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Drew Athans

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Black Book: The Live History of Blur
by Drew Athans   

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Publisher:  CreateSpace ISBN-10:  1449530389


Copyright:  September 2009 ISBN-13:  9781449530389

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The live history of legendary rock band Blur as chronicled through their live performances 1989-present.

Black Book is the live history of the band blur as chronicled through their concerts. In particular, it tells their story through the narrative of their live performance recordings. Included are sound quality ratings and detailed reviews for every available recording, over 200 concerts. It also includes a detailed tour date list as well as a comprehensive song list, making it the most detailed book of its kind. With 6 years of work going into this book, it is the *definitive* story of blur on stage and around the world. Whether you're interested in collecting blur's live music or just learning more about their live concert history, Black Book will prove to be indispensable!

Professional Reviews

Drew Athans’ Black Book is the sort of thing that no serious Blur fan and bootleg collector should be without. In what has clearly been a serious labour of love, Athans has gone about collecting every bootleg he can find, and as well as making them available via his excellent The Blur Live Audio Archive, he’s written and self published this in-depth history of Blur’s live performances, taking in everything from early appearances by the early incarnation of the band as Seymour to the comeback gigs played last year. The resulting volume is frequently insightful into Blur’s development, and is never less than fascinating.

The book’s main focus is the bootlegs that exist of Blur’s performances, which Athans has gone about collecting meticulously. These provide the meat of the text: as well as providing gig details such as date, venue and setlist, Athans gives what he acknowledges as a subjective rating to the sound quality (distinguishing between soundboard and audience recordings). Additionally, a set of comments follows describing the set and the group’s performance, as well as recording fun anecdotes:

The song surges along and ends in a howl of feedback and noise as the crowd cheers approvingly. Supposedly, Alex swung his bass guitar around at some point during this show and broke Damon’s nose!

Moreover, Athans is adept at putting each gig into the wider context of Blur’s performance and recording history: for instance, recording that the earliest known performance of “Popscene” comes on an audience recording in October 1991; or that during a 1991 performance in Germany “Damon then recites some of the lyrics that would end up in the song Parklife … two to three years later”. Athans charts the enthusiasm with which certain songs are played and go in and out of favour, as well as highlighting versions that are being worked through on the way to what we hear on record.

Throughout Athans’ style is enthusiastic and he has a clear love for the group as well as a deep knowledge of their music. There’s also a great deal of charm, particularly in cases where Athans repeatedly reveals his mystification for group’s hatred for the song “Bang”. It all adds up to a fun and revealing guide to Blur, as well as being an invaluable guide for collectors of Blur bootlegs. There’s always something to be learned from it: for instance, through my own ignorance I had no idea that my copy of Blur’s performance at the Astoria on the 10th of February 1997 was the live performance arranged to promote the launch of Blur that very day (especially since Blur’s tradition of such launch-day performances was something I got very excited about). Details like that may seem unimportant, but they add context and resonance to experience of the bootleg.

In addition to the details and summaries of bootlegs, Athans has provided a full performance history of Blur from 1989 to 2009 (to the best of his research) as well as an index of songs, which is equally full of fascinating details: according to Athans, “Starshaped”, one of my favourite tracks from Modern Life is Rubbish and the title given to the 1993 documentary, has never been played live. Similarly, nuggets are given such as this, under the entry for Blur’s cover of Elvis Costello number “Oliver’s Army”: “Dreadful version that the band has since disowned”; or the version of Rod Stewart song “Maggie May”: “Much reviled by the band, the record company forced them to cover this song. Alex refused to play bass on it, so the bass is supplied by Damon on the organ”. This section of the book is undoubtedly fascinating and could only be improved with the addition of specific lists of where it is known the song has been played (although Athans may have omitted this for reasons of space: set lists are already given for each bootleg, so it’s possible to do this DIY style with a pencil and a bit of paper).

Aside from the odd typo, Athans has done a very respectable job with the self publication of Black Book. Along with his online archive, it’s a tremendous resource.

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