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Blur: a London history

With the lads returning to Hyde Park in 2015 for a record fourth time, Time Out tells the story of the iconic band via the tube stations of their home city

By Oliver Keens
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1. Liverpool Street

Damon Albarn was a brash child – his first words to future Blur guitarist Graham Coxon (then aged 12) were to tell him his brogues weren’t as cool as his own – but his frequent journeys into Liverpool Street station from his home town of Colchester made him into a soppier adult.

Observing grey commuters, embedded in soul-crushing, Reggie Perrin-esque routines gave him inspiration for many similarly trapped characters that were to appear in songs throughout Blur’s career, such as ‘Tracy Jacks’ and the Ken Livingstone-narrated ‘Ernold Same’.

2. New Cross Gate

Blur bassist Alex James entered the fray after meeting guitarist Graham Coxon at Goldsmiths College, and later living close to this station in a squat. While contemporaries like Damien Hirst were already getting noticed, the pair engaged in less industrious activities – namely getting drunk on Tennent’s Super, eating pasta sandwiches and showing off.

3. Euston

While Alex and Graham dandied, Damon paid the band’s way by working in the very un-rock ’n’ roll ‘Le Croissant’ food outlet in the station. It caused him intense frustration when rehearsal rooms he’d paid for went unused while the Goldsmiths layabouts partied. Not that Damon was a puritan – he once shared a night in the cells with a uniformed Nepalese soldier after being arrested blind drunk cuddling a tramp in Euston station.

4. Camden Town

Few places have given Blur as much succour as the streets around Camden Town tube. Despite being prone to trashing their gear after a handful of songs, they were signed after a gig at the Camden Falcon in 1990. Their record company was, conveniently, based above a pub – The Good Mixer on Inverness Street – which would soon have its grizzly crowd of all-day booze hounds replaced by fawning young pipsqueaks (this writer included).

With the release of second LP ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ the band’s sound and fashion sense formed a counterpoint to the omnipresence of grunge, and they went to mod up in local clothes shops like Holts and Merc.

5. Mile End

Blur took over Mile End Stadium in 1995, a year after the release of third album ‘Parklife’. Twenty-seven thousand fresh-faced fans – comprising Adidas Gazelle-wearing boys and Fred Perry-clad girls – made Britpop suddenly feel like a genuine phenomenon, and ‘Country House’ went down so well it was chosen as the band’s next single. The ensuing chart battle with Oasis saw Britpop teeter off its precipice of cool and fall into the mainstream. Mile End, though, remains the movement’s zenith.

6. Tottenham Court Road

‘What’s 40-foot long, has no pubes and goes “Aaaaaaah!”? The front row of a Blur concert.’ Alex’s observation was symptomatic of a deep problem for four grown men who never planned on being Smash Hits cover stars, but the malaise ended the night they played the Astoria in January 1997 – the day fifth album ‘Blur’ was released. Graham Coxon, a man blessed with a gift for making all the right notes sound wrong, found his thrilling guitar playing put right at the heart of their new sound.

The band reaped a Number One in the stark, heroin-alluding ‘Beetlebum’, and ‘Woo-hoo’ from ‘Song 2’ provided a signature exclamation to replace ‘Oi’ from ‘Parklife’. They didn’t exactly kill Britpop that night, but from then on most of their fans had at least gone through puberty.

7. Ladbroke Grove

Where Chuck Berry had Route 66 and Dylan had Highway 61, Damon Albarn had a grey stretch of dual carriageway that ran over this west London station. The section of the A40 known as The Westway has been a constant presence in his lyrics since 1993’s ‘For Tomorrow’ right up to their most recent single ‘Under the Westway’.

8. Marble Arch

In 2012, Blur played a huge Olympics closing show in Hyde Park. It was hinted as the band’s farewell show, and no wonder: outside the group, Blur’s members lead fascinatingly diverse lives these days, filled with opera (Damon), intimate folky gigs (Graham), country life and writing for The Sun (Alex James) and politics (drummer Dave Rowntree). Not that their status as London heroes was ever really in doubt: they’ll always be hanging around here thanks to Julian Opie’s four iconic colour prints on the walls of the National Portrait Gallery (nearest tube, Charing Cross).

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