A Year is a Long Time in Rock

There was a phone call from out manager asking if there was anything I thought I should tell him, and a pause. I thought a bit, and told him thanks very much for everything. But this wasn't what he was after. I was under investigation by American immigration control, and they wouldn't issue a work visa. It was making things quite tricky. Hotels and flights had been booked.

"Have you ever done anything wrong in America that you haven't told us about?" He said. I hadn't heard him this perturbed since I missed a jet that had been chartered specifically for me in 1995, or even since he came round to my house and told me to go to bed a week into my 30th birthday party. Gave me the Phil Lynott lecture. I started racking my brains. It's fair to say that America has been the stage for some of the most monumental disgusting bad behaviour.

"I did get arrested once, but I escaped when they let me go inside to put some clothes on. Didn't get my name, wasn't me anyway."

"Well it's not that," he said. "Anything else?"

It's just a horrible feeling, examining yourself and trying to work out what they're thinking about. If you're in a decent band, then you've definitely done something they wouldn't like. They won't tell you what they think you've done - you just have to wait for them to finish their investigations. Once consolation was that if you've done something really, really, really bad, they let you in and nab you there and then. This much we know.

We were supposed to be launching the new album, Think Tank at South by Southwest, a sort of American music business eat-as-much-as-you-like orgy. Immigration were still farting around as the date approached, and the record company was starting to eye me over with some suspicion, as if I were a subversive beardo who had been hiding in a band since the collapse of communism. They thought me very rude and suggested it would be best if Blur got another bass player anyway. I might have been more indignant had I not had my wedding to organize and suggested Graham do the show in my place. That would've confused everybody. Anyway, it was a rather different looking Blur that took the stage in Texas for the first gig of the year.

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A year is a long time in rock; it's practically an epoch. Rock music travels into the past as superluminal velocities. A rock year is probably further than a light year.

It has been a momentous 12 months; I'm basically someone else now. Over the course of the year I stopped smoking; started eating meat; went round the world; got married; went to Mars... sort of.

We finished Think Tank a couple of weeks before Christmas 2002 in Devon. We really didn't know if we'd be able to play live at all without Miss Coxon, or at least whether we'd be able to play any of the old stuff anymore. Tongy - that's Simon Tong to you; he's our tour guitarist - has been immense, a deft and dignified presence. It soon became obvious that the shows would go on.

The wedding day was the best day of my life. I feel light thinking about it. My wife and I went to Italy, where they know just how to look after a lady. The hotel was full of harps and gold shit everywhere. A far cry from our next assignment, a week of shows at the Astoria, a dark and sticky place on Charing Cross Road, and nevertheless one of the best places to see a band: a great old-fashioned ram-jammed sweaty cool theatre. We'd already done a few gigs at this point, so we knew we'd be alright. If it worked in a stadium in Mexico City, it was going to be just fine five minutes' walk from home. Actually, you can always tell how good a London show is going to be by looking at the guest list. They were up for it.

Then my visa arrived, no explanation given. Fine. Off to Palm Springs, an awful suburb in a beautiful desert and home to Coachella Music Festival. The site was a polo club; I have a feeling that the polo club owner didn't have quite the same motivation as Michael Eavis did when he started Glastonbury. It was a stadium rock gig in some naff rich bloke's garden. Still, they do have proper famous people in America. It's where they make them.

We were supposed to be doing a tour of radio station-sponsored shows, playing fifth on the bill with bands who have a lot of tattoos and are called things like The Transplants. They were all lovely boys, but perhaps not - I mean we're Number 1 in Chile, we're halfway to Mars, what are we doing playing stadium cock-ring heavy metal concerts in America? Damon suggested we cancel. The label eyed him with suspicion and suggested we continue with a different singer.

We cancelled the radio station bollocks, took the rap and did our own gigs, which were much better, hysterical, even. Many times I've whirled around North America in a giggling raspberry-blowing stupor. Your 20s are about finding the limits; your 30s are about finding a balance. You have to be strong to keep your balance. Whatever you do, there's always some fucker trying to fuck you.

I've traded in my rock n' roll credentials; they don't really fit me anymore. My preoccupations are: making lists; thinking up art exhibitions; voodoo; my wife; wedding thank-you letters; scientific endeavours of the present; choruses; looking for a pair of plain canvas plimsolls; old rhythms; drawing; stuff and just stuff, you know.

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Gigs, gigs, gigs. Concerts, shows, festivals, performances: whatever you call it when you play music together, that's what we've been doing. The real joy of being in a band, the deep thing that it all flows from is when you are making a really good loud noise. Being on the telly, having your photograph taken, talking about it, traveling, it's all bollocks after awhile. The mass media as a whole is so cheesy. It needs cool music to stop the flow of cheese, the whole of media does.

