As one-time baggy figureheads The Charlatans return with one of their finest LPs yet, singer Tim Burgess talks about moving on after death, collaborating with Paul Weller and his debt to Alan Partridge.
Tim Burgess isn’t sure how heavy he wants to get. “Whatever this conversation is we’re having… the truth is that, after someone passes away, you move forward – you have to,” says The Charlatans frontman. “They are forever in your thoughts though, spurring you on.” Loss is a recurring theme in the career of The Charlatans, the baggy break-outs who have matured into one of the great British rock institutions of the past 25 years. In July 1996 keyboard player Robin Collins died in a car-crash en route to the group’s residential studio at Monmouth In Wales. At Oasis’ Knebworth blow-out three weeks later (at which The Charlatans were supporting), Liam Gallagher dedicated ‘Cast No Shadow’ to his late fellow Manc.
Just four years ago, meanwhile, the band lost drummer Jon Brookes, claimed by brain cancer aged 44. As with Collins, he has never been officially replaced. “You have to given yourself time to accept it – but then you have to overcome it,” says the thoughtful and quietly-spoken Burgess. “The amazing thing is that sometimes you feel they are spurring you on.”
In the stunned aftermath of Collins’s death The Charlatans released one of their greatest albums, Tellin’ Stories (the song ‘How Can You Leave Us’ a wrenching lament for a fallen comrade). The same blend of numbness and determination informs the group’s new LP Different Days, in which, out of respect to the absent Brooke, they utilise a revolving cast of percussionists, including New Order’s Stephen Morris. Had The Charlatans followed the script they would have long ago imploded – and might well be in the midst of a cynical comeback tour right now. Among the second wave of “Madchester” acts to reach a mainstream audience, they had a novelty hit with student disco staple ‘The Only One I Know’, which reached nine in the UK singles chart in 1990. Yet where fellow travellers The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays burned brightly and faded, The Charlatans kept on getting better, releasing a streak of classic long-players. Burgess is currently resident of rural Norfolk after stints in London and Los Angeles, where he lives with his girlfriend (Factory Floor’s Nik Void) and their four year-old son.
“I came here because of Steve Coogan,” he says, referring to the Manchester comedian who has immortalised Norfolk with his Alan Partridge persona. “Actually – I”m joking. We’re out in the countryside – it’s fantastic if you have kids.” One surprise cameo on Different Days is withering Irish comedian Sharon Horgan. As is the modern way, she and Burgess “met” via social media. Horgan had retweeted his praise of her show Catastrophe.
Shortly after, he discovered she had entered a competition to attend a special Charlatans gig at the hotel owned by soccer player Gary Neville in Salford. “I told her it was okay – she didn’t need to enter the competition. She could come to the gig anyway. Which is how she ended up doing backing vocals. I think she’s brilliant. Catastrophe is such a fantastic comedy.” Also on the record is Paul Weller, with whom The Charlatans first crossed paths in singular circumstances.
“It was 1994 and we were in our studio I picked it the phone and it was Paul Weller,” recalls Burgess. “He had liked our song ‘Can’t Get Out Of Bed’ and had called to personally tell the band it was fantastic. I happened to be the one nearest the phone. I picked up and Weller is on the line.” Thus began a two decade-plus friendship between The Modfather and Burgess and company. “He gave me an instrumental and I said I’d do something with it. I had it on my iPod for months. Then we all played together at a festival in Italy. He said, ‘Are you finished that song yet?’ I hadn’t even started. So I thought I had better get to work!”
Different Days gets a live airing at the Academy, Dublin (December 10), and Limelight, Belfast (11).
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