The Charlatans

October 17, 2010

The Charlatans
Manchester Apollo

Can it really be twenty years since I got the train down to Northwich to interview this young waif sat on his manager’s office desk?
Can it really be twenty years since the deceptively young singer with the pudding bowl hair, Jagger lips, big flares and an electric storm of nervous energy sat there and talked about obscure underground bands with a terrifying conviction?
Can it really be twenty years since the Madchester thingy went into overdrive?
It was Tim Burgess’s first ever press interview and his no holds barred enthusiasm and lust for life were compelling. His band, the Charlatans, had been around for a bit, they had even supported the Stone Roses in 1988 but that was with a different singer. Tim had been taken to one of those gigs at the Manchester International and was talked into leaving his band the Electric Crayons.
Now with Tim at the helm things had clicked fast. He had only been in the band a few weeks and they had recorded the hottest demo in town, got a deal and were about to release their first single.
The Charlatans were swiftly welcomed by the Madchester boom-one of those great moments when people actually get the people that they want and the avalanche of talent rushed through the cracks.
Not since punk had there been so many young bands in a rush. The Roses and the Mondays had changed everything. These were thrilling times.
The next two decades saw the Charlatans as unlikely survivors- death, bankruptcy, fuck ups and even bouts of heavy illness in the band can’t crush this spirit and when Tim walks onto the stage with that winning smile and his hands aloft it’s a quite powerful moment.
This is not one of those fake showbiz smiles that dominates the modern agenda. This is an impassioned smile of old school love, the bonding with crowd and the belief in the redemption of great rock ‘n’ roll. There is an instant connection with a fan base that has come from all over the North West to fill the Manchester Apollo. I seem to spend the night bumping into wild-eyed maniacs from Barrow who are in love with the band and want to tell me about it!
The band are on the road supporting their eleventh album, ‘Who We Touch’- another great set of Hammond driven songs that somehow manage to combine their trademark sound with those deft little flavours that can only come from owning an eclectic record collocation.
One minute your swooning on their scooter boy- punk- soul melodies and then you have that niggling feeling that there is something off kilter and post punk going on in there. Could this be the only band in the world that somehow mash up the Rolling Stones with Curtis Mayfield and Section 25 and then release it all in an album sleeve designed by Gee Voucher from Crass whilst, fuck me, there’s the great Penny Rimbaud from Crass doing one of his great growling, Ginsberg infused poems over the track and yet despite this they still somehow sound like the Charlatans?
Live they have the place rocking from the start. The band are at the top of the game. I’ve seen them play many times over the years and this is one of the highlights. The set list is perfect, the new songs sound great and the atmosphere is buzzing. The Charlatans are not in the twilight of their career they are on a new peak. They merge the traditional with the underground and tonight are a celebration of British music. It’s hit after hit and then the really cool tracks off the new album that slot easily into the set.
From ‘One To Another’ to ‘Cant Get Out Of bed’ to the fantastic ‘Weirdo’ the Charlatans prove why they are one of the most loved bands on the scene whose tunes you still hear every night as you walk across town.
Martin Blunt’s bass playing lives up to his surname and his soul power riffs with that little bit of JJ Burnell tuffness about them are the fierce spine that melts the dance floor. Pete Salisbury, the Verve man, is doing a great job holding the fort whilst Jon Brookes gets over his Brian tumour, Tony Rogers’ keyboards are what gives the band its distinctive sound and Mark Collins’ Keef Richards on the dole guitar slouching is rock n roll cool.
But its Burgess that dominates- dressed like some kinda anarcho punk, waif scarecrow with his skinny pipe cleaner black jeans hitched up over his 14 hole doc marten boots and white vest- he looks like the skinny kid he one was who used to follow Crass around- he has not aged atall and his loopy dancing and genuine pleased to actually be here mask his iron will and indomitable spirit that has driven the band and its fair to say its audience through the last twenty years of ups and downs.
Burgess makes the connection that so few singers can, his endless love of music that sees him talking up Factory Floor, the Horrors, northern Soul, Stockholm Monsters, the aforementioned Section 25 and Crass into one sentence is astounding. He is a big part of the heartbeat of not only the band but whatever is left of the Madchester explosion that still shows no sign of diminishing. The fact that the band can still sell out the Apollo this deep into their career is astounding, most music scenes would have shrivelled up this deep into their trajectory with most of the bands struggling.
Burgess does another funny little jig on the edges of his Doc Marten soles, grins again and ruffles his jet black mop- the eternal pop kid surfing on the high octane of a great band at the peak of its powers.
The Charlatans are that rare thing, a true peoples’ band. And as Burgess stands there with his hands aloft feeling the waves of elation and emotion that fill the ancient hall of the Manchester Apollo as the enormous ‘Sproston Green’ grooves towards it climax it’s a powerful moment.
It’s this spirit that will see Jon Brookes back playing with the band within months of his brain tumour and has seen the band surmount all manner of odds that, frankly, no other band has ever had to deal with. It’s this spirit of adventure that sees Burgess stalking the frontline of music, bigging up the great Electricity In Our Homes or Factory Floor whilst still digging the Stones and it’s this spirit that makes the Charlatans fairly unique.
An indomitable spirit and great rock n roll.
Perfect combination.


Penny Rimbaud…new book review…

October 9, 2010

‘This Crippled Flesh..A book of Philosophy And Filth’
Penny Rimbaud
Bracket Press

Brilliant book from key Crass man…

There’s a lot of Crass around at the moment.
Steve Ignorant is out touring- celebrating the Crass catalogue, Crass themselves are getting mentioned in despatches- Penny is on the new Charlatans album, Hoxton hardcore band Flats are name checking Crass, there was Jeffery Lewis’s folk covers of the Crass songs and even the Guardian is getting hip to the fact that Crass were so much more than just a racket but perhaps one of the most articulate and idealistic bands that ever existed and whose message makes more sense now in these slash and burn times of ConDem cuts than ever before. As a portal of inspiration the bands music- which has never dated and is packed full of ideas and energy for young groups to pick apart and amazing artwork are ticking time bombs of inspiration for young groups and an object lesson in the fact that perhaps the counter culture or whatever you want to call it can actually work.
Crass are finally getting understood as a key influence and now there is this- proving that Crass go forward all the time, a new book from Penny Rimbaud.
For me Crass are one of the vital bands from the punk punk period. No-one ever took the counterculture this far- they lived the utopian dream and tried to take everyone with them. Their music has aged well- it sounds inventive, witty and really fucking, pissed off when you listen to it now. Their imagination is astonishing and their message is even more relevant in these fucked up times.
Penny’s already written a few books including his autobiography, ‘Shiboleth’ which a great account of his life and times. He is one of those people who has never compromised and ‘Shiboleth’ details this.
‘This Crippled Flesh’ is a very different piece of work. For a start it deconstructs language but in a way that doesn’t lose you. It plays word games. It’s funny, dark, extreme and quite dangerous but also surreal and very English- a Lewis Carroll trip shoved through a punk blender.
The imagination is thrilling and three pages in your on a powerful trip that zig zags your imagination.
This time Penny has gone a wild trip, the book is like a typed out version of the free jazz that he loves so much but it retains a strong narrative which is a tough call.
Too many of these kind of books just wander off but Penny draws you in and takes you on the ride with him. There are brutally honest passages that bare his soul and explore his own psyche in a radical literature. It can be unrelenting but never loses its sense of humour.
I love the imaginative way that the book is laid out- with the blocks of writing going round in circles or vertically or horizontally flipping around- a real counter culture motif.
Up there with his beloved beats Rimbaud has written a book that makes you buzz with excitement and ideas. It’s an incendiary read and makes you feel totally alive- like Crass then but in book form.
Or as Penny himself says in the introduction with that sly wit that most people miss when it comes to Crass.
‘Following a series of extended dialogues with Romanian-born philosopher E.M. Cioran, it dawned on me that within every great writer there abides a wanker. It was this chain of thought which eventually led me to write This Crippled Flesh. In the context of these illuminations, I am in no doubt that I have created a great novel.”

You can buy it from here…

https://www.southern.net/eu-shop/index.php?main_page=product_music_info&products_id=7026


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