Telling Stories Of Drink And Drugs: Tim Burgess' Autobiography Reviewed

The Charlatans frontman has written a fantastic account of his life as a music fan and musician. A great insight into what it's like to go from audience to stage and stay there.
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The Charlatans frontman has written a fantastic account of his life as a music fan and musician. A great insight into what it's like to go from audience to stage and stay there.

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Tim Burgess saved my life. Growing up with a bowl head and big rubbery lips hadn’t been easy for me. Then Tim appeared on the front cover of The Face in 1990 and suddenly the look I’d been involuntarily sporting for the past fifteen years was rendered cool. Manchester’s baggy scene had belatedly reached the suburbs of west London and the style I was rocking went from being the subject of ridicule to the subject of envy overnight. I suppose you might say I was in vogue. Or, to put it another way, girls seemed more willing to let me finger them. And finger them I did. Very often to a the accompaniment of The Only One I Know, Tim’s first hit with his band The Charlatans. That, and the rest of the band’s first album, Some Friendly, sound tracked most teenage parties that year. The Charlatans were a good band and I stuck with them through their numerous subsequent records, long after I’d lost interest in pretty much all other guitar music, and far beyond the end of my fingering glory years.

Burgess says his mind doesn’t really work chronologically and that’s hardly surprising given the amount of coke he’s shoveled into it over the years.

Tim Burgess’ new memoir, like his band’s music, has a unique groove to it. It bounces around all over the place, mirroring the grasshopper brain of its author. Whereas most memoirs make you read through all the boring pre fame stuff before getting on to the bits you really want to know about, Telling Stories offers more instant gratification. Put it this way, he describes his band’s penchant for blowing gack up each other’s arses before he bothers you with any dull memories of his teachers or grandparents. Burgess says his mind doesn’t really work chronologically and that’s hardly surprising given the amount of coke he’s shoveled into it over the years. Who knew? With his cheeky smile and boyish demeanor, he always seemed so much more personable and unthreatening than your Browns, your Gallaghers and your Ryders. The stories he tells here paint a very different picture, one of a man who spent the best part of a decade in LA on a batshit drink and drugs binge which he illustrates in sordid, poignant and hilarious detail. Whenever he had to fly back to London, he would mail himself an eight ball from LA in advance (he had grown intolerant of the poor quality narcotics available in the UK). He would stash the coke inside a bag of specially selected records, confident that he could claim innocence if they were discovered by telling the authorities: “As if I’d own a Jamiroquai album?”

What brought him back from the brink of total meltdown was his discovery of transcendental meditation.   What exactly is transcendental meditation? He doesn’t go into detail. Nevertheless, I’m inspired to give it a go myself, such is that passion with which he writes about it. Mind you, he writes with passion about so much of his life that I found myself being inspired to try most of the things described in the book (although initial enquiries suggest that my wife is reluctant to blow chop up my bumhole. Hey ho). This book is a series of snapshots of an extraordinary rock n roll life; it makes little sense, delivers few lessons and fails to harness any consistent themes. And it’s all the better for it. Telling Stories is a glimpse inside a hyperactive mind, bursting with scattergun recollections and merry memories. It’s an exhilarating read and, if you grew up through the baggy era, the Britpop years and beyond then it will probably fill you with a soppy personal nostalgia as you trace your own youth through the rise, fall and rise again of The Charlatans and Tim Burgess. Thanks for a great read Tim. And thanks for all the fingering too. I owe you man.

Telling Stories by Tim Burgess, £12.99 (Viking)

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