Ev­ery­one in Europe is clearly sick to death of our id­iocy here

Nearly 25 years since he turned his eye to the Bri­tish con­di­tion on Blur’s Park­life, Da­mon Al­barn re­turns to the ever-shift­ing sub­ject with ‘su­per­group’ The Good, The Bad and The Queen. The mu­si­cian talks Brexit and hope for the fu­ture with ALEX GREEN

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BE­NEATH a big top perched on Wanstead Flats in east Lon­don, a heav­ing mass of Nige­rian, Ethiopian, Malian, Le­banese and South African mu­si­cians roll on and off stage.

Africa Ex­press, a pan-con­ti­nen­tal group in­clud­ing African and Bri­tish artists, are play­ing to a crowd of Lon­don­ers on a cold Fri­day night.

It’s a de­fi­ant dis­play of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism on March 29 – the day Bri­tain was meant to leave the Eu­ro­pean Union – or­gan­ised by Da­mon Al­barn as a two-fin­ger salute to the or­ches­tra­tors of Brexit.

Da­mon, 51, wears many hats: ob­ser­va­tional, po­et­i­cal front­man of Blur, the brains be­hind vir­tual rock band Go­ril­laz and the front­man of his so-called su­per­group The Good, The Bad and The Queen.

Tonight he fills al­most all these roles as Blur make a sur­prise three-song ap­pear­ance af­ter The Good, The Bad and The Queen take to the stage.

“We’re in a pe­riod now where ev­ery­thing is make-be­lieve,” he tells the crowd dur­ing a rare si­lence.

“It’s like Danny Dyer said. It’s all a great mad rid­dle.”

Not since Blur’s sem­i­nal al­bum Park­life has Da­mon turned his eye to the Bri­tish con­di­tion with such raw fo­cus. An­gered and sad­dened by Brexit, he has ex­plored the Bri­tish con­di­tion, or “An­glo-Sax­is­ten­tial­ist” as he calls it, in a record en­ti­tled Mer­rie Land, re­leased late last year.

Along­side for­mer bassist for The Clash Paul Si­monon, The Verve’s Simon Tong and ac­claimed Afrobeat drum­mer Tony Allen, he might have cre­ated the first great Brexit record.

It’s five days ear­lier when I sit down with Da­mon and Paul as the band be­gins re­hearsals in Ac­ton, west Lon­don.

Da­mon starts to dis­cuss the record. But it’s hard to es­cape the shadow of Brexit. “My big­gest prob­lem with the ref­er­en­dum was that it very clearly gave li­cence to some rather un­pleas­ant views being pub­licly aired and tol­er­ated in a way they weren’t be­fore­hand,” Da­mon re­marks. “We see that ev­ery­where, it’s not just this coun­try.”

“It’s self-im­posed di­vi­sion,” adds Paul, 63. “But there was also an el­e­ment that was sim­mer­ing – that peo­ple were dis­sat­is­fied with the way things are.”

Da­mon is quick to rub­bish claims Mer­rie Land is pre­cisely about Brexit. “This record wasn’t just about Brexit, it’s an ex­plo­ration of English­ness at the mo­ment,” he says. “You have to leave names out of it. Nam­ing and sham­ing is not really for mu­sic.”

When Da­mon be­gan to ex­plore English­ness with Blur, the de­bate was less charged. This changed with Bri­tain’s 2016 de­ci­sion to leave the EU, and the fierce pub­lic de­bates that pre­ceded that vote. Un­sur­pris­ingly, Da­mon backs a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum and is no fan of Boris John­son, Ja­cob Rees-Mogg or Nigel Farage.

“They talk about the voice of the peo­ple – or the will of the peo­ple. But clearly things have changed.

“I don’t know what the big is­sue is, other than utter fear that they are go­ing to lose. If you’ve got fear of los­ing it, then what the f*** are you talk­ing about? You know you are not in the ma­jor­ity any­more.

“On ev­ery level, ev­ery av­enue they go, it ends in a cul-de-sac – which is where I imag­ine a lot of peo­ple who voted Brexit live,” he says, chuck­ling.

While Mer­rie Land ex­plores Bri­tish concepts, Da­mon hopes it is not seen by his “Eu­ro­pean cousins” as niche, ex­am­in­ing only the minu­tiae of Bri­tain’s quirks. “It’s a Eu­ro­pean record as well. Ev­ery­one in Europe is clearly sick to death of our id­iocy here. They’re very, very aware of it. Some of these songs, I would imag­ine, res­onate abroad.”

The seed of the al­bum was planted dur­ing a week of stu­dio ses­sions be­tween Da­mon and Tony, the famed Nige­rian drum­mer lauded for his work with Afrobeat orig­i­na­tor Fela Kuti.

It grew, un­ex­pect­edly, into a pro­ject ex­plor­ing Bri­tain’s heart of dark­ness. Writ­ten be­tween 2017 and 2018, Da­mon took “pil­grim­ages”, as Paul de­scribes them, to towns and city such as St Al­bans, Ban­bury and Southend. “They were day trips with sand­wiches,” ex­plains Da­mon.

“Very Eng­lish.”

These fed into Da­mon’s re­luc­tant farewell to Europe, man­i­fest­ing in a mag­i­cal re­al­ism that joins the dots be­tween a Dorset boogey­man called the Horned Ooser, Bri­tain’s cathe­drals and its now-di­lap­i­dated sea­side resorts.

The band hooks Da­mon to the Brexit live wire, but it also of­fers him relief from the ac­claim of Go­ril­laz.

As The Good, The Bad and The Queen tour the UK this month, they will play in Nor­wich, Manch­ester, Liver­pool, Cardiff, Sh­effield and

Lon­don. But there will be no sta­di­ums. Da­mon is keen to keep the pro­ject small. “When I’m do­ing Go­ril­laz it’s such a dif­fer­ent re­ac­tion. It’s a global one,” he ex­plains. “You put any­thing out and within 24 hours it’s like eight mil­lion peo­ple have watched it, or even more. It’s a very dif­fer­ent dy­namic to this.

“It’s a strange change of gear. I went lit­er­ally from play­ing a sta­dium in Mex­ico City to re­hearsals. But I love that be­cause when you are play­ing very big places, as Paul knows, it is a very dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ca­tion.” When the word “su­per­group” is men­tioned, Paul looks re­pulsed.

“A su­per­group – it’s so silly,” he says, rolling the word around his mouth. That ex­isted in the 70s... but now. It’s really as sim­ple as peo­ple work­ing together. I don’t think I’m in that cat­e­gory of su­per any­thing.”

Da­mon chips in: “Su­per­groups are sup­posed to play sta­di­ums and we’re def­i­nitely not a sta­dium band by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion.”

Da­mon knows Mer­rie Land is un­likely to stop the machi­na­tions of Par­lia­ment, but he also knows it can of­fer a stark warn­ing.

“This record, it’s an emo­tional re­ac­tion to all of that. It’s not of­fer­ing any an­swers. It’s def­i­nitely part of a big­ger warn­ing that should be erected ev­ery­where.”

■ The Good, The Bad and The Queen tour the UK this month. Mer­rie Land is out now.

Da­mon Al­barn

Da­mon on stage with his The Good, The Bad and The Queen band­mates

Da­mon per­form­ing with Blur in Cardiff in De­cem­ber 1997

Paul Si­monon who is a mem­ber of The Good, The Bad and The Queen

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