Damon Albarn talks Blur's Big Day Out no-show: 'I was disillusioned'

By Des Sampson

Damon Albarn discusses Blur's Big Day Out no show and upcoming first solo album with Des Sampson.
Damon Albarn, with Blur far right, says he became disillusioned with his old band finishing their reunion run at the Big Day Out this year so pulled the plug.
Damon Albarn, with Blur far right, says he became disillusioned with his old band finishing their reunion run at the Big Day Out this year so pulled the plug.

Blur let down fans with their Big Day Out cancellation, but front man Damon Albarn is hoping to make amends by performing his debut solo album in New Zealand - if he's allowed.

Maybe it's because Albarn's exhausted after a full day of interviews, or possibly it's that he's just smoked a spliff in the London studio, as he cheerfully confesses, but he's in fine form, cracking jokes, spinning yarns and being remarkably candid.

He's even happy to put his side of why Blur were a no-show at this year's Big Day Out, despite warnings that he wouldn't discuss the thorny topic for legal reasons.

"Okay, here it is - this is as frank as I'm prepared to be about what happened," he says.

"That was going to be the last Blur show - the end of playing together - and I didn't want it to finish on anything other than a very positive note, because Blur is incredibly precious to all of us.

"But I was genuinely concerned that the whole [Big Day Out] thing wouldn't be quite as spiritually conclusive as we hoped it would be, because we weren't sure if the organisation was quite right, or supportive of our ambitions," he continues, cryptically.

"They [the organisers] weren't being straight with me about things, which they needed to be, and at that point I became disillusioned because I didn't want what we'd done throughout the year, with Blur, to be undermined or tarnished in any way, by a show that wasn't going to be what we wanted to do.

"We'd been playing for six months solidly, around the world, so I knew that we would deliver a fantastic show, a great performance and a communal event, which everyone would have enjoyed," adds Albarn. "All I asked was that the organisation recognised that and I didn't feel they did. So, that's why, unfortunately, we couldn't come.

"I am truly, terribly sorry to everyone that we let down, but we just didn't want to be anything other than what I felt we deserved to be - our best. If we'd played - and not been that - it would have let people down even more," he says.

"Don't anyone forget that I had an absolutely brilliant time with Gorillaz only two years earlier in that part of the world - it was a fantastic experience - and I fully intend to come back and play there again, if I'm allowed. Until then, I understand I have to wait."

With that off his chest, Albarn heaves a heavy, audible sigh before turning his attention to his current project - his debut solo album, Everyday Robots.

It's a startlingly frank, revelatory collection with a dozen poignant vignettes charting his life from childhood through to the current day.

Consequently, there are boyhood tales of wonder, like You and Me, mingling with wondrous, ponderous mid-life crisis paeans like The Selfish Giant and The History of a Cheating Heart plus his real - or imagined - fears for the future on the beguiling title track and achingly beautiful Lonely Press Play. Collectively, it makes Everyday Robots a private, personal voyage through Albarn's past and present psyche.

"There is an element of psychoanalysis to a record like this," he concedes, laughing. "I've only kind of now realised that's what I was doing which, I guess, is a much nicer, gentler way of doing it than having to go see someone and pay for it!

"It's totally autobiographical, a hundred per cent. Every line, in every song, took place - with the exception of Heavy Seas of Love which is more of a conclusion and tying-up of the spirit of the record," Albarn acknowledges, smiling.

"But I hadn't realised that's what I was doing until after I'd recorded the album and people started pointing out to me that it was extremely honest and personal. I certainly wasn't planning it to be that way; it just kind of happened.

"I didn't even subconsciously think it was going to be so honest; I just wanted to make sure that everything on the record had actually happened," he explains. "After all, if you're going to do a solo record, that's purely about you, then it has to be personal, doesn't it? If it's not, then what's the point?"

With Everyday Robots being so honest and personal, perhaps that's why it's taken Albarn more than a decade, since Blur's swansong, Think Tank, in 2003? Instead, he's sidestepped a solo career with collaborative side-projects like Gorillaz, Mali Music and The Good, the Bad & the Queen, written film soundtracks and operas, including the Chinese opera Monkey: Journey to the West all delaying the inevitable solo release.

"No, it's got nothing to do with that," insists Albarn. "I only did a solo album because [XL Records owner] Richard Russell asked me to. It honestly never occurred to me to do a solo album, so I didn't do one - just like it's never occurred to me to take up golf, so I've never done that either, thank God."

Consequently, for now, Albarn is content to carry on doing what he knows best - writing compelling, heartfelt songs which he's hoping he'll get a chance to play in New Zealand - if he's forgiven for Blur's snub.

"I'd really love to do that, but only if people want me to come back and play," says Albarn, hopefully. "I know there might be a bit of animosity still, but if I am forgiven, yes I will be back. That's a promise!"

Photo / AP
Photo / AP

HOW IT UNFOLDED

August 1: Blur named on Big Day Out 2014 bill as headliners alongside Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire and Snoop Dogg. Promoter Ken West said he had been trying to get Blur on the BDO bill "for 14 years".

August 2: Blur's bassist Alex James tells Australian media they're looking forward to the tour. "I think it's going to be crazy. I'm having my mind blown by travelling all over the world again with the band, it's fantastic, and we're playing better than we ever have before."

November 24: Blur pull out of Big Day Out with a Facebook post that cites "constantly shifting goalposts and challenging conditions of the organisers". "They've let us down and let everyone else down too," says the statement.


November 24: New Big Day Out co-promoter AJ Maddah hits back at Blur's cancellation on Twitter. "Not sure why they would blame the festival when all everyone here has done is kiss their ass," says Maddah. "Everyone at BDO is absolutely devastated and confused."



December 4: Deftones, The Hives and Beady Eye are announced as replacements for Blur.

January 17: Big Day Out kicks off in New Zealand without Blur. More than 41,000 people turn up ensuring a near sell-out show - the biggest crowd for the festival's entire Australasian tour.

Everyday Robots the single is out now. The album is due in late April.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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