The Good, The Bad & The Queen live at the
Blackpool North Pier
Albarn rages, but things might just
Photo by Tony
Damon Albarn jabs a finger at Brexit
Britain’s divisions but the show turns bawdily riotous and, with the
help of a male voice choir, inspirational
Away from the Golden Sands and kiss-me-quick hats, Blackpool – with its
faded glamour, devastating poverty and austerity, and where 67% voted to
leave the EU – is startlingly emblematic of the problems and divisions
facing modern Britain. Thus, a rehearsal room here was the starting
point (in 2017) for The Good, The Bad & the Queen’s new, second album,
Merrie Land, in which Damon Albarn, the polymathic songwriter who once
soundtracked Cool Britannia with Blur’s Britpop colossus, Parklife,
attempts to make sense of post-referendum Brexit Britain.
After low-key gigs in similarly pro-Brexit North Tyneside, this
beautiful old Victorian theatre makes the perfect setting to hear the
album in its entirety, yards from the Merrie England bar that inspired
its title, and with Albarn animatedly leaping around what he calls a
“hallowed” stage, which was graced by the likes of Tommy Cooper in more
Merrie Land – with its eerie, Specials/fairground Wurlitzer-type whirl,
English folk, post-Windrush-dub bass from ex-Clash man Paul Simonon and
distant echoes of 90s Blur’s more melancholy moments – is beautiful and
elegiac. However, Albarn sings the hard-hitting title track while
literally jabbing a finger at the uneasy alliance between the working
classes who felt abandoned and the expensively educated Brexiteers, who
“don’t care about us / They are graceless and you shouldn’t be with
The terrific dub-waltz of Nineteen Seventeen sees Britain’s colonial
past held responsible for the seeds of our malaise. Yet this gig is
anything but downbeat. Albarn punches the air triumphantly, the crowd
bawl Gun to the Head and Drifters and Trawlers like music hall
singalongs, and jaws drop when a curtain falls to reveal the massed
ranks of the Côr y Penrhyn male voice choir, who sing Lady Boston’s
coda, “Dwi wrth dy gefn, dwi wth dy gefen di” (“We’re all in this
together”) with stirring Welsh passion.
TGTBATQ’s multigenerational, multiracial line up is a statement itself:
a 78-year-old Nigerian drummer (Fela Kuti legend Tony Allen), Brixton
bassist Simonon and Lancastrian guitarist (Simon Tong), here augmented
by brass and an all-women strings section.
And for all the songs’ litany of care homes, alcoholism, ghost towns and
fly tippers, they tap into a sense that more unites us than divides us.
Albarn sings The Poison Tree beautifully, but otherwise the atmosphere
is ever more bawdy and riotous.
“Everybody stand up and move to the front”, suggests Albarn. The
resulting stampede means he spends the rest of the night shaking hands
with fans in the front rows. “I’m reliably informed my mascara has run,”
hoots the Colchester man, singing with black goo rolling down his face.
After a short interlude, songs from TGTBATQ’s eponymous debut feature
the singer eulogising Blackpool’s past (“Ken Dodd!”), singing with a
ventriloquist’s dummy (“Tommy”) and eventually ending up in the male
voice choir. Somewhere in this moving, amusing and ultimately inspiring
evening there’s the flicker of hope that things will get better.