The Charlatans Go Acoustic

Bombing round the country in a Honda Civic, The Charlatans' Tim Burgess and Mark Collins have been selling out venues with an acoustic Tour. In this exclusive interview we catch up with them and see why Tim's ready to move back to Blighty.
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It's mid-week in Derby. The Charlatans' Tim Burgess and Mark Collins are playing a gig on their acoustic tour, which kicked off a fortnight ago in Wrexham. As I walk in the venue, Mark is going through his sound check as Tim walks over to greet me. We all move off to the Indian restaurant around the corner, as we walk Tim is at ease and engaging; on form as he chats about the walks in Derbyshire as a kid with his dad.

Mark and their acoustic tour promoter, Nick, both order giving me the chance to talk to Tim. He informs the waiter he wont be eating," I’ve had 4 bananas today" he says while looking rather pleased with himself. As Mark tucks into his tikka masala, Tim tells me quite casually he's "coming home". The North country boy himself is calling time on his 12 year stay in the States, sorting out his affairs in LA so he can finally make his move back to Blighty.

The show was a mix of surprise and beauty, surprise at what they had done with songs like "North Country Boy" that had Tim compress the lyrics with Mark's big blues riff over the top, and Beauty from acoustic moments like Tim's sentimental versions of "Sproston Green" and "The Only One I Know". A fantastic night that  gave all kn attendance a treat in hearing these well known songs at times worked so differently.

First thing is the tour, it was the one off acoustic gig you and Mark did last year that was the motivation for taking it on the road wasn't it?

T: It first started with us doing a few tunes for a project David Lynch was planning, basically we ended up with the four tracks we did just gathering dust. But it was really enjoyable putting the tunes together, so we played an event for The Salford Lads Club with the acoustic set and again it was a joy. It seemed to go down real well, so me and Mark decided to find these smaller venues, like here in Derby and give people something a bit different in terms of our songs and hearing another side to them, stripped down to how they were constructed, with Mark just playing acoustic and me singing. But the tour itself has also a been a nice change as its just me, Mark and Nick in the car with a guitar or two and a real easy vibe going to each gig.

How did you and Mark go about picking the tunes to cover? Obviously there's a huge back catalogue to pick from.

T: Well as I said, we had the four tunes already recorded which were earmarked for some project. Although it didn't happen, we still wanted to use what we'd done, If you think about a song like" The Only One I Know" its an up beat song which gets people up and dancing, but when the lyrics are coupled with just the acoustic, the words and the tone of it come across as some thing quite different. "Everyone has been burnt before, everybody knows the pain"- I've seen it in peoples faces, the shocked and confused looks I’ve seen in the crowd when they’re hearing the lyrics so clear. With Mark's acoustic setting the mood has been a big part of it for us both, the reaction to it all. In fact, I guess maybe for some it’s the first time they’ve heard the full set of lyrics to each song so clearly.

I've seen it in peoples faces, the shocked and confused looks I’ve seen in the crowd when they’re hearing the lyrics so clear.

Like you said, playing smaller venues has been a break from the norm, how has it been with just you and Mark onstage?

T: As far as the mechanics of the tour, yeah it’s been a big departure and a nice change because it’s just three guys in a Honda Civic, with just enough room for our gear. We've actually stopped of at that many motorway cafes I have a few favourites now, is that sad...?!

But me and Mark have done the acoustic versions for radio many times and because the venues are smaller it feels right just the two of us up there. At first we started off with seven dates and they sold out pretty quick, which was crazy. We didn't advertise it in the usual music publications or anything, just purely through the posters we had drawn up and a few posts on the net by friends. The poster was actually just designed by a talented, young Australian girl who's a fan of the band.

Myself, I really enjoyed the gig at the Deaf Institute in Manchester because I've always wanted to play there. Friends of mine said it was a great place to watch a gig and I’ve been in for a meal a few times and really liked the vibe of the place. Again we were knocked out by the reaction as we were told we could of sold the Institute out a good few times over, which as I say is just fantastic. The tour has taken in social clubs and even a church, each one of the venues has been great to play.

