Hong Kong's 'intense environment' shaped new Blur album, The Magic Whip

Guitarist reveals story behind British band deciding to record in city in 2013

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 February, 2015, 9:49am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 February, 2015, 4:05am

Blur's new album The Magic Whip was heavily influenced by the Hong Kong environment in which it was recorded, according to the band's guitarist Graham Coxon.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post the day after the British band announced it was releasing its first album in 12 years, guitarist Coxon revealed the circumstances around the decision to get back into the studio while in touring Hong Kong.

The main recording sessions for the album, which will be released April 27, took place in June 2013 at Kowloon's Avon Studios after concerts in Japan were cancelled.

“Obviously the city is going to make its way into the music,” said Coxon. “A lot of the stuff guitar-wise reflected my anxiety at the intense environment of Hong Kong. And you have this kind of dislocation when you're not recording in your own city.”

The idea of recording in Hong Kong was entirely spontaneous, he added. “It just came up. The management said: look, the shows in Japan have fallen through, and Damon [singer Damon Albarn] said, 'It might be rather nice, rather than just going home and coming back, to give the crew a few days off and find a local studio.'

A lot of the stuff guitar-wise reflected my anxiety at the intense environment of Hong Kong
Graham Coxon

“It was very casually put together. We were all recording in the same room, and we had to step over the guys working there to get into the studio.

“We went back home, got on with our lives and didn't think much of it, except 'That was a nice thing to do'. It was an exercise in whether it was still possible for us to do that. But I couldn't help thinking we'd captured something really nice.”

It took 18 months before he listened properly to the recordings again. Doing so inspired him to take them to producer Stephen Street with the idea of turning them into an album. “When Damon heard it, he was pretty enthusiastic,” and soon the singer started putting lyrics to the music they'd written.

The album, featuring cover art in the style of a HK signboard, written in Chinese, was only finished a couple of weeks ago, and the mastering just days ago. The video for its first single, Go Out, features a Chinese woman making an ice-cream like the one featured on the album cover during the verses, with subtitled cooking instructions in Chinese. Even the name of the album has a Chinese inspiration: it is taken from the wrapper of a Chinese-made firework Albarn bought.

Last weeks announcement, timed to coincide with Chinese New Year, was even made in a Chinese restaurant in London’s Soho.

The band will headline this year’s British Summer Time festival in London on June 20 and at present have no concrete plans to tour Asia, but the release of the new album, said Coxon, makes touring a possibility again. “We just couldn't have done any more shows without some new material. It was getting tedious, and some of the fans were getting peeved about it.”

Watch the video for Blur's new single, Go Out