What made you want to revisit the material?
Damon had been saying, “I don’t think anything will come of it. Lyrically, I wouldn’t know where to start. I’m so disconnected now to Hong Kong and when we were there.” Which was fair enough, but that made me more determined to really have a good look at it; at least, musically try to organize it. But I knew I couldn’t do it on my own, I needed someone to help. I went over to see Damon, I hadn’t seen him for ages. He went, “What do you want, then?” I said, “Well, these recordings…” He’s like, “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.” I said, “I really want to take Stephen Street. I really think Stephen is the bloke. He loves us, he’ll have super respect for the recordings we made, he’ll really look through them, he’ll find all the good bits. Me and him will just organize it, like organizing someone’s sprawling diary into something you can publish.” That what I looked at that task. I thought, “Well, if nothing comes of it, at least I had a go.” It’s a complicated, emotional thing. I wanted to make amends and put things right for the ups and downs we’ve had over the years. If there was going to be one more chapter in Blur, I wanted to be part of making it good and mending it all. Our friendships have got better. We got back together and it was great to be friends again. The music side of it, I still thought I had some mending to do. But it was really weird, it went so bloody well. Stephen had it for a few days, and said, “I’ve been listening through. It’s great. Come on in, let’s do some graft on it.” Then about four working weeks later, working on it, writing new parts to it, writing new chord sequences for melody lines that had appeared… I just wanted to change some of the chord sequences at times but still support the same melody line, just so the songs had tension, dynamics, some sort of structure. It’s like this big fat sausage of sound. Thank God for ProTools, because you can go into it and mess it around and write new bits and slot it in here. So that’s what we did for about 12 songs. Then we went to play it to Damon…
When was this?
I had the idea last September. Then throughout October, Stephen had to go away to Belgium for a little while. Pretty much September, October, I was doing it then. End of September? I’m not really sure.
What did Damon think when you first played it to him?
We were all scared to death. I was looking forward to it. I thought what we’d done was really brilliant. I’d been leaving a lot of carrots within the music, not smothering it with myself and my own flavor so much. I was doing a bit of work with keyboards, not just putting guitars everywhere. I wanted to give it to Damon and I wanted him to feel that it was nearly finished and I was hoping that it would inspire him. After the first track, he started to warm up. Then he started swearing. Then he started dancing around a bit. Then it was like, “This is great!” So Damon thinks it’s great, and all the rest of it. Then Dave and Alex shoved some drums and bass on here and there where it needed to be redone because the sound wasn’t that brilliant, the Hong Kong recordings. Then Damon started, only a few weeks ago, on vocals. But not before dragging himself round Hong Kong for 48 hours on his way home from Australia to re-immersed himself in the city. It was a pretty amazing commitment. I don’t know whether I would have done that. I would have faked it. But he’s like that. He got himself there for 48 hours and he went on boats and he went on the same tube journey. He really the environment he was in really hard.
Where does The Magic Whip sit in the canon?
It was made with no pressure, which I think is a good thing. It’s experimental, not forcibly experimental. I got into this idea that it’s sci-fi folk music. That English thing of melancholia was there. So I had these ideas with “New World Tower” to make a sci-fi “Greensleeves” part in the middle. I think us English boys, at our age now, we’ve seen the music industry take this long dive over three decades, and also the world since we last made an album all together has changed radically. I think it reflects all of those things but also it reflect us at our age in this space and time. That’s what really excites me about this telepathic link with Damon, interpreting his words. I seem to channel it very easily and I’ve never really seen it that way before.
Is it the start of a new chapter? Or the end of one..?
I view it as a great big positive punctuation mark. I don’t know whether it’s the full stop at the end of a book or whether it’s a full stop at the end of a chapter. I don’t think any of us know that yet. That doesn’t mean any of us are going to stop making music. Music is a constant with us. Damon will make music whether it’s with Blur or doing other things, he’ll always be meandering along making music.
Damon is fully behind The Magic Whip?
Damon is? Yeah, yeah. He is. It was brilliant when Damon heard it for the first time, I would have loved to have had that experience. To hear it playing, the familiarity of it from Hong Kong, yet it had now been organized. I guess it was amazing for him.
What are your favourite tracks?
‘Thought I Was A Space Man’, just because I really got into the narrative of it. I really enjoyed making the song take off at the end, hearing the bits and bobs falling back down to the sea. I saw it very visually. “There Are Too Many Of Us”. I really like those big, weary ones. I like the melancholy ones. And “Pyongyang” and “My Terracotta Heart”. I love them because I get this real proper sense of who we are. I get this sense of quite an amazingly astute period of where we areas people in the world. I like them better than the punky ones!
I wish you’d do a gig when you just did the sad songs.
I’d like that, too!
The Magic Whip is released by Parlophone on April 27, 2015