Blur in Europe

In my twenty-odd years of being a Blur fan I’d only seen them live twice (and one of those occasions was when Graham was “on leave”), so when they announced their European festival dates for this summer I jumped at the chance to go and see them some more.

July – Rock Werchter – Belgium

First up in July was the Rock Werchter festival in Belgium. After some navigational difficulties in Brussels (hey, maybe I wanted to go to Tubize!) I finally arrived in the lovely town of Leuven, and from there took the bus to the festival.

After enjoying Richard Hawley’s set in The Barn it was over to the Main Stage area for the evening’s entertainment, but before that could take place I had to sit through Phoenix and Kings Of Leon (just kidding). Finally, at the unusual time of ten past midnight, and with the Westway backdrop in place, Damon and co took to the stage to the strains of Theme From Retro and huge cheers from the audience.

Blur opened with Girls & Boys. After the first round of “oh-oh-ohs” the video screens filled with Damon’s disapproving face. Clearly he wasn’t impressed with our vocal efforts, so we tried better the next time around, I promise. After that song he said the band had been waiting backstage for eight hours and so, well, we’d better get it together.

Popscene was next, with Graham doing his roll and Damon stalking the stage and gazing at the crowd before disappearing down to the barriers for most of the song. There’s No Other Way, Beetlebum, Out Of Time and Trimm Trabb followed, before the opening guitar sounds of Caramel echoed out. When Kings of Leon had played earlier the dubstep bass from The Marquee area was shaking the ground and drowning them out. This was obviously amusing, but when it happened during Blur I thought Damon might have a little strop (as is his want). Happily he just got on with it.

Graham stepped up to the mic, said “hey”, then the band played Coffee & TV with its excellent gonzo soloing. I hope they appreciated the fact that Milky had travelled all the way to Belgium to see them:

Milky, without limbs here as he was being worn like a backpack.

Milky, without limbs here as he was being worn like a backpack.

The glorious Tender ended with the crowd continuing to sing Graham’s “oh my baby” lines while Damon performed some doleful vocalising on top. Then it was time for the rehabilitated Country House (come on, it’s great to sing along to!), and a very energetic Parklife. Damon dashed around the stage, and almost completely off it. A really sweet performance of End Of A Century and a heavy, poignant This Is A Low brought the main performance to a close. Graham placed his guitar against the amp to feedback and off they went for a few minutes.

When they came back on Damon sat at the piano and played a bit of Intermission before they broke into Under The Westway. They played the extended version of For Tomorrow, and Damon got the crowd to put their hands in the air and clap. Then faster. And faster still. He thanked us for being the best crowd he’d had so far, which obviously got a very big cheer. Aw shucks!

The penultimate track was The Universal which, for me, is one of Blur’s most emotional songs. When Damon sings the line “yes the Universal’s here, here for everyonnnnnnnnnnne…” it brings tears to my eyes. It’s up there with This Is A Low in the “tugging the heartstrings” stakes.

The crowd groaned when Damon announced it was time for the last song. In response he pulled a face, made strange noises and jumped about. Dave started the intro to Song 2 and everybody went “woo hoo!”. Graham was happy to let Dave’s drumming go on for a bit before coming in on guitar.

And that, sadly, was that. Another triumphant gig by the Blur boys. Damon attempted some French at one point, saying “Je ne parle pas français, mais…” before getting Alex to come to the mic. He said “Bonsoir tout le monde” and a few other things. Damon threw water over the front rows often. It was a joy to see the band having such fun together.

A typical Belgian festival scene.

A typical Belgian festival scene.

August – Øyafestivalen – Norway

One month later I was in beautiful Oslo to attend Øyafestivalen in Middelalderparken (Medieval Park). Some celeb spotting took place – bumping into Tame Impala in the city centre, and sitting next to Alexander Rybak at TGI Friday’s – but that wasn’t who I was here to see. Well, Tame Impala perhaps, seeing as they were playing before Blur.

It was a scorching hot day, so a shady spot was quickly found and from there I enjoyed Laura Mvula’s set. Later on it was time for Black Debbath, who play “Heavy Politically Incorrect Humor Rock”. I couldn’t understand a word of what they said (other than they thought Tame Impala would go home with STDs – thanks for the translation, Ing!), but they were entertaining nevertheless.

It’s good that Tame Impala don’t speak Norwegian as they were up next. I’ve yet to take a liking to their records, but they were good live, and a couple of their songs took me to the edge and back, so I’m glad I saw them.

And then it was time for Blur! It was a more reasonable hour compared to Belgium, and while the stage was prepared I had a nice chat with a fellow old Blur fan (who, controversially, didn’t rate Beetlebum – shock horror).

"Under the Westway" in Oslo - Blur's stage backdrop.

“Under the Westway” in Oslo – Blur’s stage backdrop.

It’d be daft to go over all the songs again as it was basically the same as Belgium, although they did add To The End – this was the first time I’d heard it live and it blew me away. Overall it was a very sweaty gig, and Blur were just ever so slightly brilliant. Damon said how they liked Oslo and that they tried to catch a halibut but it got away “but it was [arms wide] this big”!

Damon fluffed the lyrics to Parklife, and during his run about in the middle of the song decided to take a leap against the speakers. Thankfully it didn’t result in his getting “all that f***ing PA on my f***ing foot” as witnessed in their 1993 tour movie:

It was only Damon's foot that saw stars in this incident from the 1993 film Starshaped.

It was only Damon’s foot that saw stars in this incident from the 1993 film Starshaped.

And so another brilliant Blur gig seen, another wonderful country visited. Wherever next?

September – Berlin Festival – Germany

Ah delightful Berlin… I took in all the sights – the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, the Fernsehturm, the Museum der Dinge and beyond – and enjoyed the gorgeous weather that blessed the duration of my stay.

The festival was held at Tempelhof Airport in the south of the city. The airport closed in 2008 and has since been opened as a park, with various events held there. The entrance to the festival was through the terminal building:

Anti-clockwise from top: "Welcome to Tempelhof!", collecting wristbands at the baggage check, on to the festival!

Anti-clockwise from top: “Welcome to Tempelhof!”, collecting wristbands at the baggage check, on to the festival!

I arrived in time for M.I.A.’s set. She was very enjoyable, as was her bass player who appeared on stilts at one point. Then it was the turn of Pet Shop Boys who played a sensational career-spanning set including a scintillating It’s A Sin. There were sound problems throughout, and at one point a berserk smoke machine completely obscured them from view, but nothing could stop them from being a triumph and they set things up nicely for the main event.

This was Blur’s final European date and the crowd was very spirited for the whole set. Popscene was inexplicably dropped, although To The End was retained. Beetlebum reached a new level of majesty, and the mighty Phil Daniels appeared for Parklife resplendent in a German football top with a Blur logo on the front. Note to Blur: never mind the tea sets, sell these! Damon took a tumble while running around mid-song (or maybe Phil tripped him). It was good to see them having such a good time.

And so that was the end of my European excursions. I was off back to Britain and Blur were off to South America. What a lovely time I had. Thank you, Blur!

I was by the mixing area at all three gigs so I couldn’t get a good photo of the boys in action, but I do like the energy of this shot showing the crowd going nuts for Song 2:

Blur in Berlin.

Blur in Berlin.

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