REVIEW: Damon Albarn, York Minster, December 2, 6.30pm

Window of opportunity: Damon Albarn played York at last. Picture: Daisy Rutledge

YORK Minster will always drive out demons but welcomed a Damon last night. Damon Albarn, leader of Blur, Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad And The Queen, no less.

Albarn would be playing two sets in one night, an 8.30pm performance being added pronto last month by Leeds co-promoters Crash Records and Brudenell Presents after the 6.30pm show sold out in five minutes.

The advice was to arrive by the door time, advice taken as the hats-and-scarves queue snaked towards Constantine the Great’s statue. Accommodating 600 in the Nave, it would be 7.22pm before Albarn took to his grand piano seat, in studious glasses, after an introduction by a member of the Minster clergy, just as had been the case when York band The Howl & The Hum played there on May 25.

Albarn was not alone, instead being accompanied by an all-female string quartet, who set the hushed, wintry mood with two instrumentals, the second a magical, frost-tipped rendition of In The Bleak Midwinter, with candlelight displaying glowing approval at either side.

The poster for Damon Albarn’s 6.30pm concert at York Minster

In the first ever York concert of his 32-year career, Albarn’s focus was to be on his November solo release, The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows – tickets had been sold in a bundle with a CD copy of the album – although Chris Sherrington, from the Fulford Arms, tipped off CharlesHutchPress to expect “an interesting set”, suggesting past as well as present might feature.

Albarn had first intended the album to be an orchestral piece inspired by the landscapes of Iceland. In lockdown, however, he returned to the music, resulting in 11 tracks rooted in themes of fragility, loss, emergence and rebirth.

Last night, those songs re-emerged with strings attached and in an atmosphere of contemplation, almost everyone in a mask as the new Omicron variant reintroduced caution and uncertainty: those feelings of fragility and loss rather dampening these past months’ sense of emergence and rebirth.

Taking the album’s title from the John Clare poem Love And Memory, Albarn had been on his “own dark journey while making the record”. Crucially, too it had led him to “believe that a pure source might still exist”. That pure source is not specified, but listening to these sombre songs in the stillness of the cathedral made you wonder whether divine intervention could play its part.

Damon Albarn: Played the church organ on Saturday mornings in his youth

That said, as Albarn recalled in his one humorous anecdote, in his youth he had been allowed to play his local church organ on Saturday mornings, until one day the vicar decided his rendition of The Stranglers’ Golden Brown was perhaps not appropriate.

As it happens, it would not have been appropriate on this night either, when melancholia and slow, serpentine songs of icy beauty and grave singing prevailed in a set played in album order (save for the omission of Combustion, Esja and Giraffe Trumpet Sea), climaxing with Polaris and Particles.

Given that the second concert would need to start on time, Albarn explained he had to keep strictly to 45 minutes – although he had wanted to play for longer – as he switched to performing a “few older songs now”.

Beetlebum sounded like it could have come from a George Martin recording session with The Beatles; Albarn aficionados would have recognised Lonely Press Play from 2014’s Everyday Robots, and if you would choose one Blur song to close a church concert…maybe Tender, but surely, The Universal? Yes! The Universal.

Damon Albarn’s artwork for his November solo album

“When the days they seem to fall through you/Well, just let them go,” he sang, with resonance anew after so much drifting through lockdown days. “Well, here’s your lucky day,” he sang too, and we were indeed lucky to be among the 600-strong congregation.

At one point, Albarn had stood up to thank his unnamed string players, so vital to the night’s mood. At another, he talked of the great honour of performing in York Minster and of the “wonderful surprise” of playing in such a vast space (much like York singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s look of awe when he first took in the grandest of Gothic church designs after agreeing to play the Minster).

Albarn, now 53, once tearfully surveyed the masses at Glastonbury on Blur’s comeback, but now he was moved anew, arms aloft at 8.08pm, after making the Minster feel intimate: no mean feat at a serious, seriously good concert.

