Reformed pillars of Britpop Blur play the Royal Hospital Kilmainham with Bat For Lashes & The Strypes this week, stirring up some uncomfortable memories for Neill Dougan.
What were you doing in 1995? Perhaps you were a young child, kicking a ball around your back yard without a care in the world. Perhaps you were a student, away from home from the first time, living in a grotty bedsit and eating lots of pot noodles. Maybe, like this correspondent, you were getting turned away from pubs, drinking incredibly cheap and horrible cider which regularly caused you to vomit profusely, and completely failing to have sex with girls.
Whatever you were doing, the chances are that Blur featured prominently on the soundtrack. The Britpop Wars with arch-rivals Oasis (cringeworthy in hindsight, but fascinating to a misguided teen at the time) were in full swing, and the huge critical and commercial success of Parklife and The Great Escape saw the band in their commercial pomp. But even before they hit their mid-career purple patch, the band were a force to be reckoned with. They’d always had great singles – ‘There’s No Other Way‘, ‘For Tomorrow’, ‘Chemical World‘ et al – and their early albums Leisure and Modern Life Is Rubbish were under-rated gems that contained album tracks like ‘Sing‘ and ‘Blue Jeans‘ that still stand up well today.
After the period of mega-hits like (‘Girls And Boys’, ‘Parklife‘, ‘End Of A Century‘, ‘The Universal‘ and the really-quite-irritating ‘The Charmless Man‘), things got even more interesting with Blur and 13, albums full of fascinating left-turns and new directions. Even in the midst of this experimental period they managed to pen a mega-hit in the form of Song 2. The less said about Think Tank the better, but no matter: by this stage Blur were a genuine British pop institution with the hits and back catalogue to prove it.
In the intervening years, the members of Blur took divergent paths: Graham Coxon released a string of well-received solo albums; Damon Albarn continued to make music that’s both critically acclaimed and hugely successful with the likes of The Good, The Bad & The Queen and (especially) Gorillaz; Dave Rowntree, somewhat improbably, qualified as a solicitor and stood for parliament in the UK; and Alex James became a tit who writes for The Sun and makes cheese.
Since they first reformed to play live together again in 2008, Blur have performed a series of large-scale gigs befitting their status as elder statesmen of British rock. Sure, their concerts are now largely an exercise in nostalgia, but they retain an infectious energy that can get even large outdoor audiences hopping. That – combined with the fact that they’re playing the none-more-picturesque environs of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, and that for once there’s actually a better-than-even chance of some decent summer weather – means that their Dublin gig on 1st August could be one of the highlights of this year’s festival season.
For one night, it’ll be like 1995 all over again. Hopefully without the cheap cider and vomiting.
Blur play The Royal Hospital in Kilmainham this Thursday, with Bat For Lashes and The Strypes. Blur 21: The Exhibition, a photographic retrospective covering the band’s 21 year history, is currently on show at the IMMA. More on that here.