Damon Albarn: ‘Britain is emotionally messed up. Fraught. Disturbed’

Damon Albarn and Paul Simonon from supergroup The Good, The Bad & The Queen on Brexit, British identity and youth rebellion

“Have you considered the consequences of getting into bed with Jacob Rees-Mogg?”

Damon Albarn asks the provocative question in the latest edition of The Big Issue, during an interview alongside bandmate Paul Simonon from supergroup The Good, The Bad & The Queen.

The duo talk Brexit, Britishness, identity and youth rebellion. Referring his question to people in the north of England, Albarn continues: “Do you really want to ally yourself with such extreme views?

“These people are highly privileged, disconnected entirely with your existence. But you are giving them fuel. This is the most devastating thing, emotionally and politically, about Brexit – the license it has given to extremism.”

The Good, The Bad & The Queen are Blur singer Albarn, former Clash bass player Simonon plus legendary Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen and Simon Tong from The Verve. They took time out from preparations for a busy summer of festival shows to welcome The Big Issue to their rehearsal rooms in West London recently.

As well as an in-depth interview, they also allowed us to film them as they rehearsed songs from their second LP Merrie Land. The video is available to readers of the magazine as exclusive Augmented Reality content.

Albarn, who has attempted to get inside the mind of Brexit Britain for this LP, describes Merrie Land as “a mass of observations about a country that is in a period of massive upheaval and uncertainty.”

He goes on to describe modern Britain as “emotionally messed up. Fraught, disturbed, mentally ill, in many ways. And that is not just individuals, it is the collective. Our mental health is not good. Everyone is perplexed and confused and indecisive and difficult and belligerent.”

Asked how music can help heal a divided nation, Albarn and Simonon are not optimistic.

“The problem is that mainstream media don’t allow politics and activism on the airwaves,” said Albarn.

“I don’t understand why people in power don’t realise education and funding for the arts is so important,” agreed Simonon. “What are some of the great things that have come out of this country? The Specials was a good representation of a multicultural society. In this country we have been fortunate to find a common ground. Music was one of those elements.”

The closure of youth centres is criminal,

Albarn goes on to outline his fear that lack of youth centres and art schools in modern Britain is having a devastating effect on the country.

“The closure of youth centres is criminal,” he says. “I put closure of youth centres and art schools as central. When I was a kid, every town had an arts school. That alone is such a litmus test of the mental health of a country.

“It is not dealing with poverty. But it is dealing with the poverty of the imagination. And that is, in parts, as dramatic as all the other multiple manifestations of poverty.”

The Good, The Bad & The Queen are on tour and playing festivals this summer. 

Image: Kevin Davies