Lovers Lane
In The Flesh

Stage Buzz Q&A: Tim Burgess of The Charlatans • Vic Theatre February 7 • Chicago

| February 1, 2023

 

The Charlatans (photo: Cat Stevens)

English band the Charlatans (aka The Charlatans U.K.) came of age with 1990’s Some Friendly. The album featured the organ-fueled alternative rock hit “The Only One I Know,” which nodded to classics by the Byrds and Deep Purple. The quintet’s sound was bundled into the era’s Madchester scene, with danceable house rhythms, R&B grooves, and touchstones to psychedelic and classic rock. Tim Burgess’ voice, Tony Rogers’ keyboards, and Mark Collins’ guitar each signify the group’s sonic identity today, anchored by founder Martin Blunt’s reliable Motown- and Stax-informed bass. Former Verve drummer Pete Salisbury completes the lineup with style. The group last visited Chicago in 2018, performing at Bottom Lounge in support of the Different Days album.

On February 7, the Charlatans return to perform at the Vic Theatre alongside shoegaze pioneers Ride. The co-headlining Between Nowhere tour falls on the 30th anniversary of the bands’ Daytripper dates in 1993 when both acts were supporting their second albums – namely the Charlatans’ Between 10th and 11th with the clattering and groovy “Weirdo” and Ride’s Going Blank Again including “Leave Them All Behind.” At the Vic, the Charlatans will perform Between 10th and 11th in its entirety. Ride will play its debut full-length album, Nowhere, including shoegaze touchstone “Vapour Trail.” Both bands promise sets full of additional fan favorites and surprises.

Effervescent and industrious Charlatans singer Tim Burgess spoke from home in the UK via Zoom about his band, the group’s connection to Chicago house music, record shopping, his favorite Ride songs, recent solo album Typical Music, his growing catalog of books, fatherhood, and the perils of hauling heavy instruments. Eventually, Burgess had to duck out to host Tim’s Twitter Listening Party. It was his 1287th edition of the album-focused listen-and-tweet session since launching the series during lockdown in 2020. Replay your favorite at timstwitterlisteningparty.com and find the Charlatans at thecharlatans.net.

IE: Have the Charlatans and Ride played together since Daytripper, or is this just something you do every 30 years?

TB: We actually played on the same bill at a festival in Austin, maybe about six or seven years ago. But not really anything apart from that.

IE: What Ride song makes you think, “I wish I’d written that?”

TB: I really like “Mouse Trap.” I like the chords and the vocal section. The song is quite instrumental, but the vocal section and the harmonies are fantastic. I really love “Leave Them All Behind” as well. In fact, I would say that I was a massive Going Blank Again fan.

IE: What Charlatans song do you think would be best for Ride to cover?

TB: Maybe “Sproston Green.” Maybe we could ask Andy (Bell) to join. Or ask the whole band to join. Why not?

IE: That would be really fun to see.

TB: We’ve had tons of people do “Sproston Green” with us, so that’s an open possibility. We’ve had (drummer) Stephen Morris and (keyboardist) Gillian Gilbert (both of New Order) play with us, so we’ve had two drummers. There’s no reason why we couldn’t have Loz (Ride drummer Laurence Colbert) play with Pete. They’re friends anyway. It’ll be dependent on how we feel, I suppose. There won’t be the same thing every night.

IE: I wonder how people will celebrate the anniversary of Between 10th and 11th at shows. Hopefully, you won’t be dodging bouquets of bananas.

TB: There’s plenty of banana skins to be slipped on through life, wherever you go (laughs).

IE: The Charlatans began around 35 years ago. Was there a point when you stopped wondering when the band’s career might crash and realized that it could continue as long as you wanted?

TB: I first got an inkling in 1995. My drive was to never have to work in a proper job again, and that album (1995’s The Charlatans) was really successful. Then we followed up with Tellin’ Stories. But obviously, along the way, there’s been things like the death of (original keyboardist) Rob Collins and the death of (original drummer) Jon Brookes, where we’ve obviously realized it’s hard to say whether or not we’ll be working again next week.

