Noel Gallagher; Damon Albarn & Graham Coxon – review

Royal Albert Hall, London

The cessation of hostilities, when it came, was almost poignant – well, for those who remembered the mid-90s feud between Blur and Oasis, which gave the era's two biggest British bands licence to insult each other every week in the press. On Saturday, Damon Albarn and Noel Gallagher buried the hatchet in the name of the Teenage Cancer Trust charity, whose annual week of concerts Gallagher is curating.

They appeared together, along with the Blur guitarist Graham Coxon and Paul Weller (on drums, improbably), on Blur's Tender, separated only by a couple of microphone stands. If that didn't definitively prove hell had frozen over, a hearty backslap at the end did.

Even if their Britpop rivalry was always a joke to all except Liam Gallagher, who believed it was real, there was a genuine "ahhh" factor to this pop rapprochement. Middle-aged now – it was Albarn's 45th birthday – and with Britpop a sepia memory, it was clear the two men had more common ground than differences. "Noel? Noel?" Albarn beckoned. Gallagher duly appeared from the wings and they set about Blur's most pensive song, two veterans strumming and harmonising as cameraphones flashed.

In a musical sense, the shared moment was the only meeting point of a night that showed what different paths the pair have followed. As the night's main support act (the chore of opening was handed to the Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys, who sang frazzle-brained folk songs as the audience chattered) Albarn and Coxon played just three other songs, each of which reminded us that while some people still bang guitars, they have long since moved on. Their set was introduced by Gallagher, who said cryptically: "Sit down, open your mind". One wondered what he made of what followed.

After an ambling cover of Kevin Ayers' May I, Albarn and Coxon were joined by Gallagher's old mate Weller, who was ecstatically screamed at, and the beat poet Michael Horovitz. The 77-year-old recited his Ballade of the Nocturnal Commune poem as Coxon honked a saxophone and the others played keyboards. Then there was a freeform composition written specially for tonight. Horovitz baaed like a sheep and spat words, only some of them decipherable: "War machine and bombs, teenage trust, old age trust, fruit juice!"

Gallagher has always professed to despise this kind of art-freakery, and it would have been wonderful to see his face while it was going on. It took about 10 minutes for his band, Noel Gallagher's High-Flying Birds, to expunge the memory of Horovitz's mischief.

Gallagher authored some stirring anthems in the early years, when he was driven by the compulsion to hear his music sung back at him by 50,000 people at a time, but now he merely pootles. The nine songs played from the High-Flying Birds' self-titled album were of a piece: Tesco-rock with the odd splash of psychedelic and blues window-dressing. Supersonic and Don't Look Back in Anger, nearly 20 years old, are magnificent anyway, but sounded particularly so in the company of Record Machine and If I Had a Gun, which use the four-square rock blueprint of the old songs but omit the crucial swagger.

More pressingly, Gallagher-as-frontman is a work in progress, and tonight Liam was never missed more. Maybe it comes of being the sensible brother, but Noel is a man who gets his head down and gets on with it, intent on giving fans their £75 worth. It got the job done here, spurring the fans into making every song a terrace chant, but it made you wish he would reunite with his estranged sibling. But can hell freeze over a second time?


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Damon Albarn and Noel Gallagher record new Gorillaz track together
Former Britpop rivals also play live together at secret London gig to launch the much-anticipated Humanz album

Nadia Khomami

25, Mar, 2017 @12:46 PM

Blur reunion 'very possible' says Damon Albarn after lunch with Graham Coxon

Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon meeting ignites hopes of a return for the one-time kings of Britpop

Rosie Swash

07, Nov, 2008 @12:01 AM

Article image
Blur's summer concert should be their last, Damon Albarn says
New song, Under the Westway, likely to bring Blur's recording career to an end

John Harris

07, Apr, 2012 @6:00 AM

Article image
Damon Albarn: Blur reunion 'very possible'

The Monkey maestro has announced that his old band could get back together - unless guitarist Graham Coxon hasn't already joined Pete Doherty's group

Rosie Swash

06, Nov, 2008 @12:23 PM

Article image
Graham Coxon – Review
Graham Coxon's punky anthems and crafted songs suggest he's enjoying every minute under the spotlight, writes Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

16, Apr, 2012 @5:51 PM

Pop review: Graham Coxon, Digital, Brighton

Digital, Brighton
This is the venue worst suited to performing a subtle folk concept album in its entirety, says Alexis Petridis

Alexis Petridis

07, May, 2009 @11:15 PM

Article image
How we made: Graham Coxon and Stephen Street on Parklife by Blur
'Damon wasn't comfortable doing the verses – he just couldn't get into character'

Interviews by Caroline Sullivan

16, Jul, 2012 @5:41 PM

Article image
Graham Coxon on the Blur reunion: ‘Pop doesn’t have to be a fleeting thing’
The former Britpop superstars surprised everyone by announcing their first album together for 16 years. Guitarist Graham Coxon explains how it began with a chance meeting in Hong Kong …

Vanessa Thorpe

01, Mar, 2015 @12:05 AM

Article image
Are we out of time? Damon Albarn carried off stage following five-hour set
Blur frontman’s show with Africa Express at Roskilde in Denmark lasted until 4am, and was only stopped once ‘Big Dave’ intervened

Guardian music

06, Jul, 2015 @7:38 AM

Article image
Graham Coxon: A+E – review
Coxon's wilfully abrasive eighth solo album might bring him full circle, but it also sends him spiralling into thrilling new territory, writes Maddy Costa

Maddy Costa

29, Mar, 2012 @9:25 PM