“The rivalry with Oasis was wanted and benefited us all”: confessions of Dave Rowntree, lawyer, astronomer and Blur drummer

Perhaps, of the four components of blur, Dave Rowntree (Colchester, United Kingdom, 58 years old) is the least popular or charismatic. But the timid drummer is a mainstay in the band that defined the britpop and that this 2023 they will meet again to perform live after eight years of silence. Spain, by the way, is one of the few and privileged countries through which your mini-tour will pass. On June 1 they open it in the Primavera Sound Barcelona, ​​and on the 8th they will be in the Madrid edition of the festival. Rowntree, who claims that the relationship with Damon Albarn (vocals), Graham Coxon (guitar) and Alex James (bass) is excellent, he is also confident that new music from the band will come out of this meeting.

“It’s still too early to tell, but I’d be surprised if we didn’t record anything,” the drummer concedes. Although, in reality, this way of presenting him falls short, since we are talking about one of the most versatile characters on the music scene. Dave Rowntree is, or has been, a left-wing politician, criminal lawyer, radio amateur, astronomer, animator and soundtrack composer. A resume of nerd That does not prevent him from having fully lived the excesses of British pop-rock of the nineties: he had serious problems with alcohol and cocaine, although he claims to have been clean since 2007.

radio days

Rowntree is shown as an affable middle-aged English gentleman across the screen, retaining some of his iconic red hair. He is in his home studio (150 kilometers southwest of London). On his first solo album, Radio Songs, He works as a singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist, and, yes, it all has a lot to do with his baggage with the hertzian waves.

The Blur group photographed in the fall of 1995. Dave Rowntree is first from the right.
The Blur group photographed in the fall of 1995. Dave Rowntree is first from the right.Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music (Getty Images)

“My relationship with the radio has been constant since I was a child,” he says. “My father was a radio engineer in the British Army Air Force. He loved electronics and radio and devoted his entire life to it. He transmitted that passion to me. Just as many parents would take their kids to watch football games or go fishing, he and I would sit at the kitchen table and set up radio sets, plug in an antenna in our backyard, and listen to stations from all over the world. . I loved tuning in to the dial on the long wave, listening to all kinds of exotic music and in strange languages, dreaming of what life would be like in those places.”

But the influence on his life did not stop there. “To some extent, my political awakening also happened because of the radio,” he adds. “I grew up in the south of England with a fairly conventional family. The type of news that we listened to, or the newspapers that we read, had a very similar position on the same events, but listening to foreign stations opened my eyes as a child, because it made me understand that the facts could have more than one interpretation. . I guess that’s where my turn to the left began. I also listened to pop music channels, of course, but for me, above all, it gave me a more formative nature when it comes to technology ”. And it continues in the garlic. “I have a special radio license that allows me to build and design devices, and I still do it and it’s fun,” he says.

In addition to that, he was also on the other side, hosting his own show, first, since 2014, on the British channel XFM and then, in 2020 and 2021, on the platform Spotify. His title was The Dave Rowntree Show. In each chapter she selected several favorite songs grouped around a different theme and told stories about them. “It’s fun to do, but it takes a lot of time. In the pandemic, which is when I decided to take it to podcastI had that time, so I could spend entire days preparing it”, he points out.

England does not dream

Despite what the musician comments about his relationship with his father and the radio, he categorically denies that his album (where midtempos predominate in the form of electronic pop, not too far from Blur’s more reflective songs) is a nostalgic work. . “It’s not a way to look back on an idealized childhood. Actually, it was a bad childhood. I grew up in the 1970s, a horrendous period in my country’s history. The economy was a mess, there were continuous strikes and riots… I have no interest in going back to that time. Although, on the other hand, all those things are coming back to British politics again. The right is on the rise again all over the world. Social services have been impoverished, they no longer work, and as a result, there are massive strikes by public sector workers. The government remains intransigent, it does not seem to have any interest in finding a solution”.

Dave Rowntree, Dave Rowntree (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images)
Dave Rowntree, Dave Rowntree (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images)Brian Rasic (Getty Images)

“I wrote the record around the idea that people look back and think things were better in the old days,” he argues. “And they weren’t. Despite everything, things are better now. Although you have to get them to improve. We must strive to get along better with our neighbors. I think my country has lost all of that.”

