The Charlatans

TrackAlbum / Single
Indian RopeDead Dead Good - GOOD 1CD
Sproston GreenTellin' Stories Live 2012
Happen To DieSituation Two - SIT 76 CD
Jesus HairdoUp To Our Hips
Nine Acre DustBeggars Banquet - BBQ 60T
Feeling HolyThe Charlatans
Tellin' StoriesTellin' Stories
ForeverUs And Us Only
You're So Pretty - We're So PrettyWonderland
So OhModern Nature

The Charlatans photo 3

The Charlatans (l to r): Martin Blunt (bass), Rob Collins (keyboards),
Jon Brookes (drums), Tim Burgess (vocals), Jon Baker (guitar) – c1990

 

 

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Charlatans playlist

 

 

Contributor: Justine Harvey

I’ve been ruminating on this list for over a year now, and still I’m bracing myself for lots of disagreement with my choices, but condensing 30 plus years of music into just 10 songs is a difficult task.

Starting with the band’s first single Indian Rope seems as good a place as any to start. The sound unmistakably ‘baggy’; it was 1990 after all but Rob Collins’ swirling organ set it apart from the Madchester masses. I’m not going to pretend to have bought it at the time, but of their very early songs, it is one that I feel has aged well. It doesn’t suffer from the overfamiliarity of the ubiquitous The Only One I Know, my first contentious omission – too many people over the years having ‘quipped’ that it is the only one they know …

The debut album Some Friendly is still a great record and I wrestled with including a couple of other tracks from it (Polar Bear and Flower mainly) but I was always going to pick Sproston Green. It is how pretty much every Charlatans’ gig ends, the very definition of a live favourite – and a constant thorn in the side of the council of Cheshire village it is named after who have to replace the sign repeatedly stolen by fans. But the version I’m picking isn’t from Some Friendly, a mere 5 minute burst. To fully appreciate this song, it has to be a live version, around nine minutes of it, with its undulating organ intro stretching beyond 3 minutes before Tim Burgess’ singing kicks in. No offence to Tim, but I could easily take another 10 minutes of that organ. Luckily the band has released several live albums so the at-home-listener can experience the full ebbs and flows of the tune and imagine the gentle wave of wellbeing and togetherness washing over the crowd. The version on Tellin’ Stories Live 2012 would be my choice.

Next a B-side, Happen To Die, taken from the flip side of Over Rising, a non-album single released between the first and second albums. Far catchier than a song with ‘die’ in the title has any right being, it was mentioned a lot when Charlatans fans discussed their favourite songs on Twitter recently, more than you’d expect for a B-side certainly. While not wanting to spend more time talking about what I haven’t picked than what I have, I do want to say that I always really liked their second album Between 10th and 11th and with a longer list, one or two songs from there would no doubt have featured.

Third album Up To Our Hips is chock-full of great singles but Jesus Hairdo is one of my absolute favourite songs. I don’t have much to say about it, other than it makes me happy. Listening to it will always lift my mood. There probably isn’t much more that needs to be said beyond that.

An eponymous debut album is unremarkable, but going down the self-titled route for your fourth record sends a strong message – here is a band that is confident in what they’ve produced. And it was wholly justified because The Charlatans is their best album, or if that is too bold a statement, it is at least my favourite. Melody Maker ranked it as 17th in its albums of the year for 1995 which seems criminally low to me. It kicks off with Nine Acre Court, a heavy instrumental blast (aside from the repeated refrain of NaNaNaNa). The indie-dance crossover of the mid to late 90s was in full flow with Burgess having already appeared on the Chemical Brothers’ Life Is Sweet by this point. The Brothers returned the favour remixing this opener as the renamed Nine Acre Dust for the B-side of Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over. Much as I love the original, the remixed version just edges it, partly because there is more of it, which can only be a good thing. Either way the track is a reminder that The Charlatans have built up a good collection of instrumental tracks over the years (again no offence to Tim).

