It came as no surprise to those in the know that Blur chose to play their Olympic warm-up at Wolverhampton’s Civic Hall tonight.
The Brit-Award-winning architects of Britpop – who will headline a concert to coincide with the closing ceremony of the Olympics – play the Civic Hall on Sunday and Monday in two sold out gigs.
And it may very well be a final chance for fans to see the band live as – after more than 21 years in the music business – it looks like they might finally be hanging up their Doctor Martin boots.
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The Civic gigs will serve as a warm up for their Hyde Park gig on August 12, when they will line up with special guests The Specials and New Order.
Lead singer Damon Albarn expects the Wolverhampton gigs to be their last in the city.
Although his band recently recorded a new single, Under The Westway, he doesn’t believe they’ll play again together or record again.
“It’s (Under The Westway) the first Blur song where it’s been one take, because previously I never finished the lyrics before we recorded – which is quite nice, because I don’t really see any more recordings after this,” he said.
“I hope that’s the truth: that that’s how we end it.”
Wolverhampton has always held a special place in the hearts of the Blur boys – Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James and Dave Rowntree – with the band having previously played the Civic Hall on a number of occasions and even filming some of their film No Distance Left To Run at the venue.
Civic Hall spokesman Jonn Penney said: “The venue is one of their favourites. They’ve been here before and they love the venue.
“The audiences have always been really warm, so they enjoying coming back.”
Blur last played Wolverhampton in 2009.
The band originally formed in 1988 as Seymour before changing their name and making waves with their debut album, Leisure, before enjoying hits with Modern Life Is Rubbish, Parklife and The Great Escape.
Blur reformed in 2008 and played a series of festivals including Glastonbury in 2009.
However, Damon says it is difficult for the band to make new music because only guitarist Graham Coxon is a regular musician.
Bassist Alex James is now a well-known cheesemaker while drummer Dave Rowntree has other interests, including politics. Damon said: “I find it very easy to record with Graham, he’s a daily musician. With the other two, it’s harder for them to reconnect.
“It’s fine when we play live – it’s really magical still – but actually recording new stuff, and swapping musical influences. . . it’s quite difficult.” Albarn also believes he’s unlikely to revive his virtual pop band, Gorillaz, due to creative differences between him and co-creator Jamie Hewlett.
“I think we were at cross purposes somewhat on [our] last record, which is a shame.”
Blur received a 2012 Brit Award for making an Outstanding Contribution to music. But it has not always been plain sailing for the band.
Blur bassist Alex James likened issues within the band to those suffered by The Stone Roses and Oasis – with whom there was a bitter rivalry during the 1990s.
James insisted intra-band tensions helped fire to craft hits like Country House and Parklife.
“I realise that what always felt like monumental problems for us weren’t actually so bad. Without tensions, I’m sure we’d have been less creative.
“It’s not meant to be an easy ride. I think other bands like The Stone Roses and Oasis have similar stories because it becomes such a pressure cooker.”
But drummer Dave Rowntree has admitted that the band’s rivalry with Britpop cohorts Oasis “wasn’t healthy” and said it was “laughable” that the two bands had ever been grouped together.
He said: “We couldn’t be more different. To call us both part of a movement was laughable really. Blur and Oasis were stapled together at the head which wasn’t healthy for either of us.”
Guitarist Graham Coxon, meanwhile, added: “We found the Britpop thing very limiting. We went out to see the latest bands and we thought, ‘We’re not like this.’ With Oasis, it was a bit of light-hearted rivalry to start with and we didn’t realise how seriously people were going to take it.”
The band is marking 21 years – and possibly their final days – by re-releasing almost everything they have ever recorded in a box set called simple Blur 21– The Box. It serves as a reminder of just how far Blur travelled in such a brief period of time – especially given they have only released one album this century.
Named for the 21 years since Blur’s debut album Leisure, Blur 21: The Box contains 21 CDs, with each of their seven albums accompanied by a disc of bonus material. But it’s the four additional CDs of “rarities” that will most pique fans’ interest.
Featuring a hoard of unreleased material, it offers a sort of musical commentary on the band’s progress from indie boys to national darlings to troubled troubadours.
- Blur’s Civic Hall dates are sold out.