October 10, 2008

Latest Twist in Unreal Tale You Couldn’t Make Up The Charlatans’ Rises and Falls

By Gary Flockhart

LIF THE story of The Charlatans had been written for a novel or a sceeenplay the entire plot would have been laughed at simply for being too nonsensical to be believed.

The band changes line-up several times. Then one of their members gets jailed for assisting in an armed robbery. Then he tragically dies in a car accident. But they battle on to deliver the best music of their career. Then the record label goes bust. You couldn't make it up.

As is often the case, though, truth is stranger than fiction. And all of those things, and plenty more, have happened to these much- loved survivors of the Madchester era during their two-decade career.

Of course, in between all that misfortune, they made some of the best of the music of the Britpop era - classics like Can't Get Out Of Bed, Just When You're Thinkin' Things Over, One To Another, The Only One I Know, North Country Boy and Tellin' Stories. Though it did seem The Charlatans were cursed.

It's little wonder, then, that the band, and especially its charismatic frontman Tim Burgess, wanted to start afresh ahead of You Cross My Path being released earlier this year.

"I put everything into it, because I knew the stakes were really high," explains Burgess, whose band play the new Picture House venue tomorrow.

"I got sober, started listening to all the records that I fell in love with years ago, and sort of got educated by all that again. I put a lot of effort into digging around in my record collection, and then Tony Wilson [legendary boss of Factory Records] died, which made it even more relevant to what I was doing."

Drawing on Burgess' love of '80s synth-pop groups such as New Order, the new album is The Charlatans' most commercially friendly in years. And on its release it was judged to be the band's finest offering since the late 1990s.

"It is a record of its time, which is a good thing," agrees Burgess. "I think we weren't expected to do that, and I guess that we surprised a lot of people ... it came out of nowhere to some critics."

As well as being a record that finds the band back on form, You Cross My Path is the first that Burgess has recorded since he quit drink and drugs for good.

According to the singer, now 41, his addictions left him so close to the edge that, had he continued his abuse, he would never have made a tenth studio album with his band.

"I gave up drink and drugs about two years ago," he says, candidly. "I feel revitalised about everything now, especially going on tour.

"I won't say I've been living a lie in the past, but the gig was just part of the day, and the party after was the main part of it. Now, it's all about the songs, and I'm singing better than ever. I had to give everything up because it was affecting my physical state, and my voice.

He continues, "I was drinking all day, every day on tour, but I've always been the type to push it to the limits with that side of things.

"I'm very much an all or nothing person, and for many years I did drink and drugs to the extreme."

Like so many artists, Burgess was initially worried that quitting drugs for good might in some way hamper his creativity.

"I always read about other people's drugs use in biographies and stuff," he says, "so I was very much aware of it. I actually read that David Lynch, one of my major sources of inspiration, went to see a shrink one day and said to him: 'If I come and see you, will I lose my creativity?' And the shrink said to him: 'Yeah, very probably'. So he got up and left.

"I kind of had that story in mind a lot, but I knew I had to take it to another extreme - which was nothing at all. But I was fairly sure that would spark some other kind of creativity.

"After I gave up," he adds, "I just went back to being in love with music again. And instead of having everything, just having the music."

And, says Burgess, You Cross My Path includes every emotion that he went through as he battled back against his addictions.

"The first three tracks on the album are about the vanity aspects of my bad days while Mis-Takes is about getting my stuff together with a bit of bitterness added," he explains.

"You Cross My Path is about the anger and revenge stage. Then My Name Is Despair is about when I was physically, totally immobile."

With the band, and its singer, in their best shape for years, it's hardly surprising the current tour is going down well.

But what can fans expect to hear at tomorrow's gig? "The tour's going great so far," beams Burgess, "though I don't know that we're keeping everyone happy. What were doing is the new album, and stuff we think suits the set.

"Out of the old stuff, we're not doing North Country Boy, we're not doing Forever, and we're not doing Tellin' Stories. What we are doing is Weirdo, we're doing The Only One I Know, and we're doing One To Another.

"These tend to sit quite well within the set, as does some stuff off Wonderland and some stuff off the second album [Between 10th And 11th], so I suppose it's all songs with sort of metronomic beats, really.

"I'm looking forward to playing in Edinburgh, I've lots of really fond memories of the city," he adds, before returning to a copy of a book he'd been reading before the interview about Scotland's most notorious serial killers.

"The story of this Bible John guy at the Barrowlands, that's just unbelievable, isn't it?" he offers. True, but then some say the story of The Charlatans files under the "unbelievable" category, too.

The Charlatans, The Picture House, Lothian Road, tomorrow, 7pm, GBP 22.50, 0844-847 1740

Just When You Think It's Over

1990: Formed in the West Midlands by bassist Martin Blunt. Baz Ketley is the singer, but is replaced by Tim Burgess before the release of debut single Indian Rope. Debut album Some Friendly released. 1991: Guitarist John Baker leaves, and is replaced by Mark Collins. 1992: Second album Between 10th & 11th released. Rob Collins jailed. 1994: Third album Up To Our Hips released. 1995: Self-titled fourth album The Charlatans released. It reaches No 1 in the album chart. 1996: Rob Collins dies during recording sessions. The band decided to carry on and play triumphant show with Oasis at Knebworth. 1997: Fifth album Tellin' Stories released. It spawned the band's biggest hits, One To Another and North Country Boy. 1999: Sixth album Us & Us Only released, with the band now signed to Universal after their deal with Beggars Banquet expired. 2001: Soul- inspired seventh album Wonderland released. 2004: Eighth album Up At The Lake released. Reviews are mixed. 2006: Ninth album Simpatico released. Record label Sanctuary closes not long after [in early 2007]. 2007: Tenth album You Cross My Path released online as a free download. It's a roaring success. 2008: Physical release of You Cross My Path, giving the band their best reviews in years.

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