23 March 1968 |
Whitechapel, London, England
Damon Albarn, OBE (/ /; born 23 March 1968) is an English musician, singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and record producer. He is the lead singer of the alternative rock band Blur as well as co-founder, vocalist, instrumentalist and principal songwriter of the virtual band Gorillaz.
Raised in Leytonstone, East London and around Colchester, Essex, Albarn attended the Stanway School, where he met Graham Coxon and eventually formed Blur, whose debut album Leisure was released in 1991 to mixed reviews. After spending long periods of time touring the US, Albarn's songwriting became increasingly influenced by British bands from the 1960s. The result of these influences came in the form of Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993), Parklife (1994) and The Great Escape (1995). All three albums received critical acclaim while Blur gained mass popularity in the UK, aided by a Britpop rivalry with Oasis. Subsequent albums such as Blur (1997), 13 (1999), Think Tank (2003) and The Magic Whip (2015) contained influences from lo-fi, electronic and hip hop music.
Along with Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett, Albarn formed the "virtual band" Gorillaz in 1998. Drawing influences from alternative rock, trip hop, hip hop, electronica, dub, reggae and pop music, the band released their self-titled debut album in 2001 to worldwide success. Although Albarn is the only permanent musical contributor, the albums feature collaborations from a wide range of artists. Gorillaz are cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the "Most Successful Virtual Band". Other projects include working with African musicians in aid of the charity Oxfam, writing and performing lead vocals on The Good, the Bad & the Queen as part of an unnamed supergroup and composing film soundtracks. He has also ventured into the world of opera with Dr Dee and Monkey: Journey to the West. His debut solo studio album Everyday Robots—co-produced by XL Recordings CEO Richard Russell—was released on 28 April 2014 and featured collaborations with Brian Eno, Natasha Khan and the Leytonstone City Pentecostal Mission Church Choir as well as sampling several rants by Lord Buckley.
In 2008 The Daily Telegraph ranked Albarn number 18 in their list of the "100 most powerful people in British culture". In a 2010 UK poll for Q magazine Albarn was voted the fourth-greatest frontman of all time. He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to music.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Music career
- 2.1 Blur
- 2.2 Gorillaz
- 2.3 Solo career and side-projects
- 2.4 Film, theatre and soundtrack work
- 2.5 The Heavy Seas
- 3 Acting career
- 4 Personal life
- 5 Politics
- 6 Discography
- 7 Awards and nominations
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Albarn was born on 23 March 1968, the eldest child of artist Keith Albarn and his wife Hazel, née Dring. Their daughter Jessica, born in 1971, also went on to become an artist. Hazel Albarn, originally from Lincolnshire, was a theatrical set designer for Joan Littlewood's theatre company at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in London, and was working on the satirical play Mrs Wilson's Diary just before Damon was born. Keith Albarn, originally from Nottinghamshire, was briefly the manager of Soft Machine and once a guest on BBC's Late Night Line-Up. He was head of The School of Art and Design at Colchester Institute.
Damon's paternal grandfather Edward, an architect, had been a conscientious objector during the Second World War and was involved in a farming community in Lincolnshire, becoming a peace activist. In 2002 Edward Albarn died; Damon stated in an interview that Edward did not want to live any longer and decided to go on a hunger strike. In 1968, at the age of 6 months, Damon Albarn was a "testing expert" for designs for educational aids and toys for children including fiberglass furniture and play-structures fancifully called "The Kissmequiosk". "The Apollo Cumfycraft" and "The Tailendcharlie" produced by his father's company "Keith Albarn & Partners Ltd" under the trade-name of "Playlearn, Ltd."
When Damon and Jessica were growing up, their family moved to Leytonstone, East London. The household was described as "bohemian" and their upbringing as "liberal". Albarn agreed with his parents' views, later claiming, "I always thought my parents were absolutely dead right. I went against the grain in a weird way – by continually following them." His parents primarily listened to blues, Indian ragas and African music. When Albarn was nine years old, his family took a holiday trip to Turkey for three months before settling in Aldham, Essex, an area described by Albarn as "one of those burgeoning Thatcher experiments where they were building loads of small estates". The population of the area was predominantly white as opposed to the ethnically mixed part of London which he had become used to. He described himself as "not really fitting in with the politics of the place."
