Happy Mondays | The Charlatans | Echo Raptors
- Location: Féile Marquee, Falls Park
- Date: Sunday 4th August
- Time: 8:30 pm
- Admission: £20
- Age Restriction: 18+
Happy Mondays are an English alternative rock band from Salford, Greater Manchester. Formed in 1980, the band‘s original line-up was Shaun Ryderon lead vocals, his brother Paul Ryder on bass, lead guitarist Mark Day, keyboardist Paul Davis, and drummer Gary Whelan. Mark “Bez” Berry later joined the band onstage during a live performance after befriending Shaun Ryder and served as a dancer/percussionist. Rowetta Satchell joined the band to provide backing vocals in the early 1990s
For more than two decades now, The Charlatans have been an inspirational force in British rock. As they celebrate their twentieth anniversary with some very special gigs, they remain as exciting and relevant now, as when they first broke through to the immortal strains of ‘The Only One I Know’ – if not, more so, as a new generation of young bands and fans today hail them as lifelong heroes.
Rooted in the Midlands and Northwest of England, the band have always exuded positive energy, whether in the first mania of their success in the early ’90s, or while suffering their many tribulations midway through that decade, or in their sophisticated, ever-questing vitality today.
The unshakable line-up of Martin Blunt (bass), Jon Brookes (drums), Tim Burgess (vocals), Mark Collins (guitar) and Tony Rogers (keyboards) have, along the way, made so much beautiful, brilliant music – countless classic singles, bursting with melody and class; and an enviable catalogue of albums, each restlessly different from the last, none anything short of compelling, uplifting, or totally rockin’. Unlike all but a very select few bands of their vintage, Charlatans albums are urgent, and full of life, both commercially and creatively.
Their eleventh studio collection, ‘Who We Touch’, must surely rank as their boldest to date, radically broadening, in places, their aesthetic remit. It is, says Burgess, “a soulful voyage”, a journey through moods upful and profound, dark and delirious, ultimately concluding in blissful optimism. Its sound is inspired by many heroes, yet always sounds like no-one other than The Charlatans themselves.
“You don’t want to do something you’ve done before,” Tim reasons. “You have to start with a blank page. You need to be enlightened. The dead give birth to dead things.”
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For 2008’s ‘You Cross My Path’, The Charlatans were revved up on the groundbreaking idea of distributing their latest opus for free on the internet. Far from commercial suicide, it reinvigorated the public’s love for them, and they approached their follow-up record with fresh impetus. The whole process of making it began, however, a little earlier than they’d imagined.
“We were due to do an American club tour at the end of last summer,” Mark Collins recalls, “but then Jon [Brookes] had a mishap with his shoulder, so we ended up pulling the tour. Rather than sit around being idle, we decided to get cracking writing some tunes.”
In the past, their core writing team – Tim, Mark, and Tony Rogers – have generally convened at one of their homes, and written together. This time, ringing in the new, they each wrote separately, digging deep on their own for an intensive 12-week burst, in advance of studio time booked for December.
For his part, Tim sees his train of thought for the album beginning (as it often does) with his fanatical absorption of other music, at the dawn of 2009’s festival season. At Coachella, he was blown away by Throbbing Gristle (he was a TG virgin!), while at Primavera, he grooved on to My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth.
In June, Tim curated a day at the Isle of Wight Festival. His line-up, in the 10,000-capacity Big Top, featured a clutch of young acts – The Horrors, Hatcham Social and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – with whom Tim has struck up a rare cross-generational understanding. For the youngsters, Tim is an icon, an unswervingly cool British singer dude, who has been out there, living it and loving it, as long as they’ve been listening to music (or longer!). For Tim, their youthful energy has been contagious, reminding him that age is nothing but a frame of mind.
The Charlatans themselves headlined in style that day. Playing in the slot beneath them, Tim had a lifelong inspiration, one of the first bands he ever saw, Killing Joke, in their original late-’70s line-up, with Youth on bass. He watched The Horrors with Youth, and struck up a new friendship. Mark and Tony had actually already met the bassist in ’06, when, in his subsequent capacity as one of the hottest producers around, Youth was putting together a new version of their ’01 classic, ‘You’re So Pretty, We’re So Pretty’. Mark and Tony added a few overdubs back then, and liked his vibe.
