NEWS

Interview: Tim Burgess, The Charlatans

04/12/2017

Gigs North East Editor, Dominique Daly, speaks with Tim Burgess of The Charlatans about their recent album, the spoken word art form and what to do about Donald Trump…

Thirty years on from their inception, The Charlatans have released thirteen albums, increasingly pushing to deliver new and innovative music which feels both distinctly modern and tied to their roots. For some, it’s a hard path to walk, but for The Charlatan’s Tim Burgess, it’s been a breezy stroll along a creative stream. The band has managed to retain integrity while others from the era walk a ‘reunion route’ dining out on the hits after lengthy hiatus. “I suppose to do the reunion thing you have to split up and we’ve always felt we’ve no need to do that”, Tim reflects speaking from his recording studio. “I can understand why other bands have, it’s not an easy lifestyle at times and the antics of touring and recording can take their toll. But then you paint the garden fence for 7 years and the temptation to get back together arises. There’s never really been grievances with us”.

That’s not to say it’s been plain sailing; The Charlatans have faced an uphill struggle along the way which saw them rise as a beacon of resilience where many before them have been unable to continue. Facing two deaths and mental health battles the band has continually and intellectually balanced themselves; morphing into something new, something stronger and something more thoughtful to the credit of their bandmates before them. Returning in 2017 to subtly mark their 30th Anniversary as a group, despite sad departures, The Charlatans unleashed ‘Different Days’ upon the world. The album stands as a new time and head space for the band as Tim joyfully tells: “It really felt like a party where we’d invited our friends. Our previous album was made after we lost Jon and we did that on our own in our studio, and that was the way that album needed to be made. For ‘Different Days’ we wanted to switch it up a bit”.

A flurry of famous voices, skilled penmanship, and captivating spoken asides meld together to form a decidedly intriguing piece of music with some familiar faces making a return appearance in the liner notes. Speaking fondly of the involvement of tortured genius Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre fame, Tim explains how the two musicians are creatively drawn to one another. “I gravitate towards the people I really respect.” Undeterred by distance, ‘Not Forgotten’ came together from across the globe, “we sent him an early version of ‘Not Forgotten’ and he really got it and sent it back with keyboards and handclaps, and we loved what he’d done with it.” Letting us in on some exciting news, Tim alludes to further releases from the ‘duo,’ “Since then he’s remixed it [‘Not Forgotten’] a couple of times, and I think we’ll be putting those remixes out,” he teases with no specifics.

With a thirty-year career span, you’re sure to rack up a Rolodex (do people still use those?) with an impressive number of cards to pull when it comes to collaborations. ‘Different Days’ features not only Anton but many other musical heroes like Jonny Marr who joins on ‘Plastic Machinery’ and Paul Weller who brings smooth 70’s R&B to ‘Spinning Out.’ However, most notably, the presence of poignant spoken word interjections on ‘Different Days’ stand the album apart from other ‘Charlatans works. Drafting in the talented hand of Ian Rankin and the vocal stylings of Kurt Wagner, these pieces fit into the album like a jigsaw, not immediately or intentionally, but naturally coming together to make something beautiful. “I’d worked with Ian on a short story he wrote, we released it on vinyl, and I wrote some music for it,” Tim says, looking back on the process of bringing in the crime writer. “He really encouraged me when I was writing my first book and invited me to an event he was putting on at The Edinburgh Literary Festival. Then he wrote the foreword to Tim Book Two. It wasn’t like I was thinking I should pay him back but when we were planning the new album, I sent him the ideas and early lyrics for a couple of songs and asked him to write a few paragraphs if they set anything off in his mind. He could have just said that it wasn’t really his thing but what he sent back really stopped me in my tracks. In my head, the words were said with his voice, and so we asked him to record them”.

