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10 Takeaways From Graham Coxon’s ‘Verse, Chorus, Monster!’ Book
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10 Takeaways From Graham Coxon’s ‘Verse, Chorus, Monster!’ Book

In his memoir, ‘Verse, Chorus, Monster!’, Blur guitarist Graham Coxon reflects on Britpop, addiction and creative approaches to self-care.

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Guitarist and songwriter Graham Coxon was one of Blur’s chief sonic architects, his instantly recognisable playing style roughing-up the group’s sound and ensuring that, no matter how radio-ready a song was, it smuggled some art-rock subversion into the mainstream in the 90s, establishing Blur as Britpop figureheads in the process. In his new book, Verse, Chorus, Monster!, Coxon writes openly about his creative process and his struggles with fame, and how addiction and a subsequent regime of self-care have returned him not only to himself, but to a legion of fans who have continued to support him as a solo artist. Here are ten things we learned from reading Verse, Chorus, Monster!

Listen to the best of Blur, here, and check out our 10 ‘Verse, Chorus, Monster!’ takeaways, below.

1: The “Battle Of Britpop” was a manufactured rivalry

After Blur’s breakthrough album, Parklife, beat Oasis’ Definitely Maybe to win the 1995 BRIT Award for British Album Of The Year, the media – and Oasis’ Noel and Liam Gallagher – were keen to stoke further competition between the two groups. When, in the summer of 1996, it became clear that Blur’s song Country House, the lead single from their The Great Escape album, would be released on the same day as Oasis’ Roll With It, the “Battle Of Britpop” had begun: “the media pounced on the idea of a race to the top of the charts”, Graham Coxon writes in Verse, Chorus, Monster! But, according to the Blur guitarist, things weren’t quite as they seemed.

“Much of the rivalry was framed in terms of class,” Coxon observes. “Oasis were seen as genuine, rough-diamond examples of the working-class North, while Blur were cast as Southern, arty-farty, pretentious gits.” But though he admits to his group’s “arty-farty” leanings, Coxon emphasis that “the description conveniently glossed over several fairly important facts”, including his own childhood as an army kid – “not middle-class by any stretch of the imagination” – amid other privations.

“At the time I felt, ‘What’s the point in manufacturing this rivalry? We’re all from England and we’ve won the war on grunge. Let’s just flipping enjoy being British bands who are doing well.’”

(Oh, and Country House made it to No.1, and it still stands as Blur’s best-selling single.)

2: Damon Albarn wrote most of Blur’s songs, but Coxon gave the group a hit with Coffee & TV

From the indie-rock that characterised Blur’s debut album, Leisure, through to the observational stylings on Modern Life In Rubbish and the more personal, emotive material that made for their boldly exploratory sixth album, 13, frontman Damon Albarn has always been Blur’s chief songwriter. But when it came time to record Blur’s self-titled fifth album, Graham Coxon had a pronounced influence on the direction of the record, writing Albarn a letter “explaining that more than anything I wanted to work the band harder and aim for music that was so scarily powerful it would give people the shivers again”. Soon, he was bringing albums by US alt-rock idols Beck, Pavement and Tortoise into the studio to illustrate what he meant.

“My shake-up letter, coupled with the examples of more adventurous US musicians, definitely infiltrated the album,” Coxon observes. “Without wanting to sound overblown, it was ‘my’ Blur album.” The Blur record also included Coxon’s first original Blur song, You’re So Great, which he describes as a “screwed-up little song… a tea-stained piece of paper of a song”.

It was, however, with Coffee & TV that Coxon made arguably his biggest impact as a songwriter for Blur. After volunteering to help flesh out “a vague idea for a song” that Albarn had, he channelled his anxiety and his first experience of sobriety into writing what would become one of the best Blur songs of all time, complete with an abstract guitar solo initially thrown out as a placeholder, but deemed too good to discard.

When it was finished, Coxon notes, “Damon gleefully conceded, ‘Coffee & TV’s going to have to be a single,’” ensuring that Coxon would be singing it live at Blur gigs for ever more.

“I always took the vocal on that song, even though it was a scary moment, because the guitar part is bloody tricky in itself without worrying about singing in tune. But it was a nice moment too – fans treated it as if it was Graham having his little turn in the spotlight… I always felt they were rooting for me.”

3: Awareness of alcoholism and mental-heath issues forced Coxon to temporarily leave Blur, and have since become central to his well-being

The Britpop era was an unforgiving time for anyone with a sensitive disposition and a tendency towards anxiety. “English blokes are not so upfront about their emotions, and in the 1990s it still felt quite uncomfortable to talk about your feelings,” Coxon writes in Verse, Chorus, Monster! Initially masking his disquiet with alcohol consumption, Coxon eventually realised that he needed to seek help for addiction, leading to his departure from Blur during the sessions for what became their 2003 album, Think Tank. He would turn in a stellar and emotive guitar solo on the record’s closing track, Battery In Your Leg – “a ballad for the good times”, as Albarn sings, having penned the song in honour of his struggling bandmate – but recused himself from further duties.

“In an effort to be open and honest about myself and what I was capable of, I concluded that it would be risky for me to engage in the promotion and touring for this album,” Coxon reveals. “There were still plenty of counsellors around me advising, ‘Be careful what you get yourself involved with.’”

Though he observes, “These days the music industry is much more willing to acknowledge the issues around addiction and mental health,” Coxon continues to work hard at looking after himself: “I have stayed sober for six years now. Although I’m very aware that temptation can always strike, so far I have resisted the impulse… Something has definitely changed for the better.”

