The Village Green Mutual Appreciation Society

From Mojo magazine, September 1995. By David Cavanagh.

"I was in love with him for that hour," says Damon Albarn of Ray Davies and the occasion they sang Waterloo Sunset together on Channel 4's White Room. MOJO wondered what they found to talk about in the Green Room. So we reconvened this cross-generational summit in Wandsworth Park, south London, one sunny Friday morning.

******

Ray: (examining Damon's trainer) This is the fourth or fifth time we've met and I'm still waiting for that shoelace to get done up. (Pause) I was just thinking back, one of my highlights of the year was seeing you playing at Ally Pally [at the Brit Awards]. I hate awards, so I gave the award to Oasis and I wanted to get out of there. Then I heard you were doing a couple of songs. I thought, Oh, I'd better stay. And it was wonderful to see a band - whether or not you had problems onstage... You see, whether or not you've got problems onstage, it doesn't show. For instance, when I played with The Beatles and I watched them from the side, I could tell they had problems. They were performing great, all the songs were great... But they were fighting over the count-in. In between songs, John would shout something at Ringo and he'd say, "F*** off!" There was tension there, but with this band - I may be totally wrong - when I watched Blur it just felt like it was a really together outfit. A good team.


Damon: No, there isn't a lot of tension. And if there is it's quite comic. Shouting. We don't actually - when we're performing - ever have arguments.


Ray: Did you ever drink onstage?


Damon: Yeah. Really badly. First three years.


Ray: You know, when you did that show with us in Sweden [in 1993], everyone was saying in the band, "They're loud! It's great! They're loud!" (Laughs) Was that the gig there was a tree in the middle of the stage?


Damon: There was a tree in the middle of the...?!


Ray: I think there is one at Roskilde [in Denmark]. A tree in the middle of the stage. Right where the lead singer stands, yeah.


Damon: Can you climb it?


Ray: (Laughs) I was thinking the other day, I'm the lead singer and I always stand on the right onstage. It's very odd. It's because psychologically I don't think I'm the lead singer. It hasn't sunk in yet (laughs). I think also in bands people can sense the security - not that you're secure people, I don't want to make judgements...


Damon: I put that down to us all having one sister.


Ray: Yeah? So it's not just the music that keeps you together. You have a camaraderie outside it. That's very important.


Damon: I don't think it's ever comfortable being in a band, because you just worry about everybody all the time. You can never be sure that somebody won't leave.


Ray: I left a long time ago (laughs)... Why Phil Daniels, right? What made you not sing the lead vocal yourself? But maybe everybody's asked you this.


Damon: I tried to. I really did try to get into the character. But I don't think I'm a very good actor. I'm very self-conscious. It just didn't sound great. I didn't actually intend him to do it; I wanted him to do this story about a debt collector that I hadn't actually written. And then I thought, Well, he could do Parklife.


Ray: Yeah, I think that's a good move. Doing what you did and thinking, Well, maybe somebody else could do it better. If I said that, they'd say, "No, they can't, you do it".


Damon: You just write about yourself and put yourself into somebody else's shoes. The darker the part of your personality that you want to talk about, the more complicated the character becomes. And the more disguised, I suppose. You can't be completely dispassionate. But I'd always, if I was going to say one thing, I'd always say it another way. I couldn't sit down and say I felt this way.


Ray: I try to escape through characters and I write through characters, but at the end of the day people say, "You know, I like this track because it sounds like you talking. It sounds like you." Because I go off on maybe more of a character journey than you would. I tend to turn into other people. Simply because the song is cast for somebody else. But it only really works if I can sing despite that character and sound like me. I had terrible trouble with the spiv in Come Dancing: whether or not to sound London, because it was "dance" and I didn't want to go (American) "dair-nce". I wanted to find a stateless way of singing "dance". In the end I just forgot about what I was doing and thought about a football match, or anything else to take my mind off it. And I just sang it and it came out the way it came out. (Thoughtfully) Characters are a scourge. That's why I like writing musicals. I can disappear and just write the songs.


Damon: Oh, I'm very interested in doing that. Coming from the background I do, that was what I would have been doing if I hadn't somehow got it right with Blur.


Ray: What would you be doing?


Damon: Writing for theatre. My mum was a stage designer for Joan Littlewood.


Ray: Stratford East's a beautiful old theatre. Do you know the story of how the Krays saved it?


Damon: No?


Ray: The bulldozers were coming in, and Joan Littlewood phoned them up. Because, you know, it's their manor, I guess. She said, "Is there any way you can make them stop this?" And the Krays knew a couple of politicians, and they got the black book out and phoned this guy up. And there was a question in the House. And the bulldozers didn't turn up. But the downside of that was that suddenly the Krays realised that they were involved in the theatre business. They became theatricals!


Damon: (Laughs) That was probably their downfall.


Ray: I saw a clip of you acting on... what's the programme that's been cancelled? Was it The Word? Late-night thing with Terry Christian? They had a clip of you doing a school production.


Damon: Oh, yeah yeah yeah... I was Zeus. When I was 17.


Ray: But I think this is the thing that will sustain you. Your theatre training. (Laughs) Zeus will pay off at the end of the day.


Damon: (Laughs) No, it was very good going to drama school. It gave me a lot of devices which I wouldn't have otherwise.


Ray: Did you do fencing? I had to do fencing. I went to drama school.


Damon: Yeah. I did tap as well.


Ray: I guess in the end they think you're going to do Shakespeare, so it's handy to have the capacity to duel.


