The Untold Truth Of Blur

There was a time, surprisingly many years ago, when young people of Britain revolutionized the music field with jaunty, melody-driven pop and rock songs that may have reminded you of the music of yesteryear, yet sounded fresh. This movement was called Britpop, one of the foremost guitar music genres of the 1990s — and Blur was one of its finest examples, if not outright the single finest one. 

The band ranks among the supreme entities of Britpop, but that's only a small part of their allure. The quartet of Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, Alex James, and Dave Rowntree (via Encyclopedia Britannica) have been unafraid to explore all sorts of directions over the years, deftly moving between all sorts of genres, up to and very much including gospel music.  

Blur have had an amazing career, and its individual members have led truly interesting lives. It's time to take a look at their many adventures in the land of music — and beyond. This is the untold truth of Blur. 

Blur's early years

The official biography on Blur's website jogs through the band's early years fairly quickly, simply noting that singer Damon Albarn, guitarist Graham Coxon, bass player Alex James, and drummer Dave Rowntree became Blur in 1989, and their first album, "Leisure," came out two years later in 1991. As Allmusic tells us, the band got signed to Food Records quite early on, but according to Martin Power's book, "The Life of Blur," this was far from a free ticket to overnight success. Helmed by industry veteran Dave Balfe, Food was a plucky underground favorite rather than an industry giant, despite its connection to the powerful EMI label.    

This may have ended up working in Blur's favor, though. As Pitchfork has pointed out, the band was already somewhat known for its wild concerts and drunken escapades before "Leisure" came out, but the debut album was a mixed bag that failed to find its identity, especially compared to the band's later offerings. Who knows what would have happened if Blur started out with a bigger record company from the beginning?

The band's original name was considerably less catchy

Regardless of how you feel about Blur as a band, it's probably okay to admit that their name is rather good. It's short, memorable, expressive, and fits pretty much all of the band's wildly varying stylistic swings ... which makes it all the more surprising when you find out that it wasn't their original name (per Allmusic). In the early days of their career, the band that would be known as Blur performed under the name Seymour. However, Food Records bigwigs didn't much care for the name, and essentially handed Damon Albarn and his bandmates a list of names to choose from. It might not have been the most rock n' roll way to pick a brand for your band, but hey, at least it's far from the only silly origin for a cool band name. 

In a 1991 appearance in "INA Talk Show" (via Radio X), members of the band compared the transition from Seymour to Blur with changing your name after marriage. "It's like you have a name before you get married and then you change it if you're a woman. You don't have to, but we chose to," they said. "We got married to each other and got rid of our maiden names."

Their disastrous first U.S. tour

Blur's first U.S. tour in 1992 was far from successful, to the point that the BBC has ranked it among the most magnificent tour failures out there. According to Dig!, there were a number of reasons behind this. For one, Blur was essentially forced on the road because their manager had messed up their finances. It didn't much help that America was all about grunge at the time, and Blur was ... decidedly not grunge.  

The end result of this concoction of chaos was 44 nights of sorry gigs, increasing boredom, drunkenness, homesickness, tension, and what guitarist Graham Coxon has described as a "punching game," which was exactly what you'd imagine. The U.S. apparently disliked the band so much that, at one point, firearms were involved. "We ended up being chased out of one radio station by people with shotguns," Coxon has said, "Just because we cussed on air."

Nevertheless, one could argue that the tour wasn't all in vain. After they finally returned to their beloved home country, their new music and lyrics started taking a markedly British turn — which, of course, played a significant part in their eventual mega-success.

Their label hated their second album

Blur's sophomore album, 1993's "Modern Life Is Rubbish," can boast a four-star review at Rolling Stone, and the outlet has even called it the band's "secret classic." Even so, the album was still a far cry from the string of successes that was looming around the corner, and it was a fairly tough work of art to make (per Dig!). Though the songs slowly started to take shape, their label unfortunately thought that said shape was an extremely disappointing one. "One day, [Food Records boss] Dave Balfe came in for a listen to the album and said, 'It's crap. It's commercial suicide. It'll sell to a few NME readers, and that's it,'" producer Stephen Street described the label's attitude to the unfinished album. 

That might seem like an unfair statement, considering that "Modern Life is Rubbish" tends to draw praise from fans (via Allmusic), and Pitchfork has outright dubbed it Blur's breakthrough album. Still, Balfe's words carried weight, seeing as he was already well and truly fed up with Blur's partying antics, to the point of having once promised to kick them to the curb if they didn't get back on the straight and narrow. 

