Damon Albarn’s roots manoeuvre - why the only way was Essex
Following the successful revival of Blur, not to mention his many other musical projects,Damon Albarn has finally recorded a solo album,‘Everyday Robots’. And he went back to his old stomping grounds of East London and Colchester for inspiration
01/08/2013 NEWSDamon Albarn of BLUR performaning at IMMA last evening..Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES
This morning, Damon Albarn was a man on a mission. He left his house before dawn and headed towards the Thames to shoot footage of the river, which was due to be at its highest level for years, as it wound through London.
He wanted footage for videos he has been making on his iPad. “I’ve been doing a lot of film stuff and editing. When I think about the bullshit we had to go though to make a video and the money we spent on them, it’s maddening. It was extraordinary. You’d have 50 people there. I look back at the Country House video now and the message it sent out and the cost and the extravagance and it’s a bit sad.”
So how did you get on when you went down to the river at dawn?
Damon Albarn track-by-track
“The tide was out. The lesson today is to always check tide times first before you leave the house”.
There’s a mighty guffaw from Albarn to punctuate this yarn against himself. We’re on the top floor of his west London building which houses recording and rehearsal studios.
Outside, the city stretches hither and thither in the sunshine. Inside, there’s the hum of a remarkable production hub. Later, Albarn will give a tour of the building, where Hot Chip, Two Inch Punch, Jessie Ware and a bunch of young producers are currently ensconced. Albarn’s own band are in situ too, fine-tuning the new material for the forthcoming tour.
This building has been the making of him. “I treat it as a job,” Albarn says. I’m in punctually at 9.30 and leave punctually at 5.30. If you’re going to have a big output, you need that discipline and this space because then you’re not dealing with the pressure of hired studios.”
“Big” is the word for Albarn’s output over the past decade. Apart from the Blur and Gorillaz bookends, there’s also been The Good, The Bad and The Queen, Rocketjuice & the Moon, the Kinshasa One Two album, the ongoing Honest Jon’s Chop-Up and Africa Express outings, production work on Bobby Womack’s last album and a brace of operas ( Doctor Dee and Monkey: Journey to the West ).
Now comes Everyday Robots , Albarn’s new solo album. While there has been another solo release with just his name on it (2003’s rough and ready Democrazy ), this one comes with far more spit, polish, fuss and palaver.
It warrants it too, an album of low-key, melancholic, beguiling, gorgeously pitched and poised songs referencing emotions ( History Of A Cheating Heart ), technology ( Lonely Press Play ), drugs ( You & Me ) and a baby elephant in Tanzania ( Mr Tembo ). It’s Albarn present looking at Albarn past with elegance and wistfulness.
The album takes him back to Leytonstone in east London where he was born. When he came out of the tube station and walked around the Hollow Ponds, formerly Victorian gravel pits on the edge of Epping forest, he realised that the “happy kid speeding around on my bicycle” of old was a much different person to the chippy teenager in Colchester.
“In Leytonstone, I lived on a street which was predominately Pakistani and West Indian. I had a completely multi-cultural experience and I had no artistic or creative bent during those years.
“Then, when I was about 10, we moved to Colchester and into the countryside. It was very white, very conservative, quite a lot of small woods where there were always whispers of witchcraft. I felt quite isolated there and that’s obviously where I started to be creative.”