“Street’s like a jungle, so call the police” – Girls and Boys (1994)
Conceived in the 70s, born in the 80s, teenage years in the 90s made me a Britpop teenager into my Indie Music. What is BritPop? What is Indie music?
Brit – British
Pop – Popular
Indie – Independent Record Label
“The Queen, she’s gone round the bend, jumped off Land’s End” – This is a Low (1994)
I still remember listening to BBC Radio One the day Oasis “Roll With It” and Blur’s “Country House” went head to head with each other in August 1995. If I look back, that remains the biggest music story of my lifetime apart from deaths. I went to my first Oasis gig in Cork in 1996 and my first Blur gig in 1999 in Belfast. Through the whole backpacker thing and the endless travel blog posts on here, music and football kind of took a back seat while I jotted down my travel stories. But it’s a travel lifestyle blog and it’s my life on here and perhaps more of the real stories related to me should be typed up and posted. Especially reminiscery sentimental cheese like this. Enough of the travel writing, here’s a gig review. Old school from the English boys of Blur:
Damon Albarn – vocals and guitar
Graham Coxon – lead guitar and vocals
Dave Rowntree – drums and percussion
Alex James – bass
“Holy man tip-toed his way across the Ganges video-d by a bus load of tourists” – On Your Own (1997)
“You’ve been so busy lately that you haven’t found the time” – Out of Time (2003)
“It’s over you don’t need to tell me” – No Distance Left to Run (1999)
Blur Gig in Belfast, Northern Ireland – December 1999
I met up with Andy Corbett and Gareth Crone at Bangor train station, we got a few tins of beer and headed to Belfast by train. We got out in the city and headed to the Monico for a pint before the gig. I met my old tech buddy Brian Finlay in there and even though the Monico was my local while I studied at Belvoir Tech, this visit to the pub remains the last time I was in there – a staggering 16 years ago.
We walked to the Lagan side of Belfast. The gig was in the Waterfront Hall. I took a disposable camera to the gig but it was banned on the entrance gate while I managed to get a tin of Harp inside. The first song they played was I Know and they ended the gig with No Distance Left to Run. It was basically a gig of every single single they ever released up to that point, which included the crazy songs M.O.R. and Popscene, often forgotten on Blur sets. The gig was just amazing and I ended up buying the back catalogue of Blur albums as at the time I only owned Modern Life is Rubbish, The Great Escape, Blur and 13.
“Everything turning the wrong way round” – Out of Time (2003)
The gig wasn’t recorded and no online evidence of it exists but here is a YouTube video from around the same time:
“He’s a professional cynic but his heart’s not in it” – Country House (1995)
Blur Gig in Bournemouth, England – December 2003
I saw Blur for the second time live in Bournemouth, where I had relocated to in 2003. I went with my friends Matt Denison and Clare Tweedy. I remember it was cold and dreamy and I was suffering from a flu at the time. It was probably inspired by binge drinking to be honest as I was in my first year at Bournemouth University and out in the bars constantly! The gig was held in Bournemouth International Centre – a venue I’d later work in.
“Wife swapping is the future, you know that it would suit you” – Stereotypes (1996)
I have some photos somewhere on an old album, but here’s a video of Blur from that time:
“I’ve seen so much, I’m going blind” – Coffee and TV (1999)
Blur live in Wan Chai, Hong Kong – July 2015
So finally 12 years later and on the other side of the world I got to see Blur live again! In Wan Chai Hong Kong!
I got a seat in the third row of the second cheapest section. I bought my ticket two days before the gig, ordering it online then collecting it from Tom Lee Music in Tsim Sha Tsui. I’ve been studying Cantonese in Hong Kong this summer, just round the corner from the music shop. None of my Hong Kong based friends are into Blur, so I was heading to the gig alone, this is what happens when you’re on the move – you don’t always meet people into the same types of things. And we’re cool with it, oddly sentimental and lonesome.
“Going down to Lonesome Street” – Lonesome Street (2015)
I headed on the MTR, Hong Kong’s underground network. I boarded at Yau Tong in Kowloon and changed trains at Quarry Bay heading for Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island.
“I feel foul mouthed as I stand and wait for the underground” – Advert (1993)
I wanted to get there early – the gig was due to start at 8pm and the beauty of travelling alone is you are your own boss. I went to a Manic Street Preachers concert in Tokyo, Japan in 2012 and was with my friend Neil, who wasn’t quite as into the band as I was and insisted we shouldn’t go there early as the band won’t start at the time it says on the ticket. In the end, we missed the first 4 songs which I was a bit upset about – especially when the band were the Manic Street Preachers, one of my favourites. So this time I knew I’d be there on time and even better I had time to kill before the gig.
