What with a fantastic new solo album out on May 11, the imminent Blur reunion and his work on Pete Doherty’s solo album, there’s a lot to talk to Graham Coxon about. Loud And Quiet spent a few sunny hours in the legend’s motorbike-strewn back garden
T: How have you been Graham?
G: I’ve been alright, I’ve been a bit tired, a bit narcoleptic at the moment. I’ve had jetlag. I was in South By Southwest down in Texas and that was good – that was running around basically playing. I was feeling a bit surreal the first two days, trying to make sense of where we landed and where we were, it was pretty weird actually, a weird old place.
T: I saw some pictures of you playing in a hat shop there – you’re a big hat fan, right?
G: The hat shop was great. Yeah, I like hats. They had a couple of hats that I liked, I got a couple. They weren’t free though.
T: What types did you get?
G: They were caps, like flat caps-type stuff. Sort of an American-style flat cap, sort of like 30s Chicago hoodlum type of hats. You know, like ‘The Sting’, with the triangular panels and the button on the top, I’ve got one that’s a bit like that, it was in a sort of Ben Elton-suit-tweed, black with flecks in it.
T: Your new album sounds great – I’m very into that kind of late 60s, early 70s British folk stuff.
G: Is that what it is? Oh no…
T: No, I can tell it’s influenced by that, it doesn’t sound the same though.
G: Yeah, it is influenced by that – I suppose I’m easily inspired, things rub off on me pretty easily, it’s surprising how influenced I can get without really knowing it. I get it when I listen to Van Der Graaf Generator and The Jam, you know, I get shocked just how much of it rubs off on me. And I suppose the first folk record I got was ‘Rave On’, which was a collection of things from the early 70s, so I suppose that started to get to me a bit, and Davey Graham and John Martyn and Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, all them lot, you know.
I thought instead of moaning that I’ll always just be an indie strummer I should actually try and play along with this music and see if I could cope with playing anything like it. So I just decided to try and [finger-]pick, it’s kind of four years trying to do that.
T: So it’s a concept album about someone’s life, is that right?
G: Yeah, it kind of is, yeah. But I refrained from filling the album with too much gumpf about any story or narrative… I used to get annoyed with the illustrations on the front of DH Lawrence books when I was a teenager, I used to cover them with brown paper – not ’cause they were rude or anything, but because I didn’t want a picture of them on the front.
More or less it’s a story – the first half’s a bit weird and innocent, it’s about love and magic and girls and growing up and adolescence, and then there’s war, and then the second half is all fucked up and innocence gone and relationships destroyed and addictions, you know, all that kind of thing. It’s loosely based on anybody’s life I suspect who’s gone through anything. Apart from the war part of it and getting shot and brought to life, that doesn’t happen very often to people.
These are the first songs I wrote in the countryside, and they come from my love of Symbolist painting, von Stuck, those mad Victorians that were scared shitless of the Sphinxes.
T: It’s quite an evocative title, ‘The Spinning Top’ – is it a reference to the character’s lost childhood?
G: I thought it was more kind of the world, that’s what the world is.
T: You’ve been doing a lot with Pete Doherty on his solo album – you almost seem unlikely friends, as he’s still battling addiction.
G: We all are. There’s not a day goes past where I don’t want a drink or a smoke, or want to in some way enter into a void of some sort, so he’s probably a little closer to actually doing it. He seems really great. Some people say, ‘God, isn’t that the last place you wanna be, near Pete?’ Actually, I only saw him swig on a Guinness and have some orange drinks onstage and that’s it. He’s struggled with a lot of stuff, but he’s good fun, you know, I think he does have a talent for words, he has a great romanticism and I certainly think things like ‘Lady Don’t You Fall Backwards’ are absolutely beautiful, you know, chordally, melodically and the words. So I think he’s done some well good work, I’m proud to be involved in it.
T: So you coped with him smoking a lot around you then?