Albarn was interested in music from an early age, attending an Osmonds concert at the age of six. He started playing guitar, piano and violin in his youth and was interested in composing music, one of his compositions winning a heat in the nationwide Young Composer of the Year competition. Damon and Jessica both attended a primary school nearby which, according to Damon, was burnt down seven times over a period of 18 months by one of the teachers. After both siblings failed their eleven-plus exams, they started attending Stanway Comprehensive School, where Damon described himself as being "really unpopular" and "[irritating to] a lot of people". However, he developed an interest in drama and started acting in various school productions. It was at Stanway where he would meet future Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, who recalls seeing him act and feeling that he was a "confident performer" as well as a "show off". Albarn's first words directed at Coxon were "Your brogues are crap, mate. Look, mine are the proper sort" as he was showing off his leather shoes, fashionable footwear at the time influenced by the Mod Revival. Nevertheless, the pair went on to become good friends, due to their shared passion for music, particularly bands such as The Jam, The Beatles, The Human League, XTC and Madness.
He studied acting at the East 15 Acting School in Debden, but left after the first year. On leaving drama school he worked as a tea boy at the Beat Factory studio. His first band was the synthpop group, Two's a Crowd. Before Blur, he played with The Aftermath and Real Lives.
Formation and Leisure
Albarn enrolled on a part-time music course at London's Goldsmiths College in 1988, claiming that his sole intention was to gain access to the student union bar. Albarn was in a group named Circus alongside Coxon and drummer Dave Rowntree. Alex James, a fellow student at Goldsmiths, eventually joined as the group's bassist. They changed their name to Seymour in December 1988, inspired by J.D. Salinger's Seymour: An Introduction. Seymour attracted the interest of Food Records whose only concern was that they disliked the band's name. Food drew up a list of alternatives, from which the band decided on "Blur". Food Records finally signed the newly christened band in March 1990.
In October 1990 Blur released their first single, "She's So High", which reached number 48 in the UK Singles Chart. The band had trouble creating a follow-up single, but they made progress when paired with producer Stephen Street. The resulting single release, "There's No Other Way", became a hit, peaking at number eight. As a result of the single's success, Blur became pop stars and were accepted into a clique of bands who frequented The Syndrome club in London dubbed "The Scene That Celebrates Itself". NME magazine wrote in 1991 that "[Blur] are [the] acceptable pretty face of a whole clump of bands that have emerged since the whole Manchester thing started to run out of steam."
Andy Ross and Food owner David Balfe were convinced Blur's best course of action was to continue drawing influence from the Madchester genre. Blur attempted to expand their musical sound, but the recording of the group's debut album was hindered by Albarn having to write his lyrics in the studio. Although the resulting album Leisure (1991) peaked at number seven on the UK Albums Chart, it received mixed reviews, and according to journalist John Harris, "could not shake off the odour of anti-climax". Albarn has since referred to Leisure as "awful".
After discovering they were £60,000 in debt, Blur toured the United States in 1992 in an attempt to recoup their financial losses. During the two-month American tour, Albarn, along with the band, became increasingly unhappy and homesick. "I just started to miss really simple things ... I missed everything about England so I started writing songs which created an English atmosphere", Albarn revealed.
Blur had undergone an ideological and image shift intended to celebrate their English heritage in contrast to the popularity of American grunge bands like Nirvana. Although skeptical of Albarn's new manifesto for the band, Balfe gave his assent for the band's choice of Andy Partridge of the band XTC to produce their follow-up to Leisure. The sessions with Partridge proved unsatisfactory, but a chance reunion with Stephen Street resulted in him returning to produce the group.
Their second album, titled Modern Life Is Rubbish, was eventually released in May 1993 and peaked at number 15 on the British charts, but failed to break into the US Billboard 200, selling only 19,000 copies there. Despite the album's poor performance, Albarn was relatively happy with the band's new direction and started writing prolifically for Blur's next album. Parklife was released in 1994 and revived Blur's commercial fortunes, with the album's first single, the disco-influenced "Girls & Boys", receiving critical acclaim and chart success. Parklife entered the British charts at number one and stayed in the album charts for 90 weeks. Enthusiastically greeted by the music press, Parklife is regarded as one of Britpop's defining records. Blur won four awards at the 1995 Brit Awards, including Best Band and Best Album for Parklife. Coxon later pointed to Parklife as the moment when "[Blur] went from being regarded as an alternative, left field arty band to this amazing new pop sensation". Albarn revealed that his fame made him uncomfortable, however, and that he often suffered from panic attacks.