(They get on to Kinks songs...)


Damon: I think Dead End Street and Autumn Almanac are my favourites. Primarily because there are so many bits to them and they're so graphic. I could pick at least 20, but off the top of my head those are my favourites. Autumn Almanac is probably my favourite.


Ray: There's a Northern accent on that. I was reprimanded actually, by a girlfriend I had in the North at the time. She refused to see me any more, because she thought I was just staying with her to learn the accent.


Damon: People from the North really object to people from the South.


Ray: Oh, they do. They do. But the problem we had, when we first became a success, they thought we were from Liverpool or Manchester. It was the Merseybeat time - you had to come from the North. They didn't think of pop groups having London accents. But then the big breakthrough album for us in America in the '80s was Low Budget, and if you listen to Low Budget I am singing like a musical hall Cockney. There's Cockney rhyming slang on it.


Damon: I don't think American audiences really care whether you come from Britain or not. It's not an issue for them. They either like the song or they don't. For example, Justine - from Elastica - she's doing really well over there at the moment, and they don't even know that they're from England.


Ray: Yeah, but when she sings - like Connection, for example... great hook:" the connection is made" - that is almost not really transatlantic, it's not English or American. It's what I call a great recording voice. And when that line jumps out of the track, it sounds legitimate. A legitimate hit. And I don't know where it's from. That's possibly the secret. Putting it into regions and nationalities tends to take the focus off what that record's about. Songwriting's one thing, but a record's another. Possibly with You Really Got Me, people didn't quite know where the person came from. (Thinks) I remember walking through Pye Records when You Really Got Me entered the charts. Nobody knew who I was, and there was a promotion man trying to convince other members of the staff - "You see, that's the good bit!" Because the other people didn't get it. But one promotion man did, and sometimes that's all it takes. One believer. You need a believer. You can't make it on your own.


Damon: A translator.


Ray: Yeah, and all the way down the line - to press agents, all these people - they've got to understand... not the psychology of what you're doing but the content, the humour. We had terrible problems with Sony. They just didn't understand. The humour and... Because humour does change once you get on that plane at Heathrow and land at JFK. It's another culture, and things you thought were funny when you left London aren't funny any more. It's a different psyche.


Damon: I've got to do well in America, because Justine's... well, she's not doing marvellously well, but she's doing better than we've ever done. And it's very annoying when she comes back, because I know she loves America. (Laughs) It's my only motivation, really.


Ray: I'm relieved that they are a success (much of Elastica's album was recorded at Davies' Konk Studios). It's a big label not to be successful on [Geffen]. But isn't it really a question of how successful you want to be? How much you're prepared to go for it?


Damon: Well, I thought I didn't want to get any more successful. And then I got a bit more perspective on it and thought, well, there's a heck of a lot more to do.


Ray: I think if you really want to go for it, you'll know when they're singing "parklife, parklife" and moving from side to side when you play Omaha, Nebraska. That's the sign that you've really made it. It's not New York and it's not LA or Boston. That's the big barrier to get through in America. And Peoria, Illinois.


Damon: Well, one way we thought of doing it was to go for one of the minority audiences. Like the Christian audience. Infiltrate it that way.


Ray: See, I watched the audience when I saw you play and it - you know what I was saying about accents - it doesn't matter as long as the songs are good. I watched older record executives getting up and move as best they knew how. And I saw young, obviously office girls... It was an industry event but everybody seemed to like you in their way. If the music's natural you've more chance of it crossing all those barriers we're talking about. But not to think about it - that's important. Sunny Afternoon, I remember the record coming out and I walked into a British Legion or a pub. I thought I was in a British Legion. All these people, old soldiers and things, singing it. I was 23 years old. I said, "Wow, all these old people really like it." And this old guy came up and said, "You young guys... this is the sort of music we can relate to!" I thought, Wow, this is it, it's the end (laughs).


Damon: (Laughs) But it's not, is it? I love it when my gran likes anything I've done.


Ray: Yes, because some things cross that barrier. It's important. And England won the World Cup that year. It was a contributing factor, I think. Alf Ramsey thought, My favourite record's out...


Damon: That must've been a good summer.


Ray: It was very hot. Very much like this, actually. We had a gig that night in Exeter. And we were late. Did you do Glastonbury? Did you go down there this year?


Damon: I went down on Sunday, yeah.


Ray: Was Justine playing? How did it go?


Damon: Very good. They had a streaker at the end. Looked like Catweazel.


Ray: (Laughs) How does the Catweazel song go? Do you know?


Damon: Can't remember it. But I know I liked it.


Ray: It goes... "doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo." Oh no, that's Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. (Pause) But it is so hard trying to justify everything you write. You can't explain what you go through when you're doing it. I think, I can't remember everything. I can only really remember bits of it.


Damon: Well, I quite like making up completely bogus reasons why I've done things.


Ray: But when the world starts to take your work seriously, it really is strange. Social significance. The stage Blur are at now is great, because there's great expectancy with the record. I know you could say it's pressure, but it's also wonderful when you're writing it.


Damon: There was pressure when I was writing it, but now there's quite a lot of comedy in it.


Ray: I thought it was fun, having this string of big hits, and when it's time for another one, people kind of wait for what you're going to do. And somehow it instills a kind of... not competitiveness, but it makes you want to write great things. It's a bit like, I bet they'll never think I thought of that.
[PR]
by scummy | 2008-01-22 13:19 | interview

memo


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