Never Want An Easy Life: Tim Burgess Interviewed

Charlatans frontman, author, and all-round cultural focalpoint speaks to Clash...

He likes to keep busy, does Tim Burgess.

The long-time Charlatans frontman juggles his commitments to the long-standing band with solo material, his record label O Genesis, and a new book.

The wryly titled Tim: Book Two follows on from Telling Stories, his entertaining glimpse into life as the lead singer of one of Britain's longest-lasting indie success stories.

Perhaps the sub-title is more illuminating: Vinyl Adventures From Istanbul To San Francisco. Tim Burgess is challenged by a series of fantastic artists – from Iggy Pop to Vini Reilly, Chris Carter, and more – to track down certain releases, scouring record shops across the planet in the process.

A lengthy love letter to vinyl and the shops that sell it, it's also a neat portrait of each figure, with Tim dwelling on the choice, and the individual behind it. Out now, Tim: Book Two comes as the singer prepares to embark on yet another project, this time with Arthur Russell alumni Peter Gordon.

Clash decided that the time was right for a catch up.

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So Tim, we've caught you in the middle of a reading tour… how's it all going?
I've done London, Manchester… I did the Salford Lads Club last night with Stephen and Gillian. So, it's nice! I don't love reading, but if I choose the right thing and someone laughs quite early on, or if there's a decent reaction within a few sentences then the confidence gets up a little bit. But it's not my preferred choice of communicating, really. It reminds me of being at school a little bit. I did enjoy the writing, and I quite like answering the questions onstage. So it's all good.

The title is fantastic! Did the title spur the book?
The title came first. Someone on Twitter was saying 'when can we expect the follow up?' and I responded by saying 'Tom Book Two will be with you soon!' So people got quite excited about it, and I just needed to get some content after that. It took two years to write, and I really enjoyed the process.

The book is themed around this challenge to retrieve certain records. Where did this idea come from?
I just quite like the idea of talking to people that I admire, and finding out more about them through records that they recommended me to go and find in a record shop. I thought, there's so much scope there, really. I'd be able to talk to the person that was recommending it, find out a little bit more about them, and what maybe would prompt them to recommend this record, talk about the record that I had to go and find, talk about the experience, the quest, the adventure… it just seemed like there was lots to talk about because things spark off other things. And music means so much to all these people.

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With all great things that are lasting you end up coming back to them…

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Vinyl had a lean spell in the eyes of the industry during the mid to late 90s – did you ever fall out of love with the format?
Not really. I mean, throughout my record collecting life I have been through a phase where I've bought loads of CDs, thousands of CDs. But I've always really liked records, and I've had my favourite things on CD and vinyl. And I'm pretty sure I'd have it on mp3, as well, if it's a really big one. There's never been a time where I've turned my back on it. But there have been times, obviously, where I've ummed and ahhed and thought: CDs are pretty good! But then, with all great things that are lasting you end up coming back to them.

Did you have a methodical approach to finding these records?
There was. I started off quite local, and I made a few rules up in the beginning. I started with Chris & Cosey. Chris Carter recommended 'ABBA Gold' – which is a phenomenal recommendation from him, I thought. Although he's always been a big fan of ABBA, people who admire Chris' work might not know that. Therefore when I contacted other people I used Chris as an example. It didn't have to be the coolest thing, just something that really means a lot. Bill Drummond chose Van Der Graff Generator, but that actually meant so much to him. It doesn't have to be anything super cool.

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I started off quite local, and I made a few rules up in the beginning…

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Which was the hardest choice to track down?
Well, I made a rule at the beginning that even if I had the record, and I was recommended it, I had to go and get it again. And a record that I had when I was 16 years old – Fad Gadget, 'Fireside Favourite' – proved quite hard to find. And I actually did find it at the very end, and I tweeted to record shops in the UK: 'does anyone have it?' And South Records in Southend had a copy of it. I was coming to the end of the book, I had a Charlatans at Brixton Academy and we were playing in Liverpool. So, we woke up at 5am and my mate drove me down, I got to Southend at opening time, got the record, and thought that was the end of the book. So it took nine months to find that one.

I mean, I could have got it off Discogs in a week, but that was another rule: that I was only allowed one record from Discogs, and I'd already got it. But then right at the end, just as I thought I'd finished the book, Mick Jones – who had asked half-way through writing the book – came in very late, and there was a note on my dressing room door saying: Willie Nelson, 'Stardust'. So there was one more to get. Which fortunately I found the next morning.

Willie Nelson is a curious choice.
It's amazing. It's a Willie Nelson, Booker T-produced album and they're all standards. But so kind of smiley! When I think of Mick Jones and him playing – especially in Big Audio Dynamite and Carbon/Silicon – I can always see his smiling face, so it kind of does make sense when I listen to it.

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All records made with integrity are equal…

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Why stick to record shops? Was it the thrill of the chase? Something the ease of the internet probably denies you.
Absolutely. I had a suggestion from Iggy Pop, and it was Junior Wells with 'Hoodoo Man Blues'. I was looking for it for ages… I'd sourced it on Discogs and saw that – for an original – it was $130. I was in Austin, in a shop called End Of An Ear… I'd been going round America and all the shops I'd been in there wasn't even a Junior Wells section, so I wasn't hopeful. But I got into End Of An Ear and I saw a guy standing just in front of a Junior Wells section, and I thought: wow! At least there's a section, that's fantastic… I've got a chance! And when the guy moved out of the way I went over and right at the back was 'Hoodoo Man Blues' for $13. And I thought: Fuck. This is brilliant! And then, of course, every record shop I went into after that had a copy of 'Hoodoo Man Blues'! There's a jazz shop in Chicago I went into, and it even had a t-shirt and a poster. I think that one in particular was re-released just at the time I was looking for it… which is bizarre!

Did Iggy ever play drums for Junior Wells, do you know? He played with a few of those blues artists.
No, I don't think so. He did get it in his home-town, and he did say that it was a really tight sound. A big part of his childhood, I think, that one. He chose three. The other one was White Zombie, if I remember rightly, and he said they looked 'fresh'! And 'Pearls Before Swine', which is this New York psychedelic jugband kind of thing.

Record shops have a certain reputation for harbouring music snobs, did you ever get a dismissive reaction when tracking down some of the more unexpected choices?
Well, no, because all records made with integrity are equal. If you're in a record shop and you're talking to somebody about what you're up to… which I did, to people who were interested, it strikes up a great conversation. And I think that's something else that I was trying to put into the book, about the emotional content of people and what they'd put into it. What they get out of a record, and time spent with a record. When you put a record on you listen to the whole thing because there is effort to take the record off. So you'd much rather listen to a whole album, whereas with a CD you've got a fast forward switch, haven't you? You're more likely to listen to a whole album, and there songs that you're not sure about, initially, are songs that become things that you really love.

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When you put a record on you listen to the whole thing…

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I suppose those kinds of conversations are what separates independent shops from, say, Sainsbury's, who also stock 'ABBA Gold'.
Haha! I've not seen a record in Sainsbury's yet, but I believe that they are there now. I bought records when I was a kid from places like Rumbalows and Woolworths… they were pretty much department stores or electrical stores, and you could buy 'em from Boots, as well. But there was always record shops as well as that. And I guess there is now. I guess it's all working out!

You've been doing an enormous amount alongside this – there's a new record with Peter Gordon, for example.
I played one of his records to Nik Void from Factory Floor, and she invited him to collaborate in a live performance with them. And I was hanging around, and got talking to him. And his band – Love Of Life Orchestra – were a band that I was into, and he was into my solo album 'Oh No I Love You'. So I think pretty much when I met him in London he said we should do something, and we pretty much started straight away. I'd been writing with Kurt Wagner, I finished that, and then had a song that I thought needed something else, sent it to him, and he sent it back. We communicated like that, and it was perfect what he did. We just continued, and it took us about three years because we just had other things going on. We had nine tracks, we're really pleased with it.

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I think we're going to have to get our heads together now, and start thinking about what to do next…

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Your label O Genesis is still going strong, as well.
We put out Howard Marks, his Dylan Thomas record. We've got Cabbage coming out, mine and Peter's album is on O Genesis. Tear, Camille from Throwing Up, are on there. The soundtrack to the book, a compilation I put together for the book, will come out on O Genesis.

Is that a compilation of the songs you were recommended?
Well, yeah. The ones we could get clearance for. I wanted to start it with Durutti Column, and that worked out, and Mick Jones helped me clear The Clash song which apparently they don't tend to do any more. There's a couple of records throughout the book that I hadn't heard before and now, I don't know what I'd do without them.

And you're speaking from The Charlatans studio, do you have more plans with them?
Well, we've got a few gigs coming up. A few shows. I think we're going to have to get our heads together now, and start thinking about what to do next.

So, final question: will there be a third book from you, Tim?
One Two Another. (laughs)

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Tim Burgess Presents…Tim Book Two: 'Vinyl Adventures from Istanbul to San Francisco' out now on Faber and Faber. The accompanying compilation 'Vinyl Adventures From Istanbul To San Francisco' is out now on O Genesis Recordings.

Tim Burgess and Peter Gordon will release 'Same Language, Different Worlds' on September 2nd via O Genesis Recordings. Tim and Peter head out on UK tour in September:

1 Birmingham Hare & Hounds
2 Manchester Gorilla
3 Wales Festival No.6
4 Leeds Brudenell Social Club
6 London Kamio

If you can't wait that long catch The Charlatans at Electric Fields festival on the 26th of August, buy tickets here.

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