‘I’ve fallen in love with the Welsh’
BEST known as the lead singer of Britpop band Blur, Damon Albarn is back with a new musical venture – and for this one, he’s had a little help from North Wales.
Hot on the heels of a recent tour with The Gorillaz, Albarn has turned his attention to recording an album with his side-project, indie rock super group The Good, The Bad And The Queen, made up of Albarn, ex-Clash bassist Paul Simonon, Tony Allen and Simon Tong.
And the 50-year-old Parklife singer has exclusively revealed to our sister paper the Daily Post how he recorded one of the tracks of the band’s new album at historic Penrhyn Castle near Bangor – and how the whole experience changed the way he now feels about the Welsh.
“I’ve always felt, as an Englishman coming into Wales, especially as a musician, it’s quite hermetic (closed off ) in many ways, the Welsh culture,” said Albarn.
“I’ve never really felt like there was an open door for me, except this time, where there was this really warm, respectful experience.
“I feel completely different about the Welsh as a result of it. Not that I felt in any way bad about them, just I didn’t really know any Welsh.”
By his own admission, Albarn knew little of the region and its quarrying culture when he visited for the recording.
However, having spent just a few days in the Ogwen Valley, he was left captivated by the area, the people who live here and its rich industrial history – not to mention the breathtaking setting of Penrhyn Castle. “It’s a beautiful place,” he said. “At first, I thought: ‘fantastic, we’re recording in a castle’ but then it was explained that it wasn’t this fairytale medieval building, but a much more modern recreation.
“It’s such a magnificent building but, when you strip away at its history, you see it is built from the (proceeds of the) Jamaican plantations and the quarrymen.
“But it’s like they were oblivious to the suffering that enabled them to live in such grandeur.
“I’ve fallen in love with the Welsh but (while recording there) there was a feeling in the pit of my stomach that there’s terrible imbalance in the world between those that have and those that haven’t.
“A place like that really hammers that nail home.
“I mean, it’s a beautiful building, but can you imagine how much it would cost these days?
“Imagine one family having that much money?”
The track’s North Wales links don’t end with Penrhyn Castle.
The band also enlisted the help of a male voice choir from Bethesda to provide backing vocals on the song.
It was Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys, a close friend of Albarn, who pointed him and his band in the right direction.
One of Bethesda’s most famous sons, Gruff passed on the details of Cor Y Penrhyn to Albarn when he began scouting recording locations.
“It was through Gruff I found the choir.
“I rang him up to see if he had any recommendations for a choir for me and he put me straight through to these guys, who came from the same village he grew up in.” he said.
“It was actually the choir who suggested we record in the castle. It’s complicated but I think I lot of them had history with the castle – relatives who were quarrymen.”
For Albarn, the combination of the choir’s heart and hall’s history was a musical match made in heaven.
In fact, the singer can vividly recall hearing “this beautiful sound filling all the hallways and Gothic stairways and the nooks and crannies of the castle” by the “wonderful” choir.
“It was a really magical experience with the choir.
“The song ended up being inspired by the castle.” That’s no exaggeration. Albarn wrote the words to the track, called Lady Boston, after seeing a painting in the main hall.
“There’s a big Victorian photo outside of a hunting party and there was one person who looked slightly out of place,” he explains.
“It had all the names along the bottom and she was listed as Lady Boston, but I haven’t been able to find out anything else about her.
“So I wrote this song about her, based on everything that was going through my head after I had visited the castle.”
So, will Damon Albarn be back? Definitely, he says. Tour dates have yet to be confirmed, but he is adamant he and the band will perform in North Wales: “We’re performing in Blackpool, and Glasgow, and we’ll be warming up in some working clubs on the East coast and then, next year, I want to do a proper tour of the British Isles.
“I’ve definitely got to come to North Wales though.
“The choir are coming up to Blackpool in a bus, but I’m definitely going to play there. I want to play everywhere that inspired the record. It would be wrong not to. Don’t worry, we’ll be up.”
Lady Boston will feature on The Good, The Bad and The Queen’s new album Merrie Land, released on November 16.
Penrhyn Castle, where Damon Albarn recorded one of the tracks from his new album with band, The Good, The Bad And The Queen