Music interview: Tim Burgess - ‘Music has always brought people together’

The Charlatans released their 13th album this year.
The Charlatans released their 13th album this year.
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Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess is warmly surprised. The veteran Britpop singer – he of the iconic peroxide blonde hair – and his bandmates are preparing to take their 13th studio album Different Days out on the road for a run of UK headline shows following a festival-laden summer.

The reception to the record – their biggest hit for a decade – has taken him somewhat unawares; he 
acknowledges that to be even still making music, let alone reaping success, is something he didn’t see coming.

“We didn’t think anything past the first album when were making it,” he laughs. “We just wanted to be in a band. Only after we got that debut out onto the shelves did we realise we could actually go out and make more than one record!”

He reflects briefly. “We’ve never taken any of it for granted. In our heads at least, every time we’ve made a new album, we’ve gone about it as if it could be the last thing we ever do.

“We’ve had our share of tumbles along the way.”

The 50-year-old Mancunian is perhaps understandably philosophical.

Tim Burgess

Tim Burgess

The Charlatans have lost two members along the way during their 27-year career; keyboardist Rob Collins in a car crash in 1996 and drummer Jon Brookes to brain cancer in 2013. Yet they have triumphed too – with headline slots at Reading and Leeds in 1999 and the revitalised Isle of Wight Festival in 2002.

It’s perhaps no surprise that in 2017, they’re still soldiering forward in a world rapidly reshaping itself around them.

“A lot of Different Days was themed around these dual ideas of innocence and experience, in a way, having to live through these things,” he notes.

“I’ve been a father for nearly five years now, and looking at the world through my son’s eyes really is a beautiful thing. But all around him, you’ve got this rolling 24-hour-coverage of news that’s just flipping scary.

I’ve been a father for nearly five years now, and looking at the world through my son’s eyes really is a beautiful thing. But all around him, you’ve got this rolling 24-hour-coverage of news that’s just flipping scary.

Tim Burgess

“I wouldn’t say the album is political, but it’s got allegories for the places we’re travelling through, it’s definitely got that sensibility.”

Unlike the albums of their two-decades-old heyday, such as Tellin’ Stories, the group eschewed a public studio in favour of their own private recording space, as they did with previous record Modern Nature, though Burgess feels both brought different sides out in the process.

“We cut three albums at a place called Monnow Valley [in Rockfield, Monmouthshire] back in the Nineties, and it almost became like 
another member of the band, you know, it became an extension of us and how we approached the songs.”

“The last two times, we’ve had our own personal studio, and that’s become a very necessary for thing of us.

“You go to a public recording environment these days, and you can never be alone in your own world, with everybody buzzing around you. But when you are in your own private retreat, as such, it brings out some serenity in the songs; you create your own little world, your own bubble to thrive in. You’re away from the chaos for a while.”

The Charlatans were one of the first bands in the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing to play in the city, with a slot at Old Trafford Cricket Ground supporting the Courteeners. Given his heritage within the area, for Burgess, it was a maelstrom of emotions.

“We had our album launch, called A Different Day, the night after the attack, and then we had the show too.

“It was crazy – there was a lot of back and forth on whether it should happen. But we just had to, you know.

“Music is a wonderful thing and it has always brought people together; going to see a band you love shouldn’t be something to fear.

“Together, we’re stronger – and that should be celebrated.”

The festive element to the group’s live shows has often transcended their own gigs; they are a regular festival bill fixture.

In spite of this, Burgess does not see them as a specialist at the act.

“I don’t consider us as a group who thrive specifically in a festival environment.

“I just feel that we’ve been around for a long time so people tend to recognise at least one or two songs when we come out on stage.

“We’ve been on the radio enough over the last three decades!

“I think people do like seeing us live, though; they seem to really enjoy whatever it is that we put out.”

He pauses and mulls it over. “I mean, as a band, we’ve had to overcome our share of obstacles, certainly. But we’re a band who play songs and people know what to expect.

“When we supported The Rolling Stones, it was very much more of the same.

“When we know the expectations of the audience… we can very much succeed just by doing what we best.”

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