Tim Burgess, the indie rock and roller doing what it takes to keep the music real
Tim Burgess has been a stalwart of alternative music since the rise of The Charlatans, springing out of the Madchester scene almost 30 years ago. Whether it’s running his own record label O Genesis, booking band the Tim Peaks Diner across British festivals or writing books, Burgess has alternative music running through his veins and there’s nothing that can slow him down.
Independent Venue Week has been an ongoing fixture in Britain since 2014, each year sees over a 100 venues up and down the country take part, with the likes of Nadine Shah and Frank Turner all becoming ambassadors in previous years. The aim, of course, is to get music fans attending shows at their local venue, paying to see the bands and helping spread awareness of the type of venues that are the bedrock of the British music scene.
The run of dates has taken Burgess—along with his newly formed band Tim Burgess and The Anytime Minutes—to some of Britain’s most loved independent venues. “It’s been great so far,” Burgess exclusively told Far Out Magazine. “It was good to play the 100 Club, I’ve DJ’d there a few times and I’ve seen a lot of bands there over the years. I don’t really stray that much from the early days really, no matter how big the band have got.”
The tour, which has seen The Charlatans man play venues from Leeds’ The Wardrobe to Liverpool’s newly opened Hangar 34: “I’ve done Independent Venue Week a couple of times now, it’s important to keep venues alive,” he said. “Every band has played a small venue in the beginning, y’know whether it’s Blossoms or Coldplay or Madonna, they’ve all started off at very humble beginnings and every person who’s ever been interested in going to a gig has seen a local band, has gone to their local venue and it’s important that it keeps going,” he added with renewed excitement.
Just as Burgess noted, it was only a few years ago that Stockport band Blossoms were plying their trade at these venues, an act who Burgess himself has championed since way back in 2015, back when they played his Tim Peaks Diner at Kendal Calling. Pushing his relationship with Blossoms further, he invited the band to provide support for The Charlatans on tour way before they were scoring number one albums or selling out the 20,000 capacity Edgeley Park in just half an hour.
The floppy-haired front-man delightfully reeled off just some of the huge names that have graced the 150 capacity Tim Peaks stage over the years: “Yeah it’s great, we’ve had Blossoms, Cabbage, loads of people have DJ’d, we had The Libertines, The Vaccines DJ’d there as well as Ian Rankin and Sharon (Horgan).”
A lot of hard work goes in to creating the bill, as Tim explains: “The one at Kendal is like an information centre, it’s a wooden hut where we put bands on, serve coffee over the weekend,” he says with the type of vigour in his speech that is almost contagious. “That’s like the main one really, not to do the other one’s a disservice but that’s where it all started. It’s a year’s work really, I work exclusively with my mate Nick on it who books a lot of the bands, some on my recommendation, some not, he’s got his own mind,” he adds in a spit of laughter as he humbly attempts to spread the rewards. “We just think pretty similar and cover everything from kid’s stuff for the mornings, to stuff that’s on my label O Genesis, which is nice to give them work.”
Arranging a secret set from The Libertines’ in the tiny hut was never going to be straightforward, and most definitely one of the more difficult tasks that the Tim Peaks team have been dealt over the years. Despite that, though, they pulled it off without a hitch as he continually seems to do. “It was a big operation to get them there without being spotted and they wanted to do it, all the security had to do an extra shift but the band just really wanted to do it,” he explained. “They didn’t have to, but they did, and I think that’s what Tim Peaks brings out in people really.”
Constantly doing different projects is possibly the reason why The Charlatans and Burgess’ solo work evolving into more interesting pieces if work as he ages: “It definitely keeps the mind fresh really. It’s nice to playing songs I’d forgotten about. I really enjoyed the one in Liverpool, the venue is like a record, shop, café and there’s like little booths where you can check out records before you buy them and a stage at the end,” he explained again with excitement at the thought of a local, independent music venue trying to achieve something special. “It’s like a community hub and sharing music is what it’s all about really, if you buy a record or get hold of it you want to share it with your mates anyway,” he adds.
