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Graham Coxon

May 2009

IT has been five years since we last spoke and Graham Coxon still believs in pixies, fairies and elves.
"Oh yeah. I'm still building houses for them at the bottom of the garden."
And the voice hasn't changed. Last time I described it as Dale Winton with a helium balloon.
What has changed since 2004 is that he's back with Blur.
"It's been fun," he says.
"It's a giggle. We're enjoying having a big list of songs... 'let's have a go at that one'... we play it and either mess it up and it's hilarious or we play it really great and it's like 'wow, that's fun, let's do it again'".
Coxon quit the band in 2002 after falling out with Damon Albarn, who'd blamed Coxon's negativity. The guitarist felt it was more to do with musical differences. Five years ago he told me: "They were thinking I was threatening the commercial viability of the record."
That was Think Tank, most of which was recorded after he'd left.
"There's no way I could have been involved in promoting or playing an album like Think Tank anyway," he said at the time.
All differences have now been put aside for a few summer dates, including Glastonbury, Manchester's Arena, T In The Park, Oxegen and Hyde Park.
And there are a few warm-ups shows booked for Southend, Wolverhampton and Newcastle.
His motivation to rejoin must have been the money, the big crowds and to play those songs again.
There's a long pause.
"The motivation really was to get back with me old mates. I was getting bored with the mild anxiety, the mild stress of us not getting on. It's really silly.
"I saw Pink Floyd documentaries, this group that I flipping love, and would be so annoyed they'd be so childish. They'd have some row about who could be called Pink Floyd and money and this and that. And I just thought it's pathetic. And I thought 'gosh, there are people probably thinking the same about Blur'. And that's embarrassing."
He'd warmed to the ideas over the past couple of years as rumours of a reunion grew.
"There seemed to be a pressure for us four to get together and play some songs," says the 40-year-old.
"We were friends since we were 12. And we just had to meet up with each other and talk out what needed to be talked out. Which in the end was nothing. It was something we'd imagined was there because the press had been suggesting there was some problem between us for so long it was almost like there'd become one."
He'd stayed in touch with bassist Alex James throughout the split.
"We had a tradition that on his birthday I'd come to his room and drink a bit of booze in the morning and play a bit of blues. Have a little jam for an hour.
"A big glass of scotch to start the day. So we tried to keep that tradition going."
Coxon was treated for alcoholism at The Priory soon after leaving Blur and has been dry ever since.
So what replaced the booze – Alex James' farmhouse cheddar?
"Yeah, a bit of cheese. Or a bit of a walk."
The alcoholism was typical of the indulgences of the Britpop era and Coxon doesn't look back with much affection.
"The music industry was in mega full swing extravagant mode. We could stay in mega-posh hotels all the time and be outrageous and not really care. And spend a ridiculous amount.
"I used to get in a bad mood that we wasted a lot of money on videos that weren't that great. But that's what the music industry was like. I suppose now it's suffering for it.
"Now it's all a little bit like 'oh God, I have to carry the amps up the stairs'".
So now you're back with Blur you'll be able to stay in those posh hotels again.
"That's what I was thinking. I was wondering – do we get a classy rider? Do we get some Appletiser? I don't know how posh it's going to be."
Why no Nottingham date for the Blur tour?
"They're warm-ups really – it's not a tour. We were only going to do a couple of shows. Then we were going to do a couple of warm-ups. We thought we'd better stop doing warm-ups because it was turning into a tour."
And after this summer?
"Who knows?"
He adds: "In America they don't think anything about driving for five hours to go and see a show. I'm not suggesting anyone in Nottingham get in their car and drive to Manchester."
He is.
In a recent interview, Coxon said that during rehearsals the band had been unable to look each other in the eye.
"God!," he sighs.
"That's a total un-interpretation of what I meant. What I was talking about is that there are a couple of songs that actually are... really specifically about our relationship. I do feel quite shy playing them. You know, a bit coy. Because there was quite an emotional weight behind these songs. So it was just a funny feeling, that's all."
Ahead of the festival dates with Blur, Coxon is on tour with his latest and seventh solo album, The Spinning Top. It's his folk album.
"Mmmmm," he mutters.
"It's not folk music, though, is it?"
How would you describe it then?
"I don't know. They're not 200 years old, any of these songs, are they?" he chuckles.
"I suppose it's influenced by what a lot of players in the 60s were doing to folk. Giving it a bit of swing.
"People like Davey Graham and John Martyn.
"They were giving folk music a bit of groove."
Typical musician – doesn't like the pigeonhole. But most of the 15 tracks are Coxon originals inspired by his folk music heroes. There are occasional shifts to more typical punk pop but the finger-picking acoustic style is undeniably folk.
He was in the city last summer with John McCusker's folk suite Under One Sky at the Albert Hall, which also featured Julie Fowlis, John Tams and Roddy Woomble of Idlewild.
"I loved playing with John. I could just sit back and exist within this great surrounding of sound. These are great musicians I was playing with."
He's still in denial.
"But I can't really call myself a huge folk music fan. I wouldn't be able to tell you the five top-selling folk albums or anything like that.
"Things have an effect on me or not. It's the same with all other sorts of music. I support folk music and as English people we should be supportive of our folk music and not be ashamed to enjoy it. And be proud of it because it's like our soil. It's where we come from."
So, he still believes in pixies but what else has changed in the life of Graham Coxon since 2004? Five years ago he was smoking 30 a day.
"I stopped last October."
He had six motorbikes.
"I've still got all them bikes."
And he hated England.
"Well this country is annoying, isn't it? I love this country and I hate it. I think we could do better sometimes, that's all."
Coxon still has a place in London and Kent and it was at his country retreat that he wrote The Spinning Top.
"At the kitchen table. Big pot of tea. And that back door open."
It must be harder to play live.
"Oh yeah, it is harder. Once I start thinking about my fingers they all stop working properly. They are going ten to the dozen. And there are no distortion units to hide behind. But I like that rawness."

Graham Coxon, Pete & The Pirates, Rescue Rooms, Sunday May 17, 7.30pm, £14, 0871 310 0000.

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