Features Music Interviews
Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Tim Burgess
In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Charlatans frontman, solo star and Twitter lockdown listening party host Tim Burgess
1The Charlatans were nominated for the Best Newcomer award at the 1991 Brits. Who beat you?
“No idea, because we didn’t go. Off the top of my head, I’m thinking Kylie?”
WRONG. It was Betty Boo.
“Wow! We were in Smash Hits a lot together.”
What’s been your most memorable award show experience?
“Presenting an award to Dexys Midnight Runners’ Kevin Rowland. I was nervous because we were at an awards show a couple of years earlier where I presented one to Dionne Warwick, and I wrote a six-page speech that Kevin loved. As we were waiting to get our photograph taken backstage, he said: ‘That speech was amazing. Can I look at it?’, and started going through it, analysing every sentence. (Laughs) So when I came to writing Kevin’s speech, I had to up my game!”
2Which super-producer reviewed The Charlatans 1990 New York Marquee gig for his school newspaper?
“I know that answer! Mark Ronson.”
CORRECT. Ever read the review?
“I haven’t. He told me about it. He was underage, so he had to sneak out of his house when his mum wasn’t looking to go to the club. I was impressed. He later covered ‘The Only One I Know’ with Robbie Williams on vocals.”
Ever run into Robbie?
“I did a solo show in 2003 in The Viper Room, and I was in the toilets – so was Robbie. I said: ‘What are you doing here’, and he replied: ‘I’ve come to see you’. Val Kilmer was there, so it was Batman and Rob…bie Williams. You never know who’s a fan! (Laughs)”
3Which rock legend once locked you in his fridge?
“I know that one too! Ronnie Wood.”
CORRECT. It was the Rolling Stones’ guitarist.
“It was a sizeable fridge, so don’t worry about me! Not to overblow this, but it was as big as my house. There was a spell when Ronnie played with The Charlatans a few times. When we opened for the Rolling Stones in Romania, I lost my suitcase and his wife, Jo, sorted me out with his clothes, unthreading and re-stitching items that were too small. Whenever we went back to their house, there were always jokes being played. And he locked me in his fridge. I didn’t help myself to anything. Although I may have had a few sips of his expensive bottles of wine, and nibbled his posh cheese. (Laughs)”
What’s your favourite memory of supporting the Rolling Stones?
“My overriding memory is they travel in a pack. When we played a football stadium in Budapest, Ronnie came into our dressing room because he wanted to hang. Within two minutes, Keith [Richards, Stones guitarist] walked past, saw Ronnie was there, and wanted to come in as well – he thought he might be missing out on something. Then Charlie [Watt, drummer] strolls past and sees everyone and thinks: ‘Hey, I’m going in for some of that’. Then Mick [Jagger, frontman] – exactly the same thing. Mick starts telling us it’s a hot day so we should borrow his fans, but we have to turn them up to eight because if you put them on 10, it’ll blow you too much. Then they all had to go and meet the Prime Minister. It’s sweet that wherever one of them is, they all have to be!”
4Which rapper broke up an onstage fight involving The Charlatans at the 1990 Gathering of the Tribes festival?
“Jon [Brookes], our drummer, was getting dragged off his stool during our last song by The Mission’s roadies, and Ice-T and his bodyguards – all in bulletproof vests – came onstage and said: ‘If you fuck with my brothers, you’re fucking with us!’. That was an amazing time. The Cult’s Ian Astbury, whose festival it was, met us off the plane, Iggy Pop put me in a headlock. I was 22 years old. (Laughs)”
5Name the three bonus tracks on the Japanese edition of The Charlatans 1999 album ‘Us and Us Only’.
“Would it be ‘Good Witch, Bad Witch 3’, ‘Your Precious Love’ and…’When Your Ship Comes In’? No? ‘A Great Place To Leave’? Is the final one a remix?”
WRONG. ‘Good Witch, Bad Witch 3’, ‘Your Precious Love’ are on there – but you missed ‘Sleepy Little Sunshine Boy’.
“Oh that one! ‘Sleepy Sunshine Boy’ is an amazing song which should have been on the album, but we didn’t know how to finish it.”
“‘Us and Us Only’ took a long time, and there was lots of drinking during it. We moved into a new studio, and the local off-licence was getting rid of the stock they didn’t want cheaply – bottles of Jack Daniels and Sol. No-one even drinks Sol, but we couldn’t resist a deal! (Laughs) We spent a year making it, it was our first album without Rob Collins [who died in 1996], and we found out our accountant had run off with loads of our money and we hadn’t paid our tax for a long time. So it was a bizarre time: new record label, loss of principal songwriter, lots of alcohol, then as we were spending, someone else was taking. It took us a long time to get over it. We played gigs for 10 years without getting paid.”
6In 2012, a Tim Burgess cereal was created called Totes Amazeballs. What did it taste of?
“It was in the early days of Twitter and I was doing Tim Peaks, and someone helped me make coffee in my name, so I asked Kellogg’s if they could help make a cereal – and they did! It never went broader than a box with my face on it. I think it was bad for people’s health, so they couldn’t get it past Health and Safety!”
Any other products you want to see your face adorning?
