FT Foodies: Alex James

Blur’s bassist tells Natalie Whittle about blackberry bushes, The Big Feastival and how he is very partial to a post-gig boiled egg

Alex James, bassist in the band Blur, also produces cheese from his farm in Kingham, Oxfordshire. This year, he is co-hosting The Big Feastival there with chef Jamie Oliver.

When I first moved to the farm I’d been living out of a suitcase for 20 years and I stumbled on a blackberry bush in full fruit. It took me straight back to childhood – my dad was a fanatical blackberry picker, with stepladders and everything. When a blackberry’s perfect it’s a hell of a mouthful.

Were you ever a fussy eater?

No, and I lapped up my school dinners – BBC, or beans, bangers and chips, is hard to beat. But custard took a while to get over – I couldn’t face it for years. I still shiver when someone says custard.

Will you launch other products from your farm, apart from cheese?

I had some rhubarb jam the other day that went nicely with Caerphilly. I’m always looking at stuff – beer goes hand in hand with cheese. Monks used to make beer, cheese and music … it all ties together.

What do you eat when you’re playing with Blur?

I’ve been very partial to a boiled egg coming off stage. When we were touring we always had local cheese on the rider, that was the start of my discovery really. Blur are all foodies – we’re good at eating together, it’s like a family. Damon [Albarn] is a remarkable cook.

What did you want to achieve at The Big Feastival this year?

We’ve been trying to get a bit of everything – Pascal Aussignac, who is a real genius, will be playing around; [Mark] Hixey’s there; and then Jamie’s very much involved. He plays the drums, so there are rumours that the Farm Loving Criminals, a new foodie supergroup, might do something. With the festival there are so many decisions to make, it’s a lot of moving parts. We learnt a lot from last year, and the thing was to come back stronger.

Did you get any feedback from your famous festival guests last year?

That was the wonderful thing – everyone had a lovely time. I was delighted the Camerons came. David Cameron is a local MP and so is very supportive.

What would you consider bad manners at a table?

I had lunch with a singer I was thinking of using on a record, and she stuck her knife in her mouth. After that I thought, it’s not going to work …

Where are your favourite restaurants?

Mark Hix’s new place, The Tramshed in Shoreditch, is stunning – 25 quid for a chicken that would slay two people and feed three comfortably. It’s amazing.

www.jamieoliver.com/thebigfeastival/, September 1 & 2.

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