Real Style: Blur is ten - so how old does that make you?
Most marriages don't last as long as this. EMMA COOK goes to the anniversary party for Damon and the boys
Sunday 19 September 1999
He is in his early thirties; a graphic designer living in Shoreditch. He can still remember one of Blur's first gigs, when they called themselves Seymour, in south London a decade back. "There are two reasons I like Blur," he says thoughtfully, counting the points off on his fingers (Blur fans are often deeply thoughtful). "Firstly, they're one of the few bands who've been around a decade and have grown and developed in each album." And secondly? "They think about everything - from how they put together a song to how they're going to change their sound on each album. They've even got an exhibition of album covers."
Blur have been together for 10 years now; a messy art band that started out when the Berlin wall was still standing and Thatcher was hanging on to power. To celebrate their longevity, they recently decided to auction off some of their memorabilia to raise money for Hoxton Hall community centre. Afterwards there was a party for friends and hangers on at a small venue nearby. It was all very grown up - more like a silver wedding anniversary than a pop star bash. Damon, retreating behind glasses, passed through the crowd looking slightly uneasy, as if the fame was all too much. In contrast, it's clearly oxygen to the bassist Alex who played the bon viveur, chain-smoking and working the room. Graham, the lead guitarist, arrived with his girlfriend in a people-carrier with blacked out windows. There were Thai canapes and gin and tonics. All very lo-fi; nothing too flash.
Whereas Oasis seem happy to saunter down a celebrity road that embraces OK! magazine and Louis Vuitton hand luggage, Blur have carefully kept things understated.
"Without even trying they've been splendid representatives of their age", says John Harris, editor of music magazine Select. "They mirror the intelligent end of the middle classes at that age, even their flirtation with the Labour Party when they first got in and then backed off. They've also hit home on two peaks of pop culture - the end of the baggy Madchester scene and Brit Pop."
While Oasis broke onto the scene with a "get there now" brashness, Blur's career has evolved more slowly. And whereas their arch-rivals have lost their gang, Blur are still a recognisable unit. There's Alex the Groucho fop, Graham the muso geek with nerdy clothes, Dave, boring yet reliable, and then Damon, mockney caricature, pretty-boy pin-up, or grunge artist; he's reinvented his image as frequently as Madonna.
There was the twenty-something angst of Park Life with songs like "Bad Head" expressing that phase of hedonism and the slow dawning that there's more to life than drugs and late nights. And Damon is still in sync with the emotional shifts of a Nineties generation. The on-off relationship with Elastica's Justine Frischmann (which dominates the lyrics of his latest album) has been followed by him meeting his new partner. Now Damon is about to enter the next phase; fatherhood.
No doubt, Blur's next album will mark another radical change. Maybe that's what keeps fans interested. As Harris says, "I much prefer it that they go through phases, like Bowie and the Beatles." They have a similarly loyal fan base who identify with a musical career that has spanned for many the transition from adolescent to adult.
They've also been pretty savvy about ditching the teenage girls. According to the Blur fan club manager, Martin Hayward, their profile has grown up as their music has become less commercial. "It used to be female-dominated but now it's about half male, half female", he says. Much to Blur's relief - somehow screaming teenage girls never sat comfortably with Blur's intellectual persona. They're much more at home mirroring the growing pains of a group of people who started off shopping at Carnaby Street but are now happier at Same in London's Brick Lane or Urban Outfitters. "They're just so clever," says the earnest graphic designer, who would look very at home in Urban Outfitters himself. "People always try to knock them but they'll always come up with something intelligent."
The teenage girls have come and gone, but the thirty-something male will never desert.
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