by Phil Scarisbrick
When bands want to celebrate milestones, or take look back at their careers, they tend to throw a greatest hits album out or hit the road to play a seminal album in full. But The Charlatans are doing things differently. The band’s origins go back to the West Midlands, but when Tim Burgess joined the group, before the release of their debut single – Indian Rope – they relocated to his hometown: Northwich.
Today, we found ourselves sat in The Seafarer chippy in the Cheshire town with the band back in their adopted home. We sat down with front man, Tim Burgess, keyboard player, Tony Rogers and bassist, Martin Blunt to chat to them about their new festival, North By Northwich- an event that includes a memorabilia exhibition, a record fair, a series of live music across the town, and four shows from the band themselves.
Secret Meeting: As part of the festival, you’ve got the memorabilia exhibition. What was it like going through all those memories while preparing it?
Tim Burgess: Well yeah, it’s the subliminal. It can catch you out when you’re not expecting it. On the surface, I’m just looking at it thinking, “That’s a pretty interesting picture”, or “Wow, I forgot about that”, and then you hang them up. You end up walking around and taking it in, and then it just hits you on a much deeper level. That’s kind of where my head is at this morning actually. The whole place just brings the memories flooding back to appear on the surface of my consciousness. It’s pretty insane.
Tony Rogers: It brought back some great memories. Some really great times. You can associate the events with the merch. You look at a t-shirt and you’re thinking, “Oh wow!” because you’re doing a world tour or a UK tour or whatever it is and you can relate the period in time to the merchandise. It can be good and it can be bad, but on the whole it’s been great going back over it.
Martin Blunt: At the studio, there is a far-flung corner that we’ve just dumped everything in. When all this came together and we decided to do some concerts we just thought “Well, we’ve got all this stuff just lying in the dark, so why don’t we put it on display?” It’s ended up being a bit of a monster on its own.
SM: You’ve got the record fair this weekend too. Are there any records in your own collection that you cherish? If so why?
TB: Yeah, usually the newest ones (laughs). There’s the Arthur Russell stuff- I’ve got lots of original stuff of his. All my Crass records that are signed by members of the band. New Order’s Power, Corruption & Lies signed by all the band and Peter Saville. But then, if I was looking at them right now, I’d probably change my mind (laughs). I’ve got a Philip Glass record that I really love called Metamorphosis. It’s just beautiful.
MB: I’ve got quite a large collection, but it has thinned with moving house and moving flats over the years. I’ve retained a certain amount of vinyl and CDs. In fact, most of it has ended up being left in the studio too. It really is the dumping ground!
SM: Is there anything in particular you’ll be digging for yourself at the fair?
TB: Oh yeah, always, because I just love holding records.
SM: You had the new single go online this morning, Totally Eclipsing, so how do you think that the physical format is relevant in modern times?
TR: That’s a very good question because I’ve often thought that the record companies are way behind the people. I always have done. It’s like a revolution. The people were downloading, but the record companies were way behind it. You had music sharing sites like Napster years ago. The record companies tried to shut them down, and when they did close them down, thousands more opened up and they couldn’t control them. Instead of trying to embrace it, they got bigheaded and thought they’d just close them all down.
Going back to the original question, people tend to download three or four songs from the album and not buy the album itself. I was personally thinking it would be better to release maybe three EPs over two years. You do four song formats, so you’re still getting twelve songs. I think people would be more interested in that, and that is the way things will go.
I do still buy vinyl, but it’s usually older stuff or classical stuff. New stuff I will download.
MB: I still do, and I can’t talk for the younger generation, but I still love the feel of a physical record in my hands. Hey, lets get physical (laughs). I think streaming is the final destination, but the other thing is that I really can’t stand MP3. It just sounds shi…..not very good. But if that’s how people want it, then so be it.
SM: You’ve got the four gigs you’re doing this week. What can we expect from those?
TR: These ones are interesting because we’re doing a different set each night. Normally, when you’re on tour, you tend to stick to the same set every night. You know the running order and you’re promoting the latest album. With these gigs, it’s four nights and four different sets. There will be songs that crossover to other nights, but you can expect songs from the very early days, right up to what we released this week.
MB: Last night we played a couple of the new tracks, and pulled out some songs that we’ve not played for twenty years, so it was a good surprise. Each night is going to be a Charlatans’ jukebox.
SM: On Secret Meeting, we try and push new acts that we’re really passionate about. You’ve got your own label (O Genesis). Aside from great songs, what do look for in the acts that you sign?
TB: The people that make the music. I always get introduced to people and they end up being in bands, and I do like people in bands. It started it off because there was an artist called Joseph Coward. I actually started the label because I wanted to put his song out. He had a song called Jesus Christ- he was a 17 year old kid, and I just thought it was an ace thing to do. I wanted to start a label anyway, and he was the right person to start it for.
Then there was a band who I really love called Electricity In Our Homes. They’re not going anymore, in fact I don’t even know if Joseph is still making music, but they were important records for me at that time. Then there have been people who have always been connected along the way. There’s Hatchem Social. I put their record out and they ended being my solo backing band, things like that. Finn (former Klaxons and current Hatchem Social drummer) has been in a few acts since then like Beds In Parks and Average Sex, and I put their records out too. I just meet people who I like and connect with.
SM: So it’s quite organic then?
TB: Yeah totally. When I like the people and love the songs it’s like “Woah, I’ve got to do this.” I end up being quite obsessive about putting it out.
SM: Are there any new acts you’ve seen in the last 12 months or so that you’re excited by?
TB: Yeah, I really like a band called The Garden. They’re from America- L.A. I think. They’re just two lads, twins actually. They’re just really cool.
TR: No, I’ve been too busy (laughs). I should do really. I really should, but I’ve got quite lazy in that aspect. Or maybe I’ve just been a bit selfish with my time.
SM: One way we like to discover new bands is by seeing them supporting established acts like yourselves. Do you have a favourite band who have supported you?
TR: One my favourite bands would be the band we last had supporting us called Average Sex (signed to Burgess’ O Genesis label). They’re really different, really cool and I just love them. Some bands you get given and you’re like, “Nah, I’m not into this”.
MB: We’ve got a band on at the festival who are playing two shows. They did one last night and they’re doing one up at the Whitton Chimes (in Northwich) at the end of the week of the week, and that’s a band called Deja Vega. They’re getting quite a bit of interest from certain labels, so hopefully this pushes them on.
SM: And conversely, do you have a favourite band you’ve ever supported yourselves?
TR: No (laughs). Many years ago I did. Before The Charlatans, my old band supported Transvision Vamp. But the only reason was for Wendy James (laughs), that was it, but I was very young.
MB: The Rolling Stones!
SM: On the website, we have a regular feature which is an Essential Sunday album- maybe a record you could kick back to on a lazy Sunday morning. Is there one that you would pick?
TB: Anything by Judee Sill. She did an album that was just under her own name. She was part of the Laurel Canyon scene, but less well known than any of the others. She wrote a song that The Turtles put out (Lady-O) and her first single – Jesus Was A Cross Maker – was produced by Graham Nash.
TR: That’s a tough one- there’s too many. If I put it on, my wife would probably turn it off. It would be something really heavy. It would probably be something like Deep Purple. Or The Beastie Boys. It wouldn’t be anything gentle.
MB: Dusty Springfield In Memphis