Exclusive: Blur talk to Channel 4 News
They’re one of our most popular bands ever, winning this year’s Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. And in August they’ll be headlining a pop concert in London’s Hyde Park to mark the end of the Olympic Games. But when Blur reunited for a series of live gigs in 2009 they were famously coy on the subject of new material.
And now they’re releasing two new songs written especially for Hyde Park. The two songs are completely different, although they stand together surprisingly well as companion pieces. And they’re both wonderful.
Under the Westway is a melodic, stirring, stand-still-and-weep ballad which recalls the band’s 13 period – and in its title many of their London-set earlier work. While The Puritan is a blistering, infectious, jump-up-and-down dance track which harks back to the band’s very early days in its intense, joyful energy. Having said that, both songs manage to infuse the spirit of Blur with a much more contemporary edge – and a sense of excitement about the creative possibilities of the future.
When Blur first came together, the dominant format for music sales was vinyl. By the time they had their famous race to number one with fellow Britpop band Oasis, music listeners had switched to CDs. Today’s new songs are being released via download – following a live performance streamed within the last hour on Twitter.
When I met the band this morning, Damon Albarn explained to me the appeal of premiering the tracks on Twitter. ‘From my perspective, not having a Twitter account and not being very savvy about things like that the chance of just playing your new music and then for it to be out immediately and for there to be none of that sort of process of reviews and anticipation… It’s very natural, it’s what it is, it’s direct to the people who’re interested and they’re allowed to make their mind up entirely on their own as opposed to this ridiculous filtration that stuff seems to have to go through, or used to go through because it is essentially a dying form.
I hate to say that to all the people whose careers are reliant on the sort of printed press world but it is slowly decaying and this is the future. So we’re embracing the new and seeing how it goes. It might be a disaster for us. Who knows.’
We’ve already seen artists like Lily Allen and Arctic Monkeys launch their careers on myspace or youtube. But obviously Blur are a much more established band – and by throwing their clout behind this new livestreaming on Twitter, they’re showing that artists across the music industry no longer need to rely on traditional media to promote their music.
I spoke to Tim Ingham, editor of trade publication Music Week, about the significance of Blur’s Twitter initiative for the future of the music industry. ‘Blur won’t have needed to spend any money on twitter as a promotional tool,’ he explained, ‘So that lowers the risk in terms of the outlay in expenditure. They won’t have had to rely on a magazine publisher or a radio owner to set these songs right and do them at the right time to the right audience.
So what they’re doing is controlling their own media and we’re seeing that more and more with artists. Ed Sheeran has 2.5 million followers, Rihanna has over 20 million. And if you imagine all of that audience rushing out to buy their album on day one they’ll smash records.’
At the moment Blur insist they’re concentrating more on their Hyde Park gig than they are on smashing records. But there’s been much speculation about what happens after the gig.
I asked the band about their plans but, as you can see from the full version of my interview embedded here, they dodged giving me a definitive answer, insisting that their ideas on this front are constantly evolving.
The concert in Hyde Park takes place on August the 12th. For a clear answer on whether or not the group will stay together after that, ask them on August the 13th. But, judging from the success of today’s new songs, it’ll be a sad day if they don’t.
Follow @MatthewCainC4 on Twitter.