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”.