The Charlatans: Here ‘Til Eternity

14 Jun 2019

Between The Charlatans’ first and most recent album, the UK has seen the back of six Prime Ministers, taken part in seven Olympic games, joined Facebook and voted to leave the European Union. It’s a lifespan that would mark them out as unique from all of their contemporaries. With a proud legacy as one of the most enduring bands in British music, their music is as impactful today as it’s ever been.

It all started in the West Midlands, 1988, when bassist Martin Blunt called on the services of a few friends with a view to continuing Birmingham’s longstanding tradition of soul-infused rock music. With keyboardist Rob Collins on the organ, Jon Brookes on drums and Jon Day on guitar the picture was completed a year later, when they relocated to Northwich, Cheshire, the hometown of their new vocalist, Tim Burgess.

Sleeping in their manager’s record shop after gigs, the boys developed a percussive, danceable sound that would become synonymous with Manchester’s “baggy” scene. Their breakthrough came with “The Only One I Know”. Their first top ten hit became an instant classic of the indie disco. The pumping hammond organ, Blunt’s churning bass and Burgess’ vocals skimming over the top: The Charlatans had arrived.

Throughout the early 1990s they kept rising, releasing the stateside smash ‘Between 10th and 11th’ – named after the venue of their first American show – which featured their biggest US hit: “Weirdo”. Yet, totally unlike many of their baggy contemporaries, they were never trapped by the Madchester sound. Instead they strode confidently into the Britpop era. In 1997 they released ‘Tellin’ Stories’, their most commercially successful album to date. It enjoyed three top ten singles, including the grungy “One to Another” and the swaggering “North Country Boy”. In 2012 the band memorably performed the album in full at the Isle of Wight festival; proof of the lasting love for an album considered by most to be an indie-rock classic.

With the end of the nineties, the alternative-music landscape changed again but the band were up to the challenge. During the noughties they continued to release diverse, high-charting records – from the highs of 2001’s ‘Wonderland’ to the depths of 2015’s ‘Modern Nature’. They experimented with country, soul and even reggae, all the while staying true to their unmistakable roots. This consistent quality has seen their devoted fanbase remain loyal every step of the way, enthused by every shift in musical direction or change to Burgess’ hair – which has long-since transformed from his original brown mop to a peroxide shock of bleached blonde.

Photo credit: Tom Rowland @tomrphotography

The band have had to weather more storms than most. During the recording of ‘Tellin’ Stories’, keyboardist and founding-member Rob Collins was killed in a car accident – his death coming just two weeks before the band supported Oasis during their legendary Knebworth shows.Then in 2013 the band lost another member. Having collapsed during a 2010 show in Philadelphia, drummer Jon Brookes was diagnosed with a brain tumour, eventually succumbing three years later.

Yet through it all – deaths, arrests and nervous breakdowns – they’ve never given up, instead quietly defining Britain’s era of indie-dominance.

It’s a stunning legacy: 17 top 30 singles and nine top 10 albums. An unending list of career defining live-sets – from the famed Day Tripper shows in Brighton and Blackpool in 1993, to gracing Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage in 2002. And it’s not over yet. 2017 saw their most recent album, ‘Different Days’ chart at number 4, this time featuring Paul Weller, Johnny Marr and New Order’s Stephen Morris. Rather than sounding tired or nostalgic, many critics felt the record was their best work in years. As a recent spate of homecoming shows in Northwich cemented, their legacy stands out as one of the best, and longest, loved bands in the UK. Yet for The Charlatans, there are still more stories to tell.



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