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Blur live at Freetown, Stoke-on-Trent
20 March 1991
Reviewed by NME, 30 March 1991

Potter than July!

Damon at FreetownAs the train creeps trough Etruria (yes, it is on the earth - look it up!) I'm flipping through a music paper (it doesn't matter which) when I come across an interview with some current indie great white hope (it doesn't matter which). Listen to this: "I couldn't work in a office...I'm too special...having a job just occupies your time so you don't have to think." In a flash of insight, I realise what complete tosspots these people are - with their blank little faces, awful clothes, and their tiny undernourished version of rock 'n' roll, bereft of sex, love, anger or menace. This is not a good start to the evening.

Then, a little later, I see Blur and change my mind. Almost completely. Blur are, it has to be said, very much a product of their times. There's nary a reference point in their music later than 1968, their hair is right, and their shirts are worn frankly and provocatively outside their trousers. But what distinguishes Blur from some of their lamely groovy peers is that you get the impression that beneath the obligatory mannerisms - the de rigeur drumbeats and 'can't-be-arsed' delivery - there may just beat a raw and palpitating heart of talent.

The Freetown Club nestles beneath the pavements of downtown Hanley. Obviously a precious thing to its patrons, it's an oasis of subversive NME-style fun in the Scampi and Chips end of town. Toying with the rider, the Blurries wonder aloud whether this was a good idea. But in the event, a cramped, subterranean bar is probably the ideal setting for Blur's sound and its obvious affinities with the Roundhouse and Marquee of 20 years ago.

In Blur's soundgarden, a more together Syd Barrett performs punk version of Yardbirds songs while The Jimi Hendrix Experience eat hash cakes by the dahlias. The ethos is fashionably retro, but still modern enough to be exciting. 'Bad Day' revolves dreamily around a great, drooling riff. 'Wear Me Down' flirts with grunge like a flowered up Uriah Heep, and 'Mr Briggs' has captured every nuance of the Ray Davies English story song. 'She's So High' invokes lust at Mogadon pace.

But Blur have enough wide-eyed yet steely love for the possibilities of rock that their music never becomes mere revivalism. They are one of the first generation of bands not to grow up in the shadow of The Clash, and therefore unafraid to plunder the hippy legacy of their elder brother's record collection. But there are some nicely sharp edges. New single 'There's No Other Way' is a gleaming funk racket a la 'God's a Cop' and singer Damon bounces around the store, hands clasped behind his back in a manner no one has done since Slaughter And The Dogs.

The crowd loved it. They go potteries (sorry). One or two dull tunes aside, I loved it too. Back at the hotel, and after some Spinal Tap shenanigans with sandwiches, the receptionist aks "Well, who are they? Are they famous?". "Next week," says the tour manager and, in this topsy turvey pop world, he may well be right.

Stuart Maconie
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