the ensemble dressed in naval gear, The Clash boys with officers' caps to hide their baldness.

From Gorillaz Rehearsals - The Junction, Cambridge

Not everybody was there, Lou Reed boomed out of the speakers but was probably in New York giving an interviewer a hard time. Bobby Womack was another virtual attendee. But we weren't complaining, the strings exhilirated, the choir sang Don't Get Lost In Heaven and Demon Days lushly, it was wonderful. Yet there were tickets going begging.

At this point I could probably have died a happy, contented and fulfilled man. But wait, there's more. Next up was The Roundhouse, another gig partly pre-Coachella rehearsal, also to be broadcast on the web. More Sub-Division priority tickets and this time a full supporting ensemble of Mos Def, Shaun Ryder, Kano, Bobby Womack, De La Soul, Little Dragon, Bashy, Gruff Rhys and The National Orchestra For Arabic Music...oh and films as well!

The heavy rhythms rather ruined the sound on half of my videos but they felt great vibrating against me as I stood by the right hand speakers! We left so glad we got to see our boys and wondering if we would ever see them again.

From Gorillaz at The Roundhouse 29/04/2010

Next big thing for us was Glastonbury, several of the participants from The Roundhouse were on the bill but no Gorillaz. Deus ex machina time, Bono finally paid the price for jumping off the stage at Live Aid when he spent half of Bad trying to get back up again and he needed spine surgery. No U2, somebody else was needed to replace them. One day in May I ran around the office like an idiot when I heard Gorillaz were their replacement. The perfect Glastonbury band. Collaborative, visual, generally loved. Mission on, find as much naval gear as possible and we will wear it for all five days and spend four days explaining to people we hadn't just sailed into Worthy Farm.

From Glastonbury 2010

They delivered, everybody there loved it including many people who didn't think they would, yet the armchair festivalgoers watching on TV were unimpressed by the gaps. For us it allowed us guerilla visits to The Cider Bus nearby and the talk there afterwards was how good a show it was, Lou Reed aficionados being particularly vocal. One younger chap was particularly surprised at the sheer quality and number of guests, he didn't think he would fancy them but now he loved them.

From Glastonbury 2010

Of course there was still a small matter of a world tour to complete. We had standing tickets for The O2 in September but this date was rearranged. Touring commitments were cited yet Gorillaz' visuals were all over the launch literature for Internet Explorer 8 at around the same time. I begged for tickets to the IE8 London launch expecting Gorillaz to turn up, I got none, they didn't. The show was rearranged for November and we went.

From Gorillaz O2 Arena 14/11/2010

Gorillaz came, they played, they conquered. Unbelievably this was so much better than even the three other shows we had been to. Sadly we only caught the end of Little Dragon (since rectified) but De La Soul were amazing and got the audience pumped up and loving it.

From Gorillaz O2 Arena 14/11/2010

As for Gorillaz, the music had developed on tour and grown. Empire Ants was insanely good. Bobby Womack was almost in tears talking about how he had come to love the songs they wrote for him to sing, Cloud Of Unknowing is beautiful even without Bobby's voice.

From Gorillaz O2 Arena 14/11/2010

Damon was all over the place keeping up the momentum they had supposedly lost at Glastonbury, this was the supreme version of Gorillaz 2010, fully developed. Little Dragon and The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble could never not play a Gorillaz tour again, they added so much. Will we ever see them again?

From Gorillaz O2 Arena 14/11/2010

Probably...as for Damon.

The Future

July, The Manchester International Festival, Dr Dee written by and starring Damon Albarn. We will be there, will it be any good, look mate you're talking Damon Albarn...

Comments (1) Trackbacks (2)
  1. talented little bugger Mr Albarn isn’t he?! Thank you so much for sharing all of this, not all my taste but still great, it’s LIVE music! 🙂


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