IE: As much as I love hearing the band play new songs, one reason I’m looking forward to this Between 10th and 11th show is that I’ve never heard you play “Page One.” That’s a personal favorite.

TB: It sounds great in rehearsals.

IE: I remember reading that “Page One” was written about feeling trapped by where the band was at that time. Have 30 years changed how you think of those days?

TB: It was a really difficult time for the Charlatans at that point. For lots of it, we only had ourselves to blame. We did the first album, and it was suggested that “White Shirt” become a (second) single in America and that we do a video for it. Julian Temple was set to set to do the video, which was very exciting. For some reason, we did an about-turn and decided that we wanted to release a four-track EP. And then we did another EP. Then it was time to go and release the follow-up album, and we didn’t have any songs. So, we had to write in the studio – a very tough lesson. First, it was really expensive, and secondly, it was really stressful. And so I think the whole album is quite a stressy record.

IE: It was difficult, but now you’re coming here to celebrate it.

TB: That’s a really incredible way of looking at it. I mean, it is a celebration of it. It was suggested that both bands play an album in its entirety, and it was also mentioned that Some Friendly and Between 10th and 11th were big albums for us in America. No one’s heard tracks from Between 10th and 11th for so long. We really only play “Weirdo” and occasionally “Can’t Even Be Bothered.” Very, very occasionally, we’ll play “Tremelo Song.” We’ve not played the album in its entirety since it came out, so it’s very exciting. And we’re thinking, why didn’t we have that idea before? Because this sounds so great, and it sounds so odd. It’s a nervous record. It’s a kind of shoegazey record, even though we didn’t know that it was. It fits into the shoegazing scene that we weren’t involved in. It’s also an electronic record that is not electronic anymore because it’s all played organically. So, it’s really lovely.

IE: “Weirdo” is adopted among Charlatans fans as an outsider anthem. Was that part of your intention for the song? The lyric actually seems fairly dark.

TB: Well, I think the whole album is kind of self-critical. I found it really hard to write even one line in a song. Everything was like pulling teeth. I was a little bit dried up. So, everything came very slowly, and it was hard work. It’s the only time it’s ever really been like that. The next album got a lot better, and after that, it’s just been fine. It was just that one album. I think because the success of the first album was so huge, we made it a kind of – is the phrase, “a rod for our back?” We made it really difficult for ourselves. It was a struggle, but the album sounds great. [Producer] Flood had a big part of it. He would work like he was making a really good dinner. He’d work very slowly but add a little bit here or there and take his time and work really carefully to put it together. And finally, I just went on tons of walks and tried to get more than one line per song (laughs).

IE: You did find some good inspiration. The lyric for “(No One) Not Even the Rain” is memorable, drawing from the beautiful poem “somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond” by e.e. cummings. I read that you were also diving into Bob Dylan then. Does that connect to Between 10th and 11th?

TB: I’m not sure about Dylan at that time. Certainly, he was starting to creep in, but maybe not so much on the album, if I’m honest. There was a track called “Happened to Die” on the Over Rising EP. That was quite Dylanish, I thought. And then, obviously, we came back with “Can’t Get Out of Bed” (on 1994’s Up to Our Hips). That was quite Dylan. But on this album, there’s e.e. cummings, Echo and the Bunnymen, the Cure, and New Order in there, I suppose. But not so much Dylan, I’m afraid.

IE: The last time you were here for a new Charlatans record was in 2018 supporting Different Days. Are there plans for a new album?

TB: Plans, yeah. It’s a bit cold in the studio at the moment. We had plans last year and just couldn’t get it together. That’s just people’s lives at the moment.

IE: It hasn’t been too cold in the studio for you, with three solo albums since Different Days, including last year’s double album Typical Music.

TB: I’m glad that you noticed, but I don’t like to brag about it (laughs).

IE: I suppose if I want to hear you play “Here Comes the Weekend” or “Curiosity,” I’ll have to come your way.

TB: I could do an acoustic version of “Here Comes the Weekend” very easily anywhere on any street corner of America. For “Curiosity,” I might need a capo.

IE: I’ll look for you outside the Vic. I wondered whether anything from Typical Music might have suited the Charlatans. Maybe “View from Above.”

