I can clearly remember the first time I clapped eyes on Damon Albarn. It was the Parklife video in 1994, I’d head him before, and probably seen him, but this image – the tracksuit top, the hair, the swagger and the lyrics that accurately summed up Britain at the time – made my 16-year-old self sit up and take notice. I’ve never stopped.
And neither has he. Whether you know him from Blur, the band he formed in 1989 and who went on to sell 10 million albums, Gorillaz, his ‘side’ project that has sold over 15 million records and topped the charts on both sides of The Atlantic or any of the other projects he’s been involved with, you can’t accuse him of standing still.
He steered Blur away from Britpop to make intelligent records…
He wouldn’t accept it, but Damon Albarn has a cast-iron claim to be Britain’s greatest living musical innovator. He steered Blur away from Britpop to make intelligent records, pulled in artists as diverse as Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, De La Soul, Little Dragon and Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash to work with Gorillaz, and has recorded and produced two albums featuring African musicians. And it doesn’t stop there.
He’s composed film soundtracks, produced and remixed for a multitude of artists, scored two operas, worked with Flea and Afrobeat legend Tony Allen on a new project called Rocket Juice & The Moon and has recently produced an album for Bobby Womack, The Bravest Man in the Universe, with the soul legend commenting that “Damon made me believe in myself again.”
Above all this, though, Damon’s a decent bloke. He won’t blow his own trumpet and probably won’t thank us for doing so, but as well as being a brilliant musician, he’s also a humanitarian who took out a full page advert in the NME to object to the invasion of Iraq. We met up with him in his studio to talk about the Africa Express, his skills as a footballer and why he’d have loved to work with Nina Simone…