Asking someone to play a festival headline set before seeing them top the bill anywhere else is a big gamble, but to paint Damon Albarn as a rookie would be naive at best, down right stupid at worst. The Blur and Gorillaz frontman is usually to be found at the centre of most things interesting happening in music over the past twenty five years. Tonight may be the first time he headlines a major UK festival as a solo artist, but he’s far from lacking in experience.
“They were the first people to ask me,” he tells DIY, when asked why he chose Latitude. “They asked me with no guarantee that I’d play anything other than this record [new album, ‘Everyday Robots’], so I thought… well, to do a headliner on that basis is quite brave.”
While the world may call this a solo set, Albarn doesn’t see it that way. “I wouldn’t call it a solo record,” he explains. “The only time I’m kind of solo on stage is when I’m playing piano on my own. Most of the time I’m part of a band. This only happened because [producer] Richard Russell suggested it. I recorded the album in my studio over two months, the same set up as we had with [the late] Bobby [Womack], same piano, same mic.”
Speaking about his recent collaborator, who sadly passed away last month, Albarn pays tribute. “You know when you see someone infrequently it’s hard to ask them to be tangible, but I still feel like [Bobby’s] around, he doesn’t seem to have left me. I know he died in his sleep, and I had a conversation with him before, so I know he’s happy about that. I’ll always have his music, and I’ll always have his memories, so, I’m sad but he’s such an amazing spiritual force. I wouldn’t have made a record like this if I hadn’t have had that time with Bobby. He’s just so sort of, open in his singing, he’s not afraid to sing anything.”
Solo album or not, the album ‘Everyday Robots’ feels a more personal record. “I was terrified of some of it,” Albarn reveals. “I thought, God, do I feel comfortable singing this? But now there’s a distance, I love it. It’s a very nice record to sing because it is so personal. It was difficult when the first press came out; it was this stupid headline ‘Heroin and Witchcraft’ [in Q magazine earlier this year] - quite an emotive starting point. That wasn’t what it was about at all, the record was about what I’m about. It feels that whatever void there is to fill is always filled by that first thing.”
If there’s one thing Damon Albarn is never short of, it’s new projects. So obviously he’s got something fresh on the horizon. “The main thing I’m doing is a musical,” he explains. “A proper musical with jazz hands. I don’t think I’ve ever been that far away from Lionel Bart. The first song I fell in love with was his, and I love Oliver, it’s just brilliant. I still love it.”
Bringing it back round to tonight’s set, rumours abound that there’ll be a special guest - only fuelled by quotes from festival organiser Melvin Benn. “I only know so many people,” Albarn says, admitting that something is afoot, “but you can count out the people who are dead. It could be anyone else.”
Interview: El Hunt.