How we made – Graham Coxon and Stephen Street on Parklife by Blur

Graham Coxon, guitarist

Modern Life Is Rubbish [Blur’s second album] was overlooked because of the rise of grunge, but we were halfway to somewhere, and with Parklife we arrived. The album was the convergence of a lot of influences: Alex [James, bassist] wanted to be in Duran Duran, I wanted to be in Wire, and Damon [Albarn] wanted to be … I don’t know. There were songs on the album we were excited about, but I was surprised it got so many awards. One or two would have been all right.

A lot of people thought it was a celebration of Englishness, but it was actually very sarcastic. The Parklife single wasn’t about the working class, it was about the park class: dustbin men, pigeons, joggers – things we saw every day on the way to the studio [Maison Rouge in Fulham]. It epitomises what Blur were about – having fun and doing exactly what you want to do.

But Damon wasn’t comfortable doing the verses – he just couldn’t get into character. He thought it would be better to get in a celebrity, so I suggested the actor Phil Daniels because we were big fans from Quadrophenia. At the line “There was a piece of my heart”, Phil said, “Should I drop the ‘h’? If I pronounce it, it’ll sound more adorable.” We didn’t want to use a forced mockney accent, so he pronounced the “h”.

I play a bit of the German national anthem on saxophone in the “vorsprung durch technik” line. It’s a very comedic song, a knees-up. Oasis were accused of being Chas’n’Dave, but we weren’t far away ourselves.

Stephen Street, producer

Modern Life hadn’t been a commercial success, but the band were still drawing a big touring crowd so the fear of being dropped had gone. We went into the studio to do Parklife soon after.

Damon was directing his attention to a very English kind of inspiration: great records made by the Kinks, and also imaginary characters like Tracy Jacks[Albarn’s civil servant in the throes of a midlife crisis]. The album was made piecemeal: we did a few songs, then they were on the road again, then back in the studio. There were no arguments.

The style of [first single] Girls & Boys was unlike anything Blur had done before, but I thought it would be Top 5 – it was so downright basic. I felt the way I had when I produced the Smiths: that as long as Morrissey was singing on it, it would be the Smiths. It was the same with Blur: they could put their hands to anything, and it would still sound like Blur.

Each song had its own sound and direction: End of a Century is completely different from Girls & Boys, and different again from Bank Holiday. I knew [the song] Parklife would connect with people, and I still often hear it played at Loftus Road [Queens Park Rangers’ ground]. In fact, a lot of football teams play it.

Phil Daniels was first approached to recite a poem over a song called The Debt Collector, but in the end it became an instrumental because Damon couldn’t come up with a poem he liked. So we decided Phil should have a go at Parklife instead. The band and I were already pretty sick of that song, but he invigorated it and we were interested again – although personally, it’s still not one of my favourites.

Interviews by Caroline Sullivan. guardian.co.uk

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