As I Was Now, Burgess’ most recent album which was made with Josh Hayward from The Horrors and My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe, was completed all the way back in 2008 but didn’t see the light until last year. “We just didn’t end up putting it out and just moved on to the next thing then Debbie mentioned it last year, dug it out and we then released it for Record Store Day. It’s good, it’s something like an artefact that happened a long time ago and it’s just come out in all its glory, it’s unmixed but sounds great.”
Despite having his fingers in lots of different pies, there’s one pie that’s had a hold on his life for what seems like forever, that being The Charlatans. Their stunning last LP, Different Days, saw the band collaborate with the likes of Anton Newcombe, Paul Weller, Johnny Marr as well as Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan performing back up vocals on the title track. The record was born out of tragedy as they had just lost their, drummer Jon Brookes, to a brain tumour shortly before completion.
“It all came around so quickly after Modern Nature so we didn’t really have much time to think about it, the songs were just written we knew we wanted to work on a new project so just started writing straight away and wrote quite a lot,” he explained and understandably skirting around what is still a raw emotion. “It was a lot of instrumentals and cool things, new songs here and there and we just got really into it. The record didn’t come about in a very nice way but the theme of ‘Different Days’ was us asking as many people as we could get to play on it(laughs) like me ringing them up saying will you come play? Sharon had never sung before I just figured if she does what she does then she can sing easily.”
Last year the legendary group returned to their ‘spiritual home’ of Northwich for the first time in over 20 years, a ten-day takeover of the market town which included four gigs by the hometown heroes, a vinyl record fair and even had former Manchester United footballer Gary Neville in conversation with iconic Manchester DJ Dave Haslam.
The 51-year old spoke with pride and passion about the whole experience and it was clear, just by speaking to Burgess, that this is what it was all about for him. Community spirit, local people out discussing and debating: “Yeah it really brought it back home, I think y’know cos we did such a good job. It wasn’t like we ignored Northwich, you just keep going don’t you and then you look back occasionally and think I need to do something about that. We just put a lot of effort into our spiritual hometown. Me and Nick did most of it to be honest, he went to the meetings and I did a lot of talking.”
Given his passion when discussing the event, I couldn’t resist asking if there are plans to bring it back following its success: “Definitely, but not this year,” he said. “Although, Doherty’s playing so we’ve got him. He’s playing at the Old Plaza which is an amazing building, which was derelict really and we managed to get it ready to have a record fair there at North by Northwich and now they’ve got it ready for Pete Doherty to play. One of my mates from Northwich lives in Coventry and text me today saying there’s more action in Northwich now then there is in Coventry.”
The legacy from the event is still going strong as Tim added:
“It’s done a lot for the community there, like there is a couple of venues
there and there is people working hard to bring people from Northwich so it’s
good to be able to give them a helping hand as well. People like Mark Radcliffe
were there, Teenage Fanclub came down, young bands like Average Sex came down
from London and all the local bands from Northwich got a gig. It’s something to
look to for them at people from there who’ve done good and base something on.”
Given the mountain of projects that Burgess has been beavering away on, you’d be forgiven for think that he might plan on taking some downtime following the tour… but you’d be wrong in that assumption. Following our chat, Burgess sent off a draft of his third book which he says, quite simply, is about “lyrics” before adding “If records were the kickoff point for Tim Book Two, it’s lyrics that are the jump-off point for this one but it’s just a starting point for telling stories.”
Tim Burgess is not only a prolific artist, a free-flowing musician or an author with a endless stream of stories to tell. Tim Burgess is not only a record label owner with a drive to provide the big break, or a promoter who provides those live shows with a surprise element. No, Tim Burgess is a campaigner of the local music industry. He’s the person with an unrelenting desire to keep your local venue running and he’s the person willing to put himself on the line to make it happen.
Tim Burgess is the indie rock and roll icon trying to keep the music real.