The Good, The Bad & The Queen


Best known as leader of Britpop heroes Blur and virtual pop superstars Gorillaz, Damon Albarn has never been one to stick to one project and for that has become the most forward thinking and prolific artist of his generation. The Good, The Bad & The Queen is a project he launched back in 2007 including Paul Simonon from The Clash, former Verve guitarist Simon Tong and afrobeat legend Tony Allen. The foursome released a letter to London in the form of their debut album that very year, an album that was equal parts bleak and magical.

The foursome returned with follow up album Merrie Land late last year, an album addressing the whole country and a spot on soundtrack for these slightly unnerving times. Tonight we are at the forever beautiful surroundings of Albert Hall as the group make their way around the UK for the second time since the album’s release. As expected, the rustic look of the venue very much compliments the sound of The Good, The Bad & The Queen as the stage is dressed in vintage red lamps and a rather spooky looking ventriloquist dummy propped up on the drum kit.

As I sit on the left hand side on the balcony, a string quartet place themselves on a stage set up next to me, all donning baker boy caps to keep with this old English aesthetic the project has taken on. The four players assemble onto stage with additional keys and percussion as well as the strings to help create their widescreen sound. We are then taken through Merrie Land in full, something I feel had to be done due to craft and story that is weaved together to make this full piece.

It’s interesting to see Damon move around the stage with such a sense of vigour, considering this is an often somber sounding record, he still waves to the crowd, shouts out to the front row and rolls around the stage like he’s gonna burst into ‘Song 2’ at any moment. But I soon reach the idea that Damon is taking on the role of a character for these shows and it feels very much a like performance piece than a set; especially matched with the theatrical ticks of Paul Simonon whose iconic shot gun holding bass stance is as captivating as ever.

The band seem very energised and in fine spirit this evening and, for quite a reflective and meloncholic project, I never realised how many great tap your feet and sing out moments they have; ‘Gun To The Head’ is particularly a fun moment as the front row burst into action on its rousing chorus. But of course, there are so many pin drop moments of beauty, ‘Ribbons’ being a highlight as it shows off how beautiful Damon’s vocal is in this understated acoustic ballad.

The band complete the album on the pretty, fairground dream pop of ‘The Poison Tree’ and exit the stage to a completely enlightened Albert Hall. To our delight, the band return to stage to play nearly all of the first album! It’s fair to say that this album has not aged one bit, I love the dub infusions and the afrobeat breakdowns mixed with swirling indie pop majesty and tracks like ‘Kingdom of Doom’ and ‘Three Changes’ send the crowd into an absolute frenzy.

You can tell that the players have really thought about how these songs will translate live and I wasn’t quite expecting such a high level of passion and energy to be running through the set. I was expecting quite a relaxing evening and although I did get that, I was also greeted with theatre and excitement which made for an extremely compelling and climatic live show. I am almost green with envy on how well Damon Albarn can captivate with a band of players this unique; tonight he is unstoppable.

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Benjamin Forrester

I joined the Silent Radio family near the very start of my move to Manchester in 2012 and I'm still having the best time! During my stay here I've been in two noisy bands, had a not so noisy solo project, made a zine, started a blog and started a radio show. It's been productive to say the least and it's all been intersperse with a shit load of gig going and beer drinking. I would love it if you followed me on twitter @dr_brainless for excitable tweets about playing, watching and living new music.