Blur Fanclub Singles

Blessed Is The Cheese Maker

Damon Albarn fairly splits opinion. On the one hand, the oikish mockney Cockney wiv an omnipresent Errol Flynn on his boat race, “Oi!, on the other the indie Sting, admirably keen to break out from the expected norm of Blur recordings, releases and tours by teaming up with the Chinese Ensemble, groovy cartoon characters, some of The Clash, the cream of Africa’s elite percussionists and, seemingly, anything else that takes his fancy. Not all of it works, but when it does, the results, such as the recordings he’s made with the elastic-limbed drummer Tony Allen or the West Coast meets East London stylings of his Gorillaz collaborations with Snoop Dogg can be spectacular.

With Blur seemingly no more, it’s as good a time as any to reappraise Music Is My Radar, their 2000 single released ahead of and solely for the purposes of promoting their Best Of album from the same year. Like all the best singles bands – of which Blur are undoubtedly one – Music Is My Radar stands alone as a single without a parent album, save that hits compilation. As such, it’s almost the great lost Blur tune, despite its blink-and-you’ve-missed-it appearance at 10 on yer actual hit parade.

It’s quite the tune, bridging the gap between Pop Blur and Art Blur. The skittering drums and paranoid locked-in groove mooch in like the long lost cousin of early Talking Heads while Graham Coxon’s guitar alternates between oriental expressionist and foodblender set to spin, given free reign to colour the whole thing as he sees fit.

 BlurMusic Is My Radar

Damon’s vocals are double, triple tracked, conjuring up melodies and counter melodies that breeze across the top. His repetitive ‘Aah! Don’t stop me!‘ and ‘Do-do-dooh‘ refrains burrow deep into the ear and settle in the frontal lobes to be called up and played on repeat at will. He adds a line namechecking the aforementioned Nigerian Tony Allen – ‘He really got me dancin’, he really got me dancin’,’ yet beneath the surface there’s enough interesting stuff bubbling to keep even the most ardent of anti-commercial indie purist happy.

Nagging wee keyboard refrains jump in and out when least expected, save you were planning on nodding off to the noodling groove. Extra guitar lines weave their way like needles creating the freefrom pattern on one of those Fair Isle sweaters that Sarah Lund wore in The Killing. It’s the bassline though that hits hardest.

That lanky, wanky, foppish twit that plays bass wanders up and down the frets, apeing the guitar line here and there but mainly driving the whole thing forwards with unfaltering purpose and groovy swagger. He fairly surpasses himself and without the bass player on this form, Music Is My Radar may well have been a sloppy, unravelling mess, a bowl of musical spaghetti in need of some glue to hold it together. The cheese maker is that glue, commiting to record his finest four minutes in a Blur shirt.

Interestingly, the released version was shortened from Squeezebox, the original 6 minutes + demo.

BlurSqueezebox (Music Is My Radar demo)

Probably the correct choice as this version tends to wander aimlessly up a blind alley occassionally. Just shows what a good producer (Ben Hillier on the single version) can do for a band, turning a meh track into a killer single.

Bonus Track

The b-side to the single – actually track 2 on CD1, as was the fashion at the time, is a really great tune, with loads of crackin’ Coxon guitar lines, electric piano and a gospel choir on the chorus, coming in at a lengthy and bluesy 8 and a half minutes. Jason Pierce would kill for a track like this.

BlurBlack Book

Blur b-sides tended to be crappy, experimental, half-arsed demos or unnecessary wonky, skronky remixes. Black Book is neither, a bona fide lost classic in a back catalogue littered with rubbish. Great singles band though.

Blur Fanclub Singles, demo, Hard-to-find, studio outtakes

B.L.U.R.D.E.M.O.

Have you got Beetlebum?”

No. It’s just the way I’m standin‘.”

The happiest job I ever had (and possibly ever will have) was when I worked behind the counter of a well-known High Street music retailer. A stop-gap job that somehow lasted 11 years, it took me all the way from Inverness to Leeds and back again via Ayrshire. Amongst the minority of planks, skanks and wanks in management that I was unfortunate enough to share a tea break with, I met a fair number of like-minded music obsessives, film obsessives and the odd stereotypically sulky sales assistant happy to hang off the counter and unsettle casual browsers looking for chart fodder. Like the one quoted above. He did actually say that, and it was funny.

Anyway. Down to business. I’m not about to get all high and mighty here, but I am about to show a shocking sense of double standards. I don’t really like illegal downloading. Rich, I know, from someone who’s happy to provide crappy mp3s of all and sundry to anyone who fancies them. But I’m not talking about harmless, out-of-print singles from 1973 and whatever else makes its way onto these pages. Is that really affecting anyone? What I don’t like is what I’d term mass-market illegal downloading. The recent BBC report that showed Manchester to be the worst offenders in the UK was quite interesting. Rihanna, Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran are the big losers in the whole thing, as it seems that every school kid and upwards has illegally downloaded their music. It’s said that they’re the generation that understands music to be free, and I’d have to agree. Aye, some percentage or other of them may end up buying the album in the future, but that’s debatable. Anyway, here’s where my shocking double standards really kick in.

I like Blur. I like them a lot. I have done since She’s So High way back when. I’ve bought every single on or around the day of release. Even the shitey ones, and there’s been a fair few over the years. I’ve bought the albums on day of release. Even the shitey ones. Though, they’re all good in their own way, even if some have endured better than others. Leisure and The Great Escape are, to put it politely, ‘of their time’. Think Tank is by far the best, since you’re wondering. So. I have all the singles and all the albums, including Japanese imports and such like. I also have the 10th Anniversary Box Set, bought for a recession-friendly price in the Our Price sale. And there wasn’t even a recession at the time. I have the lot, as they say. Or, at least, I had the lot, until this summer when Blur 21 came out. All the albums. All the singles. All the remixes. Plus some demos and live stuff. At an eye-popping ¬£150, this was one purchase I’d find hard to justify. So, a bit of Googling here and there turned up a download. Low-fi and crappy, but it meant I got all the rarities I wouldn’t have otherwise. The live stuff you can keep, but in amongst the rarities are a few diamonds. Here’s some to chew over:

She’s So High (pre-Blur Seymour demo) Drum machine and studio chatter before some out-of-tune distorted guitar and even more distorted vocals. I can’t listen to the bassline without seeing the cheese-making fop with his floppy fringe mincing about stage right.

Popscene (1991 demo) Mad, noisy, toys-out-the-pram shout-fest. Excellent, as Monty Burns might say.

For Tomorrow (Mix 1 of an early demo). Mainly acoustic guitar and vocals, with the odd bit of shaker for percussion and some synthesised strings. Nice double-tracked la-la-la backing vocals. It’s hard to tell if it’s Damon or Graham who’s singing lead here.

Badhead (demo) The most under appreciated track from gazillion-selling Parklife. Round ‘ere it was all “Oi! get some exercise mate!” Meanwhile, Badhead, with its wistful melancholia and Syd-lite psychedelia was where the real music fans got their Parklife kicks.

Squeezebox (Alternative version of Music Is My Radar) Imagine if Talking Heads got up one morning and instead of micro-biotic, high fibre health food shit ate a big bowl of guitar effects pedals. This is what they’d sound like. Really!

Graham Coxon Fact 1: He favours Converse trainers on stage, as the white toe-cap helps him find the correct effects pedal on which to stomp.

Graham Coxon Fact 2: He told me that on Twitter.

Now. Off you go and buy Blur 21, there’s a good chap.