Tim Burgess (The Charlatans) chats with Kevin Cooper about his favourite Charlatans track, the deaths of Rob Collins and Jon Brookes, their new album Modern Nature and their forthcoming tour of the UK.

Timothy Allan Burgess is an English singer-songwriter and record label owner, best known as the lead singer of the alternative rock band The Charlatans.

The Charlatans are an English indie rock band. The band’s line-up currently comprises lead vocalist Tim Burgess, guitarist Mark Collins, bassist Martin Blunt and keyboardist Tony Rogers.

Former band members include Rob Collins who died in a car accident in 1996 during the recording of their fifth album, and drummer Jon Brookes who died after being diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2010. He passed away in 2013.

In the UK, all of the band’s twelve studio albums have charted in the Top 40 in the UK Albums Chart, three of them being number ones. They have also achieved seventeen Top 30 singles and four Top 10 hits in the UK Singles Chart.

Giving a very rare interview prior to The Charlatans forthcoming tour of the UK, he took time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper, and this is what he had to say.


Hi Tim, how are you?

I am fine Kevin, thank you.

Let me firstly thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions.

Not a problem Kevin, it’s a pleasure.

So I have to ask, just how is life treating Tim Burgess at this moment in time?

It’s treating me very well thank you. We are just in the middle of a US tour so we’re playing most nights. Last night was Webster Hall in New York. We have a day off today so I’m meeting up with New York music legend Pete Gordon to work on some songs we’re recording.

Are you looking forward to your forthcoming tour?

Absolutely. We did a UK tour earlier in the year but we didn’t get to play all the places that we wanted to. This tour means that we get to play places like Rock City which has always been an important venue for The Charlatans. I think we started round about the same time (laughter).

What can we expect from your gig at Rock City?

You can expect to see Riding The Low before we play; it’s Paddy Considine’s band who are playing a couple of the dates with us. Frankie and The Hearstrings are playing too. Then The Charlatans of course (laughter), we’ll be doing stuff from way back and songs from our new album and pretty much everything in between. We’ve always felt the band works best at a gig; everything comes together and there’s something about our fans that means there’s always a fantastic atmosphere

Everyone I speak to who has played at Rock City says that it has a certain kind of vibe. Would you agree with that sentiment?

Definitely. Certain venues work best for setting up a great gig. Rock City, The Royal Albert Hall, Barrowlands in Glasgow; they are three of my favourites

Your gig there is part of their 35th Anniversary celebrations. Are you looking forward to it?

Yep. We’re arriving in Nottingham early and we’re setting up, doing our sound check and then we’re doing a signing session at Rough Trade so it kind of means there’s exciting stuff going on all day. 35 years, eh? Our first album was 25 years ago so we’re spring chickens in comparison (laughter). Maybe we’ll bring a birthday cake, but we will certainly be aiming for a party atmosphere

What are your favourite experiences of Nottingham?

We played at Rock City in November 1990 and it was a Monday night. You sometimes expect that things might be a bit subdued on a Monday but it was one of the craziest gigs we’d had. From then we’ve always looked forward to gigs there and they’ve never let us down.

Do you still get that buzz out of touring or is it now a necessary evil?

Live shows are what it’s all about for us. I’ll never take for granted that I actually do this for a job. Even though it’s been 25 years, we never get bored of playing gigs. The getting from place to place can sometimes be a bit stressful or take a long time; because our tours today are a bit different from in those in 1990 but they are no less enjoyable. Being away from your family is always quite difficult but technology helps; facetime with my son is always a highlight of my day.

When you were 20 did you foresee yourself having such a long career and did you think that you would still be relevant today?

Definitely not (laughter) but I think that’s more to do with being 20 than anything else. I’m not sure that too many 20 year olds look that far into the future. I was having far too much fun (laughter). I think music was maybe a bit more immediate back then and we’ve developed over time. It’s definitely good to feel relevant; we headlined the 6 Music Festival this year and there was no sense that any of the bands were chosen for any kind of nostalgia. Don’t get me wrong, we love to play our classic songs but it’s also great to hear our new stuff on the radio too. Lots of kids come to the gigs after maybe hearing their parents’ Charlatans albums; that’s always good to see.

Would you say that Ian Brown has been an influence on your career?

