“Madchester” has so much to answer for…not all of it good. It was a “scene” that had as much to do with bowl cuts and Joe Bloggs as music. It was very difficult to walk down any high street in any town in Britain in 1990 without bumping into someone wearing an Inspiral Carpets t-shirt, a Reni hat and a pair of flares wide enough to provide shelter to an army of small woodland creatures. Indie nights at clubs were filled with people dropping tabs of ecstasy like they were Smarties…in my case they actually were Smarties because I was too frightened to take “E” in case God was watching (thanks a lot religious upbringing).
Like all “scenes” it wasn’t actually a “scene” in any organic and natural sense, it was a gaggle of bands (some new, some not so new, some yet to jump on the bandwagon) who had been lumped together by a headline writer at the NME or Melody Maker (am I the only person who really misses both of those in their broadsheet incarnations?) and then the world would listen; at least for a bit.
Madchester spawned a load of great records and a few great bands but only one of those bands can lay claim to a career that has lasted longer than the original scene and to being innovative, creative and (here we go) cool. Certain people you know would have you believe that The Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays are the best bands to come out of Man/Madchester at that time. Thousands of column inches are dedicated to the debut album from the Roses and people quote Tony Wilson talking about Shaun Ryder’s lyrical genius every time an article is written on the era. When the Roses got back together it was like a second coming (not like the “Second Coming”) and award winning filmmakers made documentaries to capture the moment it all came together. Shaun Ryder even became a national treasure following an appearance on “I’m a Celebrity…” when he got all profane with a snake.
Both great bands.
But the greatest, the bestest and the coolest are The Charlatans.
Lets do the math first of all. 13 studio albums. THIRTEEN. That’s as many as the Roses, the Mondays and the Carpets have released combined (maybe, I can’t be bothered to look it up) and it’s 12 more than the Mock Turtles sold in total. My figure for singles is 45. 45 forty-fives. 22 of those went top forty. 4 of them top ten. Just think about all of that for a second. Those are numbers for a band who deserve your attention.
Earlier this year The Charlatans released their latest album (“Different Days”) and instead of having a drink and drug fuelled launch party at some fancy hotel surrounded by record company executives and girls from “Love Island” they did something a bit, different. They took over the Northern Quarter in Manchester and treated their fans to signing sessions, free concerts, secret treats in a variety of locations, limited edition merchandise and a side order of fundraising for the victims of the Manchester bombing. That’s just one example of the sweet and tender heart of this band.
Tim Burgess isn’t just a songwriter. Tim Burgess is a lyricist. He is also an author. Two books. And unlike a certain other Northern lyricist both of his books are well written, entertaining and uplifting. Also he hasn’t ever written a line about “bulbous salutations”. The Charlatans have developed their sound with each album while always remaining identifiably them. They are a rock and roll band. They are a pop group. They write music that makes you dance. They write music that soothes your aching heart. They write music that is melodic.
A look at their artwork also points to a band who understand that the world of pop is about so much more than hit records and concerts. Posters and sleeves are designed with thought and care. Each piece of artwork could be framed and hung on your wall or a gallery wall and provoke discussion and admiration.
In the face of the loss of two people, two band members, two friends, two loved ones, The Charlatans have shown incredible heart and soul. Mourning and grieving with dignity, acknowledging the beauty of the people they lost and then, in the best possible way, marking the passing of kindred spirits by carrying on; doing the very things that had bound them together in the first place. Moving on but never moving away.
A lot of bands release a great debut album and follow it up with a solid second and from then on it can be the law of diminishing returns; records that sound a bit like the band you fell in love with but without any of the heart that took you there. They may even contain individual tracks that are loaded with the genius of their best work but it’s never quite as good. Not The Charlatans. This is a band who can, legitimately, lay claim to their latest work being their best work…and that’s quite the claim when you consider that prior to “Different Days” their previous album, “Modern Nature”, had also staked a claim for career best, not bad going given that their debut album was released nearly 30 years ago. A best of compilation from The Charlatans wouldn’t be a singles album, it could easily be made up of album tracks that casual listeners would never have heard and it would still sound like an album you couldnt live without.
Back in 1990 I was 17 and so far from being cool that I was possibly too cool; whatever the hell that means. I had arrived late to The Smiths party and was sporting a quiff, a blouse from Evans and a pair of baggy, but not “baggy”, Levi’s. My party piece at the local indie disco was to whip off my shirt and flail around the dance floor whenever “This Charming Man” was played (which it was every week because I brought it with me) before spending the remainder of the night sat in a corner reading “Catcher in the Rye” (form an orderly queue ladies) and then heading home to cry myself to sleep. That meant that I missed the shuffling, rhythmic, joy of “The Only One I Know” which filled the dance floor with boys with bowl cuts and girls who liked boys with bowl cuts. That’s a genuine tragedy.
Here we are in 2017, different days, and the quiff has gone (male pattern baldness…not choice), their are no more tears at bedtime and my life is all the better for it (although I do miss the quiff). This “new” me, which is really an old me, travelled over 400 miles to be in Manchester for the “Different Days” album launch. I didn’t want to miss The Charlatans again, not this time. The sun shone all day. I met beautiful people. I heard music that made me feel like a better person. I even ate a Charlatans themed cake with Tim Burgess stood within touching distance (I didn’t of course) and when I got back in my car to make the long journey home I thought of them rotten days and felt glad that this band had helped bring me to a better place.