It’s the part of the conversation where the political Rowntree comes out, more passionate and fiery than when he talks about everything else. It was in 2002 when he joined the Labor Party. He ran several times for councilor in different London boroughs and, between 2017 and 2021, managed to hold that position in Norfolk County. “Actually, I am a local activist. I like to dedicate myself to my neighborhood, see what problems there are and what things I can do to help”.

I point out the question of whether he perceives that it is now more difficult to dedicate himself to music than when he started. “Of course. It has always been complicated, but now it has reached the extreme, ”he concedes, focusing on the British reality. “Our music industry depended a lot on the European Union, with it we had a potential audience of 500 million people. Right now going on tour in Europe is a very expensive and complicated business. Each country you go to has different laws. It’s not a problem for Blur, we’ll continue to do well, but it is for smaller, younger bands or bands from less affluent backgrounds. A lot of them are leaving the music industry and it’s a shame because this was one of the few things the UK was a leader in: producing and exporting pop music. The government assured that the music industry would not go worse after Brexitbut it would improve. And they lowered their heads and did absolutely nothing. They didn’t even take us into account when negotiating Brexit. It has happened in other sectors: the fishing boat has collapsed. The UK is extraordinarily incompetent right now. The pound sterling has devalued 20%. An astonishing price for no benefits of any kind.”

life on mars

Rowntree jokes when it is suggested that as a drummer for Blur, he became rich and famous (“I can’t stand being described as super wealthy,” he says with an annoyed scowl). And the facts may prove him right in part. “I have always tried to pursue other projects,” he says. When the group stopped after the publication of their think tank in 2003, he finished his law degree and worked for five years as a criminal lawyer (“it was very interesting to me”). He also started a career as a composer of music for film and television.

Damon Albarn hugs Dave Rowntree (behind them, Alex James and Graham Coxon) at the Q magazine awards in London in 2012.
Damon Albarn hugs Dave Rowntree (behind them, Alex James and Graham Coxon) at the Q magazine awards in London in 2012.Dave J Hogan (Getty Images)

“I’ve done very well, and that has given me the confidence to record my own songs,” says the musician, whose first important job in the sector was scoring the award-winning documentary Bros: After The Screaming Stopsupon the short-lived eighties pop duo. There is apparently no plausible link between Bros and Blur, and his drumming confirms this. “We were already a little older when they appeared, but their story is interesting: two young men, with rather badly healed wounds from their experience in the music industry. They haven’t spoken to each other since the group broke up. They tried to organize a massive concert without speaking. And the cameras recorded everything, from the beginning to the end. It is a tragic and hilarious story at the same time and I enjoyed it”, argues a musician whose relationship with the industry was always much more harmonious. In addition to his experience as a commissioned composer, he opened a digital animation studio, Nanomation (he directed two episodes of the series empire squarewhich could be considered the perfect cross between South Park and the visual part of the Gorillaz by Damon Albarn).

But, in addition to that, another of our man’s obsessions is astronomy. Rowntree promoted and financially supported the Mars Express mission, promoted by the British government and the European Space Agency to investigate whether there could be life on Mars. “I was lucky to own a small telescope as a child,” he explains. “I spent my nights looking through. I still have telescopes. In fact, I’m studying a part-time degree in astronomy, to see if I can learn things about it in a more formal way. Space has always interested me, I think it’s something very spiritual because you realize how insignificant our planet is within that grand scheme of things. It puts you in your rightful place in the universe.”

Speaking of the 1990s, Rowntree downplays the legendary Blur rivalry with Oasis (“It was something sought by both parties and it benefited us both. Now we all get along well”) and, although he has finally dared to show his worth alone, he makes it clear that he will not ask for more prominence in Blur if they return to record. “We have a very collaborative way of working that works very well. I have always composed songs, since I was a child, the only thing I lacked was the confidence and the time to show them in public. The four members of Blur always contribute our ideas in all the songs”, he assures.

And he hasn’t been respected either by standing in front of the stage and singing after a lifetime sheltered in the background, behind his groupmates. “I enjoy very much. Everything is very natural to me, I am not shy in front of the public. I’ve already done a lot of that in my other roles, as a lawyer and as a politician, so it’s not something that scares me. Of course, I would not recommend it to other people as an ideal route to follow a musical career ”.

‘Radio Songs’ is released on January 20. Blur performs on June 1 in Barcelona and on June 8 in Arganda del Rey (Primavera Sound).

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“The rivalry with Oasis was wanted and benefited us all”: confessions of Dave Rowntree, lawyer, astronomer and Blur drummer