Charlatans' frontman Tim Burgess loves the new sky as he goes solo at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea
He may be best known as frontman of Madchester and Britpop survivors The Charlatans, but Tim Burgess has also carved himself out an acclaimed solo career.
Since his solo debut, I Believe, in 2003, Tim has used his own albums to indulge in a wide variety of genre experiments that wouldn't fit in with the band.
His latest, I Love The New Sky, roped in a wide cast of collaborators, resulting in an eclectic 12-song set.
It was released last May, and as is the way of late, he has been unable to play it to his public until now.
The tour launches in Manchester next Wednesday before heading to Portsmouth and The Wedgewood Rooms the following night.
The Guide catches up with Tim at his home in Norfolk where he is busy writing the sleevenotes for his next solo record when we call.
‘It takes a long time to get things into production now, so I have to put it in about eight months in advance,’ he reveals.
But before then, there’s the tour for the current album to plug: ‘It's an amazing feeling to be finally be able to play these songs to a UK audience.
‘I managed to play some of the songs in New York. I was headed to South by South West (the annual music biz jamboree in Austin, Texas) but that got pulled a couple of days before we were due to fly out, and at that point New York was still open.
‘So we thought, let's take a chance and hopefully we'll get there and still be able to play.
‘At that point nobody knew how crazy the pandemic was going to be, but we managed to play five shows in New York.
‘Then it was back home to Norfolk and nothing for 15 months...’
Like many of us Tim admits he’s been on an emotional rollercoaster during the pandemic.
‘There were some days I just felt – I've been doing this for quite a long time, 30-odd years – part of me felt like I just didn't know what to do, but then there were times when I thought, I'm actually enjoying this.
‘Like lots of people, no matter what they do, there were times of utter despair, and times of utter elation. People enjoyed it and hated it at the same time!
‘I think a lot of us moved around emotionally – and we're still in a bit of a whirl aren't we? It still feels like we're spinning, just a bit slower now,’ he chuckles.
For the tour, Tim’s gathered a diverse band, including I Love The Sky’s producer Daniel O’Sullivan on drums, Dexys Midnight Runners violinist Helen O’Hara, Rose Keeler-Schaffeler – who records bedroom-pop as Keel Her – playing guitar, Jenny Hirons from LA on piano and maverick musician Thighpaulsandra on synths.
‘Lots of people playing on the record will be joining me on the tour, which is beautiful because they get the chance to show how it was made, in a way, by playing it with me.
‘And also, I always felt that the album would mean more to people once they saw it.
‘I think the band is such a deep band, I think people will “get it” once they see us, and think: “If I haven't got the album, I need to get it!”
‘Sometimes it's different – people just buy the album and go: “I'm so glad I got this, and now I can't wait to see this live...”
While it is obviously a different beast from The Charlatans, Tim hopes there’s still plenty there for all his fans to enjoy.
‘I think it's noticeably me still – I've tried to disguise myself throughout the years, occasional falsetto voices and things like that.
‘It's like when I try to convince people that it's brilliant by naming some amazing artists…’ he giggles, and the PR accompanying the album release did indeed mention a wide array of acts Tim was listening to when it was put together, including Isaac Hayes, Olivia Tremor Control, Carole King, Todd Rundgren, John Maus, and Kevin Ayers.
So what can we expect from that next solo album, then?
‘I've been working with Helen more in the set up this time, and Thighpaulsandra and Daniel again, but I think it's deeper and richer in some way,’ he laughs, ‘I know that makes it sound like I'm comparing it to the album before, but it's not at all comparable.’
Will they be dropping any of the new material into the set on this tour?
‘Maybe one or two. I like the idea of propelling forward at the moment.’
While unable to play live, Tim has created another unlikely pandemic hit. Early on he launched what has become Tim’s Twitter Listening Party series.
Based on the simple notion of Tim and invited guests tweeting in real time about a chosen album as they listened to it, there have now been more than 900 listening parties, taking in everything from avant garde obscurities to new releases and all-time classics – last week they marked the 50th anniversary of John Lennon’s Imagine with contributions from Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon and Michael Parkinson among others.
‘It's a beast! Tim laughs. ‘It's very fun, it takes up a lot of time – it used to take up a lot more time when it first started and I didn't really know how to manage it all.
‘I'm in the swing of it now, and it's part of my life. People love it, and have found it very comforting during the pandemic.
‘And now it seems to be helpful with bands as part of their promotion, which is fantastic – who would have thought that? I'm super thankful for it.’
There’s even been a tie-in book, with all royalties going to the Music Venue Trust – a cause close to Tim’s heart.
When asked his highlights, he reaches for a pair of recent efforts: ‘It was pretty amazing when (The Monkees’) Micky Dolenz did Dolenz Sings Nesmith and Gilbert O'sullivan did a record – Gilbert loved it so much he's going to do (his 1971 debut) Himself next, which is an absolute, all-time classic.
‘We've had people like that, who maybe had a little hesitancy in doing a listening party, but we can have (rapper) Theophilus London, (indie band) The Delays and (R&B act) We Are King, all being on one platform, and maybe not everyone is aware of them at the beginning, but at the end of it, they go out and buy their record.
‘So it's been helpful for new artists in that way, and helpful for classic artists.. We’ve had Paul McCartney and Iron Maiden – just huge – Liam Gallagher, we've done three Oasis ones, Blur, Franz Ferdinand, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Mark Ronson...
‘There's so many more to come!’
With touring resuming Tim admits they’ll be harder to do, but he’s planning to keep it going.
'There'll be a few days where we won't do them – but then there are others where we've done three. I'm trying to keep it to one a day, really.
‘It sounds like someone who has a habit, doesn't it? “I'm trying to keep it to one a day...”’
Over the past 18 months, the Music Venue Trust has attained greater prominence than ever as it has campaigned to keep the hundreds of grassroots venues across the country from folding while live music was on hold.
Tim has been one of the more vocal supporters and campaigners. He was instrumental in saving a pair of Manchester venues, Gorilla and The Deaf Institute, where he has played numerous times over the years.
‘It was like, how can this happen? They're both institutions in Manchester, and I got together with a couple of people and got them reopened and bought, and then that made me think, if someone can help bring people together, who can do this kind of thing, in every city... The government really didn't give that much money to venues, but the Music Venue Trust, I really love their work.
‘They're saving venues, they're keeping venues open and they're the lifeblood of the music communities in every city.’
For fans of The Charlatans, there’s also been some recent activity – they shared a newly unearthed track, C’mon C’mon earlier this month. It will be on the five LP boxset A Head full of Ideas, released next month to mark the band’s (Covid-delayed) 30th anniversary.
‘It's a funny one,’ Tim explains. ‘The Charlatans album is basically a greatest hits, then there's a five album boxset – one of those slices of vinyl is out-takes and unreleased things, and C’mon C’mon is an unreleased track I found on a CD round at my mum's house, just last year.
‘I was definitely searching for things, and I was looking in my mum's loft and in the Charlatans' studio – we were all looking for things for inclusion, and I found this track.
‘I thought it was an instrumental at first, then I started singing, and I thought: I do not remember doing this! I had no recollection of it at all.
‘We've sort of found a timeline of when it might have happened, and it was possibly demos for (2001 album) Wonderland. It possibly came from a LA session with Danny Sabre in Laurel Canyon…
‘What an album!’ he says with pride. ‘It really was – living in LA and the whole band recording there, everything was very touch and go, that's all I can say,' he giggles mischievously.
Tim Burgess is at The Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea on Thursday, September 23, doors 7.30pm. Tickets £17. Go to wedgewood-rooms.co.uk.