Interview: TIM BURGESS from THE CHARLATANS on his bio “Telling Stories” (plus a dive into my own diary)

“Sproston Green?” replied Charlatans bassist Martin Blunt to my very-Canadian-didn’t-know-what-a-green-was question. “It was a little plot of land where Tim used to go and stay with a girl, and she’d bed him, if he didn’t try to shag her.”

On February 24, 1991, I hung out with the Charlatans on their first-ever visit to Canada. It had preceded Blur’s arrival Stateside by 9 months, and the Charlies were big in Britpop, before the thing had a name and whilst we were all lookin’ in the direction of Madchester.

Likely mistaken for a groupie, (I’d had a habit of hanging around backstage doors), I was invited on the tourbus by the band’s roadies – Dave, Mark and Derrick – and we sat, chatted and drank red wine before I headed into a small, campus press conference at which the band looked excrutiatingly bored. Almost all bands did.

After the show – at which singer Tim Burgess replaced the lyrics in “Opportunity” of “Station to station/this sensation/a celebration” to “Sensation/Ejaculation/Oh masturbation”- I lounged backstage with the Charlies and other liggers.

I talked at length with bassist Martin Blunt, mugged with Tim, and bantered with the rest. I’m thankful I also had a chance to meet and chat with keyboardist Rob Collins that night. He died in a car crash five years later. For those of us who didn’t know him personally, Rob will forever been known for giving the Charlatans that trippy Hammond organ sound, and for that I am also thankful.

The Charlatans’ were one of my favourite bands of the 90s. “The Only One I Know” was one of my favourite songs. And I am a rock biography whore. Which is why the following excites me greatly:

On April 26, Tim Burgess releases his memoir, called “Telling Stories.”

I tracked Tim down via Twitter (where he and I chat on occasion – he loved my back tattoo by artist Pete Fowler. His a much more modest scrawl of the New Order “Ceremony” catalog number, FAC 33), and sorted this out. Herewith, Tim Burgess telling stories about his book:

Writing a memoir is one of the hardest things in the world, not least of which is that I imagine a lot of the time in the early days was a blur. What did you find the most challenging in putting together the book?

The challenge was to put the story across without it just sounding like a list of things that I’d done. I was thinking back to how I was at each stage of the band and before and what I wanted people to know about those times. I’ve seen some reviews and they’ve picked up on that, so I’m hoping I got it right and people will get a look at who I am. Surprisingly none of it’s a blur – it was all I’d ever wanted to do so I took it all in.

I was enjoying myself but I wasn’t doing it so that I could forget. Looking back, maybe I was a rock n’ roll explorer and these are my reports. Like scientific findings. I’m on to the next experiment now – it involves less riotous behaviour but it’s just as interesting. I’d read some really great books about music and I’m hoping Telling Stories would be looked at alongside some of those books.

What were the most painful, difficult and embarrassing parts to relive?

Nothing’s embarrassing – looking back over your past and thinking you can edit out some of it would change the story. There’s an interview that I used that was from when I was drinking quite a lot. It should have been a wake-up call, but I slept through the alarm. The difficult times of the band are well documented so they’ve always been talked about.

After Rob died, it was something we had to deal with privately but also in the public eye too. I’d find I’d be answering questions at a moment’s notice in an interview. It was a better process to do things at my own pace and speak to the other people in the band about their feelings.

But there was much to celebrate. What was the most joyful or fulfilling aspect of the experience?

Tim Burgess & Me, 1991Without wanting to sound like I’m showing off, I think the achievements of the band are the central part of the story. And they are something we’re all really proud of – the most fulfilling aspect of the book was that I was working with a publisher like Penguin and they liked what I was writing. I could count myself as an author – I’d be there in a bookshop alongside some writers I loved. It was similar to the feeling of when we first made a record and it’d be in the same shop as The Clash.

Your visit to North America preceded Blur’s …does it ever bug you that Oas-blur get most of the credit for Britpop?

We always just did our thing, and from time to time a pigeonhole would swing by that captured the times and a few of them we got stuffed into – whether Madchester or Britpop, we never aimed for either.

We knew we worked in the same world as Oasis and Blur, but it’s less of a competition than people may imagine. It’s cool when there’s an interest in similar bands. Magazines and TV people come looking for you and you get attention from countries you might not have been to before.

What’s next for you, the Charlies and can we expect you back this side of the planet?

No plans to be there at the moment – there some anniversary gigs where we’re playing Tellin Stories track by track in the UK. Two dates in Japan too. I’ve got a few shows around the book – doing some acoustic songs with Mark Collins, The Charlatans guitarist, and reading out some extracts. Chuck in the stuff with my label, O Genesis and it makes for a busy few months. Not really sure what’s happening after then.

But you did do a rather quite fab collab with Ladyhawke…any other stuffs on the radar of this sort and can you tell us a secret or give us a scoop?

Yeah, the track with Pip was something we’d worked on and got some friends to remix. We have some big plans for Record Store Day but can’t really tell you any secrets, I’m afraid. People can get me on twitter @Tim_Burgess – a few secrets and exclusives pop up on there from time to time. Today’s was a picture from when I was two – showing my early love of good jumpers and a good haircut. \m/

Telling Stories is published by Penguin Books and available at all hip bookstores (or, more likely, online) on April 26.

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