Charlatans man Tim Burgess on Irish dates and hit Twitter Listening Parties
Ahead of next week's solo shows in Belfast and Dublin and The Charlatans' upcoming Irish dates, David Roy quizzes frontman Tim Burgess about getting back on tour, his Twitter Listening Parties and dusting off some forgotten Charlatans tunes...
CHARLATANS leader Tim Burgess had a busy 2020, but not quite in the way he expected. The mop-topped singer had planned to tour his fifth solo album I Love The New Sky in the run up to its release in May, only for Covid to scupper his plans.
Instead, the Norfolk-based social media-friendly musician found himself increasingly preoccupied taking the concept of the live listening party – where fans gather online on Twitter to play through beloved albums while sharing thoughts and memories – to the masses.
The hugely successful Tim's Twitter Listening Parties quickly became a lockdown phenomenon which often generated input from the artists in question themselves as well as their fanbases. Kicking off with a 30th anniversary edition for The Charlatans' debut Some Friendly, it has gone on to cover classic albums by artists including Oasis, Spandau Ballet, David Bowie, Gilbert O'Sullivan, John Lennon & Yoko Ono and Iron Maiden – the latter given the honour of Listening Party 666, naturally.
With a 7pm slot quickly created to cover new releases by up-and-coming artists and even veterans like Paul McCartney in addition to the original 'classic' 10pm sessions, at time of writing the near-nightly (and sometimes thrice-nightly) series is fast-approaching 1,000 completed events, spawning its own fan-run archival website timstwitterlisteningparties.com and a book in which Burgess selected 100 of his favourite Parties.
As Covid restrictions begin to ease, The Charlatans have now started playing live again to celebrate the release of new career-spanning 'best of' A Head Full of Ideas, the deluxe versions of which are stuffed with rare live tracks, demos and previously unreleased material. With a few European festival dates already under their belts, their tour proper kicks off in Belfast on November 22.
Burgess is also finally out on the road in support of his solo record, with dates in Belfast and Dublin coming up next week...
:: Your 'solo' band features album producer Daniel O'Sullivan on drums, Dexy's Midnight Runners violinist Helen O'Hara, Rose Keeler-Schaffeler on guitar, Jenny Hirons on piano and former Julian Cope sideman Thighpaulsandra on synths. Are you looking forward to finally be touring I Love The New Sky with them?
I really am. We started off last year by playing some solo shows in New York and I always imagined that people would get into the album by seeing us live.
The band that I put together was a very deep band and we were ready to show people this album from a live perspective and then hopefully get them to buy it – but it wasn't meant to be like that.
The pandemic hit and we were on the second-to-last flight out of New York before lockdown. So it's very exciting.
:: Is this the longest you've gone without performing live since you joined your first band The Electric Crayons?
Yeah, since I was 22 years old – and I just didn't know what to do with myself. Which is why in some ways the Twitter Listening Parties kind of took off. I was kind of just available to do lots of them.
Lots of it was born of keeping occupied during a very bleak time. People had no shows to go to and didn't know what to do with themselves, and the Listening Parties brought everyone together to listen to the records.
It started off with just one album per night at 10pm as kind of an alternative to the 10pm news and very quickly it became three a night. We were even doing imaginary festivals with lots of bands and me DJing, which was when I was like 'OK, this is getting crazy now'.
I've got a few people now, Matt, Mat and Andrew, who help me do everything. They've created a 'replay' facility on the website so you can go back and revisit the Tweets in real time while you listen to the album. That was a gamechanger.
So it was massive for people. It just and made everyone feel good, especially when they also had someone who was involved in that record tweeting along and telling them things that they might not have known.
:: How are things going with The Charlatans, have you had a chance to blow the cobwebs off yet?
We've played a few festivals – we just did an hour long set in Belgium, so we have played some songs, and we have rehearsed. There's a few new things that we've never played before that we want to do, like a couple of the great unreleased tracks from the Wonderland sessions off the new box set.
:: The Wonderland album turned 20 this year – can you still hit those high notes?
I would imagine not. I'd just given up smoking and I wanted to sing like After The Goldrush-era Neil Young. I think I did two songs [like that] and then said, "right the whole album is going to be in falsetto". Everyone else was like "what?".
But what a record, it's breathtaking. The beats and grooves are so heavy, it's like a rollercoaster, which is like the cheesiest line ever, but it really is – it's so crackers.
:: Is it hard to distil a 30 year career into one compilation? The tracklist of A Head Full of Ideas does omit some key Charlatans moments like Indian Rope and Then, for example.
Well, we felt it was time to do another 'best of', because the last one we put out was 2006 and quite a lot has happened since then. We looked at the previous compilations and tried to give it its own identity, plus there's quite a lot from [2015's acclaimed] Modern Nature on there too.
The unreleased stuff is what interested me the most, really. As far as sound quality goes, sometimes bad quality stuff can be really interesting – and lots of my friends don't seem to even notice the difference between a great mix of a song and an OK mix of a song.
So it's a good compilation but I don't think that necessarily means that the setlist for the tour is going to mirror it. Obviously, there's a contrary element to The Charlatans, which is part of the reason I want us to do the two lost tracks Sleepy Little Sunshine Boy and C'Mon C'Mon.
They should have been singles, but we managed to totally forget about them – just because we're mental.
:: Tim Burgess, Thursday September 30, Ulster Sports Club, Belfast / Friday October 1, Whelans, Dublin. The Charlatans, November 22, The Limelight, Belfast / November 23, The Olympia, Dublin. Tickets via Limelightbelfast.com and Ticketmaster.ie