Congratulations on hitting your 20th year. On a personal level I grew up buying your albums from 15 years old, so will I be buying your albums in another 20 years time?

T: Well were all happy, this is our band and we all feel the same way about things even though we have been through so much.

M: Thing is we've learnt not to look too far or rely on a long term plan, we've had to take our fair share of hits through the years and so on, none of us no what the future holds.

What do you find yourselves writing about these days, how has it changed since you started?

M: The changes are more in the way we tour and make our music. At the start we wasted so much money in the way we toured, hanging about between gigs costs money. We play and move on now, but still find time to chat and have a laugh.

Walking back to the venue with Tim I enquire about LA and its influence on him. In Doc Martens, black jeans and a pair of round glasses, carrying his plastic shopping bag with his notes and other bits, he comes across as really grounded. Grounded, but still enthusiastic about it all. I wonder if the travelling lifestyle really made a mark on him.

So why is it now you've decided to come back to the UK, you've been there for quite some time?

T: Twelve years I’ve been out there, I moved in 99 wanting a change I suppose and just loved it, though moving is an occurring theme for me, I must of moved from Manchester to London and back again at least 3 times over the years but I just feel now is the right time for me to move back to the UK.

How has LA treated you, do you have a big network of friends now?

T: Well not really, though I do have friends out there but when I first moved to the States I was in love, you know, I’d started a new relationship and it was all very exciting, I even fell in love with the place itself. Plus I was living with a friend who was dealing so at the time it was fun and little mad.

I settled in really quickly finding everything I needed was there, I'd always get asked "do you miss Tetley's teabags" and other things like that but its all there if you want it.

What about the football, I remember one of your first ever interviews talking about non league football, have you still kept an eye on the game from LA?

T: Yeah I remember that, talking about Whitton Albion and other low league teams, it’s just less corporate and there's always plenty of passion in non-league, I’ve followed Salford since ‘77.  But saying that its nice to see a big game and I try to at least make one game a year, Man United versus Bolton was the last one, but through the years I suppose my interest in the game has become less and less.

I’ve been through the crazy lifestyle with relationships and drugs so for me it feels real natural to now turn to a more centered life. I'm 44 now, I've moved on and it just feels right.

You said you were living with a friend who was also the person you scored off, they sound like chaotic times?

T: Well yeah, I lived with him for 7 years and it was fun at the time, but it seems quite some time ago now as I’ve been clean for 5 years, I’ve even stopped smoking and drinking. When I first got clean, I would sort of sit in a lot and be wary about going out, thinking about triggers and staying clean but I soon realised you can’t live like that. I’ve found that my life style really suits me, going out is still great fun.

Coming home is a big move for me and being closer to my family and friends will be good, somewhere in the capital, not sure yet, and I suppose I'm coming home a slightly different person with how I use my time and see things now. A friend of mine in LA, Astrella, (Donavon's daughter) opened me up to transcendental meditation and that's been a big part of where I’ve been at lately, you know, I’ve been through the crazy lifestyle with relationships and drugs so for me it feels real natural to now turn to a more centered life. I'm 44 now, I've moved on and it just feels right.

You've also just released the acoustic EP to go with the tour, "Warm Sounds", will you be doing more of these shows?

T: Well we toured the last album not long ago, as far as the acoustic shows we have the Isle of White festival and some gigs in Italy later this year and I'm also at Manchester in the summer to curate a stage at the Inaugural Friends of Mine Festival. Plus the band are headlining the Sunday night as well, but we've really enjoyed these acoustic shows. It’s a change and we think the crowds have also enjoyed it so I reckon we will put a few more together.

On a personal level I'm quite busy as I'm putting my own label together with the first release on the 6th of June, the band are called "Hatcham Social" with me producing the album. I'm also putting a book together which will be fun to do, as you said it's 20 years now and there's been so much that's happened in that time and I can't wait to get it all down.

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