“It looks like we might have made it to the end” – To the End (1994)
I had been to the Hong Kong district of Wan Chai quite a few times and even to the HKCEC where the gig was, but the actual concert hall was new territory for me. You might also have read that I took a well needed break from alcohol. This gig came in my 11th week of my re-tox and I was feeling pretty good on the way to the gig. I was listening to Blur on my iPod, singing the lyrics as I walked through Wan Chai.
I had heard that the Delaney’s Irish Pub in Wan Chai was closing down soon, which was quite sad to hear because I started life in Asia by working in the Delaney’s in Tsim Sha Tsui. The “don’t stop living” in me got the better of me and it was time to have that first Guinness in over 10 weeks. As I sipped it alone in the pub, memories flashed back at me. Memories of being a teenager into Blur in the mid 90s. Dancing to “Girls and boys” at student discos, buying Beetlebum when touring Castlerock with my cousin, moving to Bournemouth and seeing them live there. The Guinnes tasted good and I finished it and headed to the venue. I knew it would be my last Guinness in that venue.
“I’m on a ghost ship drowning my heart in Hong Kong” – Ghost Ship
There was that usual post-work buzz on Hong Kong Island. A hefty mix of people from China, Hong Kong and the world. This country’s boast of being Asia’s “world city” ain’t no dreamed up PR plan – it’s earned itself that label. I got to the venue twenty minutes early. Lots of people wearing Britpop t-shirts of Blur, Oasis, Cast and any band that grace our ears in the paranoid 90s. I was surprised by how many Chinese and Asian people were here. I often thought Blur’s lyrics might be confusing to those not from cockney London. As a Northern Irish kid, even Parklife took some understanding for me. It was a pleasant surprise to hear Chinese thirty somethings strut their stuff to Charmless Man, clearly possessing the knowledge of who Ronnie Kray was.
“All the people, so many people” – Parklife (1994)
“All the time I’m never sure why I need you” – Song 2 (1997)
I was in the yellow section S 109 Row C and seat 93. In the previous two concerts it had been all standing. This was me aged 35 though, so sitting was going to be a good experience. I knew I had aged and lost my youthful zest for jumping like a maniac to songs like Country House and Stereotypes.
“We wear the same clothes because we feel the same” – End of A Century (1994)
Just after I sat down, I am joined sitting next to me by a Taiwanese Blur fan. We started speaking straight away – it was Tempo Cheng. A really top lad. He was travelling on his own and had come to Hong Kong just for the Blur gig, how cool./ We chatted about the new album, other concerts we had been to and music in general. He was slightly older but his music knowledge of the 90s was exceptional. It was a real trip down memory lane and both of us had seen Blur before – as well as Oasis. He had also been to see Paul McCartney, U2 and the Rolling Stones.
It was so great to be sat beside Tempo – a truly chance encounter and one which warms my heart as I backpack the globe. I’m sure Tempo and I will cross paths again and go to a gig sometime. He is also from a part of Taiwan that I didn’t make it to on my previous visit to his country. Tempo also showed me his upcoming gig itinerary on his phone – he has a load of gigs lined up in his diary. He was like the Taiwanese version of me in many regards, except he travels for music. He goes to places to watch gigs. What a brilliant lifestyle. Perhaps one for me to resort to once I’m done with backpacking through 209 countries.
“Tender is the day the demons go away” – Tender (1999)
We had got to our seats before 8pm and Tempo noted that Blur came onstage at their last gig at 8.15pm. The ticket said show starts 8pm, which it did for the Manics gig that I missed the start of. However the wait was to help the venue fill up and it got packed! Hong Kong people work too much and 8pm is too early for most of them, they don’t quite buy my “4 Hour Work Week” style nor do they aspire to pack up their office jobs to become a business backpacker. But by 8.45pm the lights went out and on comes Damon Albarn and the rock band Blur. It was just amazing to see them again. The significance of this gig is not lost on any Blur fans. The band’s long awaited 2015 album, the Magic Whip is completely and utterly inspired by Hong Kong. The songs mention Jordan MTR station, Lantau Island, Happy Valley, the Peak, Holywood Road and loads of parts of Hong Kong and the singer’s memories from his time here.
“It [the album “The Magic Whip”] was inspired by this town [Hong Kong]”- Damon Albarn (2015)
The band launch into latest single “Go Out”. Album creaks “we’re going to the local”, just like old times back in the 1990s when I listened to bands like Blur, all I wanted to do was finish work and go down the pub with my mates. In essence nothing has changed, just swap work with backpacking businessman and I’m the same Britpop Indie kid I always was. My sense of fashion could be seen as a mix of Albarn, Gallagher, Best and Palin. Football, music and travel on my journeys.