Fortunately, the critique galvanized Damon Albarn to write "For Tomorrow" and "Chemical World" as late additions to the track list. As Discogs notes, you might recognize these catchy tunes as the two main singles from "Modern Life Is Rubbish," and they're also frequently mentioned among the album's greatest highlights. 

Alex James, cheese enthusiast

Blur bass player Alex James, by his own admission, used to be a rather lecherous party boy who made the most of that rock star life (per The Guardian). However, by 2006, he had somewhat mellowed out, to the point of being happily married, living in a farm in the idyllic Cotswolds region (via Visit Britain) with his young family. There, he presided over a 400-strong flock of sheep ... and started making cheese with a business partner. "It's like running a small country, running a farm," James said. "It's much more expensive than running around [London clubs] the Groucho or the Ivy. So you've got to be more realistic about a farm. Building a cheese factory made sense." 

Cheese wasn't just some passing whim, either. In fact, James is still at it, and his Alex James Co. Cheese makes a whole range of cheddars, blue cheeses, brie, and the like (per Pong Cheese). He has also been known to share his favorite tips to enjoy what's clearly his favorite food (via The Sun).

To truly underline the change the bassist has gone through, you only need to look at his two memoirs (via The Guardian). His 2007 book, "Bit of a Blur," is a juicy, revelatory number about his years of extreme excess. His 2012 sequel, on the other hand, is called ... "All Cheeses Great and Small: A Life Less Blurry." Truly, priorities appear to have shifted for Mr. James. 

The many and varied careers of Dave Rowntree

Being a famous drummer might be a dream come true to many, but if you ask Blur's Dave Rowntree, being a rock star is no reason to spend your life sitting on your hands. Per i News, Rowntree's had enough exciting careers for roughly a dozen people, and his accolades include — in no particular order — being a pilot, a motivational speaker, a hobbyist gardener, and, interestingly, a criminal lawyer. 

Rowntree became a lawyer in 2012, out of sheer interest in the profession. "I got bitten by the bug," he said. "I found the stories of the criminal defendants really interesting. There were people who made poor judgements when their life spiraled out of control." This wasn't just a hobby, either, as he actually worked as a lawyer for some time until his main job stopped the good times. "I was trying to be a solicitor Monday to Friday and a rock star on Saturday and Sunday. It wasn't manageable when Blur released a new album, so I regretfully called it to a halt."

Apart from everything else, Rowntree has also founded a computer animation company called Nanomation (via The Guardian), and acted as an elected official known as counselor. He's also a keen astronomy enthusiast who's been actively involved with the Beagle 2 Mars lander project (via Yorkshire Post). Incidentally, the stranded probe carried a jingle that Blur composed, which Rowntree says means they "got the first music on Mars."

'Parklife' breaks the Britpop bank

Blur released "Parklife," in 1994, and as NME points out, things were never the same again. The band was in financial dire straits before the album's release, thanks to managerial mishaps, unsuccessful tours, and poor sales of their acclaimed but unsuccessful previous album, "Modern Life Is Rubbish." Nevertheless, the build-up to "Parklife" was a surprisingly positive affair, instead of a last-ditch effort for a desperate group with its back against the wall. "There was a sense of 'this has got to work,'" producer Stephen Street has described the vibe in the studio. "But at the same time, we were confident. There seemed to be a feeling that the time was right."

This hunch proved to be correct, and as The Guardian notes, the band's "Parklife" arsenal involved incredibly strong songs, as well as some fortunate spur-of-the-moment decisions. Famously, the band had recruited actor Phil Daniels (of "Quadrophenia" fame) to feature on "The Debt Collector," but the band was struggling with the album's titular song, so Daniels ended up taking over the verses of "Parklife" to excellent effect.  

"Parklife" was an eclectic, fun and wild collection of songs, and though Billboard notes it didn't make a huge impact Stateside, it was a bona fide cultural phenomenon in the U.K. The album spent no less than 90 consecutive weeks in the British charts, shooting right to #1 in its very first week.

Blur raced against Oasis in the 'Battle of Britpop'

As Blur emerged to ride the tallest waves of Britpop, so did their longtime nemesis, Oasis. Per NME, legend has it that hostilities between the bands started during a chance meeting at the Good Mixer drinking establishment in Camden, London, during which a bathroom mishap might or might not have left Graham Coxon's shoes unfortunately wet, courtesy of a member of Oasis.