Blur began working on their fourth album The Great Escape at the start of 1995. Building upon the band's previous two albums, Albarn's lyrics for the album consisted of several third-person narratives. James reflected, "It was all more elaborate, more orchestral, more theatrical, and the lyrics were even more twisted ... It was all dysfunctional, misfit characters fucking up." The release of the album's lead single "Country House" played a part in Blur's public rivalry with Manchester band Oasis termed "The Battle of Britpop". Partly due to increasing antagonisms between the groups, Blur and Oasis ultimately decided to release their new singles on the same day, an event the NME called "The British Heavyweight Championship". The debate over which band would top the British singles chart became a media phenomenon, and Albarn appeared on News at Ten. At the end of the week, "Country House" ultimately outsold Oasis' "Roll With It" by 274,000 copies to 216,000, becoming Blur's first number one single.
The Great Escape was released in September 1995 to positive reviews, and entered the UK charts at number one. However, opinion quickly changed and Blur found themselves largely out of favour with the media once again. Following the worldwide success of Oasis' (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, the media quipped that "[Blur] wound up winning the battle but losing the war." Blur became perceived by many as an "inauthentic middle class pop band" in comparison to the "working class heroes" Oasis, which Albarn said made him feel "stupid and confused". Bassist Alex James later summarised, "After being the People's Hero, Damon was the People's Prick for a short period ... basically, he was a loser – very publicly."
Post–Britpop and hiatus
An early 1996 Q magazine interview revealed that relations between Blur members had become very strained; journalist Adrian Deevoy wrote that he found them "on the verge of a nervous breakup". Coxon, in particular, began to resent his bandmates and, in a rejection of the group's Britpop aesthetic, made a point of listening to noisy American alternative rock bands such as Pavement. Albarn grew to appreciate Coxon's tastes in lo-fi and underground music, and recognised the need to significantly change Blur's musical direction once again. "I can sit at my piano and write brilliant observational pop songs all day long but you've got to move on", he said, and decided to let Coxon have more creative control over their new album. Albarn visited Iceland during this period, stating that, "I used to have a recurring dream, as a child, of a black sand beach. And one hazy, lazy day [laughs], I was watching the TV and I saw a programme about Iceland, and they had black beaches. So I got on a plane, and booked into the Saga hotel. I didn't know it meant Saga holidays, for older people—I thought it was Saga as in Nordic sagas. But it was actually an OAP cruise hotel. I was on my own: I didn't know anybody. I went into the street, Laugavegur, where the bars are, and that was it."
After initial sessions in London, the band left to record the rest of the album in Iceland, away from the Britpop scene. The result was Blur, the band's fifth studio album, released in February 1997. Although the music press predicted that the lo-fi sonic experimentation would alienate Blur's teenage girl fan-base, they generally applauded the effort. Pointing out lyrics such as "Look inside America/She's alright", and noting Albarn's "obligatory nod to Beck, [and promotion of] the new Pavement album as if paid to do so", reviewers felt the band had come to accept American values during this time—an about-face of their attitude during the Britpop years. Despite cries of "commercial suicide", the album and its first single, "Beetlebum", debuted at number one in the UK. Although the album could not match the sales of their previous albums in the UK, Blur became the band's most successful internationally, particularly in the US, helped by the successful single, "Song 2". After the success of Blur, the band embarked on a nine-month world tour.
Blur hired William Orbit to produce their next album. Released in March 1999, Blur's sixth studio album 13 saw them drift still further away from their Britpop-era attitude and sound. Albarn's lyrics—more heart-felt, personal and intimate than on previous occasions—were reflective of his break-up with Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann, his partner of eight years.
