The Charlatans talk North By Northwich, changing faces and the future

The Charlatans

The Charlatans

The Charlatans are taking over their hometown of Northwich and Getintothis’ Lewis Ridley sat down with three of the band in their favourite chippy to reflect and look forward.

I’ve never been to Northwich, and I can imagine I’m one of many who this week have descended on the quaint Cheshire town. Blue band t-shirts are floating around, with a map on The Seafarer chip shop’s wall to guide them.

The town fallen on hard times recently, and it was The Charlatans aim to give back to a town, it’s people and businesses that has inspired a week of festivities by the name of North By Northwich.

The market town is largely seen as the home of The Charlatans, in real terms their base has ranged from Manchester to the Black Country over a career that has spanned three decades, but it is here they formed.

Albums aplenty, and a new EP just announced for release next month, this homecoming is one to savour for fans. For those who’ve bagged tickets for their four nights at Memorial Court, they’ll see a different set each night, giving the opportunity to indulge in songs of old and perhaps even some that were played back when they were last in town, in 1990.

But before the doors open there, the town is bustling with events that include an exhibition with endless merchandise and memorabilia from their history as a band. There’s conversation sessions with the likes of Dave Haslam and Gary Neville, while The Salty Dog pub is hosting live music throughout the week where Deja Vega and The Blinders are amongst the guests.

The Seafarer, which faces the shiny outer of the Memorial Court, is the chip shop of choice for the band. This week, though, it is far more than a local chippy.

Not only is it decked out in Charlatans gear throughout, it also played host to a speed interviewing session where local and national press were invited to quiz Tim Burgess, Martin Blunt and Tony Rogers on the events of North By Northwich, their music, inspiration and much more.

Each interviewer was given the length of hit single North Country Boy with the members of the band, so with sunshine gleaming through the windows of The Seafarer, I got my 4 minutes and 4 seconds with each of the lads. Well, maybe a touch more.

Martin Blunt (bassist) is up first, and speaking with a distinct Birmingham accent, he talks about the festival.

“It’s took on a mind of its own, really, it started off with the exhibition and the four nights but its turned into loads of events across the town. People have come from all over as well, I met somebody from Utah last night, they must have got lost!”

Blunt is keen to address the aim of the festival, saying: “I think, without being too political, it highlights that not only here but all across the country shops are shutting down, towns are becoming decayed. There needs to be a real rethink around urban living, affordable housing and bringing some identities into town centres.”

He’s an original Charlatan and he formed the group which was initially fronted by Baz Ketley and has been around ever since as part of a band that has adopted many styles.

“Lots of different styles, lots of different haircuts. Lots of things have changed, but I’ve still got my favourite, The Charlatans [1995] is a really good album. Us And Us OnlyWonderland, and I think we really were inspired with Modern Nature, unfortunately after Jon and that, you know.”

They’re a band keen to try new things, whether that be on or off stage. They recently launched an app, collating all of their music from hits to rarities, this festival itself is rare. For the four nights across the road, they’re working with ticketing company Dice, who offer in-app reselling and aim to reduce the amount of touting and additional fees.

“It wasn’t so much the touting, but more the booking fee. You seem to have your ticket and then a booking fee, there’s always an add on. We just thought that the tickets should be 30 quid and that’s it, that’s what you’re paying. With this as well, you’ve got tickets going to the people that want them, there’s a waiting list and they can be sold on and that seems to be working well.”

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In the next booth but one is Tony Rogers, current keyboardist having replaced the late Rob Collins following his passing in 1996. A tough ask, I wondered how he dealt with that.

“I didn’t actually find it difficult, I just knew from a fan basis it would potentially be difficult to be accepted into the band. The main thing is, I was never replacing Rob as such, I’m just another keyboardist. I just became an addition, so I didn’t think too much about it and just kept my head down, dodged a few bullets. You just want to do the band justice, and it was an absolute privilege to be asked.”

Rogers played previously written music for the first part of his Charlatans career, but put his own stamp on Us And Us Only.

“That was the first album I wrote songs for, and it was a really big album for me. We all put our twist on things, it happened when Mark [Collins] joined, too. It’s changing again after Jon’s death, with Pete’s [Salisbury] having his impact as well. We’re always searching new styles, new sounds, we don’t ever really want to tread over old territory. Saying that, though, it’s a great pleasure to play those old songs.”

There’s no doubt that the ever-changing style of the band has prolonged their tenure, but Rogers believes that although its helped the band as a collective, it hasn’t helped commercial success.

“I think it’s helped us a lot, as a band, because it’s kept us interested. Each studio session, each writing session becomes a creative experience and each one is different. You might listen to something and try it, see if it works, and that brings its own excitement to the band.”

For Rogers, it’s all about the personal experience: “We touched on a bit of reggae-dub, played about and got a bit jiggy in soundchecks, so we went for it with Sympatico. It wasn’t our defining moment, but it’s just another chapter and you’ve got to do them things, each album itself is important because it gets you to that next stage.”

And that next stage, as I run over time: “It’ll be in line with the last two, we usually have phases when we write back to back. We’ll see!”

In the far corner, lastly, with his now trademark blonde hair and round glasses is Tim Burgess, an ever-smiling and radiant character. A conversation with him is refreshing, and I dive in with a fan question on a seldom heard favourite A House Is Not A Home.

“Yeah, we don’t play that one much. Should we give it a go? It’s not a happy song, I mean, it wasn’t about me, or maybe it was, I’m not sure.”

Tim ponders, and takes the time to find the right words: “I think the way the band are, with our recent albums, they’re euphoric, and positive. I suppose they’re about life and living, as opposed to what life can throw at you and being dragged down by other people.”

He’s right, Modern Nature and Different Days would fit perfectly with the Cheshire sunshine, but there may be change ahead.

“Yeah, I’m feeling a change on the horizon. We’ve done the EP, it felt like something that could stand on it’s own as four tracks that just went well together. We thought, why put an album out now? The time was right for this, another album would mean a new mindset and I don’t feel like jumping straight into making another album now. I don’t really sit down and plan things, I prefer to wait for it to come to me, even if it’s just six months to see where I’m at then.”

It seems that this is very much the way of The Charlatans, and it’s working:

“Some things work, and some things don’t. Some things do better than you expect and some don’t do as well as you expect. Actually, I think it’s best to just have zero expectations and do stuff that you really like and hope that it comes out. This EP was nearly struggling to come out, now it’s a bright, shining thing that you’d never think it nearly didn’t come out.”

As a few locals are outside The Seafarer wondering why their chippy is bustling with press, my time is up. What I take away from the day is not Tim‘s favourite; chips, peas and curry, but that the strength of The Charlatans comes from constant tinkering, and testing new ideas and new styles.

For a band faced not once, but twice with tragic adversity and now on the up as if it were the mid-90s. As a fan, this writer can only say that it makes this homecoming a special moment in the progression of a special band.

  • The Charlatans play three more nights at Northwich Memorial Court on May 16, 18 and 19.
  • North By Northwich will run until May 20.