Coxon hasn't been quick to confirm the tale, but as NME reports, there's plenty of evidence — and a number of less than peaceful quotes — to indicate that some genuinely bad blood eventually developed between the bands. Per Radio X, the feud culminated on Monday, August 14, 1995, when both groups simultaneously released the lead singles of their upcoming albums. In a struggle for sales that has been called "The Battle of Britpop," Blur's "Country House" ultimately ended up reaching #1 over Oasis' "Roll With It" by a comfortable margin of 274,000 sold copies against 210,000 (per The Guardian). 

The two bands remained on decidedly unfriendly — and occasionally very uncouth — terms for quite some time, though in more recent years, things have been more friendly. "We don't talk about our past, we talk about our present," Damon Albarn spoke of former Oasis leader Noel Gallagher in 2018. "I value my friendship with Noel, because he is one of the only people who went through what I did in the Nineties."

Damon Albarn and drugs

It's hard to find a Blur member who hasn't done his share of partying – per Dig!, their 1992 U.S. tour alone was a fairly rowdy affair. However, in more recent years, it has transpired that frontman Damon Albarn has walked down some particularly dark and dangerous paths, courtesy of his longstanding heroin use (via The Guardian). In 2012, Albarn was quite sensitive about the subject, dancing around it during an interview with The Guardian and avoiding mentioning it outright — though he did gingerly agree to the interviewer's suggestion that he was quite familiar with the substance, and that he'd alluded to it multiple times in his lyrics. 

In 2014, the Blur and Gorillaz singer addressed the issue more thoroughly in an interview with Q magazine (via The Guardian), claiming that the drug had helped him with his creative process. Nevertheless, Albarn — who has quit the drug – doesn't want to glamorize heroin in any way, and has been quick to denounce it. "It's a cruel, cruel thing," he has said. "[Heroin] does turn you into a very isolated person and ultimately anything that you are truly dependent on is not good." 

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Graham Coxon left Blur behind for a while

Blur guitarist Graham Coxon has been an instrumental part of the band's sound from the very beginning, but his relationship with the group over the years can best be defined as "it's complicated." A prolific solo artist in his own right, Coxon left Blur in 2002 during the "Think Tank" sessions (via NME). The band replaced him with Simon Tong in their live lineup, but as NME notes, the door was always open for Coxon's return ... at least, if you asked Damon Albarn. According to Coxon himself, things weren't that simple. "If that's true, then why was I un-invited to the studio when I was in Blur?" The guitarist commented on reports about Albarn's hopes for his return in 2003. "I'm not particularly interested in progress in that area at the moment."

But time has a habit of healing wounds, and this also applies to rifts between bandmates. By 2006, reports of Coxon potentially returning to the Blur fold started to surface (via NME), and in 2008, he was officially back (per the Independent). The rift between him and Albarn had, it turns out, been going on well before the guitarist left Blur, and had simply required time to heal. As Albarn noted upon Coxon's return: "Ten years ago, Graham and I found ourselves very uncomfortable, very oversensitive with each other, and it hasn't felt comfortable before now." 

Will Blur reunite once more?

At any given moment, it can be very hard to tell whether or not Blur still exists, and if they do, in what capacity. Per the Independent, they effectively broke up in 2002 upon guitar player Graham Coxon's departure, and the band members pursued their respective interests until 2008, when the foursome announced their return with a large outdoor concert in 2009 (via the BBC). However, no new music materialized, and according to The Guardian, Damon Albarn announced in 2012 that the band was effectively over ... for a few years, anyway. Fast forward to 2015, and the band announced "The Magic Whip" (via The Guardian), their first studio album since 2003's "Think Tank." 

In recent years, things have been even more confusing. In 2018 alone, Alex James told the Mirror (via Clash Music) that reunions in general are terrible, while Albarn told The Sun that a Blur reunion is "never not a possibility." The band has since briefly emerged in 2019 (via Pitchfork), and as Stereogum notes, Albarn teased possible new Blur happenings as recently as January 2021. Interestingly, so did Dave Rowntree, who Tweeted about some potential Blur-themed plans as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic is in check: "Can't wait till this bloody virus is dead, and we can get back out there."