LIVE REPORT: The Charlatans
, June 9th, 2012 08:16
Joyous vibes greet Tellin' Stories at the Hammersmith Apollo
One imagines that there might well be subscribers to the Wire magazine who'd sputter home-ground rare mail order bean coffee over its clean white pages were they to realise that the cover photograph and a full-page feature inside the most recent issue were on two artists whose current releases are due to the efforts of Charlatans singer Tim Burgess. For as well as the lurid headlines about peculiar ways to ingest South America's most ethically problematic export that have accompanied his recent Telling Stories autobiography, Burgess' O Genesis record label has been responsible for an excellent string of releases, from Wire cover star R Stevie Moore (soon to release an LP via OG) to Factory Floor's Nik Colk Void and her stylus-troubling Gold E release.
All this is an odd and interesting reflection of where the independent music world is at this stage in 2012, where the most surprising people appear in the most surprising places, where a lot of the dilettante dead wood has been hacked out of the music world, and only the committed remain. Which is why it's such a joy seeing Tim Burgess and The Charlatans at the Hammersmith Apollo. They were a band, from their Manchester early days to involvement in the Heavenly Social scene of the late 90s, who were able to unite sensitive boys at home with the naughty ones who went out, who understood that they all might want to get together and shout at each other about Crass records, now and then.
You only have to look at the hyped return of some of The Charlatans' contemporaries this year to know that had they split up at some point and were now doing the reformation thing, they'd be hoisting up a lot more cash than they might be from this series of gigs celebrating the Tellin' Stories LP. But that wouldn't have suited this band.
By never going away there was no mythology to be built around the Charlatans. Instead, they had to go though one of the most difficult histories of any British band, with the tragic death of Rob Collins in 1996 and the now well-documented drug palava, very much in the public eye. Their story is one of a battle won in their own quiet way, which is what everyone here seems to be tapping into. This isn't some lager-flingathon as you might expect, largely because, as the Tellin' Stories tracks and a massive, pop-hit-stacked ('Thinking Things Over', 'The Only One I Know' etc) encore demonstrate, The Charlatans drew from a great record collection and deployed the hits with a musicianship that makes them a relentless, focussed band. That organ and backbeat give The Charlatans a tremendous groove, too, something that was and is sorely lacking in most British guitar groups... and, of course, Tim Burgess is still in fine vocal form, and still a charasmatic frontman in his plain white t-shirt that matches that unusual new blond version of his trademark bowl cut.
When the gig ends, as Charlatans gigs always do, with 'Sproston Green', the entire Hammersmith Apollo goes bananas, thousands of arms in the air, hoots hollers and hugs. Even the strange character who's been doing the bandy-legged faux-Manc walk up and down the venue all evening raises a massive grin. These Charlatans... they're the real deal.