The Good, the Band and the Queen: Damon Albarn’s supergroup return with an epochal album on contemporary Britain
Via the river terrace, a mid-summer breeze blows into the Somerset House courtyard. It swirls with organ music and settles in a still crowd. We’re here for The Good, the Bad, and the Queen – Damon Albarn’s supergroup, reunited after an 11-year hiatus to deliver an epochal album on contemporary Britain.
Looming over the stage is a curtain illustrating grey city towers, a sky coloured oil; white, red and blue balloons strung from Victorian street lamps offset indistinguishable black birds – swallows returning, come to rest? The band emerges, with Damon carrying a wooden staff wrapped in the Union Jack. Introduction plays:
“And specially, from every shire’s end of England
The holy blissful martyr for to seek
That them had helpen when that they were weak”
Is Damon our martyr? Warbling guitar notes introduce Merrie Land and the crowd sings along to the first single off their new album. Gun to the Head, the second, follows swiftly. Here, organ music lifts the crowd into semi-rapturous waves as they dance to a British Invasion-style pop hook, jauntily joining in with tonight’s most recognisable chorus. It feels like a boardwalk party, an old British ensemble joyously celebrating liberty – a stark, deliberate contrast to the tune’s dark lyrics.
But semi-rapturous waves are all Damon and his indelibly talented band receive tonight. The crowd, ageing and of a certain (well-to-do) demographic, seem less interested in The Good, the Bad, and the Queen than the idea of the iconic frontman – Blur, Gorrilaz: remnants of the past. What follows is a near-perfect live reproduction of Merrie Land, halfway through which Damon, after countless attempts to rouse a listless audience, begins to show visible signs of distress. He waves his arms to rile the crowd, sardonically calls out, “Order! OR-DER!”
The North Wales choir graces the stage for a beautiful rendition of The Poison Tree. Yet when the song concludes, Damon carefully places his French horn atop the piano. “This is where we’d introduce the band, but…” His voice trails off; he exits the stage, leaving Paul Simonon (bassist, formerly of The Clash) to do introductions. This is Simon Tong (of The Verve) and Tony Allen (legendary Afro-beat drummer).
But the singer returns – in a Herculean effort. Eminently professional, the band runs through their first, self-titled album in near entirety. And at one point Damon comments, “Somerset House is quite beige. I never noticed.” His face turns to a mawkish grin.
The Good, the Bad, and the Queen have recently delivered masterclass performances; but tonight’s gig makes you appreciate the delicate relationship between the crowd and artists. A mutual respect is required – and regrettably, one side was lacking.
Photos: Virginie Viche
For further information and future events visit The Good, the Band and the Queen’s website here.
Watch the video for Merrie Land here: