The Charlatans UK
The Charlatans have reached a higher state of grace. Twenty-seven years since they first bagged a Number One album with ‘Some Friendly’, they’re still achieving fresh career highs, dreaming up new music that redraws their own map, increasingly assured of who they are as a band.
Their trajectory has few parallels in British rock, and it’s all set to continue with the release of ‘Different Days’, their brilliant 13th album, which finds them never more forward-looking, yet equally never more self-defining, or relevant. As Tim Burgess pointedly sings on one anthemically optimistic track called ‘There Will Be Chances’, “I laughed when I thought about the past, a place I love, but I can’t go back – the present’s where it’s at”.
Just listening to ‘Different Days’ makes you feel like a positive force has entered your life – and this, in a year when, as the title implies, the political outlook has shifted dramatically, bringing unforeseen prejudice, anxiety and division across the world. Explains Tim, “To us, the album represents an upbeat view of a world that might well be falling apart, in a time where you have to work out who your friends are, and gather them around you.”
The Charlatans’ own ever-spiralling success has itself been a triumph over adversity. After losing not one but two members (to a car crash, and a brain tumour) in their rollercoaster history, this most resilient outfit have somehow soldiered onto greater heights – a people’s band, whose embattled mortal passage through life also mirrors our own.
This time, the core surviving quartet of Burgess, bassist Martin Blunt, guitarist Mark Collins and keyboard player Tony Rogers, opened their doors to allow an enviable cast of friends to contribute to their latest work. Initially, this happened out of necessity: following the passing of founding drummer Jon Brookes in 2013, they have yet to appoint a permanent replacement. So, the first call went out to Pete Salisbury, the former Verve sticksman, who’d stepped in to help the band get up and running again on tour, through those difficult months of illness, loss and grieving.
Their last album, ‘Modern Nature’, was also made under that cloud, but had come out amazingly positively – and, indeed, modern. “It was a very soulful and cathartic record,” says Martin Blunt, The Charlatans’ founder and avatar, who has captained the band through all its ups and downs. “On previous albums, it had all got a bit fragmented, but I think we realised that what makes us, is all of us in the room together”.
Pristine and confident, ‘Modern Nature’ drew critical praise across the board, and duly notched up their eighth Top Ten on the album chart, all capped off with a lifetime achievement award from Q magazine. The Charlatans duly had a whirlwind 2015, completing two sold-out UK tours, popping up as unannounced opening act at Glastonbury, and headlining at the Isle Of Wight and Kendall Calling festivals.
Touring continued on into 2016, taking in Europe, America and Australia, but by summer, they had a preponderance of individually carved ideas for new music, and when they met up at their residential Big Mushroom HQ in Cheshire in September ’16, arrangement and recording commenced right away, without recourse to demoes. Burgess describes the process as “very conversational”, as these friends chipped away, with renewed camaraderie and egolessness.
Aside from Pete Salisbury, the first invitation into their world came on a whim, as they pinged an early version of ‘Not Forgotten’ over to Anton Newcombe from Brian Jonestown Massacre at his studio in Berlin. “Literally in the space of 15 minutes,” Mark Collins recalls, “he sent back some ideas on keyboard and guitar, and then he Facetime’d us to talk us through them”.
After that encouraging response, they decided to open the gates a little wider. “We only wanted people that we actually knew,” says Mark, “and that we could let into our world without feeling fraudulent
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