Drummer, lawyer, composer, politician… Blur’s busiest member on the troubled childhood that influenced his new solo album, Radio Songs, and the band’s summer reunion gigs
Acouple of weeks before Christmas, and the planning meetings have just finished for two of 2023’s most anticipated gigs, by a British band who first rehearsed together 35 years ago. In July, Blur are due to play two nights at the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium (only one concert was originally scheduled, but it sold out in two minutes). Their blend of ideas from British pop culture’s past, mixed with the peculiar optimism at the end of the last century, made them one of the biggest bands of the 1990s; they’ve only made two albums since, both of them tentative, tender but lovely: 2003’s Think Tank and 2015’s The Magic Whip.
The day before I meet the band’s drummer, Dave Rowntree, he was with singer Albarn, guitarist Graham Coxon and bassist Alex James in an undisclosed location in London, plotting the rough shape of the Wembley gigs, with instruments on their laps. “It was good! This is the fun bit before we’re playing the set over and over and over again, staring sullenly at our phones between songs,” Rowntree tells me. On this bright winter morning he is at Tate Modern in London’s Bankside wearing a hoodie and carrying bags of the clothes he has just worn for the Observer’s photoshoot. He had his portrait taken in the gallery next to Cildo Meireles’s Babel, a murmuring, ominous tower of a sculpture that he’s always loved, made up of hundreds of analogue radios. Oblivious ageing hipsters and midlifers, who will definitely have danced to his drumbeats, pass him by.