Interview: The Charlatans – ‘We’ve Had To Take Our Fair Share Of Hits Through The Years’


Ahead of a show in Derby, just one of a series of special acoustic gigs being undertaken by Charlatans pair Tim Burgess and Mark Collins, freelance writer Carl Stanley joined the duo in a local Indian restaurant where Tim casually discloses he’s ‘coming home’; the North Country Boy himself is calling time on his 12-year stay in the States and is sorting his affairs out in LA so he can make his move back to Blighty some time this year.

CS: First thing is the tour. It was the one-off acoustic gig you and Mark did last year that was the impetus for taking it on the road wasn’t it?

Tim Burgess: It first started with us doing a few tunes for a project David Lynch was planning, but basically we ended up with the four tracks we did just gathering dust, but it was really enjoyable putting the tunes together so we played an event for The Salford Lads Club with the acoustic set and again it was a joy and seemed to go down real well. So me and Mark decided to find these smaller venues, like here in Derby and give people something a bit different in terms of our songs and hearing another side to them, stripped down to how they were constructed with Mark just playing acoustic and me singing. But the tour itself has also a bit of a nice change as it’s just me, Mark and Nick in the car with a guitar or two and a real easy vibe going to each gig.

CS: With having a big and pretty impressive back catalogue, how did you and Mark go about picking the tunes to cover acoustically?

TB: Well, as I said we had the four tunes already recorded which were ear-marked for some project, but though it didn’t happen we still wanted to use what we’d done. If you think about a song like ‘The Only One I Know’, it’s an upbeat tune but the lyrics are quite dark; “everyone has been burnt before, everybody knows the pain”. I’ve actually seen it in people’s faces, the shocked and confused looks I’ve seen in the crowd when they’re hearing the lyrics so clear with Mark’s acoustic setting the mood and that’s been a big part of it for us both. The reaction to it all, in fact I guess maybe for some it’s the first time they have heard the full set of lyrics to each song so clearly.

CS: And the venues, smaller to what you’re used to maybe, and it’s just you and Mark on stage, something new for the both of you?

TB: As far as the mechanics of the tour, yeah it’s been a big departure and a nice change because it’s been three guys in a Honda Civic with just enough room for our gear, we’ve actually stopped off at that many motorway cafes I have a few favourites now, is that sad?

But me and Mark have done the acoustic versions for radio many times and because the venues are smaller it feels right just the two of us up there. At first we started off with seven dates and they sold out pretty quick which was crazy to say we didn’t advertise it in the usual music publications or anything just purely through the posters we had drawn up and a few posts on the net by friends. The poster was actually designed by a talented young Australian girl who’s a fan of the band.

I really enjoyed the gig at the Deaf Institute in Manchester as it’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to play because friends told me what a great place it is to see a gig, and again we were knocked out by the reaction as we were told we could have sold the Institute out a good few times over which as I say is just fantastic. The tour has took in social clubs and even a church and all the venues have been great to play.

CS: Congratulations on hitting your 20th year, on a personal level I sort of grew up buying your albums from 15 years old so will I be buying your albums in another 20 years?

TB: Well, we’re all happy, this is our band and we all feel the same way about things even though we have been through so much.

Mark Collins: Thing is we’ve learnt not to look too far or rely on a long term plan, we’ve had to take our fair share of hits through the years and so on, none of us know what the future holds.

CS: What issues and subjects do you find yourself writing about these days now you’re a band that’s been going 20 years, has it changed?

MC: Picking the kids up, whatever, those things happen when we get together writing, the changes are more in the way we tour and make our music. When we started we wasted so much money in the way we toured – hanging about between gigs costs money, we play and move on now but still find time to chat and have a laugh.

CS: So why is it now you’ve decided to come back to the UK, you’ve been there for quite some time haven’t you?

TB: Twelve years I’ve been out there, I moved in ’99 wanting a change I suppose and just loved it , though moving is an occurring theme for me. I must have moved from Manchester to London and back again at least three times over the years but I just feel now is the right time for me to move back to the UK.

CS: …and how has LA treated you, do you have a big network of friends out there now?

Tim Burgess And Mark Collins Charlatans Acoustic 1 200 200 85 cropTB: Well not really, though I do have friends out there, but when I first moved to the States I’d started a new relationship and it was all very exciting. I even fell in love with the place itself, plus I was living with a friend who was dealing so at the time it was fun and also a little mad. I settled in real quick, finding everything I needed was there. I’d always get asked ‘do you miss Tetley’s tea bags?’ and other things like that but it’s all there if you want it.

CS: What about the football, I remember one of your first ever interviews talking about non-league football, have you still kept an eye on the game from LA?

TB: Yeah I remember that, talking about Whitton Albion and other low league teams. It’s just less corporate and there’s always plenty of passion in non league. I’ve followed Salford since ’77, but saying that it’s nice to see a big game and I try to at least make one game a year, Man Utd v Bolton was the last one, but through the years I suppose my interest in the game has become less and less.

CS: You said you were living with a friend who was also the person you scored off. They sound like chaotic times?

TB: Well yeah, I lived with him for seven years and it was fun at the time, ya know, but it seems quite some time ago now as I’ve been clean for five years. I’ve even stopped smoking and drinking, but when I first got clean I would sort of sit in a bit and be wary, ya know, thinking about triggers and staying clean, but I soon realised you can’t live like that and actually found that my lifestyle really suits me, going out is still great fun.

Coming home is a big move for me and being closer to my family and friends will be good, somewhere in the capital, not sure yet, and I suppose I’m coming home a slightly different person with how I use my time and see things now. A friend of mine in LA, Astrella, (Donovan’s daughter) opened me up to transcendental meditation and that’s been a big part of where I’ve been at lately. I’ve been through the crazy lifestyle; relationships and drugs, and for me it feels real natural to now turn to a more centred life, I’m 44 now, I’ve moved on and it just feels right.

CS: You’ve also just released the acoustic EP to go with the tour, ‘Warm Sounds’. Will you be doing more of these shows and have you and the band any plans for this year?

TB: Well we toured the last album not long ago. As far as the acoustic shows, we have the Isle of Wight festival and some gigs in Italy later this year, and I’m also at Manchester in the summer to curate a stage at the inaugural Friends of Mine Festival, plus the band are headlining the Sunday night as well. But we’ve really enjoyed these acoustic shows, it’s a change and we think the crowds have also enjoyed it, so I reckon we will put a few more together.

On a personal level, I’m quite busy as I’m putting my own label together with the first release on the 6th of June. I’m also putting a book together which will be fun to do, as you said it’s 20 years now and there’s been so much that’s happened in that time and I can’t wait to get it all down.

(Carl Stanley)

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