TB: It’s been pointed out, and I think it’s quite right, that I kind of avoided trying to sound anything like the Charlatans in most of my solo albums – up to this point, where I just thought, “Fuck it. I just wanna just write a record that encompasses everything about me.” So, I think “Here Comes the Weekend” could have been. “View from Above” could have been. “Time That We Call Time” even could have been. It would’ve gone down a different route, probably. All of the songs could have been. It’s very strange with the Charlatans, but I like Charlatans being Charlatans. What that means is that if someone walks into a room with a fully formed song, it’s not considered to be something to jump up and down about. Everyone has to be involved in the same room at the same time, which is beautiful. Everyone bounces off each other. However, with everyone’s lives and families and all that kind of stuff now … Tony lives in Ireland. Mark lives in Portugal. I live in London. Martin lives near Manchester. We’re all over the place, so it’s hard to get together.

IE: That’s a tough commute for band practice.

TB: We’ve rehearsed, and it’s good. We might need to sound-check a little bit longer than normal at the first show.

IE: Was any song from Between 10th and 11th particularly tricky to dust off?

TB: Actually, there’s three. “Page One” is tricky, “Chewing Gum Weekend” is tricky, and “The End of Everything” is tricky.

IE: Which of those sounds best?

TB: I really love playing “Chewing Gum Weekend.” When we first relearned how to play it, it was like, “What the fuck were we thinking?” It’s been quite a one to get right. Now it sounds natural because we’re playing it, and it’s smooth. It’s such a fun song. It’s really gorgeous. You’ll be pleased to know that “Page One” sounds fantastic, too. We’ve actually changed the set around, so after “Not Even the Rain,” we’re gonna play “The End of Everything” because it’s such a racket. It just makes more sense to us now. We’re doing all the songs but in a slightly different order.

IE: You found ways to stay busy when the world closed up shop in 2020. Were you surprised by the way Tim’s Twitter Listening Party took off as a communal album-listening experience? Did that grow your audience or deepen relationships in ways that surprised you?

TB: Yeah, of course. All those things. Twitter numbers doubled. My connection with other artists grew – my phone book got bigger. I think it took off because people really appreciated it during a very dark time. I’ll always remember COVID as dark nights. It lasted so long that not every night was dark, but that was how it felt. And there were thousands of people all over the world listening to one record together. It just felt so powerful.

IE: I’m glad that the Listening Party continues. Your two Listening Party books from the series show another way to engage. Will there be a third?

TB: We haven’t done a new deal yet, but it should continue. If it’s not with the same people that the last two books have been out on, then we should find a new person to put it out. There’s gonna be a radio show and a podcast, as well as being on Twitter as many nights as we can without it being ridiculous. During COVID, there was a Saturday where there were like 10 in one day, but there was nothing else to do. You couldn’t really go out, so we just made the most of it. And everyone was so brilliant with their time. Of course, it changed shape along the way. At first, it was just my friends, and then it became everybody from Iron Maiden to Paul McCartney to Yoko (Ono) and Sean (Lennon) doing the John Lennon records, Duran Duran, and flipping everybody, really.

IE: It was fun seeing your own fans go all in for Iron Maiden’s Powerslave during that Listening Party, even if some of the tweets during “Two Minutes to Midnight” were sobering. The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead with Mike Joyce and Steven Street involved, and David Bowie’s Reality with Nicholas Pegg and Mike Garson were other highlights for me.

TB: There were some real curve balls, like Bonnie Tyler and Tom Jones. Robbie Robertson’s done a couple; he’s been brilliant. Barry Gibb. I love it.

IE: We spoke once before in 2015 when you were finishing Tim Book Two: Vinyl Adventures from Istanbul to San Francisco. One idea behind the book is connecting memories of traveling to a physical object like a record. Do you have favorite record shops you like to return to around Chicago?

TB: Dusty Groove. I really enjoyed going there. From what I remember, it was quite a new building, and it had lots of jazz. I bought John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. It was actually for the book, and I can remember it. It was a very nice one to get from there. I’ve always bought records in America and always had to buy an extra suitcase to get home (laughs).

