Wednesday 3 June 2020

10 from The Charlatans

The Charlatans are one of my all-time favourite bands. I've been following them since the age of 15 back in 1991 when songs like White Shirt, Then and The Only One I Know would regularly get included on school common room mixtapes.

The band were prolific; releasing debut LP Some Friendly in 1990 and Between 10th and 11th in 1992. During this period there were also non-album singles like debut Indian Rope while in 1991 they released both Over Rising and Me. In Time.

Since then the band have matched quality with quantity, releasing 13 albums and 22 top 40 singles, many with fantastic b-sides like Title Fight, Your Skies Are Mine and Happen To Die.

Lets not forget some of the brilliant remixes from the likes of The Chemical Brothers/Dust Brothers, Brian Jonestown Massacre and the superbly named Luvdup and Van Basten take on Feel Flows.

The BJM remix of So Oh is like a lysergic lullaby, absolutely gorgeous. Check it out below.

I have easily seen the band more than 30-times. The Barrowland is like a home from home for them. Their shows through the 1990's in the legendary ballroom were like Cup Finals, Tim Burgess was the midfield playmaker, patrolling the stage in complete command, looking super cool and conducting his band and the crowd. I still remember people crowd surfing to tunes the warm up DJ played before one particular show, such was the atmosphere and sense of occasion.

At a scorching hot T in the Park in 1995 they whipped up a dust storm from the dry ground as they blasted the Main Stage. I caught them a number of times at the festival through to 2004/5 and the Up At The Lake album when Tim then joined The Chemical Brothers at the Slam Tent the next day, still wearing the same clothes after partying hard.

I was down at Knebworth to see Oasis in 1996 and The Charlatans played an absolute stormer of a support slot, emotions and adrenaline were running high as the band played only weeks after losing Rob Collins in a tragic car crash. I was so proud of the band that day.

Tim arriving at Knebworth
The raw emotionally charged performance was exceptional

Their appearance on The White Room from this time is my favourite Charlatans TV performance. Look at Jon Brookes on the drums during Crashin' In and Tim looking on in complete admiration at Jon and the rest of his band as they really go for it. Outstanding!

I fell big time for the band, queueing to get records signed at Tower Records in 1994, tracking down vinyl, buying all their released and going to see them whenever they played in Glasgow. 4 albums from 1990-1995! So many great singles and b-sides.

Burgess was (and is) my favourite front man. His infectious cheeky smile, glint in his eye, up for a good time vibe, his t-shirts, his jackets, super cool hair and on stage groove made me and others gaze up at stages across the world wanting to be him for a night. His belief and energy lift his band and audience.

Backed by Mark Collin on guitar (who I think is personally very under-rated as a guitarist), Martin Blunt on funky bass, the sensational Jon Brookes on drums and the wizards Rob Collins and then Tony Rogers on hammond and keys, The Charlatans could lock into grooves and take their fans on a trip.

They have rarely paused for breath. And if the band have, Burgess has busied himself with solo albums, books, running a record label and his #TimsTwitterListeningParty that is bringing music fans together during these unprecedented times when we can't go to gigs.

Looking back over their discography, the run of albums and singles from 1994-97 in particular was sensational, they all kind of blurred and merged together. 3 albums and 10 singles! Up To Our Hips, The Charlatans and Tellin' Stories; rammed with singles and other gems.

I was 18-21 during this period and it was never long between a Charlatans release or a gig. I always had something to look forward to with the band, they were with me, I was with them.

And that is true to this day with the band and through Tim ... there is always something going on with them ... a book, a street takeover, listening parties, solo albums, shows ....

In the summer of 1997 I played Tellin' Stories constantly. I'd have it on my personal CD player for the train to work and then walk through Glasgow city centre fantasising that I was Tim walking about like he did in the video for North Country Boy, a song I played non-stop. I'd arrive in work and urge people to buy the album. How good is the new Charlatans album? became a catchphrase.

Us And Us Only (1999) is one of my favourite Charlatans albums, I really love the playing, the feel and the space on this particular album. Sunshine vibes and Tim's falsetto on Wonderland (2001) mixed things up again, Right On from that album is a real favourite of mine.

Up At The Lake (2004) was pretty loose, Try Again Today is a beauty of a song while my wife quoted Loving You Is Easy in our wedding vows. I have fond memories of watching the band at T in the Park around this time and my brother turning to me and my sister as the band launched into As I Watch You In Disbelief and shouting I f**king love this song! So I always think of him when I hear it.

The Simpatico album in 2006 is my least visited album from the band, although it does contain the outstanding Blackened Blue Eyes.

You Cross My Path in 2008 was (for me) a resounding return to form. A sober and straight Burgess seemed re-energised as the band initially released the album as a free download via XFM before bringing it out in physical format a few months afterwards. The stomping Oh! Vanity through to the glorious BIRD fading into This Is The End is the sound of The Charlatans on fire.

The swift follow up of Who We Touch (2010) highlighted that the band were in a rich vein of form, armed with lots of ideas and materials. Revisiting the album for this blog caused me to remember what an excellent song Trust In Desire is.

Modern Nature (2015) was released following the death of Jon Brookes after he bravely fought a brain tumour. It was a triumph of an album with strong singles and excellent album tracks like Emilie which is a real gem. Again the band were rich with material and the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition are excellent, for me We Sleep On Borrowed Time and Walk With Me should have been on the album

Different Days (2017) came out with the band bursting with ideas. They had a very different day to promote it, taking over Manchester's Oldham Street for a day and continuing to do things differently by holding their own small festival in Northwich. Plastic Machinery is classic Charlatans, the title track is beautiful, as is Hey Sunrise and the closing Spinning Out. There is a calmness to them, mellow reflection.

