Tim Burgess talks about the record shopping that inspired his new book, his ‘cosmic’ album with Peter Gordon, and what’s next for The Charlatans
With a boyish enthusiasm to match the blonde bowl cut, Tim Burgess seems anything but the elder statesman of indie.
And unlike some of his fellow Britpop alumni, the Charlatans frontman has shown an ability to diversify his talents as he approaches 50.
Instead of any misguided attempts to rewind the clock or relive excesses of old (and there were excesses, as his 2012 memoir Telling Stories revealed in eye-watering detail), a clean-living Burgess – who now even operates his own Tim Peaks coffee project – is turning the focus outwards with his second book.
The brilliantly titled Tim Book Two is the account of a challenge he set himself: he would get in touch with people he admired, and ask them to suggest an album for him to track down on his travels. Contributors were as varied as Iggy Pop and David Lynch, and the record shops in as far-flung locations as Istanbul and San Francisco.
“Telling Stories was pretty much my life up until 2012, and this is pretty much everything that’s happened since, of significance,” Burgess tells me via Skype. “I originally wanted it to be like a Tim Burgess miscellany, lots of little things. Someone on Twitter asked if I was doing a follow-up, and I just quipped that Tim Book Two would be with him soon, but I didn’t have anything apart from the title!
“But as things started to form I thought I should write about records, because they have so much meaning to me. And then if I get someone to recommend them I can write about what they mean to me, and what the record means to them. The possibilities were endless really.
“I got very excited by the quest. I was writing on the road, and it felt like a big adventure.”
Piccadilly Records in Manchester is one of Burgess’s favourites
Burgess is clearly well-connected, and he managed to amass an impressive list of famous names. One of the recommendations that impressed him the most was that of Sharon Horgan, the award-winning writer and co-star of Channel 4 comedy drama Catastrophe.
“I’m a big admirer of her,” Burgess says. “She chose Loudon Wainwright III as her record, and I thought her story was really brilliant and quite touching, and sad really. Her memories of that record helped to shape what she’s absolutely brilliant at now. That gave the book so much depth.
“Obviously I really wanted David Lynch in the book because without him I wouldn’t have felt I could write about Tim Peaks. I’ve been doing it for five years, and the proceeds from the coffee go to the David Lynch Foundation for transcendental meditation. And his recommendation, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, was just so perfect. Even from the cover, it’s like the darkest of Lynch, the horror you get in a Lynch film.”
Burgess recently took part in a series of events to promote the book, and the night in his hometown of Salford was especially memorable, with former Manchester United footballer Gary Neville almost stealing the limelight.
— Tim Burgess (@Tim_Burgess) July 25, 2016
A seemingly incongruous appearance wasn’t a huge surprise for Burgess though: “I think he just likes playing guitar and likes music. He played with us once. We did a show for him on the roof of his hotel in Manchester. I said that we’d do it as long as he got up and played guitar, and he accepted the challenge.”
As his book involves some serious crate digging, arguably no-one is better qualified than Burgess to give an assessment of the state of record shops in the digital era. Is the talk of a vinyl revival justified?
“That was one of the things I wanted to find out,” Burgess says. “In Europe it was fantastic, especially Copenhagen, Stockholm and Berlin. There are record shops that seem to be doing great there.
“In Britain, places like Rise [Bristol] and Pie and Vinyl [Southsea] have had to do other things, like coffee – and pies! It suits the record shopper perfectly. There’s nothing better than sitting with a coffee and looking at the sleeve notes. They’ve diversified to make it more than just records.”
Pie & Vinyl
So what makes Burgess part with his cash for a piece of vinyl: is it the artist, the curiosity factor, or even just the artwork?
“All of those things are a factor. I’ve bought lots of records and not known what it’s sounded like, I’ve just liked the artwork. Or it could be that it’s a psychedelia record, or a no-wave record, and I’ve thought, that’s got Pat Place on it, or Lydia Lunch, yeah I’m gonna get it. Even if I’m not 100% sure, I like the idea of striking up a conversation with someone who is genre-savvy.”
Burgess, whose favourite record shops include Piccadilly Records and Clampdown in Manchester, Rough Trade East in London and Monorail in Glasgow, believes that this personal interaction is a way record shops can differentiate themselves from the online juggernauts of Apple Music, Amazon and Spotify:
“Online, the music that you buy gets added to a basket. And underneath that it will usually say that ‘people who liked this record bought a garden hoe’. Or, ‘people who bought this record also bought a chisel’. It’s just a bit colder, and more generalising. I like just getting into details with people, it’s quite nice.”
He might be gaining a reputation as an author too these days, but Burgess has no thoughts of hanging up the microphone. After releasing two solo albums, his next release is a collaboration with the New York artist Peter Gordon, a veteran composer who has worked with names like Arthur Russell, Laurie Anderson and David Byrne.
When the musician Nik Colk of London band Factory Floor brought Gordon over to the UK, Burgess seized the chance to meet him, “popping along with some records to sign”. After that they sent each other songs and now keep in contact on a daily basis.
As a result, the album they’ve made together, Same Language, Different Worlds, is in some ways a product of this transatlantic distance.
“The album is quite a cosmic journey, I know ‘journey’ is quite a weird word to use,” Burgess laughs. “It takes in New York, it takes in Norfolk where I’m living at the moment and it takes in the ocean. It’s fantastic music. There’s a 12-minute song called ‘Temperature High’ which is probably the best thing I’ve ever done. And a song called ‘Begin’ which is one of the poppiest songs I’ve ever done.”
Fans of The Charlatans will be happy to know that Burgess is quite capable of spinning multiple plates, and there are imminent plans on that front too.
“We’re doing a few festivals in Europe, then we’re gonna all get together. And there’s always something going on, and songs being written. It might not be as far away as we think. I’m not saying I was putting aside The Charlatans to do the book, but those were the things that were coming up next.”
Does this mean there could be a new Charlatans album on the cards?
Burgess is cautiously optimistic: “Yeah, it’s an entirely different thing when four people get into a room rather than just one or two. It starts with coffee, and can end up with chairs being thrown around! We’ve known each other a long time, and I really enjoy playing with them, and hope they enjoy playing with me. And I look forward to seeing them all again.”
Tim Book Two is out now, published by Faber & Faber / more info
Same Language, Different Worlds by Tim Burgess & Peter Gordon is released on September 2
They play the following tour dates:
1 Sep: Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
2 Sep: Gorilla, Manchester
3 Sep: Festival No.6, Wales
4 Sep: Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
6 Sep: Kamio, London