5 Decades of Damon: 50 reasons to celebrate Albarn

On 23rd March 2018, the incredible Damon Albarn celebrates his milestone 50th birthday.  To mark the occasion and as a tribute to his extraordinary life and career, music editor Hollie Griss has compiled 50 of the musician’s greatest feats and memorable moments, ranging from his accclaimed musical successes right through to his lesser-known charity work, acting stints, and various political commentaries…

  1. To begin with, let’s go back to his early music career – as one of the pioneering musicians of Britpop
  2. …whilst the Oasis vs. Blur debate will be forever ongoing, Blur’s ‘Country House’ topped Oasis’ ‘Roll With It’ in the dramatic 1995 charts battle. Points go to Damon.
  3. The music Albarn created with Blur is still some of the most recognisable, iconic music to date. Take for example, ‘Song 2’, otherwise known as the ‘woo hoo’ song by the majority of the population…
  4. …or the timelessly brilliant ‘Parklife’, fuelled by a hilarious couldn’t-care-less attitude…
  5. …and not forgetting the more serious, almost prophetic ‘The Universal’, satirising modern society’s illusory beliefs that any day could be your “lucky day”; definitely not one to be overlooked as just ‘the song on the British Gas advert’.
  6. At the turn of the century, Albarn and artist Jamie Hewitt birthed their brainchild Gorillaz, curating a completely new band dynamic and genre.
  7. Gorillaz soon became the world’s most successful virtual band.
  8. Albarn and Hewitt devised an experimental new method of live performance: the majority of their early gigs featuring holograms of the virtual members on stage.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww9lQsEzRWw
  9. Through Gorillaz, Albarn has showcased his extreme musical talent as a multi-instrumentalist
  10. …specialising in one instrument in particular: his iconic melodica, known best for its ominous riff in ‘Tomorrow Comes Today’…
  11. …as well as featuring in the classic Clint Eastwood, an undisputed classic in itself. What’s a night out without hearing the Ed Case remix?
  12. Gorillaz also meant the creation of Feel Good Inc.; another timeless favourite. But in typical Albarn style, it plays on a darker note, with underlying warnings against hedonism and excess, illustrated more clearly through the music video.
  13. In 2012, Albarn & Hewitt teamed up with Converse to create a range of Gorillaz-inspired trainers.
  14. By way of return from hiatus early last year, Gorillaz dropped “anti-Trump anthem” ‘Hallelujah Money’ the day before the president’s inauguration. More points to Damon for his exquisite timing and subtle digs at modern culture.
  15. Since then, he has gone above and beyond expectations for Gorillaz’s return – with many fans claiming new album ‘Humanz’ to be their favourite; a rare feat to be achieved by bands who continue to make music for over 20 years.

  16. The band are headlining Boomtown festival this summer: showcasing the ability of Albarn’s music to resonate and remain at the heart of the youth for nearly 3 decades.
  17. Everyone knows Blur and Gorillaz, but there are innumerable other projects Albarn has been involved in over the years.
  18. He pioneered the charitable project Africa Express, promoting the concept of musical collaboration to break down borders and boundaries in the modern world.
  19. In 2002, he worked alongside Malian musicians to produce the album Mali Music, the profits of which went to Oxfam.
  20. Later on, in 2011, he worked alongside producers such as Dan the Automator, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and Kwes to create the Kinshasa One Two album, the profits of which benefited Oxfam’s work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  21. Damon Albarn consistently makes a political statement, through the accessible medium of music.
  22. Shortly after the invasion of Afghanistan, Gorillaz won Best Dance at the MTV Europe Music Awards – and Albarn used their speech as a platform for awareness: “So, fuck the music. Listen. See this symbol here (pointing to his t-shirt), this is 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’ve got to do what you can about it alright?”
  23. 17 years later, Gorillaz won Best British Band at this year’s BRIT awards – and whilst times have changed, Albarn’s acceptance speeches clearly haven’t: “Considering our size, we do some great things in music. We got a lot of soul. Don’t let politics get in the way of that shit.”
  24. In 2007, Albarn formed his third band, The Good, The Bad and The Queen
  25. …with an all-star line-up of Paul Simonon (The Clash), Simon Tong (The Verve) and Nigerian musican Tony Allen
  26. …and as a group, they headlined the Love Music Hate Racism Festival in 2008.
  27. In 2012, it was time for another band – Rocket Juice & the Moon
  28. …once again incorporating Tony Allen, and Flea (Red Hot Chilli Peppers).
  29. Alongside this multitude of projects, Albarn also found the time to produce the music for the stage adaptation of Monkey: Journey to the West
  30. …co-create and compose the music for the opera, Dr Dee
  31. …and record the musical score for the film adaptation of his sister’s book ‘The Boy in the Oak’.
  32. After all this, Damon launched his solo career
  33. …releasing the album Everyday Robots – an abstract commentary on our dependence on gadgets, and other aspects of modern society…
  34. …but simply focusing on one project is clearly not the life Albarn was meant to lead – he soon returned to working with both Blur and Gorillaz.
  35. Damon Albarn is not afraid to say the things we’re all thinking: “We need to dismantle very significant parts of our culture… I think for a start you have to get rid of things like X Factor immediately”…
  36. …and when asked by BBC presenter Stephen Smith who he thought was ‘better’ out of Blur or Oasis, responded in an utterly deadpan tone – “Well that’s not a very grown-up question for Newsnight, is it?”.
  37. One of Albarn’s greatest achievements is the incredible array of genres he’s managed to encompass throughout his musical career, branching into alternative rock, electronic, art pop, world, hip-hop, afrobeat, to name a few….
  38. …as well as the sheer amount of collaborations he’s coordinated…
  39. …with legends like Bobby Womack, De La Soul, Hot Chip, Lou Reed, Little Dragon
  40. …to fresh, exciting artists like Little Simz, Kali Uchis, Rag‘n’Bone Man, Kelela and Kilo Kish.
  41. Last summer, Damon put on a one-day festival extravaganza, ‘Demon Dayz’, showcasing the talents of many of these collaborators, with Gorillaz topping the bill…
  42. …and best of all, it was located in seaside town Margate’s famous fairground, ‘Dreamland’ – offering attenders free access to rides as well as all the incredible music.
  43. Albarn himself is frequently a collaborator in the work of other prolific musicians, e.g. his joint performance of ‘Fashion’ with the late, great David Bowie, and his lead vocals in the Fatboy Slim track ‘Put It Back Together’.
  44. He also produced Bobby Womack’s album ‘The Bravest Man in the Universe’,….
  45. …featured on Mura Masa’s debut album…
  46. …and in case he wasn’t already involved in enough, Albarn took a short acting stint in the 90s crime thriller ‘Face’.
  47. Whilst the acting career didn’t last long, Albarn certainly carries a lot of theatrical charisma into his live shows – being one of the most exciting, energetic performers I’ve witnessed…
  48. …and his regular inclusion of a glorious gospel choir in live shows makes them that extra bit special.
  49. Despite his many projects, he remains friends for life with school friend and Blur bandmate Graham Coxon – both times I’ve seen Albarn (performing in his solo project in 2014, and as Gorillaz in 2017), Coxon’s made appearances on stage too, and it’s endearing to see their timeless bond as they perform together.
  50. Above all, Damon’s ability to enchant and capture generations through his powerful and diverse array of music is something truly special, and distinguishes him as a musical legend.


Hollie Griss


Image credit: The Range Place, Blur: Best Of, Flickr, Pinterest, Jamie Hewlett, NME.