Blur, in case you did not know, are an English alternative rock band comprising of Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, and Dave Rowntree. They burst onto the scene in 1989, christened Seymour, but as the Blur we all know and love, have remained at the top of their game ever since. To mark twenty-one years of Blur, Blur 21: The Box was released in July on Parlophone featuring the band’s fine body of work compiled and gathered together. In addition, Blur 21: The Exhibition documents their career as one of the most influential and successful bands of the past two decades.
These commemorations roused two different emotions within me. First, utter joy. What a band! How do I buy it / when can I go? Followed abruptly by heel-skidding shock. Whaaat? Twenty-one years you say? How did that happen? When did I get so old?!
Unquestionably, Blur rocked the music world but they did more than just rock my world - they heavily influenced my formative years and provided a social and musical commentary that was the soundtrack of my 1990s.
Leisurely Listening (1991)
I was thirteen when Leisure was released back in 1991 and can remember feeling spellbound on first hearing She's So High. Its haunting melody and strangely beautiful lyrics spoke to me in a way that I could not really understand at the time. I was intrigued, but not fully committed - this was the Grunge era after all and I was into a certain band from Seattle who had a tortured lead singer and a very nice drummer named Dave.
A mildly petulant and experimental teenager, I wore dreadful long, flowery skirts with all-the-way-down buttons, shapeless cardigans and heavy black boots. I sighed a lot and hang out at the local youth club, listening to Nirvana and trying to make sense of the world as my hormones raged on madly and I thought modern life was rubbish. I went to the obligatory teenage parties and tried hard to impress the boys I liked by head-banging to metal and grunge, resulting in the unfortunate predicament of only being able to move my head with the aid of a sharp burst of Deep Heat.
I listened to There's No Other Way and prayed for something interesting to happen. My Mum prayed I wouldn't get a nose ring.
Modern Life is Conflicting (1993)
My fifteen-year old self crawled out of bed, sat up and started to pay a little more attention. I liked the celebration of British heritage, the absorbing but cheeky lyrics and the attire that screamed posh-geezer. I was enamoured by Damon's face and had a penchant for Graham's glasses. Yet, it was the music that was transfixing me. It was melodic and lush, intertwined with punk rock, frazzled guitars and fast drums. I listened to Chemical World on repeat; that recurring guitar rift and Damon's hypnotic voice.
My eyes and ears loved Blur but the sounds of my streets spoke of something else – I had begun to go out to ‘night clubs’. Yet, I would stagger home and listen to For Tomorrow in my headphones until the early hours of the morning. It gave me what I needed; effervescence; a little sparkle.
Then Parklife was released and it was obvious that nothing would ever really be the same again.
Quite simply, Parklife contains two of my all time favourite songs. To The End is one of the most powerful love-songs ever written.
End of a Century is two minutes, forty-five seconds of pure genius. The opening lyrics She said there's ants in the carpet. Dirty little monsters. Eating all the morsels. Picking up the rubbish still gives me goose bumps.
Walking through London now with this song coming out of my headphones, something strange happens. The landscape around me starts to slowly slide away. It collapses and morphs and suddenly I am enveloped in the red, white and blue of 1990s Great Britain. I am eighteen again, in blue jeans paired with my trusty blue Adidas Gazelles. I am proudly sporting a white and blue knitted zip-up cardigan, in an attempt to emulate the casual sportswear look of my heroes. My old pink Fiesta is parked in the drive and I am studying for my A ‘Levels, working two jobs and bursting with boundless energy.
It feels like I am part of something revolutionary and very important, and although me and my fellow teens are drinking far too much and infatuated only with ourselves, it is all OK. We are part of the Cool Britannia movement and with its huge cultural significance that is enough for me. It is irresistible.
Showtime (1994 - 1995)
I did not see Blur live at Alexandra Palace in 1994 (although I did buy the now chunky looking Showtime VHS) but I did make it to the gig at Wembley Stadium with my sister Michelle and our friends. We worked our way right to the front to get a suitable view of Damon and the boys.
The crowd was rowdy and preparing to mosh, the noise was deafening. The heat, the power, the intensity was all-consuming - girls around us started to faint and others waved frantically at the security guards in need of a great escape. My younger sister Michelle said she was off and was helped over my head, followed by both of our friends in quick succession. For a while that left only me in that slamming, pulsating crowd. Soon, the heat became too much (I blame the cardigan) and so I dejectedly waved for help to the burly security man. Strangers' hands lifted me along the crowd to safety, but all I could do was stare transfixed at the stage.
Momentarily, it was perfectly silent. Just me floating up in the air, watching the instruments move and Damon's mouth opening and closing but no noise coming out. It was hypnotic. Suddenly the music was intensely loud again and I was thrust back into reality and directed to an empty seat in the stands. I was alone for the remainder of that gig but it remains one of the best I have ever seen.
Modern Life is very good actually… Blur are back
Tonight sees Blur headlining a special concert to mark the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics and if their headlining gig in Glastonbury in 2009 is anything to go by, it is bound to be a fitting farewell to the greatest Games the world has ever seen from arguably the greatest band the world has ever seen.
Blur are the perfect choice to play to the country's current state of beautifully frenzied patriotism. It is almost like being back in red, white and blue 1990s Britpop. It really, really has happened.
I would never claim to be the biggest fan; I was not there in the mud on that historic Sunday night at Glastonbury and although I desperately wish I could be there tonight, I will have to make do with listening to and watching the euphoria live instead.
Despite this, I will probably follow them until the end. (Jusqu'a la fin).
Whenever that may be.