Tim Burgess with special guests Lambchop, 23rd June, Barbican.
The Charlatans were once billed as the world’s longest surviving rock band. This may have been tied up in record company rhetoric and the tragic circumstances that surrounded the making of Tellin’ Stories but there were other reasons for their longevity.
Feeding into the band was a pudding bowl of musical influences. Although their haircuts and swagger cashed in on Madchester, they were essentially outside the city. As Burgess’ autobiography affectionately details (new updated edition out July 4th) they stirred in elements of The Byrds and The Meters from the very beginning. Additional remixes by the fledgling Chemical Brothers created a unique blend.
As the band rose, and Burgess broadened his lyrical palate, bits of Dylan and Gutherie crept into Tellin’ Stories. Then as Burgess expanded his vocal scale there was even a touch of Curtis Mayfield mixed with mid-western slide guitars and occasional gospel choirs joining the congregation on Us And Us Only.
Burgess’ involvement with Lambchop followed after he went to see them at a gig in Manchester then helped lead singer Kurt Wagner load his van. Burgess asked him whether he’d like to work with them to which Wagner replied, “you write the music, I’ll write the lyrics”.
Tonight, Wagner tells us that when he first met Tim he wasn’t quite sure who he was. He’s also distracted by Tim’s hair when he comes on to duet during Lambchop’s set quipping “what happened? when I met him he looked normal you know quite preppy, is it because he’s gone vegetarian?” Wagner’s easy humour is a contrast to his gentle yet lyrically dense tales that have a soporific effect on a warm Sunday evening.
To be fair, Tim’s pudding bowl haircut bears a striking resemblance to his early years, cut when he was writing the chart-topping Weirdo and perhaps the new straw coloured thatch is a nod toward his alt.country roots?
When Lambchop is replaced by Burgess’ band after the interval, the influence is clear and the lush sound, similarly interchangeable. Wagner stood by his word and worked with Burgess on his most recent solo album Oh No I Love You, Tim still reverts to a trademark pimp shuffle when he delivers Wagner’s lyrics and the songs have a bit more bounce to them than a standard Lambchop tale but it’s an authentic take rather than a pale Northern imitation. Or what Tim calls “Mid North-Western”.
Obviously the biggest ripples of recognition are with the key-changed Charlatans songs. Starting with The Only One I Know then bringing on a string quartet for White and the already country hued A Man Needs To Be Told is taken to new heights. Wagner partners up for Weirdo and it’s at this point that you release that he is as much an outsider to country as Burgess. As Burgess’ set increases, so do the number of Lambchop members until finally there’s a full ensemble performance of the closest Wagner ever had to a cross over bouncy chart hit, Up With People.
As the recent remix album of Oh No I Love You highlighted, it’s also refreshing to see an artist who won’t settle into a trend and solely chug out the back catalogue. Unlike rock dinosaurs headlining Glastonbury this weekend, Tim Burgess refuses to be stuck in a musical rut or, indeed, framed by a (Jesus) hairdo.