Blur look likely to end a quarter-century career this summer with their final concert and single release. In an exclusive interview, the band’s singer and chief songwriter Damon Albarn has told the Guardian that he intends a new song titled Under the Westway to mark the end of their recording career, and that “in all likelihood”, a huge gig on 12 August in Hyde Park, London, will be their last.
Albarn has also cast doubt on the other brand name that has defined his career, revealing that new activity under the banner of Gorillaz, the hugely successful pop project he created with the artist and illustrator Jamie Hewlett, is unlikely, after the pair ended up at “cross-purposes”.
The Hyde Park event, which will also feature New Order and the Specials, is being staged as part of the closing festivities for the Olympics, and follows two Blur shows at the same location three years ago. “I’ll give it 100%, like I did last time,” said Albarn. “And that’s it.
“And I hope that’s the truth: that that’s how we end it.”
Since Albarn reunited in 2009 with guitarist Graham Coxon, bassist Alex James and drummer Dave Rowntree, there has been regular speculation about concerts and new music from Blur. In the past, Albarn himself said that the quartet could still “make a fantastic record together”.
Hopes that a substantial amount of new material might be recorded were raised by a single titled Fool’s Day, released to mark the annual Record Store Day in 2010, and Blur’s appearance at this year’s Brit awards, where they were given the show-closing honour for outstanding contribution to music.
But Albarn intends Under the Westway, whose London-centred subject matter harks back to Blur’s 1990s period, to mark a full stop.
With Oasis having split in 2009, the news arguably marks the final falling of the curtain on Britpop, the cultural wave that reached its peak when the two groups fought for the No 1 position on the singles chart in August 1995.
Under the Westway is to be released around the time of the Hyde Park concert, and included in the band’s performance.
“We recorded it live,” Albarn said. “One take. It’s the first Blur song where it’s been one take, because previously I never finished the lyrics before we recorded.
“This time, I’d done that, so we were actually able to perform it. Which is quite nice, because I don’t really see any more recordings after this. So it’s nice to have finally done one song where we did it properly.”
Albarn and Coxon remain working musicians. Coxon has just released his eighth solo album, and before the Hyde Park concert, Albarn is staging his musical production Dr Dee – based on the life of the Elizabethan courtier and alchemist John Dee — at the Coliseum in London as part of the Cultural Olympiad.
James splits his time between the production of cheese on his Cotswolds farm and a writing career that has included two memoirs, a column in the Spectator, and his current food writing in the Sun.
Rowntree is a solicitor and Labour party activist who stood as a candidate in the general election of 2010.
“I find it very easy to record with Graham,” Albarn said. “He’s a daily musician. With the other two, it’s harder for them to reconnect … It’s fine when we play live: it’s really magical still. But actually recording new stuff, and swapping musical influences … it’s quite difficult.”
Revealing that Gorillaz are also unlikely to be revived, Albarn said that he and Hewlett – who created the four fictional characters that represented the project’s public face – had serious creative disagreements during the making of the 2010 album Plastic Beach and the concerts that followed it. Until “a time comes when that knot has been untied”, he said, the enterprise would be dormant.
Since being unveiled in 2000, Gorillaz have sold more than 20m albums worldwide. When asked if he and Hewlett had fallen out, Albarn said: “That sounds very juvenile, doesn’t it? But being juvenile about it, it happens. It’s a shame.”
Albarn’s Guardian interview also touched on his past use of heroin, and the effect the drug had on his music. He acknowledged that the 1997 Blur single Beetlebum and the band’s 1999 album 13 betrayed the drug’s influence on him, although no critics or interviewers had mentioned it.
“I thought everyone was just being really nice, and not making too much of a deal of it,” he said, and sounded a cautionary note about the drug’s dangers.
“The reality of any experimentation is that it can become habitual, and it can take over your life. I would never, ever disagree with the enlightening abilities of drugs. I also respect their potency … even the best intentions in the world can go awry.”
Classic bands who have, and haven’t, reunited
The Stone Roses Playing three huge gigs in Heaton Park, Manchester, on 29 June, 30 June and 1 July, with festival dates to follow. Understood to be intensively rehearsing in preparation, and working on new material. “The new songs are way more important than the shows,” said singer Ian Brown last year.
Happy Mondays Have reformed in the past, but never with their original six-man line-up, plus singer Rowetta Satchell, seen on the X Factor in 2004. Playing British arenas in May. Onstage dancer/mascot Mark “Bez” Berry will be present, but confined to a DJ-ing role. “It’s me whole pelvic-leg region that’s given up the chase,” he told Mojo magazine.
Pulp Reunited last year for concerts that included Glastonbury, Hyde Park, and the Reading Festival. Playing four shows in the US this month, ending with the Coachella Festival in California. Singer Jarvis Cocker is now 48. “I still want to move about a bit so I’ve been to the gym a couple of times,” he said.
Oasis Finally split in 2009. Last year, Liam Gallagher mooted a 2015 reunion around the 20th anniversary of their second album, a suggestion squashed by his elder brother Noel. By way of consolation, Noel plays Oasis songs live, and after initially spurning Oasis material, Liam is to follow suit with his band Beady Eye, who are supporting The Stone Roses at Heaton Park on 30 June.
The Smiths The subject of regular speculation about a reunion, which remains unlikely. Guitarist and co-songwriter Johnny Marr recently pinned their chances of reforming to UK politics: “If this government stepped down, I’d reform the band. How’s that?”
Queen Guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor did not deem the death of Freddie Mercury an obstacle to reviving the Queen brand. In 2005, they teamed up with former Free and Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers, and have recruited Adam Lambert, runner-up in the 2009 series of American Idol. The trio were set to perform at the Sonisphere Festival at Knebworth Park on 7 July, but the event has now been cancelled; an official statement says that Queen (or rather “Queen”) are “working to see if we can redress the situation at some other venue”.