Hyde Park – the regular stomping ground of Alex, Dave, Damon and Graham, and the scene of perhaps London’s most breath-taking, astounding and utopian music moment in a number of years. In the foreground of a kaleidoscopic set, fit to burst with props (namely a fully-functioning ice cream van) and colour galore, we find a certain Mr Albarn. Keen, poised, ready. “LETS FUCKING HAVE THIS!” he roars, to an army of 60,000 soggy, yet unfazed Brit-pop warriors, young and old. His animated enthusiasm, despite the modest grins of his band-mates, launches the crowd into a frenzy. Once again, Blur are back.
Tucked into the back pocket of the world were the Colchester four-piece when The Magic Whip was conceived. The hysteria of its announcement was unprecedented. The excitement spawned by the album, however, was emulated by the Hyde Park crowd as it was launched head-first into ‘Go Out,’ the record’s first single – an interesting choice to open with a song released just four months ago. Nonetheless, the stuttering moan of the chorus could surely be heard half way across London – proof, certainly, of Albarn’s unparalleled talents as a songwriter. The second song of the set was by way of a throwback, as Graham Coxon slammed out the distinctive opening riff of ‘There’s No Other Way.’ Taken from 1991’s Leisure, the anthem-like refrain at the very heart of the song gee’d up the crowd in a similar fashion to Albarn’s introductory hollering, and set it in good stead for hours of Blur-based fun.
The set progressed as the band hopped from record to record, year to year – their wavering selection from eight studio albums meant for a truly engrossed audience, who could well be bouncing in 1994 one minute and swaying in 2015 the next. I mean not to discourage the rest of the set list, but one particular section deserves a special mention. The band would certainly need to leave any weariness behind come their 15th track of the evening. An emotional rendition of the feel-good anthem that is ‘Tender’ may as well not have needed the input of Albarn, as the crowd hijacked the 1999 number one, with a role-reversal that reaffirmed the song as one of Blur’s greatest.
A large whoop and clap from the audience morphed into a deafening cheer, as the crowd were greeted with the trademark “OI!” of quintessential cockney Phil Daniels. Hyde Park descended into glorious chaos as the special guest belted out his renowned verses: “confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as…PARKLIFE.” Daniels and Albarn weave around the 3 other members of Blur and a score of backing musicians in a hectic mock-jog that sees the latter collapse before the crowd, giggling as he picks himself up just in time to finish the last combative verse.
If somebody were to have told me beforehand, that new song ‘Ong Ong’ would follow the brilliance of ‘Parklife,’ I probably would have thought they were joking. Talk about an anti-climax, right? Wrong. You can imagine the pleasant surprise I, and many others got as the crowd found itself immersed in a song that, unbeknownst to many, was a memorable and amusing sing-a-long with lyrics so brilliantly simple that a toddler could have belted out the catchy chorus. ‘Ong Ong’ certainly cleansed the palette before Blur offered what was perhaps the most eagerly anticipated moment of the evening – ‘Song 2.’ I can only imagine the all-knowing smirk on the face of Coxon as he readied himself to smash out the guitar riff that launched Blur into America, and the riff that launched the joyous crowd into complete and utter chaos. WOO-HOOs all round as Hyde Park descended into one immense mosh.
The juxtapositions of Blur are a large determinant of their widely-recognised reputation as one of the greatest bands of our time. The pandemonium and carnage caused by belters like ‘Song 2’ and ‘Parklife,’ and the pinnacles of passion and meaning found in ‘Beetlebum,’ ‘For Tomorrow’ and ‘To the End’ can only be overshadowed by one song, their last of the evening – ‘The Universal.’ The crowd well and truly overcame the sound of brass instrument as Damon Albarn stood, bewildered, with his arms open, as if trying to absorb an atmosphere that can only be properly understood if you were a part of it. Its nights like this that may just see Blur preserved in history as one of the greatest bands of all time – it really, really, really could happen.
Words by George Birch