In October 2000, the group released the best-of album Blur: The Best of, which debuted at number three in the UK and a Platinum certification of 300,000 copies. Dismissed by the band as "the first record we have seen as product", the track listing and release dates of Blur: The Best of were determined on the basis of market research and focus groups conducted by Blur's record label, EMI.
Recording for Blur's next album began in London in November 2001. Not long after the sessions began, Coxon left the group. Coxon stated "there were no rows" and "[the band] just recognised the feeling that we needed some time apart".
Think Tank, released in May 2003, was filled with atmospheric, brooding electronic sounds, featuring simpler guitar lines played by Albarn, and largely relying on other instruments to replace Coxon. The guitarist's absence also meant that Think Tank was almost entirely written by Albarn. Its sound was seen as a testament to Albarn's increasing interest in African and Middle Eastern music, and to his complete control over the group's creative direction. Think Tank was another UK No. 1 and managed Blur's highest US position of No. 56. The album was also nominated for best album at the 2004 Brit Awards.
In December 2008, Blur announced they would reunite for a concert at London's Hyde Park on 3 July 2009. Days later, the band added a second date, for 2 July. A series of June preview shows were also announced, ending at Manchester Evening News arena on the 26th. All the shows were well received; The Guardian's music critic Alexis Petridis gave their performance at Goldsmiths College a full five stars, and wrote that "Blur's music seems to have potentiated by the passing of years ... they sound both more frenetic and punky and more nuanced and exploratory than they did at the height of their fame". Blur headlined the Glastonbury Festival on 28 June, where they played for the first time since their headline slot in 1998. Reviews of the Glastonbury performance were enthusiastic, The Guardian called them "the best Glastonbury headliners in an age".
The band released their second greatest-hits album Midlife: A Beginner's Guide to Blur in June 2009. After the completion of the reunion dates, Albarn told Q that the band had no intention of recording or touring live again. He said, "I just can't do it anymore", and explained that the main motivation for participating in the reunion was to repair his relationship with Coxon, which succeeded.
In January 2010 No Distance Left to Run, a documentary about the band, was released in cinemas and a month later on DVD and was nominated as Best Long Form Music Video for the 53rd Grammy Awards, Blur's first-ever Grammy nomination. In April 2010, Blur released their first new recording since 2003, "Fool's Day" in April 2010 as part of the Record Store Day event as a vinyl record limited to 1000 copies; it was later made available as a free download on their website.
In February 2012 Blur were awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Music award at the 2012 Brit Awards. Later that month, Albarn and Coxon premiered a new track together live, "Under the Westway". In April, the band announced that a box-set entitled Blur 21—containing all seven Blur studio albums, four discs of unreleased rarities and three DVDs—would be released in July.
Blur entered the studio early that year to record material for a new album, but in May producer William Orbit told the NME that Albarn had halted recording. Blur's official Twitter and Facebook pages announced that the band would release two singles "The Puritan" and "Under the Westway" on 2 July. That August, Blur headlined a show at Hyde Park for the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony which was followed by a world tour the very next year.
On 19 February 2015 Blur announced on social media that they would be releasing their eighth studio album on 27 April, titled The Magic Whip, Blur's first album in 12 years and first in 16 years in their original lineup.
Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett first met in 1990 when Graham Coxon, a fan of Hewlett's work, asked him to interview Blur. The interview was published in Deadline magazine, home of Hewlett's comic strip, Tank Girl. Hewlett initially thought Albarn was "arsey, a wanker" and despite becoming one of the band's acquaintances, he often didn't get on with its members, especially after he started going out with Coxon's ex-girlfriend, Jane Olliver. Nonetheless, Albarn and Hewlett started sharing a flat on Westbourne Grove in London in 1997. Hewlett had recently broken up with Olliver and Albarn was also at the end of his highly publicised relationship with Justine Frischmann of Elastica.
The idea to create Gorillaz came about when the two were watching MTV: "If you watch MTV for too long, it's a bit like hell—there's nothing of substance there. So we got this idea for a cartoon band, something that would be a comment on that," Hewlett has said. The band's music is a collaboration between various musicians, Albarn being the only permanent musical contributor. Their style is broadly alternative rock, but with a large number of other influences including Britpop, dub, hip-hop, and pop music. In 2001, the band's eponymous debut album sold over seven million copies, and featured hits such as the songs "19-2000" and "Clint Eastwood," earning them an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the Most Successful Virtual Band. It was nominated for the Mercury Prize 2001, but the nomination was later withdrawn at the band's request.
