Interview with The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess

The Charlatans' Tim Burgess chats with Northern Transmissions

Kingfisher Bluez label owner and long time Charlatans fan Tim Clapp, chatted with singer Tim Burgess about a number of interesting and fun topics, including breakfast cereal, running his own label, and a bit about the band’s ups and downs over the last 25 years. The Charlatans’ latest album Modern Nature is now out on Chrysalis/BMG. They continue their tour with a show in Belfast tomorrow night.

NT: When I was growing up, you guys were always listed as “The Charlatans UK” in North America. Did adding “UK’ to the name bother you? I recall it seeming quite exotic.

TB: It didn’t – I remember bands like The Beat having to be called The English Beat so I thought it was exotic too. Obviously, we didn’t know about the other Charlatans at the time, but we really liked them when we got to hear them. I still listen to them from time to time – we went with the ‘great minds think alike’ kind of approach. I like to think that people might have thought we were exotic – it’s not a word that often got used when describing us.

NT: You guys have been put through the wringer over the last 25 years, seen a lot of things that would end most bands, and your records keep coming out bright, sunny and groovy! Does it bother you to be constantly referred to as “survivors” or do you wear that with pride?

TB: Is that you referring to us as ‘survivors’ or just referring to other people referring to us as that? The band has definitely lived through some times that other bands may not have made it through. Lots of journalists seem to use that word so it doesn’t bother us too much. We do what we do and lots of bands never even get written about, so I’m not about to start complaining. Journalists have to attach a story to bands, and people know our story.

NT: Any tips on how to keep a band together for 25-plus years? Have you agreed to just never break up?

TB: We’ve never agreed to never break up – lots of people do that, couples, bands or friends and then they end up breaking up. We’re a family. We love each other and there’s not much that can come between us that we can’t sort out. I’m not throwing away what we have for the sake of digging my heels in about something. We work things out – we need each other so we can keep on writing the songs that we write and record. Seems like that’s too strong a bond and has been for over 25 years. There’s no sign of us breaking up just yet.

NT: You’ve seen all sides of the music industry now, from major labels to indies to self-releasing. What’s it like running your own label, as a business or a musician? Would your label OGenesis ever release a Charlatans album?

TB: Nope, O Genesis wouldn’t release a Charlatans album. It would just confuse things. Although, one of the O Genesis records for Record Store Day featured the rest of the band without me – on one side Sinkane is the singer and the other side it’s Laura Cantrell, so The Charlatans have put something out – just without me singing.

I love working on the label – it means we can put records out by people like The Vaccines or The Membranes. There’s no rules. Split singles, spoken word, whatever we fancy doing. There’s a freedom to it that the bands love too. Last year we made a record that used the sound archive of the Jodrell Bank Observatory made into a techno style track – then we gave it away as a free download. We got a short story from Ian Rankin, the crime writer, and released it on vinyl via a charity shop – we work pretty fast and we love doing it. We were just sent a soundtrack to a film by the BAFTA winning creators of 20,000 Days on Earth and an amazing band from Portland that’s a bit of a supergroup, so every day there’s something exciting going on.

NT: There are several fantastic guest musicians on the album, who listeners may associate with same time period as the early Charlatans albums. Sean O’Hagan, Stephen Morris, Pete Salisbury, etc. Was it natural to choose these longstanding collaborators, or were there any newer artists you’d like to have worked with?

TB: You missed Gabe Gurnsey from Factory Floor – they are among the most exciting newer artists around. For the Record Store Day single, the whole band got to work with Sinkane who is a really exciting young artist. We work with whoever we feel is best for the job, regardless of how long they’ve been around.

NT: There was a new Tim Burgess single for Record Store Day this year. Is there a new album in the works? Another book? A new line of

TB: There’s a new book. Tim Book Two. I’m still writing it – it’s about records, collecting vinyl and other such adventures. I sent a rough version to the publisher and they seem to like it so far. There’ll be records but not sure when – I just keep on doing what I’m doing. I’m pretty sure there won’t be another breakfast cereal, but who knows?

NT: Tell us a bit about Tim Peaks, your David Lynchian log cabin-based coffee charity. Will you be returning to Isle Of Wight in 2015?

TB: Yep, we’ll be taking Tim Peaks to The Isle of Wight, Kendal Calling, Liverpool Sound City,  Festival Number 6 and a new festival called Forgotten Fields. It means we can ask some of our favourite bands to come and play. There’s always a few surprises too. One year, Suzanne Vega stopped by and played twice in two days – at a festival she wasn’t even performing at. We’ve got new bands like DROHNE and Hot Vestry too. There’s something for everybody, and there’s always damn fine coffee

NT: Can you name five albums that have been inspiring you and your work recently?

TB: No Regerts by Chastity Belt, Pom Pom by Ariel Pink, Factory Floor, Tower of Meaning by Arthur Russell, and Eureka by Jim O’Rourke.

TIM Clapp

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