Blur: My Magic Whip Experience

Blur were one of the first bands I ever got in to thanks to my dad having The Great Escape on CD which I used to play over and over in my bedroom. I credit that album, and Graham Coxon’s guitar playing in particular, as a main reason I play guitar today. I vividly remember playing along to the likes of Charmless Man and It Could Be You on my imaginary blonde Fender Telecaster just like the one Coxon himself played. It would be a few years later before I had my own guitar but the seed was firmly planted, ready to bloom. Over the years Blur have meant more to me than any other band, aside from Derek and the Dominos perhaps, so hearing that a new album was complete and a release date had been set was music to my ears.

It’s now been over two years since Blur announced they’d be releasing a new album, The Magic Whip. In the months leading up to that announcement I genuinely thought they may never release a new album again and they were happy just playing their back catalogue to more than willing fans around the world. Then, February 19th 2015 came around. Blur held a press conference in London at a Chinese restaurant to announce the new album and debuted the first track Go Out which would be the first new music from them since the Under The Westway/The Puritan single release in 2012. But more importantly this would be Blur’s first new album since 2003’s Think Tank and the first to fully feature all four members since 1999’s 13. In that time Damon Albarn would take his side-project Gorillaz to unparalleled heights with the release of Demon Days in 2005, Graham Coxon would release a number of fantastic solo albums, Alex James would form (and quickly disband) WigWam and Dave Rowntree would form his own band The Ailerons while at the same time aiming to become a Labour MP. But what I wanted to badly, what every Blur fan wanted, was a new album. There would be times where I thought one may happen, for example after the reunion in 2009. The shows that year were fantastic and that was when I got to see Blur for the first time. 2010 saw the release of Fool’s Day, the first new Blur song in 7 years – but still no new album. 2012 saw the band come together again to play seven shows before another Hyde Park performance in London, this time for the 2012 Olympic Games. 2013 was the year of the festival for Blur with the band playing at numerous festival events throughout the whole year before bringing everything to end in January 2014. But it was two years ago where we finally got what we wanted to badly, we finally got what many Blur fans were convinced would never arrive – a new Blur album.

There are certain bands people follow intimately and that’s certainly the case for me with Blur. After the initial online stream of them announcing the album I followed everything from radio interviews, TV performances, online streams and magazine articles. I wanted to know everything I possibly could about The Magic Whip and immerse myself in the moment.

I was lucky enough to be one of only a few hundred people invited to MODE in London for the album launch where it would be played from start to finish for the first time ever, and boy was it a blast. Earlier in the day I took a train from Swindon to London Paddington knowing I’d be seeing Blur that evening. When I got to London I met up with my best friend for a few beers where we discussed everything from the gig that evening to what was happening politically at the time, looking at my iPhone clock every few minutes to make sure we didn’t leave it too late to get in line. When we arrived the queue wasn’t too bad and the excitement was starting to build, helped along by Damon Albarn’s ice cream van which had been parked outside the venue. A nice touch. We were one of the very first to be let in and we went straight to the bar knowing that wherever we ended up standing would be ok because there wasn’t a bad view in the house. The downstairs standing area was starting to fill up by the time our cold pints of Peroni had been poured so we made our way upstairs to look around, not knowing at the time that there was a balcony area which we ended up staying in. We managed to get a great spot right at the front against the balustrade with no-one in front of us which meant we had a perfect view of the stage, situated just above and in front of where Graham Coxon would be. As we sipped our pints we noticed the upstairs section starting to fill up not only with fellow fans eagerly awaiting the new music, but also the band members who were sat behind us on large leather sofas, taking in the moment for themselves. Could this night get any better?

The answer – yes. There was no support act, nothing to have to wait through for the main event to start. Blur took to the stage and performed the whole album from start to finish with the added bonus of Trouble In The Message Centre as the encore which is from their 1994 album Parklife. I couldn’t believe that not only was I seeing a band I loved so much in such a small and intimate venue, but I was witnessing these new songs being played for the first time. I’d dreamed of such a moment but never in a million years did I ever think I would be at something like it. The music was excellent and signalled the return of Blur as though they’d never been away, as though the previous 12 years of waiting had never happened.

The night before the MODE show I also remember being on the Blur forum when There Are Too Many Of Us was leaked by accident online. The song was sent to me, by who I cannot remember, and then it was officially on iTunes about an hour later. I sat at my computer listening to it over and over knowing that less than 24 hours later I would be listening to it being performed live.

