Blur are back with their first album in eight years.
The Ballad Of Darren (Parlophone) has been warmly received by fans and critics, and the band will be hoping for a seventh consecutive No.1 with a big opening week (soundtrack album Barbie: The Album is also aiming for big sales in the compilation chart).
Following a run of warm-up gigs and sold-out Wembley Stadium shows, the album is getting a global livestream launch at Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith on Tuesday (July 25).
Eleven Management have already had a No.1 album with Damon Albarn this year. With strong vinyl sales, Gorillaz’s Cracker Island opened with increased sales compared to the cartoon group’s recent albums.
Now the focus is back on Blur. Here, Niamh Byrne from Eleven Management reveals their plans for the band’s first album since 2015’s The Magic Whip…
The announcement of the Blur album was a genuine surprise on 6 Music - what was the reaction in terms of fans and the industry?
“The reaction by fans and industry has been incredible. It is important not to take things for granted especially after time away. We did gain some insight into what was to come when the first Wembley sold out so quickly [in November last year] and we had to add a second night, which was before the band had decided to record an album.”
How did the warm-up shows build early momentum in terms of press, broadcast and social media coverage?
“The warm-up shows provided an essential launch pad. Not only did they serve a purpose in getting everyone, crew included, match-ready for larger shows, but it also transported the band back in time, back to their roots – to where it all began in tiny venues. The shows were simple, focused on the songs and were just about the four of them. That resonated with fans and media because, as is sometimes forgotten, the music has essentially been the backdrop to a lot of people’s lives and there is a deep connection with the songs.
“Campaign-wise it allowed us to re-tell the story to new fans and follow the journey, reportage-style. Aesthetically we chose to use only black and white imagery and engaged with a team of photographers [Phoebe Fox, Tom Pallant and Reuben Bastienne-Lewis] to share imagery which captured the energy of each live show. Everyone got to follow the journey digitally, from Colchester (Arts Centre, pictured) to Wembley. It was just 12 shows in all to get to Wembley Stadium so the band had to ramp up very quickly and that generated a simultaneous momentum online – for some bands that would literally take a whole year. A testament to their ability to click back in so effortlessly together.”
How significant were the band’s first ever shows at Wembley Stadium, was that quite a milestone and emotional moment for Blur?
“Nothing could have prepared us for the shows at Wembley and especially to see such an outpouring of emotion both from the band and the audience. There is a certain alchemy to moments like these – it’s not something you can plan – and it has to be the right combination of ingredients for it to resonate as it did. The impact of what happened between band and audience felt culturally significant.”
There’s an ongoing Gorillaz relationship with Parlophone, which resulted in a No.1 album and one of the year’s biggest vinyl sales. How does that help with the Blur comeback?
“We have forged a strong relationship with Parlophone in recent times. It has certainly helped to have continuity going from one album to another. We didn’t need to adjust to how we worked with each other – there was an existing shorthand between us. We are proud of what everyone has achieved, each and every individual has worked extremely hard to turn around and release the record in such a short timeframe. For perspective, the album was only completed days before the first warm-up, and the track St Charles Square was debuted [live] that same week.
“It’s been – and continues to be – a huge team effort. From the tour management team and crew to Studio 13, own Eleven team [Niamh Byrne, Regine Moylett, Tanyel Vahdettin, Selena Dion, Ina Dubois, Astrid Ferguson, Stars Redmond, Suzi Grossman, Ellie Nolan, Saskia Blow, Katherine Nash, Hannah Norrisand], all the individuals at Parlophone… Everyone has worked so hard, it’s been an extraordinary achievement to get from the band saying ‘we’re going into the studio’ to this point.”
What are the ambitions in terms of the vinyl for Blur, as it’s arguably their first big campaign on the format?
“The main objective from our point of view is to ensure every product available is carefully considered and curated to meet both the quality of music, as well as deliver for the fans. The band have always had a strong visual aesthetic, it is a very important part of the presentation of their work. That work is the genesis of every decision. We hope that we have delivered something for everyone in terms of the vinyl formats available, from zoetropes to deluxe book vinyl format, it’s wonderful to have even more canvases to play with.”
The music has been the backdrop to a lot of people’s lives
How have streaming platforms supported the new music?
“We are very encouraged by all the support we have had from streaming platforms. We always like to engage our partners early and give them as much time as possible to collaborate with us. They are part of the journey. Blur are a band that existed pre-digital, so it is an exciting space as there is still so much more growth that we can achieve on the back of new music. It is also very pleasing to see the impact that this campaign has had on streaming even without new music – in some instances Blur’s catalogue consumption has been up 100%.”
The Wembley shows clearly boosted the greatest hits - what’s the campaign strategy been on catalogue?
“We were fortunate to have a lot of album anniversaries leading into this period and we ran mini-campaigns around each one. Modern Life is Rubbish had its 30th anniversary – that felt super-important in the run up to the band’s current activity, the album being as relevant now as it was back then.
“As a team, we always endeavour to run a pre-campaign to the campaign with our artists who have extensive catalogue – it is a great way to reignite interest from fans and introduce the artist to new ones. It also helps to increase engagement online, which is important so that we’re in the best position possible when we launch a new album campaign. It also works best when we collaborate with both catalogue and frontline teams working hand in hand to create optimum results.”
What kind of global reach will the livestream give the album? What does Driift bring to the production?
“Doing a live album performance is the perfect antidote to Wembley – it’s a great way to put a spotlight on the new music only. An album is a body of work, carefully curated for the listener – so it’s nice to have the opportunity to hear it being played live in that same running order. It is also likely to be the one and only time it happens – so we hope that fans will appreciate hearing it like this and being part of a very special event. Doing a livestream was a way for us to make it available worldwide. It’s been hard to play shows in every market, so we hope that this is a good way for everyone to participate. Driift has been a great partner making it very easy for us to realise this ambition.”
Are there further singles plans, what has the radio support been like so far?
“The next track is Barbaric and will be a focus track on album release. We have had fantastic support from a wide range of stations and enjoyed collaborating with the BBC on Radio 2 In Concert. “
How much media have the band done – it feels like a more comprehensive campaign than The Magic Whip?
“Their summer tour was in place before any album came to fruition so, actually, it’s been challenging to schedule everything we needed to do. It feels comprehensive because it’s been centred around live shows, which is their natural habitat – so we just amplified this and peppered it with some key interviews and events.”
Finally, how will the campaign continue, are the band members able to commit to further promotion?
“The band will continue to play summer festivals across Europe and Japan, as well as dates in South America in the autumn. We have also been documenting this entire period – from recording the album through rehearsals and on to Wembley Stadium. The band have been enjoying it and have been fully on board throughout the process. We hope to put a film out in due course, which will serve as a perfect companion piece to the album and live shows, as well as share insight into a year in the life of Blur.”
PHOTOS: Phoebe Fox, Reuben Bastienne-Lewis