Their second studio album, Demon Days, was released in 2005 and included the singles "Feel Good Inc.", "Dare", "Dirty Harry" and "Kids with Guns"/"El Mañana". Demon Days went five times platinum in the UK, double platinum in the United States and earned five Grammy Award nominations for 2006 and won one of them in the Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals category. In November 2005, they staged the first-ever live performances of Demon Days Live involving many of the artists who had played on the successful Demon Days album, as a launch event for the festival. Gorillaz released two B-sides compilations and a remix album. The combined sales of Gorillaz and Demon Days had, by 2007, exceeded 15 million albums.
Gorillaz released their third studio album, Plastic Beach, in early 2010, which was received with high praise. In December 2010, the group released an album called The Fall which was recorded over 32 days during their North American tour. The band also appeared on the Snoop Dogg track: "Sumthing' Like this Night" on his album Doggumentary. In November 2011, the band announced that, on 23 February 2012, Gorillaz would release a new line of Converse sneakers designed by Jamie Hewlett. The selection of footwear is carried at Journeys stores in the US and Schuh stores in the UK. Gorillaz will release a new one off single to accompany with the release of these shoes as a part of Converse's "Three Artists, One Song" campaign.
On 9 February 2012, Gorillaz confirmed that the single will be called "DoYaThing", and that the two collaborators working on this single will be James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and Andre 3000 of Outkast. 2D will rap for the first two verses, Murphy will sing the chorus, and Andre 3000 then overtakes the rest of the track with another rap verse. The track is available for free download in Journeys stores by scanning the QR Code on display items. An explicit, 12 Minute long version of the single was made available for streaming in March. Hewlett directed a new Music Video for the single, featuring animated versions of the two collaborators on this track. Murdoc also stated that the music video featured the Gorillaz' new HQ, for which they have abandoned Plastic Beach.
In a 2012 interview, Albarn talked about the unlikelihood of any future releases from the Gorillaz. His relationship with artist Jamie Hewlett soured when Albarn chose to undercut the role of animation on their Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour. Albarn later rescinded this claim, stating "When Jamie [Hewlett] and I have worked out our differences, I'm sure we'll make another record."
While promoting his debut album, Everyday Robots, in an interview with NME, Albarn said: "I can definitely see another Gorillaz-esque record at some point, yeah. That will almost definitely happen. I could put a Gorillaz record out next week; I’ve got enough stuff that I haven’t finished. The only thing really that defines a Gorillaz record in my head is when I just play most of it on keyboards. I’ve just been in Paris with Jamie Hewlett. There are points in everyone's relationship where they fall out with people that they're close to and then they reconcile, hopefully, and actually, you know, the relationship's probably in a healthier place as a result of that."
In October 2015, Albarn revealed that both he and Hewlett are working on a new Gorillaz album. Albarn said: "I'm in the very early days on a new Gorillaz record. So far, it's really fast, and it's got quite a lot of energy. I've been stuck on piano, somewhere off Broadway, for years now. I want to go somewhere completely opposite of that."
Solo career and side-projects
In 2003, Albarn released an EP called Democrazy, which was a compilation of demos he recorded in various hotel rooms during the United States portion of Think Tank's tour. During September 2011, Albarn had confirmed he was working on solo studio album to be released under his own name, the concept of which is supposed to revolve around "empty club music".
In a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, Albarn announced that the solo record would be produced by Richard Russell of XL Recordings. He also said he would be taking his album on tour, and that he would play songs from all of his other bands, including Blur and Gorillaz.
On 3 December 2013, Damon performed various songs for his upcoming solo album in a private gig at Fox Studios in Los Angeles. On 11 December 2013, Albarn released a 21-second teaser trailer of his upcoming solo album on his official YouTube channel, which he had also shared on his Facebook and Twitter pages. This trailer featured a preview of a song for the solo album and revealed that the album is set for release during 2014.