Timing was on the side of ‘Different Days’ and The Charlatan’s decision to include spoken word on the album, but this isn’t their first dance with the art-form, “I have a record label, called O Genesis and we released some poetry on vinyl, a guy called Jack Underwood – which was maybe 4 years ago and we released work by Emily Berry too”, Tim tells me. “We knew it was going to remain quite an underground thing but it really fitted with our label, and we really enjoyed working in a world where we’d not had much experience.” However underground it remains, the art form appears to be having a bit of a renaissance with acts like Sleaford Mods taking poets on as tour supports and huge banking corporations using the art form as a misleading ploy to make them seem credible (see Nationwide ‘Voice of The People’ ad campaign). Tim’s optimism is refreshing in his view of art-forms being used for capitalist gains, providing a new perspective on the advancing of struggling genres. “Sometimes it can be a two-way street” he explains, “with underground music being able to make it to the mainstream where it can do valuable work. I’d say grime has been co-opted by big brands, but that has the result that Stormzy is now A-listed on Radio 2 and he can keep his same credentials while having a platform to inspire a generation. Long gone are the days when The Clash refused to play the game by going on Top Of The Pops – now it’s about kids getting sync deals and using the income to keep going”.

Interpretation is one of Tim’s talents, that and his ability to weave soundscapes and stories together to be interpreted in numerous ways by the listener. He tells of his enjoyment in interpretation and preference in his work when I confess that continually I found myself returning to album track ‘Solutions’. “It’s funny but people’s favourites take in every track which is really pleasing when you make a record. I love how Same House kind of really splits people, it bugs some and others love it the most”, he laughs. The track [‘Solutions’] for some takes on a new meaning when considered within the context of the recent political and mental warfare between the US, et al, and North Korea. Lyrics like ‘Offering solutions, Desperately seeking solutions’ seem to embed a real sense of frustration and urgency felt by millions around the world to what seems a looming and monumental crisis. Digging in deep, possibly by surprise but luckily to his enjoyment, Tim sets about righting the worlds ills upon my request with his own solutions. “There’s definitely a solution with Trump and that’s to remove him. I’m no expert but I think that process may have started already. He’s like a villain in a comic book – they used to seem so far-fetched but he’s kind of made that madness into some kind of reality. My solution would be to build a whole set up for him with his cronies and let them think they’re running everything but replace them with some responsible adults. Let him play out his fantasy and pander to his needs and demands in some padded room in a basement of Trump Tower – he has such a slim grip on reality and a high opinion of himself that it might just work. He can whack the fake nuclear button with a rubber mallet all day long while showing off about the great words that he knows, all while playing crazy golf”. This seems the most sensible idea we’ve heard, Tim Burgess for President 2020?

Outside of his musical creations, Tim has taken on literary exploits in recent years. ‘Telling Stories’ (2013) a frankly honest rock-memoir and ‘Tim Book Two’ (2016), which sees Tim delve into the world of his friend’s record collections, sending himself on a musical quest for discovery across the globe. He openly admits however that the format does divide people who in the modern world of music consumption may be too used to a digitised collection of music, “Vinyl’s not for everyone and I know there’s maybe even a backlash at times”, Tim says. However, it is the format closest to his heart, his gateway into music. “Our parents all had record collections, and there’d be a record player in most houses. There’s a ritual to playing a record, the skip function is more analog – you have to get up and go and physically lift the arm off the record. So you maybe listened to albums all the way through, or at least a whole side”, Tim details. “I think vinyl is becoming less daunting for kids to get into and record store day and affordable turntables really help that.”

It would be foolish to suggest that for Tim Burgess anything other than music could be the most significant factor in his life. As a collector of vinyl, he reckons that his hoard amounts to 8,000 records. However, there’s a possibility he may have lost count. An avid reader Tim tells of how his collecting habits never stand to much other than musical escapades, never able to draw himself from his love for too long. “[I collect] books, but they tend to be about music or art which kind of crosses over with music – but I’ve not got a collection of military vehicles – Stephen Morris has though. I’ll stick to records.”

words: Dominique Daly


The Charlatans play 02 Academy, Newcastle on December 3rd. Tickets available via acedemymusicgroup.com.

Make sure to grab a special copy of the GNE Magazine tomorrow, 50 signed copies will be hidden around Newcastle on the day of their show. Happy hunting!

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