A Monday morning lockdown and the Zoom screen comes to life with a laughing Tim Burgess, lead singer of The Charlatans.
He holds a stack of records he brought to the famous Rockfield recording studio in Monmouth to help him make his second solo album in a year. “I couldn’t shoot the first one, for obvious reasons, so I just figured I’d record another one.”
Even with a pandemic, there is apparently no way to stop it. He’s an avid social media operator, tweeting everyone “Hello” in English and sometimes Japanese, he “drops off” copies of his book and tickets to shows, has his own cafe, Tim Peaks Diner, at the Kendal Calling festival, Kellogg’s once created a real breakfast cereal after suggesting the name “Totes Amazeballs”, he’s written four books, he’s a DJ with his partner Nik Void’s band, Factory Floor, and , of course, he has his very popular Twitter Listening Parties. This is even before you still have him at the helm of The Charlatans and have any solo projects going on. And be a father.
For a moment I look at him and I laugh; he knows what I’m thinking. “So many people said they were surprised and happy that I was still alive.” Unfortunately, the key people in his life are not. He lost his father, Allan, in April 2020 and two key members of the Charlatans, Rob Collins (keyboards) and Jon Brookes (drums), died in a car crash and brain tumor, in 1996 and 2013 respectively. . The last time I interviewed him was during the first big NME interview in 1990, when they had just released from Northwich, Cheshire, with their first self-funded single, “Indian Rope”. No one saw it coming.
Every week at NME we would sift through a huge pile of singles to review, hoping to earn some gold. With “Indian Rope,” there was a glimmer of something really exciting that was unexpectedly. I gave it a very positive review and like it was back then if you got a decent first review in the NME the promoters would book you, the labels would sign you and John Peel would give you a session. Not that the Charlatans necessarily needed it: their energy made it clear that they were going somewhere.
“It was really like something was going on,” Burgess recalls. “And that was really great. Mind you, I thought we got there when we recorded our very first demos.
Their first headlining concert in London, at the Powerhaus, Islington, was filled with cars full of fans they had bought with them. The songs and the performance were so confident that A&R managers, agents and radio producers watched them with a sort of delighted shock. The talent was evident: a charismatic singer with a tight band playing well-structured and immediately engaging songs that were punctuated in the 1960s by the Hammond organ but sounded somehow modern. More importantly, the crowd not only danced, but also sang to songs not recorded because they knew the lyrics.