While those two wrote at their respective retreats in Manchester (Mark) and Ireland (Tony), Tim beavered away across the Atlantic in his adopted hometown of North Hollywood, Los Angeles. “Rhys [Webb, The Horrors’ bassist] was in town,” he remembers. “I was saying, ‘What should I do, I’ve got this record to write?’ He was like, ‘What would Brian Eno do?’ ‘Yeah, good point! He would write loads of chords out, put them on his wall, and randomly just pick out chords’… And that was how I wrote the first song! It was a great way of starting something out of nothing.
“The whole of the last album was made up of three chords,” Tim continues, “every song was three chords. When we started making it, we knew we were giving it away for free, which felt like a very post-punk thing to do, so we went in with a three-chord attitude. But doing the same again this time would’ve been cheating ourselves, and the people who listen to us, so we tried to get in as many chord changes as possible, which immediately took it to another world.”
Early on, they decided to call in Youth, who, since his original stint in Killing Joke, has worked with artists as varied as Paul McCartney and Primal Scream, The Verve, Dido and The Drum Club, as their producer. Such versatility would prove essential as the ‘Who We Touch’ album unfolded. He also vibed up Burgess on Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces’ – a non-fictional book “about the responsibility of the artist, about having to be brave” – which would have a massive impact on the singer.
After sending numerous ideas backwards and forwards to each other digitally, the five Charlatans convened to demo their first batch of songs at their own Big Mushroom studio in Cheshire. As ever, everyone contributed ideas: Mark chipped in with ‘Smash The System’, while Tony brought in ‘Your Pure Soul’ – two complete musical pieces, to which Burgess added the lyrics and vocal melody. ‘Sincerity’, meanwhile, arose from a Krautrock-inspired jam between the band’s four UK-based instrumentalists, instigated by bassman Martin Blunt.
A month later, they laid down tracks with Youth over ten days at Britannia Row in Wandsworth (on the desk that New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ was recorded on), followed by another five days at State Of The Ark in Richmond.
“We told Youth, we wanted the record to have the sound of a European winter,” says Tim, “with that fresh, crisp sound you get from some British records, but also something fearless, that was quite far-reaching, to challenge ourselves – a real journey.” “Youth just comes in, smokes his weed and starts dancing around,” adds Mark, “If he likes something, he starts trying to fly. If you see him flapping his arms, you know he’s digging it.” “Yes,” Martin summarizes, “he’s a bit of vibemeister”.
In Joseph Campbell’s book, the author talks about the heroes of mythical sagas, who go through adventures and experiences, to emerge at the end with greater strength and wisdom. Such is the overall construction of ‘Who We Touch’. In ‘Your Pure Soul’, the singer comes to realise his own failing in trying to control his lover. The ‘motorik’ groover, ‘Sincerity’, meanwhile, finds him rather scornfully observing an excessively sincere person, but through that discovering something about himself: “With care it comes to me/I have autonomy and new possibilities”.
Though it has its melancholy, autumnal moments, ‘Who We Touch’ ultimately rises into optimism, with ‘Oh!’, a beautiful song of reconciliation, as complex as its shifting time signatures (one section is in 3/4 waltz time), and then ‘You Can Swim’, an exquisite ooze of ambience, reminiscent of ‘Another Green World’-era Eno, with whose creative ideas, of course, the album began.
As that track fades out into the ether, another circle is soon closed within the Charlatan narrative, on the hidden track, ‘I Sing The Body Eclectic’. When Tim was 13, his favourite band was Crass, the anarchist post-punk collective, and he still counts their 1981 album, ‘Penis Envy’, amongst his all-time Top Ten. Recently, he was introduced to Penny Rimbaud, Crass’s drummer, producer and ideological brains, whose portentous voice can now be heard booming the album’s story to an end on the grandest existential scale.
“There’s the whole story of life in there,” beams Tim. Rimbaud’s associate, Gee Vaucher, who did the iconic artwork for all of Crass’s releases, also provides ‘Who We Touch’ with its eerie collaged cover image.
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Bubbling with fresh developments and drama, ‘Who We Touch’ feels like a heavyweight chapter in some kind of rock ‘n’ roll ‘Bildungsroman’. The Charlatans story just runs and runs.
“It’s a really celebratory thing, every time you make a record,” says Tim. “In a way, though, we’ve always celebrated for a little while, then moved on, just kept moving forward, and found new things to write about. Our first record went to Number One, and we quickly realised you can either celebrate forever, or else put that achievement in a cupboard and move onto the next one.”