I decide to film every song from the gig and relax and savour the concert for once. I’m older and I knew it. As they roll through some old classics like Badhead, Out of Time and There’s No Other Way, I am suitably moved, impressed and time warped to 1994.
“I might as well just grin and bear it cos it’s not worth the trouble of an argument” – Badhead (1994)
Albarn hasn’t changed. It’s remarkable. I noted that in the 2012 Manic Street Preachers gig that frontman James Dean Bradfield had aged since the first time I saw the band in Belfast in 1998 (Ulster Hall). Albarn had kept his youth. He still has that intelligent school boy wit from 1994. I remembered the time I compared the Oasis song “Cigarettes and Alcohol” to Blur’s “Girls and Boys”, the lyrics have a similar meaning at points:
Oasis: “Is it worth the aggravation to find yourself a job when there’s nothing worth working for?” (Fegs’n’Booze, 1994)
Blur: “Avoiding all work, cos there’s none available” (Girls and Boys, 1994)
I sing along to the songs that are the most poignant from my youth. When new songs come on, like Ghost Ship, Ong Ong and Pyongyang I listen to the lyrics and the music. The new album is brilliant. I didn’t buy it before the concert, but as soon as the gig was over I headed to the Blur shop and bought it. Great album – The Magic Whip.
“His family shares will protect him and we’ll respect him” – Charmless Man (1996)
Of the new songs, I love Pyongyang the most. It sends an eerie subliminal message through it’s cutting lyrics. Check out Pyongyang video on YouTube.
“The mausoleum has fallen and the perfect avenues will seem empty without you” – Pyongyang (2015)
But the main reason I love Pyongyang is because Albarn like me backpacked his way through a country most travellers want to avoid – North Korea. I have fond memories of my time backpacking in Pyongyang, Kaesong and attending the Mass Games. I think the song “Pyongyang” is a perfect ballad about this often misunderstood nation.
“A never ending broadcast to which I do not aspire” – Pyongyang (2015)
“Under the pressure, got middle of the road” – M.O.R. (1997)
Guitarist Graham Coxon, seems to have aged more than vibrant Albarn. Coxon’s guitar skills and his voice are the same. But he looks a tad more tired and older. He’s more mellow. The other two lads continue as they always did – in the background. Dave Rowntree and Alex James are probably not households names in the Kong, probably not even in my hometown of Bangor in Northern Ireland. But the four piece have been together almost 30 years and you can tell – they are a tidy outfit. They love to play music together and that passion is clear for all to see.
“That’s just the way it is” – Trimm Trabb (1999)
Albarn laps it up with the crowd throughout the gig throwing in Hong Kong and North Korea references and inviting locals on stage for a rousing rendition of Parklife.
“She turns me on and I just slip away now” – Beetlebum (1997)
They go off for a break and I hotly anticipate the encore hoping they play my personal favourite song, The Universal. They do. It’s amazing. Twenty years on from the single’s release in a John Major UK, I sing along to every word remembering what it was like to be 15.
“Well it really really really could Happen” – The Universal (1995)
“Every paper that you read says tomorrow’s your lucky day. Well here’s your lucky day” – The Universal (1995)
The set is faultless, and more – it’s inspiring. The band have outlasted the likes of Oasis and the Seahorses and they’re on top form. If you get a chance to go see Blur, please do – you will love it. I bought the new album after the gig and we all dispersed into the night. I felt older but yet sentimentally youthful. Thanks for a great gig, Blur!
Full Setlist of Blur live in Wan Chai, Hong Kong 22nd July 2015:
There’s No Other Way
Coffee & TV
Out of Time
Thought I Was a Spaceman
My Terracotta Heart
Trouble in the Message Centre
To the End
This Is a Low
Girls & Boys
Cocktails for Two
(Xavier Cugat song)
Visiting the Acme Building in Jordan, Hong Kong
I also had to curb my curiosity on the location of the Acme Building in Nanking Street that Damon Albarn spoke of, so I went there to have a look at it. It’s near Jordan MTR station. This is where Blue ended up in 2013 when they had some time to kill and decided to write some new material which eventually became the Magic Whip. Here’s a selfie and a video I made there.
My thanks to Tempo Chen from Taiwan for being part of the incredible Blur experience with me and for the use of his photos.
Here are the videos I took at the Blur concert in Hong Kong: