Blur's Alex James on making new album: 'It's exciting and emotional'

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

LONDON (Reuters) - Recording Blur's first new album in eight years has been "exciting and emotional", bassist Alex James says, as the band prepares for a series of gigs this summer where fans will get to hear their new tunes.

Blur, who exploded onto the British music scene in the early 1990s with hits like "Girls & Boys" and "Parklife", surprised fans on Thursday by announcing their ninth studio album, "The Ballad of Darren", would be released on July 21. First track "The Narcissist" is already out.

"What's incredible about this record is it just does feel like we've just sort of picked up where we left off. It just feels really relaxed and not trying too hard and kind of evolved as well," James told Reuters in an interview.

"It is really exciting and emotional. We've been rehearsing the last couple of weeks and someone will turn up late and someone else will be cross about that and I'll be standing there, thinking 'why am I doing this?' and then we start playing one of the new songs and I'm crying by the end. It's mental."

Blur, made up of James, lead singer Damon Albarn, guitarist Graham Coxon and drummer Dave Rowntree, released their last album "The Magic Whip" in 2015. Their previous record came out in 2003.

"There's just a natural chemistry there and the four of us have this gift of just playing together for so many years," James said.

He was speaking before the band's gig in Colchester on Friday, the first of a series of shows in Britain and around Europe. The band will also play two major gigs at London's Wembley Stadium in July.

"We've only done like 20 or 30 shows in the last sort of 20 years and we're doing another dozen or so over this summer so I think every one's going to be really special," James said.

"We're all just ready for it, actually, it feels like the time is right. We started making the record in the depths of winter, and now... we're into summer and we're ready to rock."

(Reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Catherine Evans)