Dave Rowntree is preparing to reunite with Blur this summer for a series of massive gigs across the globe.
The musician – who appears as drummer in the group alongside Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon and Alex James – will return to the fold with a pair of shows at London’s Wembley Stadium in July, amid a string of festival dates across Europe.
Reflecting on the enduring success of the band, which formed in 1988 and scored hits such as Parklife, Girls & Boys and Song 2, along with the UK No. 1s Country House and Beetle Bum – he tells RETROPOP’s February 2023 issue: “The reason why we have lasted as long as we have is that it’s all about writing good songs.
“Nothing more to that, really. Lots of people can play their instruments well, as it’s not a remarkable skill because lots of people can do it, but very few people can write good songs. Very, very few.”
Three decades on from their earliest success, Blur are regarded as one of the pivotal acts of the Britpop movement, but Dave is quick to note that back in the day, they weren’t seen as a key player.
“When we started the music, what we were making was incredibly unfashionable,” he explains. “The very early days of the band were in the middle of the Manchester boom, so if you didn’t come from Manchester, nobody really cared. Bands were talked about as being London’s answer to Manchester, or Glasgow’s answer to Manchester, so it was very hard to get a foot in the door.
“There was an article in one of the music newspapers at the time, basically laughing at the idea that a band like Blur could ever become successful. Then a couple albums later the mainstream had completely flipped on its head. Bands like us, Oasis, Pulp, Radiohead and a few others were being championed and none of us had that much in common, except what we were doing was very much not those things that were popular. And it seemed like overnight we were suddenly having No. 1 singles and No. 1 albums. It was extraordinary.”
He continues: “It is interesting that we are now, because we weren’t at the time. The music papers loved to come up with names for things so by the time they came up with a name for this new movement they had imagined, we were already doing something else. We had sort of moved on and left it all behind.
“When you look back now, we were rarely mentioned in those lists of bands who were supposedly part of that whole movement. It was always quite hard to pin us down really. It is much easier to define us by what we weren’t. And I think that’s still true now. Our last album [The Magic Whip (2015)] was a very peculiar beast full of very different tracks. It’s very hard to say what sort of genre it’s in or what kind of album it was. But that’s what interests us.”
If ever there was an example of such, it’s Dave’s new solo album ‘Radio Songs’ – the first of his career – which sees him explore new realms of electronic music, a far cry from the band’s classic sound. “I built my first synthesiser in the eighties out of a kit of parts,” he recalls. “This has been a thing of mine since I was a kid, really.”
Of the themes behind the LP, he says: “I was a kid growing up in the seventies and England in the seventies was a pretty miserable place to be.
“Although there were lots of good things that did happen – like lots of good music and the arts scene was vibrant – in general Britain was a dismal place. There was lots of industrial action, the economy was a disaster, and we were called the sick man of Europe. I have this sense of England heading backwards; we were sold Brexit as this massive step forward into this bright golden sunny future, but it’s a huge step backwards.
“The album was kind of written against that backdrop but it’s not a Brexit album. It just talks about the various turning points in my life and the 1970s was one of them.”
‘Radio Songs’ is out January 20 on Cooking Vinyl and available to pre-order now.
Read the full interview in the February 2023 edition of RETROPOP, out now. Order yours or subscribe via our Online Store, use our Store Finder to locate your nearest stockist, or get Digital Copies delivered direct to your devices.