While hosting BBC Radio 2 alongside Paul Simonon and Idris Elba, Albarn mentioned that the Leytonstone City Mission Choir and Brian Eno will be guest collaborators for his solo album. In an interview with Bat for Lashes, Natasha Khan revealed that she was also going to be a collaborator for Albarn's upcoming solo album.
Everyday Robots was released on 25 April 2014 to generally positive reviews. The album peaked at No. 2 on the UK charts. The album has produced five singles: "Everyday Robots", "Lonely Press Play", "Hollow Ponds", US-only release "Mr Tembo", and "Heavy Seas of Love". It was nominated for the 2014 Mercury Prize for Best Album.
Collaborating with producers Dan the Automator, XL Recordings, Richard Russell & Rodaidh McDonald, Jneiro Jarel, DJ Darren Cunningham aka Actress, Marc Antoine, Alwest, Remi Kabaka Jr., Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and Kwes, Damon Albarn went to Kinshasa for one week to record an album called Kinshasa One Two. The Congolese band Tout Puissant Mukalo joined them as well. All proceeds will benefit Oxfam's work in the DRC. The album was released by Warp Records.
The Good, the Bad and the Queen
In May 2006, NME reported that Albarn was working with Danger Mouse on his first solo album, tentatively titled The Good, the Bad & the Queen. It featured Paul Simonon, Simon Tong and Tony Allen. The album was awarded Best Album at the 2007 MOJO Awards on 18 June.
The first single by the line-up, "Herculean", was released in late October 2006, and peaked at No. 22 in the UK Singles Chart. A second single, "Kingdom of Doom", and the band's debut album were then released in January 2007. That single fared slightly better than "Herculean", peaking at No. 20, while the album peaked at No. 2 in the UK Albums Chart and went gold during its first week of release in the UK. "Green Fields" was released as the third single from the album in April 2007, just missing out on the Top 50. On 27 April 2008, The Good, the Bad & the Queen headlined the Love Music Hate Racism Carnival in Victoria Park where they introduced on stage several guests including ex-Specials keyboard player Jerry Dammers. He also worked with Syrian rapper and friend Eslam Jawaad on the song "Mr. Whippy", though the song does not appear on the album it is a B-Side on the Herculean single.
Rocket Juice and the Moon
Rocket Juice & the Moon is the title of Albarn's new side-project featuring Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and afrobeat legend Tony Allen. Albarn has stated that he is not responsible for the name; someone in Lagos did the sleeve design and that's the name it was given. Albarn has claimed that he's content with the outcome, as trying to come up with band names is difficult for him. The band performed together for the first time on 28 October 2011 in Cork, Ireland, as part of the annual Cork Jazz Festival. They performed under the moniker Another Honest Jon's Chop Up!. A full tour is not expected any time soon due to conflicting schedules, with the Red Hot Chili Peppers' tour continuing until 2013. Their debut album was released on 26 March 2012.
In 1998, Albarn and Michael Nyman recorded the song "London Pride" for the tribute album, Twentieth-Century Blues: The Songs of Noël Coward, a patriotic song Noël Coward had written in the spring of 1941 during the Blitz.
Albarn has contributed backing vocals to the songs "FM" on Nathan Haines' Squire for Hire and "Small Time Shot Away" on Massive Attack's 100th Window, which were released in 2003, however, for both tracks, credit was given to Gorillaz frontman 2D instead. More recently, on Massive Attack's 2010 Heligoland album, he sang on the track "Saturday Come Slow" and contributed keyboards to the track "Splitting the Atom".
Albarn also produced soul singer Bobby Womack's twenty-seventh studio album The Bravest Man in the Universe, released in 2012. He recently performed on Jools Holland's Hootenanny on New Year's Eve, performing track "Love is Gonna Lift You Up". Albarn appeared with Womack at the Glastonbury Festival 2013.
In 2016, Albarn appeared on De La Soul's studio album and the Anonymous Nobody on the song "Here in After". Albarn had previously collaborated with the group on Gorillaz' albums Demon Days and Plastic Beach on the songs "Feel Good Inc." and "Superfast Jellyfish" respectively.