IE: Can you tell me about the Charlatans’ connection to Chicago house music?

TB: It would be buying Chicago house records that were played at the Haçienda (nightclub in Manchester, UK). It would’ve been anywhere between ’87 and ’89. I don’t in any way think that I’m an expert, but it reminded me of the Northern Soul scene, which is kind of like lots of these fantastic records that you dance to, but you have no idea who it is. I had lots of records that said something probably like (deepens voice) “Pump up the …” whatever, or “da BASS” (laughs). I actually can’t remember anyone right now, but that’s okay ’cause it was so long ago. That was the connection with Chicago house. Then, it was the most glorious thing when we played Chicago Metro because that felt like home to us. That was the link, and that was what we were about. That was the vibe. Going there was like going to Graceland or something.

IE: Metro is still a favorite. My first show when moving back here was seeing Guided by Voices there.

TB: Wow, wow, wow. There’s a great recording of us; I think it’s a semi-bootleg or whatever, but it’s called Isolation. It’s the Charlatans at Metro in ’91.

IE: My vinyl copy of Between 10th and 11th includes that recording.

TB: Oh, of course. There you go.

IE: Another thing you mentioned when we spoke in 2015 what that your son was two and a half. You told me he had been brought along as an infant producer while the Charlatans recorded Modern Nature. You knew when you had a good song based on his primal reaction.

TB: Yeah, as a conduit.

IE: Maybe he’s ready to produce another Charlatans album. Has he turned ten already?

TB: No, May 1st. He’s so into music, but it comes from a new place, and that’s Minecraft and Fortnite. We find music through his games and then on Shazam and YouTube. It’s just amazing, really. They’re all quite hip-hop based. So, maybe I’ll start teaching him about N.W.A. or something like that in the future. It’ll be like (exaggerated voice), “When I was a lad, there was this band …” (laughs). “Eazy-E, his name was!”

IE: If he starts singing “Straight Outta Compton,” you might have to send him to school with an “explicit content” sticker.

TB: Oh, yeah. Well, he likes to swear. They just can’t help it. It’s part of the boundaries [to push], isn’t it?

IE: I imagine we’ll get to hear perennials like “North Country Boy,” but I’ll slip a note under the door for “Oh! Vanity” or “Plastic Machinery.” Do you have a thing or two planned from Different Days?

TB: “Plastic Machinery” is always a good one. “Different Days” is very nice too. When we were touring that record, “Solutions” and “Hey Sunrise” were fantastic, but we haven’t dug that deep. But “Oh! Vanity” is a good call, and “North Country Boy” is probably very high on the list. I want to play to our strengths, I suppose.

IE: I recently spoke with Mike Love, who advocated for the benefits of transcendental meditation. I believe that you have also found TM to be healthy for you. Was it something you found to be beneficial right away, or did you grow into it? Is it hard to keep it in your routine when you’re traveling? Is it a necessity on the road?

TB: I think it’s necessary for me. I do it twice a day. It’s interesting that you said, “Did it affect you straight away?” I think you have to grow into it. I dunno what anybody else thinks, but I was hoping it was gonna happen straight away. I had to calm down a little bit to properly integrate the technique. It took maybe six or eight months, although everything changed after the first one I did. The brightness of the colors of life seemed to change.

IE: How long have you practiced?

TB: Maybe 14 years or something like that. Maybe longer because I gave up alcohol and drugs in 2006, and I kind of stopped hanging out with anyone who was involved in that kind of lifestyle. And I felt like I needed something, you know? So, a couple of years later, I just started. It was probably about 2008.

IE: You must have been aware of it for a long time. I would have heard about it because of the Beach Boys and the Beatles.

TB: Of course, yeah. Definitely from the Beatles videos. As soon as they go to Bangor, I was like, whoa, who’s this guy [the Maharishi]?

IE: It was in the background, but it took a lifestyle change to become interested.

