■ The 51-year-old, who’s on tour with his band The Good, The Bad & The Queen, on Morris dancing, Brexit and Parklife
Is it challenging to go on tour with your album Merrie Land? It’s a sorrowful Brexit lament…
Indeed. I’m comfortable with singing it. This record is as odd as the times. It’s not escapism. It’s more a kind of wonky story… I really enjoy travelling around the country, setting out your little stall, singing your songs and then leaving. It’s quite meditative in a way.
Your song The Truce Of Twilight references the Dorset Ooser, this extraordinary horned wooden head used in Morris dance. Is English folk ritual important to you?
Very much so. That’s my core, my soul. I’m fascinated by Morris dancing. I’ve found the greatest kinship with that old folk pagan idea when visiting other parts of the world. We’re all folk. We all have our spirituality, and it’s a shared thing, not something that divides us.
One thing you’re not doing in 2019 is playing Parklife 25th anniversary shows. Presumably offers have been made to you?
Yes, they have been. I’d only want to perform that if it was a positive thing. Say we got to the point of having a second referendum, then I would be happy to play that record as a celebration and as a way of reminding ourselves of a time when we had an idea of Britishness that wasn’t political. It was more about our music and culture. That was a bit naive, no question, but it had a funny side, it had a humour to it, and was satirical in some parts. So I’m not against performing that album, but I wouldn’t want to do it if I felt like it was just about money.
So people who want to hear Blur play Tracy Jacks and End Of A Century should be lobbying for a second referendum?
[Laughs] Well, if you want to be that crude about it.
You are giving a concert at the Bataclan in Paris, scene of the 2015 terrorist attack. Do you want to perform there almost as an act of solidarity?
Yeah. That’s such a profoundly tragic thing to have in your history. I think it’s important to give spaces like that as chance to live again.
Another member of The Good, The Bad & The Queen is Paul Simonon, bassist in The Clash. Is it true you first met at Joe Strummer’s wedding reception?
Yes, on Ladbroke Grove. That was a very wonderful moment for me. Chrissie Hynde was there as well, and we all got in a huddle together. Joe was really encouraging and made me feel like what I was doing was worthwhile. He was very generous.
English seaside resorts are an important influence on Merrie Land. Didn’t your artist dad Keith Albarn create some weird psychedelic fairground attractions back in the 1960s?
Yeah, he did. For Dreamland in Margate. He called it The Fun Palace — this modular circular environment that people walked through, which engaged with all your senses through different sorts of experiences. There was a bit about it on Pathé News, with him looking very cool and quite a dandy.
You had some sort of Quaker influence in your childhood. How did that shape you?
I wasn’t raised as a Quaker, but there were elements of it in my upbringing. My grandad was a Quaker. His conscientious objection and internationalism, I grew up with all of that. The idea of communication and community have also been important to me. And belief in the spirit and the energies around us all. They come in so many different shapes and forms around the world. I’ve been studying a form of energy called Nyama, which is prevalent in West Africa. I suppose my interest in things like that is connected to those Quaker roots.
You went back to your old primary school in Leytonstone recently. Weren’t you singing Cure songs with the kids?
They sing Friday I’m In Love on Fridays. It’s beautiful. I was really happy at that school, and they seem happy, too. They’ve got lots and lots and lots of musical instruments and they’re all allowed to be musicians. That’s so important. Music is part of our mental health. Playing music together, everyone making a racket in assembly, is a healing thing for everybody.
You’re well known for your collaborators, especially on Gorillaz albums. Who have you played with at home that you haven’t actually made records with?
Paul McCartney. He came round for dinner. I had actually brought back a bass n’goni from Mali, and I gave it to Paul as a token of my gratitude for all the amazing music that he’s made. Paul Simonon was there as well, and we just jammed for a couple of hours.
What about people you’ve wanted to work with?
The ones that got away? There’s a lot of those. It’s about willingness to persist. Lou Reed rejected the first couple of songs I sent him quite adamantly. But I kept sending them until one caught his ear, and then we got on famously. I still haven’t given up on Dionne Warwick. I first tried to get her for Demon Days and that didn’t work out. And then, a couple of years ago, we actually got to the piano in a studio in Brooklyn, me playing and her standing by, but she never actually sang. I got quite close. Next time maybe.
■ The Good, The Bad & The Queen are touring the UK now, thegoodthebadandthequeen.com