4: Drawing has been just as important a creative outlet for him as playing guitar – if not more important, as “art therapy”

Around the same time that Coxon first picked up a guitar, he also began drawing. “As a small boy I drew war scenes and robot battles,” Coxon writes. In time – particularly during the 90s, when he experienced his most difficult encounters with fame – he would fill his notebooks with sketches of monsters, as if visualising externally the internal anxieties he was struggling with. It’s images such as these that inspired Verse, Chorus, Monster!’s title.

“When I look at the role drawing has played throughout my life so far, I can see that it is more like art therapy than the kind of art that makes a career nowadays,” Coxon reflects in the book. “Just as some of my songs are quite openly about alcoholism, depression or anxiety, I sometimes wonder whether, if a psychologist looked at my drawings, I’d be locked up. But it’s a safe way to express how you’re feeling without being judged, and we should all be allowed to do that.”

5: Coxon’s artworks have also been used as album and single covers

Many fans first became aware of Coxon’s flair for visual arts when one of his oil paintings, titled Apprentice, was used as the cover for Blur’s 13 album. He also created a digital image for No Distance Left To Run, released as that album’s final single, and his paintings have since provided artwork for his solo albums, including 2006’s Love Travels At Illegal Speeds and the cover for the hardback comic book that accompanied his 2021 album, Superstate.

6: As well as launching a solo career, Coxon ran his own record label, Transcopic

Coxon was the first Blur bandmember to release a solo album, issuing his debut, The Sky Is Too High, in 1998. He would later pick up NME’s Best Solo Artist award, for Happiness In Magazines, an album which the UK weekly had hailed as “maybe just the best flaming rock’n’roll record of the week, the month and almost certainly the year”.

Seeking creative freedom away from Blur, Coxon launched his own record label, Transcopic, through which he released his own music, plus records by other musicians. “I enjoyed doing all the fun stuff that goes with it,” Coxon says of running a record label, “like coming up with the logo, doing album covers and designing T-shirts and hats. Plus, of course, giving opportunities to other artists.”

7: He is also a prolific composer of soundtracks, including music for ‘The End Of The Fucking World’

Deep into his solo career, and with Blur largely on hiatus, Graham Coxon began recording TV and film soundtracks. Beginning with the score for the 2010 supernatural thriller Curio, and extending to original songs for the hit Netflix TV show The End Of The Fucking World and beyond, Coxon’s soundtracks discography now rivals that of his regular releases for size and stylistic breadth.

“Working on the soundtracks had made me prolific by this point,” Coxon says of the amount of material he recorded for The End Of The Fucking World. “As well as coming up with roughly two hundred songs for the series, I had written around a hundred of my own… What I liked about the whole process was the genre-hopping and time-travelling – sliding between ‘early Beck’ to ‘Devo’ to ‘out-and-out Buzzcocks’ to ‘Bob Dylan’. I found that I was good at it and that it was excellent fun.”

8: Coxon was initially sceptical about Gorillaz – but soon came around

Damon Albarn had conceived of Gorillaz in the late 90s, when Blur were still very much a going concern. But, as he reveals in Verse, Chorus, Monster!, Graham Coxon originally thought the idea was “rubbish” – though he now admits that might have been jealousy on his part, and that a song from Gorillaz’s second album, Demon Days, helped turn things around.

“I liked Kids With Guns, especially live,” Coxon writes. “I also liked the way Gorillaz became a sort of exhibition; that Damon became a curator of talents as they moved through the group… That was the best thing about Gorillaz, for me.” Rethinking his initial stance, Coxon contributed guitar to the Gorillaz albums Humanz and The Now Now.

9: He has recorded with more musicians than people realise – including Duran Duran

As a founder member of Blur and an acclaimed solo artist in his own right, Graham Coxon’s discography currently amounts to 16 studio albums and counting – not including soundtrack work. But he has also been a go-to guitarist for other leading lights of British rock and pop music, among them Pete Doherty and New Romantic icons Duran Duran.

Doherty’s own struggles with addiction have been well documented, and when producer Stephen Street asked Coxon to play guitar on Doherty’s 2009 album, Grace/Wastelands, Coxon realised he had met a “spiritual brother” with whom he shared many similarities, among them a birthday, 12 March. “I found myself really caring for him, and I wanted to be there to help him if he needed it,” Coxon says in Verse, Chorus, Monster! “Not that he did.”

Coxon made for a more cheerfully disruptive presence on Duran Duran’s 2021 album, Future Past, on which he stood in for original guitarist Andy Taylor, playing alongside other living-legend guests such as Italian electronic-music pioneer Giorgio Moroder and former David Bowie pianist Mike Garson. “I thought it would be awesome for them to be weirder than before, to go back to an earlier fork in the road and make a kind of dark yet danceable disco,” Coxon reveals. “While we were jamming and finalising these [songs], I was fascinated by the way the band explored every nuance of a chord, chasing them down every avenue until their possibilities were exhausted.” The results were latter-day additions to the best Duran Duran songs, among them the tracks Anniversary and Give It All Up.

10: Blur have become “an open-ended concept”

Blur released their five career-making albums, Modern Life Is Rubbish, Parklife, The Great Escape, Blur and 13, in the space of seven years – the same amount of time that has now passed since the release of their last album to date, 2015’s The Magic Whip. But, busy with their own projects, each bandmember is happy with the idea of Blur as, in Coxon’s words, “an open-ended concept, a wayward beast that we eventually managed to keep on a leash”.

With or without new music, Blur have regrouped for reunion shows that give fans and band alike the chance to celebrate their legacy away from the pressure cooker that came with being part of Blur in the 90s. Of the group’s 2013 world tour, Coxon says, “Blur was less of a life-and-death situation; none of us were particularly skint; our careers and reputation were established – in fact, we were now part of the ‘old guard’.” He had, finally, made his peace with Blur: “I saw our hits as the fun, daft songs that they always were.”

Buy Blur vinyl and more at the Dig! store.

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