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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

Hyde Park, London
July 2nd 2009

I do wonder how many retired rock musicians have been rudely awakened from various forms of bucolic bliss by the knowledge that their hard earned investments, savings and pension plans have shrunk to an alarming degree over the past six months or so. It certainly must have had something to do with the giddy number of reunions that have taken place this year and particularly those that seemed the most unlikely: the comeback of Brit Pop art-school idols Blur tops the list. In case you’ve forgotten, Blur were the middle-class darlings of a musical movement broadly embraced by the chattering classes, and positively hugged by British New Labour prime minister Tony Blair, who for a short while couldn’t be seen enough in the company of young rock and rollers. Artfully arty Blur were the counterpoint to the brash and braggartly Oasis with whom they famously went head to head, and sort of won. But for all their increasing commercial success, the band imploded in the very early twenty-first century with the departure of guitarist Graham Coxon, whose relationship with singer and composer Damon Albarn was widely considered to be irretrievable. Albarn became a regular polymath: Gorillaz; The Good, the Bad and the Queen; an opera about a monkey and various excursions into world music. Coxon, who had embarked on some advanced drinking studies, dried up and reinvented himself as an acclaimed solo performer. Drummer David Rowntree pursued his interest in politics and has stood unsuccessfully for the British Parliament as a Labour Party candidate. And bassist Alex James moved to the Cotswolds, made cheese and became something of a pundit. And then – in the teeth of the worst recession in living memory, they announced they would reform, originally only for a single concert in Hyde Park. This in turn became two concerts, then a tour, a very purchasable ‘best of’ album, and a headliner at Glastonbury, which has, as they say, gone down in legend.
And the Hyde Park gig is worthy of a minor place in history too, if only for the number of junior Morgans in attendance, they being of an age to remember Blur properly first time round. Well, not entirely, and I’m sure, Serge, you don’t need me to rehearse those “but you were too young to really appreciate them …” arguments which seem to delight the youth so much. Anyway the more adventurous of them is almost at the front of the stage, the slightly older one in a more mature midway position, whilst the Photographer and your Reviewer (particularly following their Bruce Springsteen experiences) chose the spacious area at the back.

The sound is astonishingly excellent. The view dependant on numerous large video screens. The tea hot and satisfying (how rock and roll does it get?). And our neighbours are those slightly older Blur fans in their late twenties and early thirties who’ve come along with their youngsters to enjoy an evening out, although not without taking the appropriate precautions.

No-one is disappointed by a career-spanning set that sounds remarkably up to date, and has, along with Blur’s characteristic chirpy English music hall interludes, a surprisingly hard-edged feel.
Albarn is hoarse, talkative and visibly excited. Coxon demonstrates that the plaudits he has earned are more than deserved, and occasionally excels himself. The rhythm section play with a refreshing looseness, now and then suggesting that they might have been introduced only minutes before the show. But the overall effect is absolutely compelling, and a wonderful treat on a sunny, warm, early July evening.
So with a family of critics to hand we later played ‘what was the best song in the set’. The boy swithered, captured by the physical response to second song ‘Girls and boys’ (the earth shook, as they say): ‘Honest, we were so close to the front, that when they started, it really all kicked off and everyone went bonkers’. The girl was on stronger ground, and eventually we all agreed that the critical choice was the song that ended the main set, ‘This is a low’. If you listen to nothing else by Blur you should hear this wonderfully sensitive song, about weather forecasts (well, I’m sure it’s a metaphor really, but let’s not go into that). Coxon’s guitar playing was outstanding. However, I would also have to call out the soulful spiritual ‘Tender’, which provoked a very jolly and largely tuneful sing-along, demonstrating that love really is the greatest thing. And it would be rude not to mention Phil Daniels, who I’m sure some readers will remember as the actor who played the protagonist in the film of the Who’s Quadrophenia. He also provided the original narration to Blur’s Parklife. After a dewy-eyed Albarn had told the story of writing the song in a flat very close to where we stood, Daniels burst onto the stage to announce, to the surprise of many, ‘You can stick your post and your franking machine and all that other rubbish I have to go abaahht with and shove 'em right up your arse!’. I’ll leave it up to you film buffs to work that one out. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Listen: Blur on Mypace

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