You ask the questions: Alex James

(Such as: Alex James, describe the seediest 24 hours you've ever spent in Soho. And if Fat Les and Blur had a wrestling match, who would win?)
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Blur's bassist, Alex James, 32, was born in Boscombe, near Bournemouth. He studied French at Goldsmiths College but dropped out after two years to form a band, initially called Seymour and later Blur, with Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon and Dave Rowntree. Their first album, Leisure, reached No 8 in the charts in 1991; they followed it up with Modern Life Is Rubbish. In 1994, Parklife was credited with kick-starting the Britpop phenomenon of the mid-Nineties. The albums The Great Escape, Blur and, most recently, 13 followed. In 1998, James teamed up with Keith Allen and Damien Hirst to form Fat Les, which produced the World Cup football anthem "Vindaloo". James, who lives in London's Covent Garden, is currently presenting a six-part TV series, introducing viewers to his favourite local characters and watering holes in Soho.

I remember Damon saying in an interview that Blur would never have happened without your energy. Do you reckon this is true?

Stella Bullmore, by e-mail

It definitely wouldn't have happened without any one of us. The most difficult thing for a band to do is to meet the people you want to make music with. It was an incredible series of coincidences that led us to meet each other. It's all about having a group with people who all think they're the cleverest one. Damon was the one with the drive, and a knack of getting things finished. Without him, me and Graham would be sitting round in student halls picking our noses. But in those days, we all had a lot of energy – we were 19, we didn't know what it involved, but we knew we wanted it, whatever it was. We were totally convinced of our genius, but are getting less and less so as the years go by.

What emotions do you feel when you look back on those heady days of Britpop and that "argument" you had with Oasis?

M Andrews, Cardiff

Nausea. It was a pantomime. It's hard for me to do an interview now and the Oasis thing not to come up. I find it difficult to breathe new life into it. Where are they now? Damon and Noel were never going to see eye to eye, though I always got on all right with him.

I was unbearable at that point, impossible to live with, it was disgusting behaviour; we knew we could get away with murder and that was a very bad signal to give out. We felt like we turned everything round and were being credited for everything that happened at the time, and we were drinking with people whose pictures we'd had up on our walls. That first flush of success was as good as it was ever going to get. Happy days.

How would you describe Blur to an alien?

D Gibson, St Ives, Cornwall

Ginger, scary, posh and Graham.

I've just spent a few hours looking at the "Alex James worship zone" on the Net. What will you do when you lose your boyish good looks?

Elaine Docherty, Glasgow

I'm up and down like Liz Taylor. One of my friends phoned up and said "Alex, it's gone too far, I'm sending my man over", and a sprightly Aussie turned up at my front door and marched me round the park a few times. It's Parklife all over again.

If you were ever to fall on hard times, which work by Damien Hirst would you flog first?

Tessa Knapp, London

I haven't got that much. I've got a few poems we wrote together but I don't think they'd fetch much. The last thing he did for me was a picture of a boat on a lake. I said it was shit and ripped it up – we were rather drunk at the time. I've always shied away from owning too much art. I love Damien's art but I'd rather keep it in my heart and head than on my walls.

Was it painful for you, going through Damon's break-up with Justine, musically as well as personally?

Sarah Burns, Ilford, Essex

The second oldest subject matter in the world after "I want you" is "I don't want you". It's something we could all relate to, it transcends one person. In "No Distance Left to Run", when we first wrote it, the words were totally different. It started off as a love lullaby and ended up as a bittersweet tear-jerker.

How are your space explorations coming along, and do you believe there is life out there?

Clifton Bellis, Margate

It's all going ahead. The Beagle 2 is an entirely British space mission that we're just waving a flag for. We were able to help by giving Professor Colin Pillinger our phone books and putting him in touch with people such as Saatchi, who's going to sell ad space to fund it. It costs a million pounds a kilo to get to Mars, so the whole thing is only going to cost £25m – I think that's quite cheap, we should send Posh and Becks. It's 2001, we should be building space ships. The basic principle of the rocket is the same as a firework, it's ancient technology, it's just a finance thing. The scientists are a great bunch, there's some really crafty, sexy British science going on, it's world-class. I think science is pretty rock'n'roll.