Film, theatre and soundtrack work
"Closet Romantic" appeared on the soundtrack for Trainspotting alongside an early Blur recording, "Sing". Albarn composed the score with collaboration by Michael Nyman for the 1999 movie Ravenous, and was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Music for his work.
In their first major work together since Gorillaz, Albarn and Hewlett, along with acclaimed Chinese theatre and opera director Chen Shi-zheng, adapted for stage the Chinese story Journey to the West as Monkey: Journey to the West, which received its world premiere as the opening show of the 2007 Manchester International Festival, on 28 June 2007 at the Palace Theatre, Manchester.
In collaboration with theatre director Rufus Norris, Albarn has created an opera for the 2011 Manchester International Festival based on the life of Elizabethan scientist John Dee and titled Doctor Dee.
Albarn recorded the film score for the film version of the book The Boy in the Oak, which was written by his sister, Jessica Albarn. The film was set for a spring 2011 release in select theatres.
Albarn wrote the music for a musical based on Alice in Wonderland called Wonder.land with Rufus Norris and Moira Buffini, which officially premiered in the Manchester International Festival on 29 June 2015.
The Heavy Seas
Albarn's live band is called The Heavy Seas, and features guitarist Seye, drummer Pauli the PSM, guitarist Jeff Wootton and Mike Smith on keyboards. Both Smith and Wootton had previously been a part of Gorillaz' Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour.
Albarn starred in Antonia Bird's 1997 film Face alongside Ray Winstone and Robert Carlyle. Albarn was also featured in Gunar Karlsson's 2007 film, Anna and the Moods, along with Terry Jones and Björk. Albarn played "Bull" in Joe Orton's Up Against It, a Radio 4 play about the Beatles broadcast in 1998.
In 2005 Albarn, among others, criticised the London Live 8 concert for not featuring enough black artists; among the few included were Ms. Dynamite, Snoop Dogg, and Youssou N'Dour. Eventually the organisers added a separate concert at the Eden Project in Cornwall to the programme in order to showcase African musicians. Albarn said he did not want to perform at Live 8 because he thought it was too "exclusive" and may have been motivated by self-promotion.
Albarn has been a vocal critic of celebrity culture:
"We need to dismantle very significant parts of our culture and really re-examine them. I suppose you start with the celebrity thing... you have to get rid of things like The X Factor immediately."
In 2006, Albarn was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree from the University of East London, saying it was "great to receive [the] award from an institution where my dad used to work and which I, as a child, used to think of as that big building with lots of interesting people in".
In 2016, Albarn, a long-time advocate of the music of Northwestern African Country Mali, titling his 2002 album Mali Music, has been given the title “Local King", and has received a school of music and dance named after him.
During the 1990s Albarn had a long-standing relationship with Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann. This relationship profoundly influenced his songwriting, notably on the Blur album (1997) on the track "Beetlebum" – said to be about their experiences with heroin – and a number of tracks on 13 (1999), such as "Tender" and "No Distance Left to Run", said to be about their break-up in 1998.
On 2 October 1999 artist Suzi Winstanley gave birth to their daughter, Missy, named after hip hop artist Missy Elliott. Albarn described becoming a father as "witnessing a life force" and saying that "it massively changes you. It slowly sort of shaves off the unpleasant thorny bits and hopefully creates a nicely rounded... I don't know, having a kid, you just become far more, inevitably you look to the future far more and, you know, it's desperate sometimes when you have a particularly bad few weeks of the newspaper just reminding you about this is wrong, this is wrong. We've got ten more years everyone."
Albarn has been an active supporter of various charities and philanthropic efforts throughout his career as a musician and has been involved in various charity albums and singles. DRC Music, a collective formed by Albarn, released their debut album Kinshasa One Two as a charity album in which all of the money earned is given to Oxfam. Albarn has also formed a collective with Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, and Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos to make a charity single with the money earned from that single also donated to Oxfam. In 2013, Albarn alongside fellow Blur bandmate Graham Coxon performed live with former rival Noel Gallagher of Oasis and Paul Weller of The Jam to play Blur's 1999 single 'Tender' in support of Teenage Cancer Trust.
