Books interview: Tim Burgess of The Charlatans on Tim Book Two

Tim Burgess
Tim Burgess
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As lead singer with indie rock band mainstays The Charlatans for more than two and a half decades, Tim Burgess has experienced his fair share of highs and lows.

Many were recalled in typically candid style in his memoir Telling Stories, published in 2012.

In its newly published follow-up, Tim Book Two: Vinyl Adventures From Istanbul to San Francisco, the 49-year-old explores his love of record collecting, with the help of a series of recommendations from friends and fellow musicians. He also talks poignantly about the death of The Charlatans’ drummer Jon Brookes – the band’s second tragic loss after keyboard player Rob Collins was killed in a car crash in 1996.

Burgess says he started writing Tim Book Two in the wake of Brookes’ passing – from a brain tumour – and while he and the band were working on The Charlatans’ album Modern Nature. He had also recently become a father. Those three events made him reflect on your own love of music and of record collecting trips over the years

“I finished writing Telling Stories and thought that was that. Jon’s death and my son’s birth meant that my world was a very different place – the success of Modern Nature was a real ray of sunshine and the feedback from Telling Stories was amazing. Faber & Faber asked if I would consider writing another book and it all stemmed from that. There’s a chapter on Jon and the difficulty of writing the obituary for a friend – and at the same time I was surrounded by new life.”

When it came to who to ask for musical recommendations, he says: “It was a case of asking people I liked in the world of music and beyond. People like Stephen Morris from Joy Division came to mind straight away. Then some others were just by pure chance – I was walking along the street when I bumped into Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys) – he recommended an album after a chat. I sang with Boy George at a show so we got talking about music and he recommended a Nico LP. Iggy Pop played after us at a festival in Belgium so I pushed a note under his dressing room door as he never sees anyone just before he plays.”

Tim Book Two: Vinyl Adventures from Istanbul to San Francisco by Tim Burgess

Tim Book Two: Vinyl Adventures from Istanbul to San Francisco by Tim Burgess

One musician’s choice caught him off guard.

“I think maybe Chris Carter’s was quite a surprise, but makes sense when you think about it. He was in Throbbing Gristle who made uncompromising industrial music – and he chose an album by Abba, the exact opposite of the music he made. The least surprising was Mac from Echo & The Bunnymen – he chose an album by Echo & The Bunnymen. I was hoping he would.”

Much has been made of the vinyl revival and its impact on independent record stores. Burgess says he learned a few things about the state of the nation’s record shops on his travels.

“I came to Sheffield to meet up with Pete Mckee at the start of the quest and we went round some record shops and talked music. There’s some brilliant shops in Leeds and Sheffield and kids are buying vinyl rather than just some old duffers. Record Store Day has helped – lots of shops have branched out and now sell coffee, pies and there’s even a record shop that’s a post office.”

Iggy Pop played after us at a festival in Belgium so I pushed a note under his dressing room door as he never sees anyone just before he plays.

Burgess still remembers the first record he bought.

“I was seven. It was Long Haired Lover From Liverpool by Little Jimmy Osmond – I don’t own it now. I think the last time I played it was in 1975.”

When it comes to the record that holds the most important memories for him, he opts for one of his own.

“Some Friendly by The Charlatans – our first album and it went to number one and took us around the world. There are records by other people like Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and Power Corruption and Lies by New Order. But Some Friendly changed our lives.”

Tim Burgess with The Charlatans

Tim Burgess with The Charlatans

Running his own record label, O Genesis, now gives Burgess an opportunity to pass on his love of certain music to others.

“It does, it’s a chance to help bands share their music and also a chance to do things a little differently – we have put out records by Ian Rankin and a dance track made from the sound archive of Jodrell Bank - Professor Tim O’Brien working with New Order producer Jim Spencer. It means I can indulge my love of music and help other bands realise theirs. It also means I can release the soundtrack to the book I’ve just written.”

Burgess is a particularly notable presence these days on social media. He thinks things like Twitter have changed the relationship between musicians and fans in a positive way.

“Definitely. When we started we would go to our record label office once a week and pick up fanmail but it’d be hard to reply to everyone. Now you tweet a song, within a second you get someone saying they love/hate it. I prefer the immediacy we have now. Just the fact that the world changes means that it stays exciting.”

His next musical project is a tour with Peter Gordon. “We made an album together – he’s a musical hero of mine who was in Arthur Russell’s band and put out his own records as Love of Life Orchestra. We’re playing at Brudenell Social Club in September.”

Tim Book Two is published by Faber & Faber, pirced £14.99. Tim Burgess will be appearing with fellow musician turned writer Will Carruthers at Hebden Bridges Trades Club on August 14. For tickets, visit http://timbooktwo.co.uk/. He and Peter Gordon will also be playing songs from their new album Same Language, Different Worlds at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds on September 4. http://www.brudenellsocialclub.co.uk/whats-on/tim-burgess-and-peter-gordon/

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