As part of the Somerset House Summer Series, Damon Albarn’s other other band The Good, the Bad & the Queen discuss Brexit and their own history in a surprisingly Merrie evening.
A lot can change in twelve years. Countries can attempt to leave unions for ridiculous reasons. In Damon Albarn’s case, and since the release of The Good, the Bad & the Queen’s debut album in 2007, he’s released six studio collections with Gorillaz, one with blur, his debut solo album, and numerous other projects including musical and opera work. (What have you done? Got a job? Got a life? Lived that song from Trainspotting?) However, when it comes to documenting British politics, it seems there was only one of his many outifits that could deliver the message correctly.
Merrie Land, produced by long time Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti, is a take on the blur that is Brexit (or as the frontman describes the current climate later in the evening: “Such a weird time. A wonderfully weird time”), from the supergroup made up of Albarn, Paul Simonon (The Clash), Simon Tong (The Verve) and Tony Allen.
Their Somerset House show is a gig of two halves, with Merrie Land played almost in its entirety to open proceedings, but despite the seriousness of the subject matter, Damon is still the tipsy, jumpy frontman he’s always been — at ease delivering words in song or simply addressing the audience (with many an “ORDER! OR-DER!”) to apologise for the banality of the subject: “It’s a heartfelt record about how shit it is. We had to do this.” Not that he needs to say sorry — the material is the band in just as fine form as on their Danger Mouse produced debut, with the title track a whimsical, gently whirling number, Gun To The Head showcasing Albarn’s talent for comedic lyrics within awkward messages (“the sun is soft, like the narcotics sold in Boots”), and Lady Boston a mini-epic, with live accompaniment from Welsh choir Cor y Penrhyn. Whether it’s new rappers joining Gorillaz or elder Welsh singers, Damon Albarn’s championing of other talent continues…
“This is part 2, which is part 1,” is how tracks from the band’s debut are introduced, and it’s cheers all round for the ska-sounding History Song, and early singles and album favourites that follow, with the choir returning to give new life to some. Despite one hecklers request for Parklife, it’s clear that there’s a big audience who have waited a long time to hear pure TGTB&TQ live once more — and who knows when they’ll return, or what the state of the country will be then? Not that Damon Albarn let’s it get to him too much. “I’m being silly, pretty much all of the time” he tells the audience, ending their set with the epic, once Skins-featured (really giving its age away there) track The Good, The Bad & The Queen, before allowing the choir to close the show.
Earlier in the evening, when talking about Brexit and Merrie Land, the frontman announced that “we, as musicians, respond to all of this by sending love to everyone,” and here’s hoping the next time they get together the country are singing a similar song.