Well, we started just after The Stone Roses first album came out and we supported them, but I wouldn’t say Ian has been much of an influence on my career. I saw him at their Heaton Park gigs last year and we had a chat as they were heading for the stage. I think much has been made of The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Inspiral Carpets connection but that was around 1990. We’ve done twelve Charlatans albums and I’ve done two solo albums since and worked with people like St Etienne, Mark Ronson and The Chemical Brothers. Some stuff might seem like it’s influenced by Ian but it’s not a conscious thing

You released the album Modern Nature earlier this year. Were you happy with the way that it was received?

Definitely. Making an album is one thing but however much bands pretend otherwise, what other people think matters. Bands are about making records and if nobody likes it, you might not get the chance to make another. It went into the top 10 which we were pleased about and the singles were played on Radio 2, 6 Music and XFM, so for a time it was hard to not hear the songs. We’ve just done another vinyl pressing as the others sold out; that comes out while we’re on tour so they are like bookends to the year. It first came out in January and this new pressing is out in December.

Do you have a favourite track on the album?

It changes all the time but right at this very second it’s Let The Good Times Be Never Ending. We played it on James Corden’s show in LA when we arrived in America and it really seemed to chime with people. It gets a reaction like one of the classics when we play it live.

The album featured temporary drummers Peter Salisbury (The Verve) Stephen Morris (New Order) and Gabriel Gurnsey (Factory Floor). What is the current position regarding finding a replacement drummer?

Recording again was difficult after Jon died and there’s no way anyone could replace him. We’re happy to carry on and invite friends to play on the records with us.

Who will be playing the drums for you on the forthcoming tour?

Pete Salisbury plays live with us and does all the gigs with us. I know Jon loved Pete’s drumming and he’s a brilliant addition to the band. At our Manchester gig recently, for Sproston Green, Stephen Morris joined us on drums and Pete played too. That really was a big moment.

On the subject of albums, are you the kind of person who is always writing with the next album in mind?

Yep, absolutely. We’ve been planning the next album and we’ll be heading to the studio once we’ve finished the tour.

Do you have a favourite Charlatans track and why?

Again it always changes but today it’s North Country Boy; I’m having a coffee in New York and we filmed the video here. It was back in the days that labels would spend £20,000 on a video. We thought it would be cool to just buy flights to New York for us and the camera crew and film us taking taxis and just having fun. Seemed like a much better way to spend the budget. That still makes me smile (laughter).

How would you describe your music?

Charlatansy (laughter).

Do you ever get annoyed with how the good old BBC still have to pigeon hole bands instead of just letting great music rise to the top?

Bands can get carried away refusing to be pigeonholed but it’s a way of communicating about something. Not sure the BBC does it any more than the NME or anyone else for that matter. We’ve been called Baggy, Britpop and all sorts of things. Great music still rises to the top, so does some rubbish; some of the best musicians ever will remain unheard by the majority. It’s partly what makes music so exciting.

You have been in the music industry for a long time, do you feel frightened by how things are changing with technology, and how are you adapting to it?

For the most part I love it. Technology means I can work on my record label after doing a sound check; it means fans can share their excitement about a gig on twitter. Everything’s much more immediate and that works well for music. You can hear of a band for the first time, download all their music and grab a ticket to one of their gigs; all while having a bath (laughter). Is that a good thing? It is in my book.

When Rob Collins passed away in 1996 after a car accident and then again when John Brookes passed away in 2013, was there ever a time when you thought that was the end of The Charlatans?

Definitely. Rob died shortly before the Knebworth gig where we supporting Oasis. Our immediate reaction was to cancel the gig but Martin Duffy from Primal Scream came to us and said if we didn’t play, that we might not play again. He’d learnt our songs and he was insistent. He definitely saved The Charlatans or is to blame for us carrying on, whichever way you want to look at it (laughter). I remember Mark saying that he thought we might not play again after The Royal Albert Hall gig that we played in memory of Jon. While Jon was ill, he was really keen to start recording the next album, so we kind of knew we had to do it.

I always thought that Robs playing of the Hammond Organ set you aside from almost all of the other bands around at the time. Would you agree with that?

I would. He was also the best singer in The Charlatans. People sometimes overlook Rob’s voice as he was such a brilliant keyboard player.

When Rob sadly passed away did the whole dynamic of the band change in your opinion?

It did. It wasn’t just losing him as a friend and band member but just going on stage or into a studio and expecting him to be there. He was a founding member of the band; we were young and it hit us hard.

The Charlatans have set up The Jon Brookes Fund as a lasting tribute to your late drummer, which I have to say is a tremendous gesture. Was that an easy decision to make?

