Blur back with a bang at Colchester Arts Centre 

Blur soft-launch their summer with a blast of old and new at a warm-up gig in Colchester's former parish church

When news emerged last month that Blur were going on a modest trek around the UK as a warm-up for their Wembley gigs in the summer, not many would have anticipated that a new album would be on the cards too. Yet just 24 hours before they took to the stage for the first time (proper) after seven-and-a-half years away, the quartet told the world they had been in the studio since January quietly putting together their ninth album, The Ballad Of Darren.

If this tantalising development had come at any cost at all, then it was the more trivial matter of time in the rehearsal room before this intimate show in Colchester. “We finished [the album] last Monday and then we started rehearsing,” Damon Albarn confessed to Jo Whiley on her BBC2 radio show. With less than two weeks to prepare, these warm-up shows have naturally been reframed as “public rehearsals”. But what transpired in Essex in front of just 400 lucky fans was an utterly exhilarating affair. Blur are not only as vital and vibrant as ever, but it’s like they’ve never been away.

Blur - The Narcissist (Official Visualiser)

New track ‘St Charles Square’ relaunched their live life in 2023, its fuzzy chug dousing the audience with its unwieldy charms, followed by the infectious baggy shuffle of ‘There’s No Other Way’ and the full-throttle thrash of 1992 single, ‘Popscene’.  “I don’t think we’ve ever played Colchester. We’re sorry it’s taken so long,” apologised Albarn to his childhood hometown ahead of a shimmering ‘Beetlebum’. 

What was undeniable was just how happy the band seemed in each other’s company. All four personalities slipped into their familiar roles: Graham Coxon wrangled wails from his fretboard while flashing the odd smile to Damon, Alex James nodded nonchalantly on his bass, Dave Rowntree drummed diligently (and sung some backing vocals too), while an impish Damon paced the stage with trademark wild-eyed zeal. 

As you’d expect from a warm-up show, some of the deeper cuts from Modern Life Is Rubbish (‘Chemical World’, ‘Villa Rosie’) and Parklife (‘Trouble In The Message Centre’) revealed themselves as less established in the band’s muscle memory. Once match fit, they will add sonic depth and flavour to their sets this summer. One notable absentee was anything at all from 2015’s sublime The Magic Whip. Whether it remains that way only time will tell.

New blur album debuted at Colchester Arts Center

Elsewhere, ‘Coffee And TV’ delighted, ‘Badhead’ and ‘To The End’ serenaded sweetly, and ‘This Is A Low’ summoned the sort of sanctity that befitted the stained-glass backdrop of the Arts Centre. High points were simply too many to mention, and the crowd lapped it up. ‘Parklife’ and ‘Girls And Boys’ wreaked mosh pit havoc, new single ‘The Narcissist’ sounded like an instant Blur classic, and the melancholic musings of ‘For Tomorrow’ and ‘The Universal’ rounded off two hours of beautiful communion between band and fans on a special, special night. 

Soon, the art-rock icons will play for all the people, so many people, but as ‘The Narcissist’ settles into eardrums the world over, Blur have once again proved they are more than a mere nostalgia act: they’re a contemporary concern. Thrilling live shows and a new record? It’s time to get very excited indeed. Roll on the summer.

Blur are playing Newcastle and Eastbourne in May before their headline Wembley Stadium shows on July 8-9. Find tickets here