“No, but I often see a cartoon version of my face on neckerchiefs or tea towels. Fans usually just throw bananas, Revels or cuddly polar bears onstage – after my song lyrics.”
7You duetted with Sarah Cracknell on Saint Etienne’s festive track ‘I Was Born on Christmas Day’. What animal appears on the cover of their ‘Xmas 93’ single it’s taken from?
“I was friends with Bob Stanley [Saint Etienne member], who was born on Christmas Day. My timeline’s fuzzy, but I think I’d been out drinking with Sarah, fell asleep and the next thing I remember is waking up in the studio (Laughs) and singing about tying the knot and Christmas. The next thing I know, I’m singing it on Top of the Pops!”
Talking of Christmas songs, your supergroup The Chavs – which consisted of a rotating line up of members including Carl Barât, Primal Scream keyboardist Martin Duffy, and Andy Burrows – covered The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’ live in 2004. Will we ever see a revival of that band?
“Chatham’s Tap’n’Tin approached me to play a solo gig, and Carl helped me put The Chavs together because I couldn’t play any instruments. We didn’t rehearse, and Carl only knew the Libertines songs we played and I only knew the lyrics and melodies to The Charlatans ones. (Laughs) We thought we’d work it all out onstage. We only did three gigs, with three different line ups. The list of people who wanted to join the band were crazy – from Paris Hilton to George Clooney. Christopher Lee [who died in 2015] even said he wanted to get involved, though sadly that won’t happen now.”
“The door’s always open for a reunion, but it would have to start with me and Carl, and he seems quite busy. He’s done some of my Twitter Listening Parties which have been fantastic. Maybe we should do a The Chavs Listening Party even though we never made an album. Although we did write a song which lasted for an hour. (Laughs) We needed producers!”
8With which other indie ‘Tim’ did you dress as members of The Beatles for Smash Hits magazine?
“Tim Wheeler from Ash.”
CORRECT. You were dressed as John Lennon, and Tim Wheeler cosplayed Paul McCartney.
“I don’t know why we did it – someone at the magazine must have thought two Tim’s dressed as members of the Beatles would improve sales (Laughs). I once dressed up as George Best for a magazine too.”
Smash Hits was a great mag. Some of their ideas were crackers though. Among those was this photo of me & Tim Wheeler as Lennon & McCartney pic.twitter.com/L7jYqKJWJf
— Tim Burgess (@Tim_Burgess) April 14, 2017
9What is chapter two of your 2012 autobiography ‘Telling Stories’ titled?
CORRECT. It’s about how you’d blow cocaine up you, and your bandmate’s assholes.
“(Laughs) I’m irritated when you read autobiographies and don’t learn more about an artist than you already knew. I figured that was something nobody knew bar my bandmates and the people who did it with us who aren’t mentioned in the book! I wanted to edit myself and take it out of the book, but Mark [Collins, Charlatans guitarist] said: ‘Keep it in. It’s flippin’ hilarious!’. It was a fun thing that happened for about a month. Summed up, it’s: ‘Oh My God’, followed by ‘talk, talk, talk’. (Laughs).
So who was the biggest artist you did it with? Any headliners?
“Not headliners, no. There may have been a few mid-level bands – once or twice (Laughs).”
You’re completely sober now. How do you look back on the drugs?
“We did strong weed on our third and fourth albums and I think you can tell. There’s that wonderful, relatable weed-smoking feel to it. Whether you’re an artist or an oik musician, you’re always looking for somewhere to release stuff, so you can dig deeper and search further. You imagine a door opening, and that’s what you look for. I tried all drugs and my last thing was lots of Xanax and Red Bull. I asked a mate to get me some Valiums and he sent me a jiffy bag rammed full of them. I thought: I’ve got to make an album. And I made ‘As I Was Now’ – so it didn’t last very long! (Laughs) I got to the point where cocaine wasn’t working and my overall view is that it’s a rubbish drug.”
10Which ex-footballer joined The Charlatans on guitar for a rendition of ‘Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Are Over’ in 2015?
“Ryan Giggs’ warm-up music used to be ‘The Only One I Know’, which makes me happy, considering all the goals he’s scored.”
Anyone else you’ve jammed with surprised you with their music prowess?
“Joaquin Phoenix. It doesn’t surprise me because of what he’s like as an actor, and how he immerses himself in what he’s doing, but he’s definitely got chops! I worked on an album he was writing with Spacehog’s Antony Langdon in 2007, and it started out quite rock, then it became stripped-track and turned into something that was quite Bowie. It’s a short-lived friendship I look back on fondly – [Joaquin] once threw his keys at me and said if I wanted his car, I could keep it. (Laughs)”
During the pandemic, you’re bringing us together with your Tim’s Listening Parties. Are there any plans to branch out with it? It would make a great TV series…
“Yeah, I think it would make a great TV show and a good book – these things are being put to me every day. But at the moment, I’ve got to process it because there was no agenda when I started it. Great things have come out of it – members of [’90s indie band] Mansun reconnected after 15 years of not talking to each other through it, and untold stories came out, like how their single ‘Wide Open Space’ was inspired by Match of the Day.”
The verdict: 8/10
“Flippin’ hell! I did better than I thought I would!”
Tim Burgess’ new album ‘I Love The New Sky‘ is out now via Bella Union