'I'm an optimist'
Hannah Browne
12:17 23rd November 2020

In these uncertain times, singer, songwriter, author and record label owner Tim Burgess is busier than most. Best known as The Charlatans frontman – riding the latter end of the Madchester wave – his illustrious career continues to this day.

Following 5-star reviews for his recent solo album I Love The New Sky (released 22 May), Burgess is now set to release his new EP, Ascent Of The Ascended, arriving on 27 November. The 6-track EP is short but sweet, matching unheard material with four tracks recorded live in New York City earlier this year.

In the midst of all this, Tim also finds the time to host Twitter listening parties. For the uninitiated, the concept is simple: every night, Burgess invites artists to playback a classic album from their catalogue, with one or more of the involved figures contributing a live commentary of studio memories. Pixies, The Cure, Madness, The Smiths, The Strokes, New Order and hundreds more have been enlisted under the #timstwitterlisteningparty treatment, with many still to come. It’s a virtual salvation in times like these as likeminded artists and fans congregate in real-time, whilst Tim plays host.

We caught up with Tim Burgess to hear more about his Twitter playbacks, the make-up of his new EP, and 30 years of The Charlatans’ Some Friendly.

Gigwise: Your new EP Ascent Of The Ascended contains two superb new tracks as well as four recordings taken from a live session for Paste magazine. Was it always your intention to release an EP with only 2 tracks worth of new material? 

Tim Burgess: It’s 2020 so rules have been re-written for almost everything. I wrote 'Yours. To Be' and 'The Ascent of the Ascended' during lockdown and we managed to get them recorded as the rules changed. I sent them to Simon (Raymonde, head honcho at Bella Union) and he really liked the songs too. We had the session that we recorded in New York and we just thought it would be an idea to put out a 6-track EP. 

GW: In some ways, the EP feels like an interconnected moment in time – from new material to an event performance taking place on the cusp of the mass Covid spread, to a new version of a Charlatans classic. From a listener’s perspective, revising these great records feels like reacquainting with an old friend who has changed a bit over the years, but in fact, the EP came from the energy of recording your previous album, I Love The New Sky. Can you tell us a bit about that?

TB: Yeah, the live songs were recorded in March - before the album came out. We were ready to head to South by Southwest, Glastonbury and lots of exciting shows. So lots of the energy was put on hold - we had enough to see us through to the end of the year. We headed back from New York straight into lockdown, so we couldn’t really add anything to what we’d done. That’s where the idea came to expand the EP to include the live songs - so, instead of hearing them at live shows, it’s a chance for everyone to get to know the songs in a slightly different way. 

GW: I Love The New Sky was the first album of yours where all tracks are self-penned, yet when reflecting on The Charlatans discography it’s obvious that songwriting was a collaborative effort from the band, with credits being shared on almost every track. Which process do you tend to thrive on?

TB: I’m happy with any format for writing songs. Sometimes I’ve been sent a tune to write lyrics to, words to put to music or sitting with a guitar and a pen and paper - either alone or with songwriting partners. The Charlatans have had thirty years to work on our writing process, it’s fairly adaptable and robust, and we know how to get the best results. We’re like a family. Then, with other collaborations it can be like a pen friend or even a holiday bromance. It’s all about the songs for me - that first listen to the completed songs when you know you’re getting somewhere. 

GW: Delving into back catalogues has been at the heart of your Twitter listening parties, in which you’ve played a major part in how audiences consume music during this pandemic. Personally, I love how you have raised the opportunity to enjoy an album in its entirety. Do you think that this is important in the age of streaming and playlisting?

TB: The listening parties have been great for hearing an album as it was meant to be listened to by the people who recorded it - rather than the songs being scattered among playlists, with some being all but forgotten. It’s been an honour to remind some people of some classic albums and introduce listeners to some favourite new artists too - it’s definitely not just about back catalogues though, there’s a good balance with new albums too. We didn’t just want it to be a nostalgia thing - it’s a great way for a band to listen to their new album too, no more obsessing over details - a chance to sit back and enjoy it, just like everyone else.

GW: What has been your standout moments of the sessions so far? I really enjoyed the Stephen and Gillian Morris taking us through Power, Corruption and Lies where we learnt that ‘Age of Consent’ almost carbon copied the drums from a version of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Or, of course, Pete Doherty’s anecdotes around the recording of The Libertine’s Up The Bracket.

TB: We’ve done nearly 550 so there are lots of highlights - I’ve become closer to Kevin Rowland since he did his and he’s a real advocate for the listening parties, and they have enabled him to listen to his albums in a different way. To have been part of that is a huge honour.

GW: Do these conversations bring back memories/awaken times that you may have forgotten? Not only personally, but also for notable moments in the industry as a whole?

TB: Hearing music really does take you back to a time and a place and you have to remember that artists generally don’t spend time with older albums - Alex Kapranos had not heard Franz Ferdinand’s debut LP since a couple of months before it was released. But I know from experience, every nuance and hotly debated element of the record will have instantly come back to him. Sometimes it’s great to take a moment for a band or artist to just say “We wrote and recorded that. And it sounds great” - there’s a lot of time spent on talking about what wasn’t quite right.

GW: What do you foresee the music industry landscape to look like when the pandemic eases? How do you think it can revive itself?

TB: Oh man, two of the biggest questions ever. The answer is that we just don’t know but, as ever we have to do our best and see how we can work out the best route we can take to help everyone back into their feet in the coming months and years.

GW: The Charlatans debut album Some Friendly turned 30 years old last month how do you feel when you think of that period and were there any plans to mark the anniversary of the album pre-Covid? 

TB: We did have some plans, but they changed a few times and then disappeared completely. I look back with so much fondness, I was in my early twenties and working with my best friends - our debut album went to number one and it was a new decade with lots of new hope. We didn’t think it would last longer than a few years, so we wanted to enjoy ourselves. Maybe I did that a little too much and I slowed things down when I realised we could be in it for the long haul. I’m an optimist so I enjoyed everything then, but I wouldn’t change anything about my life at the moment - I didn’t imagine I’d become an author, but life is about taking on challenges as they come to you. That’s not changed from way back then. 

GW: And speaking of, is the band currently in a good place?

TB: We’re doing well. People were sharing their Top Ten Charlatans Songs on Twitter so we all did those and we catch up on zoom quite regularly. We’re scattered all over the country and Tony is in Ireland so we’re not in each other’s pockets. No plans to make a new record yet but we are talking about some other stuff - I might have said too much already. 

Ascent of the Ascended EP arrives 27 November via Bella Union.

Photo: Press