Shoe shopping, clotted cream and sightseeing; Blur’s Graham Coxon talks to ShortList’s Jimi Famurewa about the dizzying hedonism of life as a Britpop hero...
If you believe the newspaper reports, ShortList are very lucky to be talking to Blur guitarist Graham Coxon today. Hyperbolic press stories around his involvement in a fire at the Falmouth Beach Hotel this April stopped just short of suggesting that he somehow managed to escape the raging inferno by abseiling out of a window. Shirtless. While possibly simultaneously cradling a rescued puppy. Unfortunately, but perhaps predictably, the truth of the event isn’t quite so dramatic.
“I was just having a cup of tea in the lobby when I smelled smoke,” he says down the phone line, almost absentmindedly. “Then [my band and I] were told to leave, so we went outside and watched the place burn. It was horrible, but that was it really. There was no saving guitars from the flames or anything.”
It’s a fittingly genteel version of events. Coxon, having always been a ludicrously gifted musician, emerged from the booze-ravaged Britpop years, became an understated and underrated solo artist and has now slipped back into his unassuming, but crucial, sidekick role in the reformed Blur. This year has already seen the release of his critically acclaimed eighth solo album A+E and Blur’s exhaustive album reissues (which Coxon personally helped to re-master).
As this weekend’s Hyde Park Olympic closing ceremony Blur gig brings that hectic (but happily burn-free) period to an end, we quizzed the 43-year-old on his newly relaxed lifestyle and surprising onstage nerves. Oh, and the small matter of Blur’s future...
The Blur reunion is back for one final hurrah. Do you miss that shared experience when you’re working on solo material?
Well, I have a band outside of Blur, so I get the same camaraderie but with different people. Blur are like my extended family, though. We have ups and downs, much like brothers do, but it’s great that we have [that connection] and we’re always there for each other. Our relationship seems to be more relaxed these days. The less pressure we’re under to do anything, the better we are.
Do you see each other socially?
Not really. We get together to make music, but we don’t hang out. We never did. We’re seriously like brothers. We have occasions when we’re together, enjoy each other’s company but that’s it. We have our own lives.
Blur released two newly recorded songs last month. Are there any more in existence?
No, that’s it really. Sorry, but there just aren’t any more [laughs]. My only hope is that we carry on doing what we really want to do. That’s it. I don’t think we like having things pencilled in too much or feeling pressured into anything. That’s our relationship now. We [record] when we want to see each other and try something. There’s no point in forcing it if it doesn’t feel good.
Damon was visibly emotional at Blur’s Glastonbury gig last year. What are your memories of it?
We were absolutely amazed. We got off stage, dived into our bus and got out of sight. We sat there sweating, catching our breath, going, “Bloody hell. That was amazing.”
It’s the Olympic closing ceremony show this weekend. Any jitters?
The big shows are always nerve-wracking, but I don’t get half as nervous as I used to. Now I’m more accepting about what it’s about and think, “Seriously, what’s the worst that can happen?” I can contain things so you’d probably never know how nervous I was. [Those songs] were our lives. You want to do the best job you can but also entertain, which can be a tall order. The long Blur sets are emotionally and physically draining. It’s an hour and a half to two hours of playing, but it’s also a big story, and it takes you back. I mean, I think we drank through a lot of our twenties, but [now] it’s good and really rewarding.
Do you feel more focused now that you’re teetotal?
I always focused everything on the music and I think that was where it all came from. I was always prepared to put the music first, and that’s why anybody gets involved in that rock’n’roll carry on. In a strange way, you’re trying to ensure you’re psyched enough to play music or to celebrate having played it.
How do you spend your time on the road now?
We do a lot of shopping. I’ll go buy a pair of Clarks or something. Oh, and if there are any local delicacies we like to get them on the rider if we can.
Really? What sort of things?
Well, when we were in Falmouth we had some beautiful cream teas. And there was a bit of a Cornish pasty obsession. God, that doesn’t sound very good, does it? They were tasty, though.
So things are different to when you toured in the Nineties?
No, it’s pretty much the same. You go to a town and you’re excited, you have a little hoof around, go to your dressing room, put your feet up and get ready to play. It’s quite repetitive. But all towns have been ruined now. Every high street is the same everywhere you go. It’s just coffee shops and phone shops. But don’t get me started on that, I won’t be able to shut up.
In February, Blur received a Lifetime Achievement award at the Brits and were indirectly responsible for Adele’s victory speech being cut short. Did you feel bad?
No, I don’t think it was up to us to feel guilty. It’s to do with too manycommercials and not enough time for the actual event.
Are you not a fan of the Brits?
Nah, it’s all right. It was nice to be recognised and to see a few old friends and some new friends. But there are lots of people with clipboards saying, “You can’t go there,” and it is quite stressful. You are herded around, you can’t go to the loo at certain points and you’re scared you’ll run into a camera on the way back to your table and look like an idiot on TV. But they’re exciting events because they’re glitzy and you don’t go to them very often.
You play quite a few instruments. Is there anything particularly odd you’ve tried to master?
Oh yeah, loads. Harp, bagpipes, union pipes, bellows organ, synthesisers, I’ve had a go at them all. But the piano is pretty hard. I’d love to be able to play the piano, and I think I’d know a lot more about musical chords, notes and things if I could play it. But if you work hard, all instruments can become easy. It’s all down to practise.
Finally, people routinely describe you as Britpop’s most talented musician. How does that make you feel?
Bloody hell, that’s not saying much is it? [Laughs.]
Graham Coxon has joined with Philips Fidelio to promote sound quality in the home; philipsfidelio.co.uk