After the September 11 attacks, a series of controversial military campaigns were launched, known as the War on Terror. In November 2001, shortly after the invasion of Afghanistan, the MTV Europe Music Awards were held in Frankfurt, where Gorillaz won awards for Best Song and Best Dance. As Albarn and Jamie Hewlett walked onto stage to make a speech after receiving the latter award, Albarn wore a T-shirt with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament logo on it. In his speech, he said "So, fuck the music. Listen. See this symbol here, [pointing to the t shirt] this the symbol for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Bombing one of the poorest countries in the world is wrong. You've got a voice and you have got to do what you can about it alright?"
In 2002, Iraq was under threat of invasion from a coalition which included the United States and the United Kingdom. Opposition from the public led to protests being organised by a number of organisations. Albarn, who has described himself as being anti-war, spoke out against the invasion.
Albarn teamed up with Robert "3D" Del Naja of Massive Attack and worked with Stop the War Coalition, CND and the Muslim Association of Britain to organise campaigns to raise awareness of the potential dangers of the UK's involvement in the war. This included spending £15,000 on anti-war adverts which ran in the NME, featuring quotes from Tony Benn and the former US Attorney-General, Ramsey Clark.
Albarn revealed that originally, many people who he knew were against the war were reluctant to take a stand, stating "to be honest with you when Robert Del Naja and myself started really stepping up prior to the war it was very difficult to find anyone. And I don't want to name any names because they are people who I respect but they were really, for some reason, very reticent to stand with us. A lot of people who you would now associate with being anti-war at that particular point didn't seem to be prepared to do it."
Albarn was due to speak in Hyde Park on the rally in February 2003 when a million people took to the streets of London in protest at the imminent war. In the event, he was too emotional to deliver his speech. Albarn later revealed that he had "this image of my grandad in his slippers reading the paper, knowing that his grandson had been involved in something which he'd put so much of his life into" and "got over-emotional". He also stated that "it obviously wasn't the best moment to get in that state, when you're at the head of the biggest peace march in the history of this country."
Albarn also attended a protest in November where he commented on the diversity of people in attendance, saying that "It represents everybody. It's the voice in our democracy and that's why we should be listened to." Speaking about the experience in 2008, Albarn stated "I think in this case the only reason we went to war was the result of our individual apathy in the end. You know, our inability to really express what was I think was a consensus that this was a terrifying idea and a very badly thought-out one."
- Everyday Robots (2014)
- Democrazy (vinyl only double-EP of demos) (2003)
- Live at the De De De Der (2014)
Collaboration albums & EP's
- Mali Music (2002) (with Afel Bocoum, Toumani Diabaté & Friends)
- The Good, the Bad & the Queen (2007) (with Tony Allen, Paul Simonon and Simon Tong)
- Live from SoHo (iTunes Exclusive EP) (2007) (with Tony Allen, Paul Simonon & Simon Tong)
- Kinshasa One Two (2011) (as part of DRC Music)
- Rocket Juice & the Moon (2012) (with Flea and Tony Allen as part of "Rocket Juice and the Moon")
- Leave-Taking (2012) (as part of Rocket Juice & the Moon)
- Maison Des Jeunes (2013) (as part of Africa Express)
- In C Mali (2014) (as part of Africa Express)
- The Orchestra of Syrian Musicians and Guests (2016) (with Africa Express)
Film, opera and theatre soundtracks
- Ravenous (1999) (with Michael Nyman)
- 101 Reykjavík (2002) (with Einar Örn Benediktsson)
- Monkey: Journey to the West (2008)
- Dr Dee (2012)
- wonder.land (2016)
Awards and nominations
The Mercury Prize is a highly prestigious annual music prize awarded for the best album from the United Kingdom and Ireland. Nominations are chosen by a panel of musicians, music executives, journalists and other figures in the music industry in the UK and Ireland.
|2014||Everyday Robots||Album of the Year||Nominated|
|2013||Damon Albarn||British Producer of the Year||Nominated|
|2015||Damon Albarn||British Male Solo Artist||Nominated|
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Damon Albarn.|
- Official website
- Damon Albarn pieces including video interviews on BBC Imagine, bbc.co.uk; accessed 2 March 2014.
- Damon Albarn interview at musicOMH
- Albarn's Mali mission, BBC News; accessed 2 March 2014.