He would soon enough be doing it all again: the second queue waiting for the doors to open as we departed. Second time around, it turns out he had his wish, playing for longer, adding Blur’s My Terracotta Heart and Under The Westway to the finale before The Universal made 600 more feel so delighted that it really, really had happened: Damon Albarn’s belated first and second coming at York Minster.

Review by Charles Hutchinson

Damon Albarn’s dark journey to launch new album with intimate York Minster concert

The poster announcing Damon Albarn’s York Minster concert

DAMON Albarn will play York Minster in a special intimate album-launch show on December 2.

Yes, you read that right. Damon Albarn. York Minster. Intimate show. December 2.

Hurry, hurry: a gone-in-a-flash sell-out is expected when ticket bundles go on sale tomorrow morning at 10am for the Blur, Gorillaz and The Good, The Bad & The Queen leader’s concert to celebrate the November 12 release of his solo studio recording The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows.

Doors will open at 6.30pm for Albarn’s first-ever York gig, organised by Leeds promoters Brudenell Presents and Leeds record store Crash Records.

“Bit of a crazy announcement…we’re incredibly proud to be teaming up with @Crash_Records to host the legendary @Damonalbarn at York Minster this December!” reads Brudenell Presents’ tweet. “Album & Ticket bundles go on-sale tomorrow via the Crash website.”

That website advises: “Door times 6:30pm. There will be no support and Damon will go on as soon as everyone is inside, so please be prompt so you don’t miss anything (we suggest being there for doors).

The artwork for Damon Albarn’s November 12 album, The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows

“We have set up special bundles for this release where fans can purchase an album on a format of your choice and get a ticket for this exclusive show.

“There is a limited capacity for this (14+ ages) event so we would expect all the album and ticket bundles to sell out very quickly.”

The ticket and album bundles are: CD and one ticket, £23.99, limited to four per person; vinyl LP and one ticket, £34.99, limited to two per person; one ticket only, £20, limited to one per person.

Crash Records say: “We urge you to consider buying an album bundle rather than ticket only as they only cost £3.99 more to get a CD, plus this way you are helping the artist, and the more albums we sell, the more of these exciting album launch shows we are able to put on in the future.

“Full entry requirements from the venue will be sent via email around a week before the event, so please place your order using an email you check regularly and, if possible, add to your safe/whitelist, so it doesn’t end up in your junk/spam folder.

“Shipping is the only option for this event. Tickets and albums will be shipped out together on or just before the release date of November 12, so please ensure the address details are correct. There is No Collect At Venue or Collect In Store option. All tickets and stock will be shipped out.”

“I have been on my own dark journey while making this record,” says Damon Albarn. Picture: Linda Brownlee

The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows is Albarn’s first release for his new label, Transgressive Records, with a track listing of The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows; The Cormorant; Royal Morning Blue; Combustion; Daft Wader; Darkness To Light; Esja; The Tower Of Montevideo; Giraffe Trumpet Sea; Polaris and Particles.

The CD edition will include a 20-minute “hidden” track of a new and original recording that inspired some of the record’s themes, not available on other formats.

The album originally was intended as an orchestral piece inspired by the landscapes of Iceland. This past year, however, has seen 53-year-old Albarn return to the music in lockdown to develop the work into 11 tracks that further explore themes of fragility, loss, emergence and rebirth.

The result is a panoramic collection of songs with Albarn as storyteller and an album title taken from a John Clare poem, Love And Memory. “I have been on my own dark journey while making this record and it led me to believe that a pure source might still exist,” he says.

The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows will be available in a digital format, on limited-edition white vinyl, plus CD and cassette. A deluxe edition will take the form of a case-bound book with additional photography, original scanned lyrics and artwork from Albarn, alongside a white vinyl album, a high-quality digital file and a bonus 7-inch featuring an exclusive song from the recording sessions.


TICKETS sold out in only five minutes for Damon Albarn’s 6.30pm concert on December 2, one Tweeter even saying all tickets had gone by the time she went online at 9.42am before officially going on sale at 10am on November 5 .

A second York Minster show was duly added for 8.30pm that night, with ticket bundles on sale from 9am on November 10. Whoosh, gone too.