No matter how many famous people you interview, opening pleasantries can always be a bit awkward. I mean, you obviously know quite a lot about your interviewee. After all, you’ve spent hours researching for the interview and have followed their career closely. But, for me, that opening gambit can still be a bit stilted.
But not with Tim Burgess. No sooner had he picked up the phone and I’d said ‘hello’ than he asked me where I was calling from. Bingo. “West Didsbury,” I replied.
Burgess lived on Victoria Avenue, just off Barlow Moor Road, for a couple of years in the 1990s, so we were on common ground from the offset. He is amazed at the high property prices today.
“Whenever I’m in the area,” he says, “I always drive past my old house and then check the prices of any for sale in that area. Honestly, I can’t believe how expensive they are. I’m not surprised, though, it’s a fantastic place to live. I loved it there.”
I’ve interviewed Burgess before, back in the 90s, when The Charlatans had more or less just burst out of Northwich and onto the pages of the music press.
One couldn’t disregard his good looks. He was everything a rock and roll frontman should be, doe-eyed and full-lipped with great hair. Paul Weller once said that Burgess was “a fella who understands the importance of hair”. High praise indeed from someone so immaculately coiffed.
But after that first interview, I was aware of Burgess’s sweetness and delight at being interviewed. More than three decades later and he’s still as amiable as ever. Although maybe no longer quite as excited about every interview.
We’re here to talk about the band’s 30th anniversary tour, which kicks off in Belfast next month and ends in Edinburgh in December. Like many others, the tour was delayed due to COVID-19 and, as a result, it will be 31 years since it all started. But 31 years is a long time to be in any job, let alone the music industry.
“I know,” Burgess says with a laugh. “I can’t believe it either. If you’d told me the band would still be around when we first started out, I might not have believed you.”
Over the years, the band has notched up 13 top 40 studio albums, including three number ones, alongside 22 hit singles, of which four charted in the top 10.
They’ve been heady years, too. The rollercoaster highs have been accompanied by some crashing lows, including nervous breakdowns, near bankruptcy and the deaths of two founder members, keyboard player Rob Collins in 1996 and drummer Jon Brookes in 2013. These issues might have felled a less resilient band. But The Charlatans carried on.
Burgess says: “We adapted and transformed over the years. We still keep the classic Charlatans sound, but we’ve always embraced change and looked for new ways to present our music.”
Of course, the classic Charlatans sound is the driving Hammond organ, swaggering guitars, Burgess’s sunny yet yearning vocals, and house-influenced rhythms.
I’ve always detected a hint of Northern Soul ascendancy in their music and mention this to Burgess. “Yeah, I get where you’re coming from there, although I can’t say it’s deliberate. I do love a bit of Northern Soul, though. Uplifting stuff.”
This brings us to discussing the genre for a bit before moving onto the film, Northern Soul by Elaine Constantine, which Burgess says he “loved”.
In line with the tour, there’s also a career-spanning best of album, A Head Full of Ideas, which will also be available as a six transparent blue vinyl LP box set featuring their hits, classic live performances, unheard demos and other rarities and remixes.
One of the live tracks is Polar Bear, which was recorded for Radio 1 at King George’s Hall, Blackburn in November 1990. Burgess is audibly excited when I mention this.
“Do you know what? I’d never heard that until we were putting this album together. Polar Bear was one of the very first songs we wrote, and we never actually recorded it. So the fact we’ve managed to get probably the first ever live performance of it on the album is fantastic.”
Within the box set will also be an exclusive original demo 7 inch featuring Indian Rope/The Only One I Know.
“We self-funded Indian Rope, you know,” says Burgess.
“Oh yes,” he says. “It’s cram-packed with all sorts of wonderful stuff. But you can just buy the CD or vinyl if you don’t want to be bothered with any of that.”
“It’s a great venue, isn’t it?’ says Burgess. “I’ve seen a few bands there, but we’ve never played there as a band, so we’re really looking forward to it.”
And, of course, it’s on home turf.
“Absolutely. You can’t beat that.”
Main image: Tim Burgess Official.
A Head Full of Ideas is available from Island Records as a CD, 2CD Deluxe, 2LP and 3LPX Editions. Order here.
The Charlatans 2021 30th anniversary tour: tickets are on sale, available from: thecharlatans.net/gigs
Nov 22 Belfast, Limelight
Nov 23 Dublin, Olympia
Nov 25 Buckley, The Tivoli
Nov 26 Bristol, O2 Academy
Nov 27 Birmingham, O2 Academy
Nov 29 Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion
Nov 30 Bournemouth, Academy Oxford, O2 Academy
Dec 2 Oxford, O2 Academy
Dec 3 Cambridge, Corn Exchange
Dec 4 Manchester, O2 Victoria Warehouse
Dec 6 Lincoln, Engine Shed
Dec 8 Liverpool, Invisible Wind Factory
Dec 9 Newcastle, City Hall
Dec 10 London, Brixton Academy
Dec 14 Exeter, Great Hall
Dec 16 Nottingham, Rock City
Dec 17 Leeds, O2 Academy
Dec 18 Glasgow, O2 Academy
Dec 20 Aberdeen, Music Hall
Dec 21 Edinburgh, Corn Exchange