A band playing live has total control over everything. It's the real thing. No editorial, no censorship, no telemetry, no marketing, just juice, sweaty warts and all. Watching music on the telly and even listening to records is like watching the holiday programme and thinking you've been somewhere. It's just an image of a thing, it's not the thing. The thrill of volume and dazzling lights and being a crowd and losing it, that's the service we like to provide.

It's the music that links us; we all have quite separate lives on tour. Dave is blur-toothed to a small computer at all times when not playing drums. Playing drums makes him very happy.

To say one town is pretty much like another would be quite true, like saying one person is pretty much like another. Of course, they have similarities but the closer you look, the more they reveal their differences - the more individual and interesting each one becomes. We've been to a lot of places this year. Mexico twice. Who goes to Mexico twice a year? In Portland, Oregon, was Powell's bookshop. I thought Foyle's was the world's biggest bookshop but this is bigger. They must have ten million books there, new and second hand. It's like a museum, but you can leave with the things you like. I bust my suitcase, which I've had since Britpop, with books about gardens and magnets.

The Tunnel Club in Bournemouth was another good one. I always avoided it when I lived there - bit too sexy. We'd spent a week in Europe's great cities - Paris, Berlin, Milan and Barcelona - and then I'd gone straight to Bourno for my stag night. The Tunnel is one of the best places in the world.

End of story. It shits all over Paris.

I love to go to new places, where bands don't normally play. You get jaded schlepping round all the usual circuits, whatever level you're doing it at. You're on autopilot after awhile. What's the point? Nobody in a decent band does it for the money, well, unless the money's amazing. Let's do Ghana; let's do Riga, China, Burma. Sunrise in Zurich. Nice.

Moscow was life-affirming. We were very well looked after. If we'd wanted to eat caviar out of prostitutes' twats, we would not have been disappointed. I did have some caviar, but off the spoon. Moscow reminded me of New York before Giuliani made everyone start going to bed. You got a sense of something completely different. You could have stayed forever and been happy; but you could probably do that most places you go.

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A "118" is when you walk off stage and straight onto the bus, which pulls away whilst the audience is still cheering.

I persuaded Flying Tony Ryan to bring the aeroplane into Brussels; the aeroplane Dave and I run isn't really practical for touring, it's not weather-proof. But Brussels is only a 40 minute hop from Elstree, where we keep it, and the forecast was good. The plan was to rock Brussels, and then for Damon and I to dive straight into a cab with Tony; get chips and hoss the fuck back to our own beds for the night. We called this a "100". A "100" with chips.

We smashed through the set, chopped off all the long endings, dropped a couple of slow ones and - thank you very much, bye - were grinning our way to the airport by 10 o'clock local. The taxi driver was a nice beardy. He said he drove us in '95, and that Tony Blair had been through the airport earlier. There's a lot of that in Brussels. Huge busy airport, with an all night chip shop portacabin. The best. I like Belgium.

At some airports, they still make you go through the security beeper when you're getting on your own aeroplane. Twats. But we were licking our greasy fingers, engines running, and taking down complicated taxi instructions by 11. Taxiing around big airports is the hardest part of flying. They really shout at you if you go the wrong way. After take off, I pushed the wrong button and we missed a couple of radio calls. The dude in the tower was hopping mad about our altitude transmitter not working by the time we caught up with him. He wanted us to come back and land at Brussels. Tony stepped in and gave him the chat; he's got the BA voice.

Because our altitude do-dah wasn't working, we were going to have to stay below controlled airspace.

"What would have happened if we'd ignored him?" said Damon.

"Well, he would've scrambled a fighter or two," said Tony.

"Oh right."

The evening was immaculate and you could see forever, it made you want to just keep flying. All the little towns and the tankers lying out to sea. There was nothing doing at Heathrow, so we crept all the way up the Thames, as far as Tower Bridge. Cities never look ugly at night. London is a glittering futuristic golden thing. Blow your head off. I used to feel like this coming back down the M1 in the van in the middle of the night. Feel free. Coming home. We landed in the dark at Elstree.

"Fuckin' wicked mate!" said Damon. Cheers.

You can see a long way from the top of Jodrell Bank Radio telescope too. You can see Manchester and Liverpool next to each other if you stand up there. Hopefully we'll be able to see Beagle on Mars when it lands on Christmas Day. Beagle 2 is the British space effort; it's as big as a motorbike wheel and it can detect signs of life if there are any. Looking for it will be like trying to find a mobile phone on Mars, basically. Blur on Mars. How are we going to top that next year?