BLUR HAVE just released their new album, Think Tank. The band's lead singer, Damon Albarn, was one of the most outspoken opponents of the war against Iraq. To many, his stand is even more remarkable given his close connection to New Labour just eight years ago.
Between 1995 and 1998 Blur, along with Oasis, Pulp and Suede, were being labelled by the music press as the saviours of British rock - Britpop had been born. Blair was desperate that some of the movement's appeal would rub off on New Labour.
According to John Harris, the author of The Last Party, in the spring of 1995 Blair, along with Prescott and Alastair Campbell, invited the Blur frontman to Westminster for a chat about the band backing New Labour's bid for power. Campbell spoilt the party somewhat when he asked Damon, 'What if you turned round and said, 'Tony's a wanker'?' Damon assured him that the scenario was unthinkable.
Blair's love-fest with Britpop continued after he won the election in 1997. He invited Noel Gallagher from Oasis and Alan McGee, the founder of Oasis's record label, Creation, to attend one of his Downing Street soirees. After the meeting Noel Gallagher boasted to the press 'Blair's the man! Power to the people.'
The marriage of Britpop with New Labour was complete. Not since the days of the Beatles and Harold Wilson had pop music and the government of the day become so intertwined. The reasons for this marriage were twofold. For the first time since the late 1960s British rock music was experiencing critical and financial acclaim. Secondly, after 18 bleak years of Tory rule, many musicians, just like millions of people, thought things were going to get better.
Union Jacks were painted on guitars, Blair was photographed reading the NME - it was Cool Britannia. But the hopes soon came crashing down. New Labour's anti working class, pro-market policies kicked in quick and hard.
By 1998 Damon Albarn was leading the charge against New Labour's plans to scrap student grants. Chumbawamba tipped a bucket of water over Prescott at the Brit awards.
After the government introduced the New Deal scheme, Alan McGee told the press that Labour was proving to be worse than the Tories. The NME put a picture of Blair on their front cover with the headline 'Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?'
During the London mayoral elections Damon Albarn publicly came out in support of Ken Livingstone. The divorce was complete when Blair backed Bush's war in Iraq. Damon, Massive Attack and Coldplay all came out against the war. After years of silence the godfather of Britpop, Paul Weller, played at a Stop the War Coalition benefit concert in London
Which brings me back to the new Blur album Think Tank. In the late 1990s the NME claimed, 'Blur are as British as Madness and the Small Faces.'
I think the NME were right in what they said but not in the way they meant it. The music of Madness was rooted in ska and reggae, an import from Jamaica. And the Small Faces' sound was heavily influenced by black soul and blues music.
Damon is following in the same tradition. His cartoon pop group, Gorillaz, is an eclectic mix of reggae, hip-hop and dance beats. His most recent solo album, the magnificent Mali Music, is a celebration of that country's heritage.
The new Blur album is reconnecting the music to a heritage stretching from the Beatles through to punk, and along the way borrowing from Moroccan, jazz and folk music. Damon Albarn's music and his stand against the war are worth celebrating.