Later this month (24 August) Blur‘s Alex James is set to face his fans for an intimate questions and answers session – head to Facebook.com/PhilipsCloserTo for more information and tickets – while he also is staging a festival at his Oxfordshire farm between 9-12 September. To get him warmed up for his grilling – “You can come and ask me a question and I’ll tell you everything I know” – and his return to the music industry, we subjected the bassist turned cheese maker to our Q&a inquisition.
Hi Alex, How the devil are you?
“I’m good thanks. I’m like a dog with a bone, thank you very much.”
So you’re going to invite fans to quiz you in person this month?
“It’s lovely meeting people who care a little bit. I stand to get as much out of it as the audience. I think it’s one of the basic human needs to interact like that, so it’s very convenient it’s all been organised.”
It’s nice that while the rich and famous are getting super-injunctions to keep people away, you’re keen to get closer?
“It’s sort of what’s happened since Blur stopped making records, music has stopped been the focus of youth culture, celebrity is now. Don’t you think? It’s a shame, because as I look back on Blur, bouncing my children on my knee, telling them stories about the old days and I realised the lasting satisfaction of it was the music. Music is its own reward. I love singing to them [my children] just to satisfy it and I feel just as special as I did back then. Music is the lovely thing, fame is just like money, something you can earn if you’re prepared to work, but it’s just another form of currency. It’s nowhere near as interesting or as mystical as music… or food.”
Will you be vetting the questions?
“No you can ask me anything. The boring ones won’t be allowed, but try me!”
Ok here’s a warm up one for you: What’s happening with Blur?
“Well, I saw Dave at Damon’s [Dr Dee] opera and I think we’re all friends now and that’s so lovely because there was a period when that wasn’t the case. I think the answer is Blur will happen again, I don’t when or at what point, but it would be a shame if it didn’t. I think it will have to be really special to eclipse what we we’ve done recently. They [the 2009 reunion shows ]were the best gigs we’ve ever done so there would have to be some reason to do it.”
How much fun was it recording last year’s one-off Record Store Day track Fool’s Day?
“It was just lovely. There was nothing horrible about it whatsoever and that’s the great thing about it. When we first started it was the best fun we’d ever had, and it was all I ever wanted to do. When you do it for ten years, whatever it is, it becomes work instead of being play. The great thing about leaving it for a while was when we came back to it, it was coming back with no agenda, just for the hell of it like we did at the beginning. I think it’s important to keep hold of that sheer play. No agenda rather than it just been brilliant and good fun.”
Graham sounded so relaxed on guitar on that track, it was the best solo of 2010…
“Ah Coxon, bless him. It was just two days, not locked in a studio but turn up, have some lunch, play and then do the vocals and everything else the next day. It would be lovely to think we’d do… make a… I don’t know what the hell would happen but I’m up for it!”
Ok, we’ve got our Blur question in, do you think many fans will want to quiz you about cheese?
“The people who wanted to buy Blur records ten years ago now want to buy Stinking Bishop. Caring about the music you listen to and caring about what food you eat is all part of the same mania. Where there were indie bands 20 years ago, now there are indie food producers. It’s a vibrant scene. Frank Sidebottom set himself up saying I’ve got a stupid head, I’m going to do songs about Rocking With Rita, now you can say Ok I’m going to make cheese with blackcurrants that no one else is doing. There’s a huge number of niches that have suddenly opened out in the world of food, just because we’re all thinking about it a but more.”
Indie foodies seem more genuinely independent than most indie bands now.
“I think the Lady Gaga model still works and you can be enormous, but you can’t medium sized or small now. You can only be bigger than ever.”
Does this mean you’re not doing any music of your own then?
“I’m doing my best to keep up with the Arctic Monkeys! Elton John is very diligent about buying all the latest music, I’m more like that with cheese. If I see one I haven’t seen before I buy it, I’d be mad not. I was trying to keep up with the Arctics and the Lilys but suddenly one day I heard the William Tell Overture and went Oh my god this is fucking amazing! I’m listening to more classical music, living in the country I think it’s more of a rural, pastoral soundtrack. Having said that I’ve just been on holiday with my kids and all they listen to is Radio 1 in the car. And I can’t fucking believe how much I love Lady Gaga and Jessie J. I thought I was over it all. I think music is just as brilliant as it has been but there’s a part of me that wants to enjoy something else. I love listening to Bach, it’s like looking at a view. It’s calming. So I’m going to do an album of lullabies, that’s my next move musically rather than dance like Lady Gaga, though I would love to dance like Lady Gaga!”
New lullabies or ‘covers’?
Yeah covers, exactly! Some really old ones, I cover a bit of Bach, Brahms and Beethoven. I’m going to get Stephen Street to do it, he’d be good. Then Jon Lord form Deep Purple has written me one and I might approach a couple of other old rockers. I love the way music can be the soundtrack to the revolution or be the gentlest aid to sleep, like warm milk. It’s hard to let go of what you know and love, but if you can, you can learn and grow. I still love the music I loved, but I can’t believe how much I love Beethoven. I never thought I’d say that.”
You also write a regular food column for The Sun, as a News International employee are you confident you will remain at liberty in the coming months?
“[laughs] Yeah, they can’t pin anything one me.”
Tell us about this festival, Alex James Presents Harvest, you’re staging on your farm. You’re muscling into Glastonbury territoriy…
“Well the festival I’m perfectly reflects by life, mainly food with a bit of cool music. I brought the farm ten years ago when I got married and I look back and realise it was such a precarious and random thing to do, but it’s the best thing I ever did. We brought it off a beef farmer and it was sort of derelict really, it’s not posh it’s a typical rambling farm. There were bees, wasps, bats and God knows what living in the house. I remember on the day I brought it wondering around in the garden, stumbling on a peach tree and not knowing you could even grow peaches in Britain. It still does my head in, we’re growing apricots this year, amazing! It was this sleeping castle and I’ve spent the last decade turning it into this organic cheese machine and having a great time. The idea from going form this sleeping, remote place to having 10,000 people there and all these amazing chefs… We’ll have more Michelin stars than Mayfair! It’s a stellar line up of chefs and some cool bands as well: KT Tunstall, The Feeling, Athele, Kooks. I think it’s a really good use of my resources although I’ll probably picking up condoms in the woods for the next 25 years! Festival invariably all take place on farms but the foods dreadful so I thought it was time to put that right.”
Any plans for another book?
“It doesn’t get any more easier, does it writing? I’ve got to hand one in for next spring at the end of the month so it’s going to be late. It will be the story of moving to the country. It’s the story of going from hard drugs to soft cheeses. All Cheeses Great And Small.”
Has anyone ever tried to buy the movie rights to your band memoir Bit Of A Blur?
“Well it would be expensive to film that, it was expensive to research! No takers, yet. It will be a good film one day.”
Alex James features in Philips Shaving & Grooming Brings You Closer To which is a series of live interviews with sports, film and music icons. For your chance to meet Alex and see his live interview, go to facebook.com/PhilipsCloserTo. For more information on the new Philips shaving and grooming range visit Philips.com