G: It was alright. Peter’s lungs sound like crisp bags, you know, bless him. When I went to see Brideshead Revisited there was such a lot of sexy smoking in that that I was in the cinema dying for a cigarette for two hours. Lovely glasses too, people were drinking wine out of beautiful glasses, and that’s enough to make you want to drink wine. [People shout from the building nearby] Are they shouting at us? Bunch of loonies.
T: No, I think they’re just saying goodbye to someone. I was lucky enough to see you and Damon soundcheck at the NME Awards…
G: God, that was terrible.
T: No, it was really good. Especially when you did ‘Strange News From Another Star’.
G: Really? Yeah, we did that, didn’t we.
T: It was quite moving seeing you guys up there.
G: Was it? People say that and I don’t know whether they’re just obliged to say it or feel that they should say it, when actually…
T: I’m not just saying it.
G: Well that’s really nice. I think people thought it was a nice thing and that’s good. I’d hate for people to feel obliged to feel moved in some weird way, because it was, after all, for me and Damon, a big deal, and it’s cool if it is for other people as well – I’m not expecting the whole world to start crying just because we’ve got onstage again!
T: Which songs are you personally looking forward to playing in the summer?
G: I really like ‘It Could Be You’ and ‘Globe Alone’, ‘Death Of A Party’, ‘Popscene’ is always good fun. ‘Bugman’ I think was a good one that I always enjoyed, ‘Mellow Song’. There’s lots that I really like playing. There’s a few though, like I was just listening to ‘Mr Robinson’s Quango’, it’s just a nuts tune. I mean, god, how many more insane ideas could we cram into a song, it’s just crazy the amount of ideas we were having.
T: That used to be my favourite song on ‘The Great Escape’ when it came out.
G: I like ‘The Great Escape’ actually, I think it’s alright. A lot of people think it’s a bit weird and miserable.
T: I listened to it a few months ago for the first time in ages on a nightbus, and it kind of made sense drunk watching London go by.
G: Yeah, that’s kind of what it’s like, because it’s totally late night, hungover, award ceremonies, too much alcohol and darkness.
T: If you had to pick one Blur album you were most proud of what would it be?
G: Difficult really. I think ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ is nice, ’cause it touched on the slick side of us but also the really out-of-focus kind of weird internal… things like ‘Oily Water’ and ‘Resigned’, I was really proud of those recordings because they came out of one day I think – ‘Oily Water’, ‘Resigned’, ‘Bone Bag’ and ‘Peach’, I think we recorded them four in one day, just on our own. I was really proud of those, I think they were the best recordings we ever made to be honest. So for them to make it on an LP was pretty neat.
T: You guys rehearsing at the moment?
G: We haven’t for a couple of weeks, ’cause we’ve all been busy, but I think we’ve cut it down to about 70 songs that we’ve got to rehearse, and then choose from that what we want to play. I mean, it’s a lot of good stuff. I don’t know how many songs we’re gonna have to play but we’ve got to start getting some kind of setlist together soon, I reckon.
T: Has there been talk of any new Blur stuff?
G: Not really. If it feels good then we will, you know, I’m sure we will. But we’ll see what these shows are like, I suppose. Damon’s got Gorilla things going on, I think, we’ve all got some stuff going on, so it won’t be in the immediate future, if we do decide to. But I think I’d be up for it anyway. If everyone else is really into the idea I think it’d be fun, it’d be interesting anyway. Interesting, if not fun!
T: So more importantly, what’s your favourite cheese?
G: Just a good cheddar. Dolcelatte. And the old Roquefort, I like that sort of stuff.
T: Have you tried Alex’s cheese?
G: Yeah, I’ve tried the old Blue Monday and the Wallop. The cheddar is really the big boss, isn’t it? It’s the one! When he’s got his cheddar together… But his other cheese is pretty neat.
Originally published in Issue 5, Vol. 3 of Loud And Quiet. May 2009