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Blur star reveals why he wants to bang the drum for Norwich

Dave Rowntree, formerly from Blur, who is campaigning to become a Labour MP for Norwich. Picture: Denise Bradley

Dave Rowntree, formerly from Blur, who is campaigning to become a Labour MP for Norwich. Picture: Denise Bradley

Archant copyright 2011

As far as career U-turns go, it's pretty extreme to go from playing chart-topping hits in front of crowds of tens of thousands of adoring fans to knocking on doors in Lakenham.

But Dave Rowntree, erstwhile drummer with Blur, says he’s more fulfilled using the power of politics to solve people’s problems than by headlining the Glastonbury Festival.

Mr Rowntree has been an increasingly regular visitor to the city over the past 12 months and it became clear why this week when the 47-year-old was named as one of four people on the selection shortlist to be Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Norwich South.

By his own admission, the route from pop star to banging the drum for Labour was sparked by something of a mid-life crisis.

He said: “About 10 years ago the band was starting to wind down. Things went from being lots of fun to not so much fun, to not being fun at all.

“We had lost our guitarist and we had put everything on the backburner.

“We all had other things going on and at about that time I was turning 40, finding myself lying awake at night thinking ‘hasn’t it all been a bit trivial, hitting things all the time?’”

He said being in Blur was often a self-centred existence – and not always healthy.

He explained: “Twice the band have come and got me out of hospital, plonked me on stage and afterwards I’ve gone back to hospital.”

So, Mr Rowntree, a long-standing member of the Labour party, decided to throw himself into politics.

He said: “I’d always been the sort to stand at the back, to be an observer rather than an activist. But I just turned up one day at the meeting of my local branch in Central London and put myself forward.” Making it his “mission” to breathe new life into the Cities of London and Westminster branch, Mr Rowntree started ringing cabinet ministers and getting them to address the Labour members.

Two attempts to get onto Westminster City Council in 2007 and 2008 were unsuccessful. But he was picked to stand for the Cities of London and Westminster seat in last year’s general election.

While he finished well behind Conservative Mark Field in a traditionally Conservative seat, he had got the bug.

He said: “I’ve done things I’m very proud of and some things I’m not so proud of, but polling night was one of the best days of my life and I say that having headlined Glastonbury!”

Colchester-born Mr Rowntree said he visited Norfolk as a youngster and was no stranger to Norwich, which was why he started to pay closer attention when Labour started looking to name an early challenger to win back the Norwich South seat which Charles Clarke lost last year to Liberal Democrat Simon Wright. He said: “I volunteered to help David Miliband during his election campaign and came up to Norwich for that, which was where I met the Labour campaigners here, such as Marion Maxwell, who I’ve been blown away by.

“I was up here campaigning during the city council elections and I just thought they were a fantastic team.”

Mr Rowntree, who is in the last year of his training to be a solicitor, said he was “thrilled and honoured” to have made it through from about 30 candidates to the final four-person shortlist to challenge for Norwich South.

He said his policy priorities would be housing, jobs and healthcare. He said: “Housing needs to be sorted out because there are some real difficulties for young people. Norwich has got some housing stock which needs updating, in places like Tuckswood and Old Lakenham and it comes down to a question of money. There is money available from the government, or at least there was under Labour, and if I’m MP I’d be shouting from the rooftops for that money to come to Norwich.”

The final hustings will take place on Saturday, November 19 and that night, Labour members will decide which of the four will become the party’s prospective parliamentary candidate.

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