What drew you to start hanging out with art-school lads?

M Robinson, Sunbury

They were the cool guys at college. Damien and Sam Taylor-Wood were there at the time. We spent two years staying up all night, doing performance art and talking about Willem de Kooning. We used to say in a snidey way, "there's a lot of genius wandering round here", and in a way, it turned out there was.

How do you say no to a groupie?

W Mills, by e-mail

In what language? You get someone to do it for you.

I read that you enjoyed Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters. It's always encouraging when a pop star boy reveals himself as a poetry fan – but what are you reading at the moment?

Julia Bird, Poetry Book Society, London

I do dip in. I heard Thomas Lynch on the radio the other day, he wrote a great book called The Undertaking. He's an undertaker and a poet. It's a long way from Boyzone. But I do find poetry tricky. I haven't really got the patience. I like the stuff that rhymes. Damien always gives me a book of poetry on my birthday. Last time it was Larkin – he's got a really good haircut on the cover, I've often thought of taking it to the hairdressers and asking for one myself.

Where have you flown to recently? Any near misses?

L Coates, by e-mail

I fly with Dave on Sundays. I'm probably closer to Dave than anyone else in the band at the moment. I've had no serious near misses – you have to be careful, and Dave is probably rock's most careful drummer. Flying is really good for touring. At first, Damon was like, "You bunch of wankers" but one night in Germany, we were like, "Right, we're going home now", and he was like, "Got any room?"

Describe the seediest 24 hours you've ever spent in Soho. And the most glorious.

C Rattray, Preston

They get more and more seedy and less and less glorious. I love the idea of going to an empty bar, somewhere really crap, with someone you really like and getting absolutely fucked for days. Great company is the most precious thing there is.

What's your definition of Britishness?

Karl Mannion, by e-mail

I think we're just really good at mucking around and hanging out on street corners, the sort of thing you see in Brixton. We've invented so many games, we must have some kind of ability to amuse ourselves.

Has Damon becoming a father affected the Blur mindset? Are you feeling broody?

I Mills, by e-mail

I might get a dog first to see if it survives for any length of time. Graham's a dad too. They're both coping really well; they're both incredibly proud fathers – I've said that for every baby song, I'm having an aeroplane song.

Who's better, Fat Les or Blur?If they were set against each other in a wrestling arena, what tools would they use and who would win?

Marie Jowett, Crawley

You really need a football tournament for Fat Les. Although we've all gone off and done other things, I think we've got something special with Blur – Fat Les was just a laugh with my mates. They played each other at football once and Fat Les won, but in a fight, Keith would fight really dirty, but then, Damon would, too. I'd stand well clear and let them get on with it.

What do you think of Gorillaz? Do you like Graham Coxon's solo stuff?

T Coates, Hull

Gorillaz is good. It's perfect for MTV, that's the genius of it. It's taken the whole idea of the invented band one step further. Good luck to him, you want him to do well, but not too well. I love Graham's stuff, it's a totally different school of thought to what Damon does. He recorded his last album in a week, he writes it all in his head before he gets to the studio. He's ridiculously talented, the best guitar player in the world.

Which song or songs did you have most creative input into? Did Graham and Damon give you a look-in?

Lara O'Bryne, by e-mail

We've been making music for so long, it definitely works best when everybody is giving something. Although I had virtually nothing to do with "Tender" – Graham and Damon were warbling away and I said, "We need a double bass in this" and went off in a taxi to go and get one, by the time I'd got back they'd finished it. I've been doing stuff recently with Sophie Ellis Bexter, it's been great working with a girl, but towards the end of the year Blur will be back in the studio and I'm really looking forward to it.

I've just turned 30. I had a party, incurred the wrath of my neighbours, cried for days and looked back on wasted life. How did you deal with it?

Yan Feldman, Cheltenham

Mine was much the same. I'm really enjoying my thirties. I spent my whole twenties going nuts, but being completely pissed isn't such a good look when you're 32 as when you're 22. Wait till you're my age and you'll be running round the park.

'24 Hours in Soho' is on ITV at 11.30pm on Friday. Alex James will be taking part in the Clerkenwell Literary Festival tonight, 7pm, at the Tardis Studios, 54 Turnmill Street, London EC1 (020-7251 6311)