The Charlatans UK: Just Lookin’ Back
A Charlatans UK retrospective with Tim Burgess and Tony Rogers
“Enduring” is the word that comes to mind when thinking of Manchester mainstays The Charlatans UK. Over the more than twenty-five years they’ve been together, not only has the group survived the ever-shifting tides of trendiness—from baggy pants to Britpop to the pop-addled aughts—they have carried on despite losing two founding members tragically. (Organist Rob Collins died in a car crash in 1996, while drummer Jon Brookes passed away from a brain tumor in 2013.) At many turns, it would have been perfectly understandable if the group chose to fold up the tent and declare the show over. But The Charlatans UK never surrender—they endure.
And despite all the odds stacked against them, they still thrive. From neo-psychedelic Madchester vibing and earnest blue-eyed soul to drugged-out dub interludes and Stones-y shitkicking rock and roll, the band have gleefully genre-hopped across the width and breadth of their expansive record collections. Here, singer Tim Burgess and organist Tony Rogers (who joined the band in 1998) look back at the dozen albums in The Charlatans UK’s career to mark the highs, the lows, and the moments when everything changed.
Some Friendly (1990)
Tim Burgess: We wrote “Sproston Green,” “The Only One I Know” and its B-side “You Can Talk to Me” all in one weekend soon after we got together. We were on a roll. We felt like we were in the best band in the world at that moment. “Sproston Green” became a natural set closer because it had an outro that Rob could let loose on. There have been times we’ve wanted to kick it off its mantle. We’ve tried to write set closers that are equally as good. These days, it lasts about thirty minutes.
Between 10th and 11th (1992)
Burgess: We were conscious that we had to do something different. In America, it’s regarded as one of our better albums, but it was critically panned in Britain. I like it. It’s essentially an electronic record. After that, we decided we didn’t want any electronics in our music at all and we became technophobes for a while.
Up To Our Hips (1994)
Burgess: Rob got into a little bit of trouble and had to go to prison. But before he left, he had a moment when he really wanted to look after the band. So he decided we should write as many songs as possible before he was sentenced, because we thought he would go to jail for several years. Then he only went away for a few months. The British press loved “Can’t Get Out of Bed,” but Americans weren’t so keen. It’s a bit of a weird one.
The Charlatans UK (1995)
Burgess: While we were recording Up To Our Hips with Steve Hillage, he told us, “As soon as Rob gets out of prison, you should go straight back into the studio. It’ll be really great motivation. Prison changes everyone.” So that’s what we did. This was a real turning point for us.
Tellin’ Stories (1997)
Burgess: The B-side of the “Jesus Hairdo” single had been a remix of “Patrol” by the Dust Brothers, who became the Chemical Brothers. That left an impression on us as a band. So when it came time to record [Tellin’ Stories], they helped us with some of the loops and production. It ended up being a massive rock-and-roll record.
Us and Us Only (1999)
Burgess: Tellin’ Stories was such a massive success for us, so I wanted to pull back a bit. I could only live my life through Bob Dylan records at that point, so I wanted to make John Wesley Harding instead of Highway 61 Revisited. I wanted something more subtle and eclectic.
Tony Rogers: My debut record with the band. There was a lot of pressure, because Rob was such a huge part of the Charlatans. I didn’t try to think about it in the terms of doing what he did, because you couldn’t go down that path. You have to be yourself and bring something to the band, rather than try to copy something.
Rogers: We were listening to a lot of Curtis Mayfield and you can tell. We wore that influence very heavily on our sleeve, especially with Tim’s falsetto. It’s a soul record. We recorded five songs in LA with producer Danny Saber on Wonderland Avenue. He ended up not coming back to England with us, so we didn’t get to make the whole thing with the same guy. I can hear a change halfway through it. We got in a couple of girl singers for “Ballad of the Band.” There was such excitement when we were laying it down, because there was one girl who was absolutely screaming. I can’t tell you what she was doing, but it was beautiful to watch. It was like a peep show.
Up at the Lake (2004)
Rogers: The three-year gap after Wonderland was too long. Sometimes when you’re away for that length of time and not working together, you can lose a little bit of your direction and the gang mentality. I sing “Loving You Is Easy,” though I didn’t want to do it. If I had wanted to be a singer, I wouldn’t have played the Hammond. I still get letters saying, “Thank you so much for that beautiful song. Me and my wife got married to it last week.” It was the record’s biggest radio hit, which was a complete and utter surprise to me.
Burgess: We were on Universal at the time and they wanted an album quickly. I felt a bit unhappy about having to go back to England [from Los Angeles] to start writing a Charlatans record in the freezing cold with this threat hanging over me that, if I didn’t, we’d be kicked off the label. I was a bit grumpy. The record was made and there were some enjoyable moments, but I’d say it was my least favorite Charlatans record. I’m not convinced by that one.
Rogers: People had massively mixed reactions. They didn’t like us going down this dub road whatsoever. We’d been threatening to do it for a long, long time. It took us two weeks to record. I’m glad we went down that path though, because it was fantastic fun to do.
You Cross My Path (2008)
Rogers: We went to Hollywood, California, to start writing and then on to Hollywood, Ireland, to do more. We took a computer and some recording equipment with us, so wherever we went, we recorded the album there and then. It’s got a unique sound and a lovely raw energy, because some of the drums were recorded in my house with just a couple of mics. When we’re having a good time, we make our best records—and we had a good time making this one.
Who We Touch (2010)
Rogers: I really don’t know what we were trying to accomplish with this. I’m not going to diss the record, because you have to go through one to get to the next. No disrespect to Youth—he’s a great producer—but I don’t think he was the right producer for us. Some people felt left out of the process. Even though you have input, it became invalid in the end because it went the producer’s way. We seem to work better on our own. We’re the best judge of what we want and how something should sound.
Modern Nature (2015)
Burgess: Before making this album, my favorite Charlatans record was the first one. There were no guidelines for it; it was all done by instinct. From that point on, [everything we did] had to refer to something we already knew about each other or what we’d done before. With this record, we’d been through so much in the last five years with Jon’s death and members of the band going through a lot of personal changes in their lives. When we all crash-landed in the studio at the end of 2013, we felt like all we had to do was sit down and let it happen. Nothing was forced. We didn’t have a label, so we didn’t know how it was going to come out. We came up with four songs and gave them to our manager, who said, “I won’t play them to anybody.” The next minute, record companies wanted to come up and sign us. It was great to have all that love for the band again.
Rogers: The death of Jon made us all pull together. For the first time, all four of us got together as mates. On previous records, we’d worked separately, but on this one we pulled together. We got our gang mentality back. That’s what pulled us through. If one of us was feeling down, someone would come over to cheer you up. We made the album in the middle of winter so it was freezing cold, but we wanted to make a summer record…which is even harder to do when you’ve lost a member of the band. We just had to get our spirits up. “Let the Good Times Be Never Ending” really defines the way we approached the record and Jon Brookes’s spirit is in that song. He wouldn’t have wanted the band to be finished or for us to stop making albums, so we’re honoring him here. FL