In putting this list together, I always knew that narrowing down my choices from that fourth album was going to be difficult. All the singles from it are belters (Crashin’ In, the double A-side of Just Lookin’ and Bullet Comes, Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over) but relistening to it with as near to fresh ears as possible I was blown away anew by Feeling Holy. It continues the groove started by Nine Acre Court and combined they are as good a start to an album as any I can think of.

The fifth album should have been another moment of triumph for a band on top form, but tragedy struck with keyboardist Rob Collins being killed in a road accident midway through recording. I remember hearing the news from Steve Lamacq on Radio 1, my 90s indie version of my mum knowing where she was when Elvis died. What is released is still a brilliant record, but it is impossible to separate the songs on Tellin’ Stories from the band’s heartbreak even though some of it was recorded before. It is the title track from it that I’m choosing, a song that for years still stirred up such feelings of melancholy in me that I couldn’t listen to it for fear of crying – so much so that I’d head for the loo at Charlatans’ gigs when it started up to avoid the risk.

Losing a lynchpin member could have been the end of The Charlatans, but they didn’t quit. Forever kicks off their first full record without Collins, an epic nine minutes of swagger and swooning. It sets out to make the statement that they are very much sticking around. It also contains the phrase ‘Us and Us Only’ which gave the album its name and I’m always favourably inclined to songs that do that.

As you would expect over such a long career and given the enforced line-up change, their sound has evolved. I’m probably less enamoured with their dub and reggae-tinged experiments and the forays in falsetto than others might be but I do like the dirty sleazy sound on You’re So Pretty – We’re So Pretty from seventh album Wonderland that suggests a dark underside to the usually very likeable lads.

The Charlatans have gone on to record a total of 13 studio albums plus sundry compilations and live albums. Obviously with just one choice remaining, I’m not going to do justice to the later six albums. It is fair to say none of them grabbed me as much as the earlier records but this is no doubt as much to do with my hitting a general period of musical apathy in the early 2000s as it says about the music. Following the release of 11th album Who We Touch, drummer Jon Brookes was diagnosed with a brain tumour and sadly died in 2013. So, with 2012’s Modern Nature, once again we have the band emerging from the ashes of loss. But it is a brilliant return and no more so than on its second single So Oh. It’s a delicate shimmering song, infused with images of soft sunshine, light and the promise of summer. Happy and hopeful but a little wistful. This song makes me glad that The Charlatans kept going at those forks in the road when they could so easily have quit.

 

 

The Charlatans photo 1

 

THE CHARLATANS ANNOUNCE 30TH ANNIVERSARY VINYL BOX SET & BEST OF TOUR 2021

The Charlatans official website

The Charlatans on Twitter

The Charlatans facebook

Tim Burgess website

Tim’s Twitter Listening Party

The Charlatans biography (AllMusic)

Rob Collins (1963–1996)

Jon Brookes (1968-2013)

Having written about topics ranging from baby car seats to housing policy, Justine Harvey now mainly writes about theatre buildings for work or her passion for outdoor swimming. Writing about music has made a nice change. She is on Twitter @seatinthestalls and Instagram @justinefharvey

Justine has written for this site on Primal Scream, Wonder Stuff, Richmond Fontaine, Chemical Brothers, Beth Orton, Maxïmo Park.

TopperPost #953

3 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    May 2, 2021

    No argument from me on the choices, but I’m not familiar with the Charlatans. Yet.
    As I go beyond these 10 though, I promise I won’t complain. Thanks for the introduction.

  2. John Hartley
    May 5, 2021

    Really enjoyed this, Justine. I think only three of your top ten would make mine, but that’s a reflection of the quantity of excellent songwriting the band has produced over the years. I wouldn’t argue with any of your choices, though lost track of the band after TS until Modern Nature was released, an album of real awe and wonder!

  3. Marc Fagel
    May 6, 2021

    Nice write-up. The Charlatans UK (as we ugly Americans seem destined to call them forever) are one of those bands I take for granted. I adored the first two albums, and while I have dutifully picked up (and enjoyed) each successive album, I don’t find myself turning to them all that often. I made myself a mix awhile back and seem to get by ok on it, though my song selection looks quite different from yours, so I think I need to revisit it and reassess.

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