Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells – Graham Coxon, Blur
In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the years in the indie trenches has affected the ol’ grey matter. This week: singer-songwriter, The End of the F***ing World soundtrack auteur and all-round Blur legend Graham Coxon.
1: You wrote ‘The Implodium Implodes’ for Channel 4’s Fresh Meat. But which other former Britpopper also wrote a track for the character of Kingsley?
“(Laughs) I’ve no idea.”
WRONG. It was Gaz Coombes from Supergrass, who wrote ‘Drone Alone’ for series three.
“Right! I should have known that was Gaz! (Laughs) I knew that actually. So there’s a few brain cells gone – but I’ve been up since six am. What was it like writing for Fresh Meat? Well, we talked about it and then I was walking up Camden Road and this song started forming. But it was tricky because I didn’t really know how to approach it. I knew they wanted it to be kind of pretentious. I drew on some of my rucksack prog-rock guise to try and get a bit of drama, but also to get some humour into it. Drama and humour is what Fresh Meat was. It’s a weird song. I think I was going for a mixture of Jim Morrison and Peter Hammill.”
2: Which Sir, whose penis was immortalised in a Blur song title, once said: ‘Graham Coxon is probably the best guitarist in the world?’
“Did he say ‘probably’? Well even ‘probably’ is very generous of him. I mean, I was chuffed by that because Elton John knows his stuff. Was the Blur song title ‘Sir Elton John’s Cock’? I don’t know whether I was directly involved with that song otherwise I would have tried to change the name, because that’s rude and I’m blushing already! (Laughs) Not long after Elton said that lovely thing about me, I had my arms around him saying ‘thank you very much, that was very nice of you’, before accepting an award. I even remember what I was wearing too – a ‘60s Burton suit.”
3: According to her autobiography…
…which frontwoman did you propose to when her band supported you on Blur’s Parklife tour?
“Is this Louise?”
“This is Louise Wener [of Sleeper], yeah! I proposed to her many, many times. But I used to get very tipsy and sentimental. I had several levels to my drunkenness. First of all, it was quite funny, then it would be sentimental, and then it would be manic. And she covers all that quite well in her book.”
4: What creatures did you once claim that one of your solo albums would only be understood by?
CORRECT. You said: “My next album is only going to be understood by a certain race of elves”. Are you working on new solo material?
“Yeah, I’m working on several things – but they’re all quite vague so I can’t say anything about them. I’m working on another telly thing, and then I have four or five musical projects going on. There’s something that’s quite exciting that’s going to be [out] maybe next year at some point, but I can’t talk about it.”
5: What is the only song on Peter Doherty’s ‘Grace/Wastelands’ that you don’t play guitar on?
“Um – I’m not sure that’s anything to do with my brain cells. I don’t know actually. Is there one?”
WRONG. It’s ‘Broken Love Song’.
“Really?! Damn! I remember I was just knocking about with Pete a little bit and his briefcase full of magic bits and bobs – he gave me a couple of things to nail onto my motorcycle. We just recorded a few things in producer Stephen Street’s little library with acoustic guitars. He had lots of chains round his neck that were banging on the guitars and making a lot of rattly noises, which makes for a nice atmospheric sound in the recordings. But at the time, it was quite distracting. We were both nervous, and all I could think was: ‘Oh God, I don’t know if any of this is going to be useable’. It was a good experience – but I did want to take a scrubbing brush to his nails sometimes! But he’s a lovely boy.”
6: What flavour was The Magic Whip ice cream Blur launched in 2015?
WRONG. It was dairy vanilla custard with raspberry sauce.
“Oh! Well that sounds quite good – that’s the sort of flavour that I’d put in my vaping machine, except without the raspberry sauce.”
Did you ever try it?
“Try what? Raspberry sauce?! Oh, the ice cream! No, I missed out. They’d all gone by the time I’d finished all my hard word that day. You know, I went back to where they were, exhausted, crawling on my hands and knees, but the last one had been taken by someone who just probably sits operating lights or something (Laughs).”
7: In 1996, you and Alex James were missing from a performance by Blur on Italian TV. Who stood in for Alex and how did they deal with your absence?
“I think that was Smoggy [Blur’s minder] who picked up a bass. Which is funny because some people thought that was two Dave [Rowntree, drummer]’s and were wondering where the other Dave came from. ‘Who’s this Dave playing on the bass?!’. And I think I was ‘moving house’, but they always put that in inverted commas, even though I actually was moving house. So there was a cardboard cutout which replaced me which fell over.”
CORRECT. Did you get to keep the cardboard cutout?
“No. But I did spend all evening with a cardboard cutout of Sandie Shaw once and took her home on the tube and she stood in my bedroom for quite a long time. I was a bit tipsy and we were at this posh event and there was lots of these cardboard cutouts of various singing stars, including Sandie – properly barefoot and everything – and I thought: ‘Oh, I’ll take her home at the end!’. And she stood there next to me on the tube and you know, we were together for a couple of years before she’d had enough.”
8: What number did your 2004 solo album ‘Happiness in Magazines’ reach in the UK charts?
WRONG. It was number 19.
“Oh that’s not so bad! My favourite albums are always the ones that don’t do well. I thought ‘A+E’ had a reckless abandonment and a good vibe. But I like ‘Love Travels At Illegal Speeds’ as well, and ‘The Spinning Top’ purely because of the experience of recording it with so many other great musicians.”
9: What was so special about the Japanese CD edition of Blur’s Parklife?
“Well, they always have an extra track – is that what you’re talking about or is it something else? Do you want me to name the extra track?”
It did something when you opened it…
“Oh I know! It made your sideburns grow quicker when you opened it.”
“Oh no! It played a tune and the eyes lit up on the greyhound or something.”
CORRECT. It barked when you opened it and the greyhound’s eyes lit up when you pressed them.
“Ah! You see, when the music industry had some spare dosh knocking about!”
Are there any plans for any new Blur music?
“There’s no plans right now, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be in the future. We are together, we still see ourselves as a band, it’s just there’s no plans to do anything right now. I think with stuff, you have to plan so far into the future. But we’re like a shark, we have to keep moving, so everyone feels like it, I’m sure we’ll get together and it’ll happen.”
10: After Blur swore on air in the USA in 1992, what did outraged people chase you out of the radio studio with?
“Oh, it was a number of things. Apart from the flaming torches, I think there was a vacuum cleaner, a shotgun… what else? It was mainly cleaning apparatus but there were some flaming torches and a shotgun too.”
“Well, he [the DJ] didn’t actually tell us we were on the air. We just sat down and thought we were having a chat and we were just being ourselves – so we didn’t do it on purpose. I’ve had many hostile reactions to me, but mainly because I’ve been cheeky. I got chucked about in the men’s toilets of a Japanese club by an American solider once – that was quite scary. I was a bit cheeky to him but I don’t know if I deserved that. There have been a few miscommunications or misunderstandings that have resulted in a few volatile situations – but nothing that Smoggy couldn’t handle!”
The verdict: 7/10
“Oh, that’s not so bad.”