What a journey it has been since 1990’s ‘Some Friendly’ album, and its breakthrough hit, ‘The Only One I Know’. Formed a year earlier by Martin Blunt, they were instantly thrust into the limelight. “We really had something special when we got connected up,” says Martin. “It was fresh, exciting times, there was this groundswell of music before the Manchester scene exploded. It felt like it gripped the UK for 12 months – and beyond!” In the mêlée, founding guitarist John Baker quit, to be replaced by Mark Collins just in time for LP No. 2.
“We were quite nervous with the success of the first record”, Burgess admits today, “so we made another one immediately, almost to throw a curveball, which we did [with 1992’s ‘Between 10th and 11th’]. It probably ended up a bit too much of a curveball – but then we got back on track with the third one [‘Up To Our Hips’, 1994].”
Which is an understatement. “It all got a bit crazy at that time,” remembers Mark, with the success and Rob [Collins, original keyboard player] going to prison.” Their next two albums ‘The Charlatans’ and ‘Telling Stories’ both hit the top spot in the UK, and established the band as champions of the Britpop era, even while tragedy struck, as Rob Collins was killed in a car accident.
“In the past,” Tim reflects, “we definitely embraced life, in a hedonistic way. We were very much the life and soul of the party. Looking back now, the drug phase was definitely about shutting out the bad stuff, like Rob dying. I think we’ve always been searching, but you just drink your way through the search. You don’t feel like you can do it without it, because it helps you be more brave.”
Between the making of two more Top 5 albums, ‘Us And Us Only’ (1999) and ‘Wonderland’ (2001), Tim made changes in his life, moving with his wife to Los Angeles, making The Charlatans into a Transatlantic operation. “A lot of people were saying, Oh, it’s going to be the end of the band. I just thought of it as a new chapter, moving onto something more interesting.”
Somewhere back there, he knocked all the drugs and drinking on the head. Without ever being preachy about it, today he is proof that creativity comes from within, not external stimulants. “I’ve been trying to come to the day,” he says, “where everything I do is part of who I am. Every day I want to create, even if it’s listening to music, and writing stuff down. My art is my vision of life, a life with soul. The way things are now is what I’ve been searching for, all these years. I think this could be it.”
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So, existentially, culturally, commercially, ‘Who We Touch’ is a big record for The Charlatans. In places, you may hear echoes, or hommages, reflecting music the band collectively hold dear – The Stooges, perhaps, in ‘Love Is Ending’’s crashing riff; The Byrds in Mark Collins’s solo on ‘My Foolish Pride’; etc etc – but they are still unmistakably themselves, only remodelled, reimagined, re-energized.
In that context, unerringly confident of their future, the band recently allowed themselves a rare backward glance. For four triumphant nights during May, they celebrated the 20th anniversary of ‘Some Friendly’, by airing that beloved album in full, plus attendant singles and B-sides from that era. The gigs in Blackpool, Glasgow and London were sold out months in advance and saw scenes of jaw-dropping euphoria. At Primavera festival in Spain, where Tim got so vibed up in ’09, he was this year presented with a birthday cake on stage – big enough to fell an elephant! – as The Charlatans wowed a crowd estimated at 60,000.
Now, after that journey into the past, the onward march continues…
Andrew Perry, June 2010
Echo Raptors are a 4 piece Rock ‘n’ Roll band from Belfast. Formed in late 2009, by four lovers of the 60′s and 90′s musical greats; Long-term friends Philip Rainey and Emmett Stewart teamed up with Vincent Caddell and later Owen Duffy to complete the line up. The band has been working hard at developing huge and exciting rock and roll anthems and crowd pleasing songs. They have been compared to the likes of the Stone Roses, Cast, The Verve and early Oasis. Their first EP Wasteland received regular airplay on BBC’s ATL radio show and 2 of the tracks (Sinking in the Shadows and Talking Machine) reached number 1 in the NI chart. The title track wasteland has also been used in an online commercial for Kopparberg Cider. Gigs have included a support slot with Ocean Colour Scene’s Steve Craddock, a headline slot at the Liverpool Sound City festival and a Headline slot at the Cavern Club. The bands most recent EP ‘She’s So Free’ has received rave reviews across the web. The band were invited by Terri Hooley to play at the relaunch of Good Vibrations in April this year. Described as one of the most exciting and refreshing guitar bands of the last few years and with another wave of even better songs to come for the same project, 2013 is hotting up to be a great year for Echo Raptors.”
Vocals/guitar – Philip Rainey
Drums – Emmett Stewart
Lead Guitar – Vince caddell
Bass – Owen Duffy