Over the next few weeks and months before the April release date Blur would perform on several radio stations in England and make a number of TV appearances as well. I would tune in to every one of them and try and get my hands on the recordings somehow, adding to the already large musical library of live recordings. The band would play The Magic Whip in full three more times but each of those times a song or two were left out, most notably Ice Cream Man which to this date was only played at the MODE show in London that I was at. Looking back I still can’t believe that I am 1 of 200 people to have heard Ice Cream Man live.

Around the time the album dropped I had the honour of interviewing Dave Rowntree who is of course Blur’s fantastic drummer. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d spoken to him. When his side project The Ailerons began playing shows in 2006 he asked me to be the admin on their website and put together an online forum for the band as well, something along the lines of the now dead and gone official Blur forum that was around from 2002-2014. That was exciting for me but actually getting to interview Dave about all things Blur for an article on my website was a dream come true. I consider myself a hardcore Blur fan and as a result there are a number of things I wanted to ask that the every day music journalist for NME (for example) wouldn’t ask. Not only was I able to ask Dave about The Magic Whip but we talked about the 2005 EP (that never was), the 2000 Bill Laswell sessions, The Ailerons, his influences and how he got into music and drums to begin with. The interview was split in to two parts because of his heavy schedule at the time but I am and always will be hugely grateful to him for taking the time to answer my questions. It added more than anyone could imagine to my Magic Whip Experience.

Buying the album was a very special part of my experience, especially when Blur announced a special edition 7″ vinyl of the song Y’All Doomed which would be released on the same day. Knowing that my local HMV store was 20 minutes away I got up early to get there an hour early. Why? Well I thought there would be huge queues, but I was wrong. I guess today people just aren’t as excited about buying albums as they used to be. But I was, and I got my 7″ vinyl. In fact I got two because I forgot I had asked them to keep a copy behind the till for when I got there in the morning. After remembering this a few days later, and after just grabbing one off the shelf when I went in, I went back and asked if they still had mine reserved. They did. When it came to releases like that I also kept on eye on what happened abroad and when it was announced that Blur were releasing a special 5″ flexi disc in Los Angeles I asked around to see if anyone I knew in the US could send one to me. They could and they did, and I am hugely thankful for it. It remains unplayed because the disc was designed to just be played once. I wanted to keep mine unplayed and in mint condition to add to my collection.

When Blur announced their UK tour I was lucky enough to be invited once again to two shows, the first being at the Wolverhampton Arts Centre. This was a different show than the other UK dates because all the money went to the Arts Centre which had been threatened with closure. It was also the smallest venue (apart from MODE) that Blur would play. I vividly remember driving up to Wolverhampton on the M5 with The Magic Whip playing on the stereo and then managed to bag a parking spot next to the tour bus upon my arrival. Perfect! I still had a few hours to burn before the gates opened so I popped into town for a quick pint before coming back and heading straight in. The venue was small but long with the stage down one end and the access door halfway along the room. I got a good spot near the back against the wall and enjoyed the show immensely. This show would be the first time new Blur songs from a new album had been put alongside old songs since Think Tank had been released in 2003. It was a fantastic moment with the band on fine form, with the cherry on the cake being an invitation to the after party at The Social in Wolverhampton a few hours later.

The second show I was invited to was four days after the first in Blackpool at the Empress Ballroom. I was lucky enough to be able to put my dad on the guest list for this show as a thank you for getting me into Blur to begin with! It wasn’t the first Blur show we had seen together but with the new material now being such a large part of the set he wasn’t going to miss out. The drive up north was long but well worth it. We found a great place by the seafront for lunch and beers for a few hours before making our way to the venue when the doors opened. We had seats in the balcony section at the back of the venue which had unparalleled views of the stage and it was one hell of a show, even when the band left the stage after the barrier broke during the second song. Nevertheless it was another great show and to date the last time I saw Blur live.

My Magic Whip Experience is without a doubt the single greatest musical experience of my life. Being able to follow the band I love so much from online streams, radio performances, TV performances and gigs to also interviewing a band member is something I will cherish forever. I also have a number of other vivid memories from the year that include listening to I Broadcast in the car on a sunny afternoon. Every time I listen to that song it reminds me of a certain place on a certain road and that will never change. And the same goes for every single song on the album. It reminds me of sunny weather, a certain time and certain places. The music on The Magic Whip is forever burned into my mind and looking back the whole experience was the first half of the best year of my life, because in the second half of 2015 I would meet the woman who is now my fiancé.

Whether Blur will release another new album or not I don’t know but I’ve learnt that nothing is out of the question. Before The Magic Whip I was pretty content with the fact Blur may never release another album, and then out of nowhere it dropped. I hope it happens again but if it doesn’t I’ll be ok, because I’ll always have my Magic Whip Experience.

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