Tellin’ stories with The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess

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The Charlatans’ frontman is more than just a face for 90’s Britpop. He is a record label owner, solo artist, author, DJ and the man behind the Twitter listening party sensation.

Tim Burgess’ song writing has led the indie group across thirteen high-charting albums with four top 10 entries to the UK Singles Chart, including ‘The Only One I Know’ and ‘One to Another’ as well as releasing five solo albums, the latest being released last year.

The 53-year-old from Salford has been busy entertaining fans and drawing in new audiences over lockdown with his Twitter listening parties.

All people are required to do is stream or play the album of that night, follow Tim and the relevant artist on Twitter and watch the tweets in real time. Fans are encouraged to ask questions and share memories using the hashtag #TimsTwitterListeningParty.

Artists that have been featured include Oasis, Blur, The Libertines and even Paul McCartney.

JMU Journalism caught up with Tim from his home in Norfolk to hear more about his Twitter listening parties, new solo album ‘I Love the New Sky’ and how life has been during the pandemic.

What made you set up the Listening Parties during lockdown?

“I felt that lots of people knew about the listening parties, Charlatans fans, and there was a lot of enjoyment. That was what people seem to get from them, so I’d only done them with the Charlatans and my solo album. So, I thought I should do it again.

“I suggested that I do a listening party for ‘Some Friendly’, the debut album of The Charlatans, and Alex from Franz Ferdinand mentioned that he bought that album when he was 16 years old and at that moment, I just asked him if he’d like to do one. Bonehead was watching from Oasis and he said he’d like to do one as well.

“Within a few minutes something was happening. This was March 23rd, so it was just at the very beginning of lockdown. Within a week Wendy from Prefab Sprout was involved and Dave Roundtree from Blur was involved. Within two weeks I was doing three every night and five at the weekends.

“It just made people feel connected during a time where everyone felt so alone. I think it got people interested again in the art form of an album which I think, obviously we all love playlists, but the art of making an album was brought back into people’s focus. I think some good things have happened from it, but a connection really.”

How did you select the albums for the Listening Parties?

“Well at first it kind of began with who is in my phone book and then whoever was on Twitter, so people that I knew or was aware of. Then I wanted to include young bands and people that I really like, that my Twitter followers weren’t aware of.

“I wanted to introduce people to records that I really liked, but also to have a hugely broad amount of artists that I wouldn’t necessarily listen to. If it would’ve just been my personal taste, it could have stopped after about 100 or 200 albums and we’ve done 600 now. It has to be a kind of an open-door policy where everyone feels included and can be a part of.”

Has your opinion changed on any of the albums you did on your listening parties, and which one was your favourite?

“My favourites really are New Order, a favourite band of mine, Rosin Murphy has been brilliant and so was Bonehead with the Oasis records. I think everyone loves Oasis.

“But there was a band from the 80’s that I wasn’t aware of at all really, although I saw them on Top of the Pops all the time. And that’s a band called Spandau Ballet. I just kind of knew them but didn’t know anything about them until Gary Kemp called me one day. I’ve never spoken to him before and he just seemed like the greatest guy. We just kept speaking to each other and he did a Listening Party that was so incredible that it kind of is my most favourite one. More now because I wasn’t really ever a fan, they just kind of passed me by a little bit when I was younger.

“So, although I’m indebted forever for everybody taking part, I think if I had to be pushed, I’d say that’s true, Spandau Ballet was my favourite one.”

What advice would you give to musicians, from your hometown or just across the UK, looking to break into the industry in the current climate?

“Just hang in there. I think I’m very optimistic about the future because this is probably about as bad as it’s going to get. So, the future must be brighter, and I’ve always been a believer of that and out of tough situations comes great music. Hang in there, keep believing and dream.”

Do you think there’s a potentiality of a cultural boom after this is all over?

“I just think that out of tough times comes great art and great music and people to get through this, they have to keep believing in something positive. And that’s what will drive it. People always rely on artists and people involved in art to help them through it even though they don’t really help artists when the going is good.”

What has it been like releasing your album, ‘I Love the New Sky’, during the pandemic? Would you say it had like a positive impact on you and your fans, or is it being quite difficult?

“I always thought the album would grow with them playing live. I spent quite a considered amount of time arranging the band and getting the right people in involved in the band. We only got to play five shows I think, and one of them fortunately was a filmed live stream for Paste Magazine in New York. Pretty amazing, and that’s really done the rounds now online and showing people what they would have been missing.

“We would have been playing live in May and then probably September and all through the festivals. That’s how I thought the album would grow. But then obviously the listening parties and all that have made people more aware of the album. So it’s hard to know which way would have been best. Just got to think on your feet really. I think it’s given the album quite a bit of exposure, but not the kind of exposure that I was expecting.”

With music in general, would you say that it has given you something to focus on during the pandemic with your live streams and listening parties?

“Without me doing the listening party, I think I would have lost it. Without music, there would have been no listening party. I think music’s been so amazing. When I first started doing the listening parties people were saying ‘oh my God, I’ve not listened to an album in its entirety for so long’. I think it’s done a lot of good work for albums. Even though I was only trying to be helpful. I mean, there’s so many people doing amazing things in the world during the pandemic, I just wanted to help a little bit. I knew that the Listening Parties gave people some kind of enjoyment. I didn’t really know how it was going to work out, but people have been saying that they’re listening to albums again now, which is an amazing thing because there’s a lot of work that goes into making an album.”

How have you found like lockdown in general? Have you found it like a good kind of creative break or a more creative time for you in general?

“It’s been different throughout the stages. At the beginning, in March, I had just come back from New York. It was supposedly the beginning of my album live cycle and it was cut short, so I was kind of a bit down about that. But then when the listening parties took off, that just took up all my time for the first part.

“It was difficult because I’ve got a 7-year-old son and he needed home schooling as well and that was really difficult because I’m not a teacher and he just laughed at me when I tried to teach him stuff. So that was hard. As time went on, I got a bit more OK with it and I started writing music. I’ve got quite a lot of new stuff now written, so it’s been quite nice. At first, I think because the world seemed to stop, I just couldn’t find any inspiration for a while.

“But then I think you just get into that kind of groove, where you just feel that well, this is how the world is now. Nature is brilliant and I look at the sea and look at the trees and things like that. I have managed to do those kinds of things and just enjoy other things and get into that kind of pace. It’s been quite inspiring now actually.”

Tim can be found on Twitter @Tim_Burgess and his new album ‘I Love the New Sky’ is available to buy from his website or can be streamed on Spotify.

About Mia O'Hare, JMU Journalism