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Blur Debut New Songs, Deep Cuts At First Show In Eight Years

21 May 2023 | 8:08 am | Ellie Robinson

As well as their new single ‘The Narcissist’, Damon Albarn and co. premiered a brand-new track called ‘St. Charles Square’.

Blur have returned to the stage for their first proper concert since 2015, treating fans in Colchester, England to a handful of new tracks and rarities (some of which they played for the first time ever).

The Damon Albarn-fronted quartet – now a five-piece with new touring member Mike Smith (who plays saxophone and keyboards) – made their live comeback on Friday (May 19), performing for some 300 fans at the decidedly intimate Colchester Arts Centre. According to, they began the set with St. Charles Square, a brand-new song set to appear on Blur’s just-announced ninth album The Ballad Of Darren.

When they announced the album last week, they did so with the release of lead single The Narcissist. That too made an appearance in Friday’s setlist, following Girls & Boys as the second song in a five-song encore. Elsewhere in the set, Blur delivered the first-ever live performance of Villa Rosie – a deep cut from their second album, 1993’s Modern Life Is Rubbish – and unearthed some tunes they’d not played in at least a decade: Popscene was played for the first time since 2013, Oily Water for the first time since 2012, and Chemical World for the first time since 2009. 

Have a look at some crowd-shot footage of the gig below.

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The Ballad Of Darren is primed for release on July 21 via Parlophone. It’ll mark their first album in eight years – following 2015’s ARIA #5 album The Magic Whip – during which time Albarn has kept busy as the man behind the madness in Gorillaz. While their Netflix movie was cancelled back in February, the digital band released their eighth album, Cracker Island, that same month. It followed 2020’s Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez, as well as 2018’s The Now Now and 2017’s Humanz. Albarn also released his second solo album, The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows, in 2021.

In announcing The Ballad Of Darren, Albarn said in a press statement that it’s “an aftershock record, reflection and comment on where we find ourselves now”. Expounding on the sentiment, Blur guitarist Graham Coxon explained: “The older and madder we get, it becomes more essential that what we play is loaded with the right emotion and intention. Sometimes just a riff doesn’t do the job.”

Alex James also weighed in on the narrative, with the bassist adding that “for any long-term relationship to last with any meaning, you have to be able to surprise each other somehow, and somehow we all continue to do that.” Drummer Dave Rowntree agreed, rounding out the collective statement: “It always feels very natural to make music together. With every record we do, the process reveals something new and we develop as a band. We don’t take that for granted.” 

Blur returned to Australia in 2015, performing in Perth for the first time since the ‘90s. In TheMusic’s review of that gig, we concluded that the band put on an “outstanding show”.