TB: For me, it was the Maharishi and also David Lynch. I think I’d heard that he was a meditator, but I was sitting in a party in my own flat. Lots of my friends were drinking and taking drugs and playing records. They were playing like five seconds of each song and then changing the song. I wanted to maintain these friendships even though I’d given up drinking. So, I sat in the corner with a diet Coke, and my friend Amy came over to me and said (dryly), “Huh, you look like you’re having a great time.” And I said, “Okay, yeah, how are you?” And she goes, “Have you ever thought about meditating?”

I said, “No, not really.” She said, “Have you ever heard of Maharishi?” And I said, “Yeah, of course. The Beatles.” [We talked about] David Lynch, who had felt the benefits of it since being a teenager, and he still does it now. It was like, whoa. It seemed to make sense with the films that he made, and I was a huge fan. She said, “I’ve been doing it since I was four years old.” And she was just one of my friends who was, I’m gonna say, normal. I had this image that people who meditated were, you know, “transcendental” and did the yogic flying (laughs). After that, it was like, okay, where do I sign up? Within three days, I was on my way to a course.

But that was like a eureka moment for me. When she said it, all those Beatles videos seemed to make sense and what they were searching for. I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s so simple.

IE: It’s interesting trying to connect the dots to sources of the Charlatans sound because they’re broad but so well integrated. You drew from things I didn’t have access to when I first heard the band. I had heard some British music bubbling up in the late ’80s but knew nothing about house music. I enjoyed recognizing bits of the Rolling Stones in your sound, but the biggest rock band I knew that played dance music was INXS. Later, Kula Shaker seemed like they were on your wavelength, but that was years after you’d started.

TB: Connections with other bands – there’s Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays, and Stone Roses. There are bands like Soup Dragons and Primal Scream, who were all kind of shifting towards a dance element. That basically came from going to the Haçienda. There’s this guy called Dave Haslam who would play Indie rock and dance music and Carly Simon. So, it was kind of a mashup.

And then the Chemical Brothers were there, and they kind of latched onto it as well. You know, I guess the Rolling Stones did stuff like that on Emotional Rescue. It’s not something that had never been done before, but it was a new sound for a new time or a new version of that sound. I didn’t dislike INXS, but I didn’t follow them either. Now I think they’re brilliant, but you just miss out on stuff. I really love New Order. For me, Factory Records were the absolute trailblazers. They were all kids from Manchester who borrowed New Order’s equipment and made dance records that were big in America. I grew up thinking that was my goal.

IE: I knew the first two Inspiral Carpets albums around the time I first heard the Charlatans, but I was a long way from hip.

TB: They were more garagey, I suppose, weren’t they? They were kind of bringing Garage more to the forefront, and they did some great stuff. The first stuff that I learned was Iggy, you know, “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” It’s so easy. I loved the Doors when I was a kid. I loved the Cult and the Cure.

IE: From an earlier generation, the Charlatans might share some regional roots with the Spencer Davis Group – another band with a prominent mix of guitar and organ. Deep Purple would be in the mix a few years later.

TB: They were, and Brian Auger also. Brian Auger is coming to our L.A. show, which I’m really excited about. Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & the Trinity, Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’,” and Deep Purple, obviously “Hush.”

IE: It’s fun to explore those sources, especially when the resulting sounds are so different.

TB: Me and Martin used to go and watch this band called the Prisoners. They were a sixties revivalist band from Medway in Kent. They used to do a cover version of “Hush,” and they had a Hammond organ. They had the most powerful sound, but it was real rock. There’s loads of stuff floating about in our sound. When you first start writing songs, you think, how do I make it sound like that? Now, I have no desire to do anything that doesn’t just come from the heart. But the way that you learn how to write songs is by being inspired by other people, you know?

IE: The Hammond organ was a real commitment for a young band in the clubs. You had to have roadies or risk throwing your back out before the gig.

TB: We had a portable Hammond at first, right up until the recording of our first album, where we got an advance and bought one that was a solid piece of wood with solid legs and stuff like that. The portable one, the X5, is on the front cover of our single “Crashin’ In,” actually. It’s just an amazing sound. But it’s still a ball-ache (laughs).

The Charlatans and Ride appear at The Vic Theatre on Tuesday, February 7, 2023

– Jeff Elbel

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Featured, Stage Buzz

About the Author ()

Comments are closed.