Charlatans UK Biography
Last updated: 06/12/2010 12:00:00 PM
The Charlatans are a band of title fighters. Consistently the boldest, coolest, heftiest, best-looking contenders around, there is no doubt they have earned the right to be regarded as one of the best British acts of the last decade. Now, with the upcoming release of their first DVD, Just Lookin? 1990-1997 and B sides collection, Songs From The Other Side, The Charlatans are proving they can still pack a punch. Backtracking through the years their story goes like this ...
The band - Jagger-lipped singer Tim Burgess from Manchester, guitarist Jon Baker, powerhouse keyboard player Rob Collins, bassist Martin Blunt and drummer Jon Brookes -all from the Midlands - form in 1989 and are instantly affiliated to the "Madchester" scene after the twin-headed Mondays / Roses beast turns the music world on its head. Based far more in (at that time uncool-as-fuck) mod territory, The Charlatans build a fervent following that sees their debut single, Indian Rope (released on their own Dead Dead Good label) go on to sell 20,000 copies with very little press or airplay. After signing to Beggars Banquet they release the Top Ten single The Only One I Know, an instant classic and the summer anthem of 1990. The follow-up, Then, and the debut album, Some Friendly which enters the charts at Number One, are to many the first indications that The Charlatans have the mark of greatness.
As the band begin work on the follow-up, guitarist Jon Baker downs tools and leaves. He is replaced by, born and bred Mancunian, Mark Collins. Within a couple of months, Martin Blunt suffers a nervous breakdown. When it emerges, the second Charlatans album, Between 10th and 11th, is an understandably moody set of songs. Although not well received at the time, the album now sounds odd, out of time and exciting. Two singles, Weirdo and Tremelo Song, keep the band in the public eye but fail to move the masses.
Prior to work beginning on the third album, the boys find themselves at the mercy of a totally unforeseen event; Rob Collins is arrested and later convicted for his involvement in an armed robbery. But, rising to the occasion, the rest of the band crack on with recording, Rob?s parts being put down before he went to jail or added after his release. Then in early 1994, the aptly-titled, Up To Our Hips, is issued. Ironically, it proves to be their first complete album: a mod-ish pop record featuring the terrace anthem that never was, Can't Get Out Of Bed, the proto-trip-hop of Patrol and huge live favorite, I Never Want An Easy Life If Me And He Were Ever To Get There.
That summer, after a handful of feverish British gigs, Tim is asked to sing on Life Is Sweet by long-time fans, The Chemical Brothers. It sees the light of day almost a year later on the Chemicals? debut album, Exit Planet Dust and marks the beginning of an enduring friendship. Back on top at last, The Charlatans head off to the studio to make a new record.
The summer of 1995 is a blur of festivals and the payoff comes when the band's fourth album, The Charlatans, takes them back to the Number One spot. The next day, nursing proper hangovers, the band record their contribution to the Warchild / Help album, the mighty Time For Livin', a collaboration with The Chemical Brothers. The combination of Tom Chemical and Tim Comical results in the best track on an outstanding record. It is the sound of a band on a roll. It rocks. Come the end of the year, The Charlatans embark on a mammoth British tour, doing the usual - caning it, blowing roofs off, etc. etc.
After a short layoff, the band started recording their fifth album at Rockfield and then at Monnow Valley in Monmouth. In July 1996, one month before the release of One To Another, the first fruit of these sessions, Rob Collins is tragically killed in a car accident near the studio. An untimely waste, Rob's death deprived the music world of a maverick genius and one of the last true rock 'n' rollers. Many expected The Charlatans to fold but the band, obviously grieving, issued a defiant press statement that ended;
?There will be no change. We are rock. We?ve lost our mate.?
Another irony: One To Another is the band's biggest hit to date, entering the chart at Number Three.
After Rob's funeral, the band reassembled to play two gigs with keyboard player Martin Duffy from Primal Scream on a temporary free transfer. Supporting Oasis at Knebworth the band look unsurprisingly uncomfortable but deliver the goods. A week later at the Chelmsford festival they are back on form, oozing cocksure confidence, and slaying the opposition. They destroy all monsters.
After all that, Tellin' Stories emerges. A huge forward-looking rock 'n' roll record, it is variously described as being the midway point between Let It Bleed, Searching For The Young Soul Rebels and "sounding like a big bag of spanners" (© Martin Blunt 1997). Preceded by another Top Five single, North Country Boy, a classic slice of Charlatans country pop (previous reference point Here Comes A Soul Saver), the album takes no prisoners. Self-produced with help from long-time sidekick Dave Charles (alongside Tom Chemical and Richard Marsh from "carboottechnodiscoboogie" stars Bentley Rhythm Ace) is the kind of record The Charlatans always threatened to make.
Tellin' Stories breaks a few more records for the band. It enters the UK Charts at Number One - making The Charlatans the only band to have had three Number One albums in the 90s. 1997 is undoubtedly their most successful year so far. Check this out: on top of a third Number One album (now platinum) they headline at the Phoenix and T In The Park festivals, complete a sell-out tour and, to round it all off, perform to capacity crowds at the Nynex Center in Manchester and the London Arena. To coincide, the wistful, elegiac Tellin' Stories is released as the last single the band will make for Beggars Banquet; 1998 sees them embark on a new worldwide deal with Universal.
The following year, the Melting Pot compilation is released through Beggars Banquet and goes Top Five. Testament to the band?s contribution to British music, the album is compiled by the boys themselves and, in typically willful fashion, they avoid turning it into just another singles collection. Instead of the hits alone, it features enduring live favorites, rare alternative mixes and some of the tunes, which have a special meaning for the band themselves.
So it goes on, with The Charlatans releasing two albums to date through Universal, claiming the double prize of Outstanding Contribution to Music and Radio One Evening Session Of The Year at this year?s NME Awards and lining up a string of live shows and festival appearances for the summer. Add to this the release of their DVD compilation, Just Lookin? 1990-1997 and Songs From The Other Side, the B-sides collection, and you?ve got one hell of a story. Long may it continue.