What a journey! What a band! What an exceptional back catalogue! How on earth do I only choose 10 favourites when I have so many?

Well I've mentioned quite a few in this blog already and I'd also like to add in Happen To Die (long version), Get On It, Tellin' Stories, Weirdo, Can't Even Be Bothered, Feel Flows ... in fact there is too many ...

Here are 10 of my favourite Charlatans songs.

Come Home Baby
I was so happy when The Charlatans backed up the excellent So Oh single with this. What a tune! The way the song lifts to lead into the chorus always brings a smile to my face. This became a bit of a tune for me and my eldest daughter Zoe who was 3 when it was released and her sister was just a baby. I have so many happy memories of playing this song in our house and car and me and Zoe singing along.

I can't wait, don't hesitate
Let's be together

Crashin' In
I've already mentioned this song and please watch the White Room performance video from earlier in the blog. The energy leaps out immediately from Mark Collins guitar, there is an urgency to Tim's voice and the rest of the band drive things along. The band are on fire. I love the change in pace after 90-seconds with Tim just shouting oh yeah, and the band just get lost in a jam. They do it again later in the song and I love the looseness and the energetic vibe to the song.

See me, I can feel it coming around

Complete Control
I remember Tim posting a demo of this song on the old Charlatans forum. I fell for it instantly and a full version appeared as a b-side to Oh! Vanity. Complete Control is kind of like Tim fronting his beloved New Order. There is a very strong melody as Tim talks of being tired of used, tired of being told what to do, by idiots like you

Could perfectly tie in with The Charlatans taking complete control through the self release of their You Cross My Path album. I love this song, sounds like it came together really easily.

The Blind Stagger
The Charlatans played the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow on 22nd October 1999, the night before my brothers 21st birthday. We spent the night in McChuills bar and then at the show before getting back to our local pub just in time for midnight to celebrate.

Coming on stage the band played the long intro of Forever, with Tim coming on after a few minutes to rapturous applause and they delivered one of my all-time favourite Charlatans shows. I really love the Us and Us Only album. Tim's love of Dylan comes through and we see a different side to the band.

The Blind Stagger is such a beautiful song. Guitars are to the fore, Burgess is in full flow. There is a brilliant instrumental, things break down before lifting euphorically

Oh let the light shine
Could you for once be strong
I bleed a little too

Sproston Green
The closing song from debut album Some Friendly and the traditional set closer, Sproston Green is a monster of a song. The band often stretch it out to 10-minutes when they play live, jamming a slow groove into the song, teasing the crowd, building up, creating tension before finally exploding into life.

This one knows, she comes and goes
And when she goes, she goes

This live version from 1995 at the London Astoria perfectly captures the heady atmosphere of Charlatans shows from this time (I describe them as cup finals earlier in the blog). Audiences were up for it, this was a night out to dance and sing.

Burgess is on one here, looking and sounding super cool and his band whip up a storm.

The Only One I Know
A monster of a tune that I have seen many a gig and dancefloor explode to. The bass, drums, wah wah guitar and stabbing hammond chords immediately create a funky and welcoming vibe and then Burgess comes in talking about the only one I see, has found an aching in me

The chorus is pretty remarkable for such a young band to write;

Everyone has been burned before
Everybody knows the pain

The breakdown instrumental at 2-minutes 46 seconds is glorious. This is 4-minutes of The Charlatans at their best, locked in a groove, reaching euphoric heights and taking the listener with them.

North Country Boy
This song totally reminds me of walking to work in the 90's in glorious sunshine. This is perfect pop,

What are you sad about?
Every day you make the sun come out

 North Country Boy lifts me and puts a smile on my face every single time I hear it. There is a groove, a swagger, sunshine and warmth seem to burst out of it.

I can't remember
I don't know how to tell you
But I love you just the same

Just When You're Thinkin' Things Over
I love the looseness to this song, it's got a Stones Exile On Main Street kind of vibe to it, a groove. Burgess is in full flow and the you look good when your heart is on fire lyric is one of my favourites.

Check the band ripping through it at an early sun soaked T in the Park that I fondly remember. The ground was so dry and people were dancing so much during the bands set that a dust storm was whipped up.

Oh Vanity!
 A stomping Motown/Northern Soul beat drives this song from start to finish. The chorus is a keyboard solo that you can't help sing-a-long with and it is an absolute belter of a song.

It came out while I was traveling around the world and I played it relentlessly whenever I was in internet cafes checking out the band on MySpace!

So I have many happy memories of traveling around South America and checking into The Charlatans forum that I visited regularly for news and chat with other Charlatans devotees.

I love this Later With Jools performance. Martin Blunt is grooving on the bass and Jon Brookes is flying at his drum kit. Also check this T in the Park performance to a packed tent.

Oh promise me, oh promise me
You'll save me one last dance for me

One To Another
My favourite Charlatans song. No question. The power of this song still astonishes me all these years down the line. The first single following the death of Rob Collins, this was a big statement.

In fact The Charlatans put out a short statement. It ended with something along the lines of We Are Rock. It meant something, The Charlatans mean something, this song means something.

The intro, with a loop from Tom Rowlands from Chemical Brothers, exploded into life with a heavy riff from piano, guitar, drums and bass leading to Tim coming in;

One to another
A sister and a brother
Changing the way that you feel

And one of my all-time favourite lyrics is be my spider woman, I'll be your spider man so much that a poster with those words is at the top of our stairs.

Justice for believers and love can keep the faith

There is a brief pause for breath before the band go at it harder than ever, the riff is ferocious and Burgess is in full flight - love is hard to leave and it's hard to never have and on and on they go.

This song never fails to lift and inspire me.

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