Yeah, there’s a Jon Brookes Award For Endevaour at a college we worked with too. We raised over £100,000 from our Royal Albert Hall gig and The Brain Tumour Charity had really helped Jon’s family. Charlatans fans have run marathons and Debbie, Jon’s wife, raised lots of money doing a 10k walk with their daughters. We saw what families of people with brain tumours go through; it was great to be able to help in Jon’s name.

When you joined the band in 1989 what did you hope to achieve?

To play a few gigs and maybe to even record a single. If I dared to dream, I thought we might make an album.

We all recognise that the music industry is currently struggling. Bearing that in mind how much of a setback was it when U2 gave away for free their latest album via Apple?

Well we gave an album away for free; You Cross My Path. The difference was, we only gave it to people who wanted it. I’m not sure forcing people to have their album did them any good. Maybe record sales are down and there’s less money around but music is about adapting. Record labels have sometimes made the music industry seem bloated and out of touch and artists with extravagant tastes and pernickety riders, so I’m not sure there’s much sympathy from the outside world. Things are different for new bands but a lot of things are easier than they were in the 70s, 80s, or 90s.

How did music start for you?

(Laughter) I had a rattle in my pram. It got a good reaction when I shook it (laughter).

Who have been your biggest musical inspirations?

New Order, Arthur Russell, The Rolling Stones, Peter Gordon and at the moment I’m loving Cbeebies theme tunes that I watch with my son (laughter).

What was the first record you ever bought?

Long Haired Lover From Liverpool by Little Jimmy Osmond but don’t tell anyone (laughter).

Who did you first see playing live?

Killing Joke.

Who was or is your single most influential artist of all time?

Curtis Mayfield.

Which artist (if any) would you most like to record with?

Cat Power.

Which new artist do you find the most exciting?

Sleaford Mods; they are brilliant.

Who do you listen to now?

Juila Holter, Grimes, Factory Floor, R Stevie Moore and lots, lots more.

Who would you say is your single biggest non-music hero or heroine?

My son.

Do you prefer playing the large outdoor festivals or the smaller intimate venues?

I’m happy with either. We opened Glastonbury as surprise special guests to about 40,000 people this summer but we also played a warm up gig at The Brudenell Social Club to 400 people. It is hard to say which was better. It’s not all about comparing stuff but about having a good time.

Did you enjoy supporting The Who and The Rolling Stones?

We did. They are the bands we grew up listening to. No matter how much success you’ve had, those moments still get you wondering whether it’s all just a dream.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Blimey, these questions are set to get you thinking (laughter). Our headline set at Castlefield Bowl in Manchester was possibly my favourite gig. Over 8,000 people came to see us and we had Dexy’s brass section and Stephen and Gillian from New Order joined us for a song. All our friends and family were there. It was a brilliant day for us and everyone was singing along to the songs from Modern Nature.

What was your first appearance on Top Of The Pops like?

It was the pinnacle for a band; the show was watched all over the world and it was definitely a moment when you knew all your friends were watching. It’s when our mums all realised we might not be wasting our time. We went on a few times; when Rob came out of prison we picked him up in the morning when he was released and went straight to the studio. We always had fun doing Top of The Pops.

What would you say has been your single most embarrassing moment?

As a member of The National Union of Rock Stars I’m not allowed to answer that question as it might make me seem uncool (hysterical laughter). Let’s just say I have fallen off the front of a stage before now.

How are you finding working with BMG Rights Management, is it a nice fit?

It is. We’ve all been around long enough to know that it works best if a band records songs and plays gigs and the label does their job getting the record to people. We have artistic freedom to do what we want and I think they’re happy with how Modern Nature has done.

What do you do to relax?

Meditation and spending time with friends.

Which single event would you say changed your life forever?

The birth of my son. Life is never the same.

At what point in your career did you feel most musically satisfied?

It was last night on stage in New York. Let me tell you, it’s good being in The Charlatans.

What was the last song that made you cry and where were you at that moment in time?

Jon left us a song; it was called Walk With Me. When we played it at our studio it was very emotional.

In March and April of 2011 you and Mark Collins played an acoustic tour of the UK. Are there any plans to do that again?

No plans but then again, we’ve not really made too many plans for what happens after this tour.

What next for Tim Burgess?

A coffee in New York with Sharon Horgan, then heading to Peter Gordon’s studio. Tomorrow it’s a Charlatans gig in Washington DC. What a life!!

Thanks Tim, thanks for taking the time to have a chat; it has been a real pleasure.

Likewise Kevin, it has been an absolute pleasure.