Has there been a busier musician over the last two years? A more prolific artist? More creative? More heroic?
Tim Burgess – as self-effacing a band leader, solo star, label runner, repeat memoirist and all-round caffeinated can-do kid as you’ll find – would certainly shrink from the latter accolade. “A hero??” he’d likely mutter with a shake of his boyish mop. “For playing some records?”
Yes, Tim, we would say that. And not just because with the May 2020, mid-lockdown appearance of I Love The New Sky, his fifth solo album, he undauntedly pushed on with releasing an album that brought much-needed sunshine to a world enveloped in gloom.
Over the course of the first year of the pandemic, Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties were a lifeline to many. At a time when the world shut down, we all retreated indoors, alone, and cancelled gigs were the least of our worries, the North Country Boy’s idea of utilising social media to unite us round a digital turntable was inspired.
An innovation he’d imagineered a few years previously to peer under the bonnet of The Charlatans’ back catalogue albums now became a meeting place for fans of artists of all sizes, stripes, vintages. Yearning members of the Oasis faithful could lean into Bonehead’s reminiscences of making Be Here Now. Agog Beatles heads could cosy up to Paul McCartney’s tweeted tales from the studio floor, or marvel at Yoko Ono and Klaus Voormann’s 50-year-old memories of recording Plastic Ono Band.
The guests were as eclectic as they were electrifying as they were enthusiastic, with the eager participants including everyone from Run the Jewels to Roisin Murphy, Kylie Minogue to Iron Maiden – with the heavy metal heroes the all-time champs on the TTLP replay chart.
At a time when we couldn’t go anywhere, Tim Burgess helped us go everywhere.
“Everybody all over the world starts listening to an album at the same time,” he said in spring 2021, as the number of parties he’d hosted ticked past the 743 mark and his Twitter followers hovered around the quarter-of-a-million tally, a 250 per cent increase on the previous year. “There’s a global call to arms, so you feel part of something. Then you hear one of your favourite records, or something new to you which is equally exciting. And you get to listen to it with a community. And this past year, who hasn’t missed all that?”
Meanwhile, Burgess was writing. And writing. And writing. For sure, some of that was for his first Tim’s Twitter Listening Party book. It was a handsome tome published last year (a second follows this autumn), the profits from which went to support various live music charities – a bit of front-footed, philanthropic proactivity also reflected in Burgess handing over monies from various other TTLP-related (ad)ventures. That Tim-shaped badge you bought might just have helped save a locked-down independent venue.
There were, too, some notes (and tweets) written to support the release of A Head Full of Ideas, The Charlatans’ 2021 delayed (by you-know-what), career-spanning 30th anniversary boxset that was also accompanied by some triumphal band shows.
But mainly that writing comprised songs. Twenty-two of them in total. From September 2020 to summer 2021, ideas poured out of Burgess. He’d been encouraged by Simon Raymonde, boss of his record label Bella Union – and, of course, a former Cocteau Twin. He applied a musician’s logic: if you can’t tour your last album, write a new one. Then, when you can tour again, you’ll have two albums’ worth of songs to play.
Well, now, arguably, Burgess has three albums’ worth of songs to perform live. Typical Music is a 22-track double, a blockbuster set of songs that are as expansive and diverse as they are rich. As fun as they are funky. That embrace heartache and love. That run the gamut, from ABBA (in the shape of guest vocalist Pearl Charles, whose own brilliant Magic Mirror album is the sound of the magic Swedes doin’ disco) to Zappa (free-form studio experimentation is go!).
“OK: we all know about double albums, right?” begins Burgess, a keen as mustard a student of pop and rock history. “Historically, they’ve been thought of as indulgent. But I came to the conclusion that what I was doing was the opposite of that. I wanted to give people everything that I’d done. And everything that I brought to the studio and worked on with the guys, I coloured them all in equally. Every idea was treated as if it was the best thing and had to be treated with extreme care. I wanted to give everything of myself. That was it.”
The studio was Rockfield, the storied farmyard recording establishment in Wales that held memories good and bad for Burgess. Good, because The Charlatans recorded some of their greatest moments there (including 1997’s Tellin’ Stories, led by landmark single One To Another). Bad, because during the recording of that fifth album, the band’s original keyboard player Rob Collins died in a car crash at the bottom of the lane. Burgess hadn’t properly been back to Rockfield in almost 25 years, but now it was time.
The “guys”, meanwhile, were Thighpaulsandra and Daniel O’Sullivan. The former is the authentically legendary keyboard, synthesiser and production wizard who’s played with Coil, Julian Cope and Spiritualized. The latter is the ex-Grumbling Fur multi-instrumentalist who’s released records on Burgess’s O Genesis label, played on I Love The New Sky and who’s a member of Burgess’s live band.
“I just wanted more,” smiles this hyperactive polymath. “I wanted to challenge us all. I wanted to do more electronic things. I wanted to expand the sound. We were limited in what we could do because of Covid, but we had orchestras in our brains. But we just did it as the three of us.”
Where did they go? Where didn’t they go? To highlight but three songs from Typical Music: Revenge Through Art is loose-hipped, chewy funk. Kinetic Connection offers up sparkling psyche-pop, wiggy electronics weaving in and out of rippling piano. Take Me With You is a space-soul love song.
“I fell in love with the world again,” he explains of the latter’s lyrical origins. “During Covid, I read a pile of books, got better on guitar. I had new perspective. I wanted to learn how to be Tim Burgess who makes solo records. People have a vision of me as the singer in The Charlatans. That’s not going to change. Then there’s me as the Twitter guy. But I just fell in love with the world again and wanted the world to take me with them.”
Elsewhere there are songs for his young son, and for his dad, who passed away in April 2020. There is, too, the twangy gallop of the title track. Or, as the encyclopaedically minded Burgess puts it, excitedly: “It’s definitely sci-fi, and primal as well. Brian Jones on teardrop guitar. Or Will Sergeant, early Bunnymen. Banshees, even. Daft Punk! And then Sooner Than Yesterday is the same,” he adds of another moment of absolute torch’n’twang, “but in monochrome. It’s more English.”
Overall, that fed into his vision for Typial Music, to wit: “I wanted to write sci-fi punk songs, or sci-fi surf songs. I was listening to a lot of Joe Meek and Kim Fowley, and lots of the songs are two minutes long. I think the average length is just over three minutes. I like that.”
Ticking all those boxes, then colouring outside them too, is the lead track from Typical Music. Here Comes The Weekend is a buoyant, bouncy, beaty beauty. It’s the perfect first track on the album and the perfect curtain-raiser, an anthemic hymn to transcending geographical distance with emotional connection.
“It’s kind of what everyone has been going through,” says Burgess. “The idea was very much about two people who were distanced and wanted to connect but were finding it really difficult because of mobile phone signals and rain and time differences and jet lag. And I always knew the album should start with Here Comes The Weekend. It’s a simple song, and it’s a feeling more than anything.”
There’s more, lots more, where that came from. Together Burgess, “Thipes” and O’Sullivan – let’s call them The Rockfield Three – have crafted a colourful, kaleidoscopic cosmos, created when the world outside was so black and white and beaten down.
“That was totally the goal,” affirms Tim Burgess, poet, seeker, diviner of truths and, yes, hero. “In my most far-out thoughts, I thought of it as like we built a spaceship that was hermetically sealed, a crew of three. And we just wanted to transcend the mire.”
With Typical Music, it promises to be some trip.