Wednesday, October 9, 2019


'Charlatans UK', that is, one of those raggle taggle of bands having to append their country of origin to their name, at least in the states, to differentiate themselves from some earlier same-name who could sue. Thus we also have the 'UK Squeeze', at least initially, 'The Mission UK', 'The English Beat' and 'London Suede'. Strangely not ever in reverse, with no Skid Row USA or Outlaws USA, to differentiate from their british forbears, let alone the nonsense of prime 60s psychedelicists 'Nirvana' having to add UK when some Seattle upstarts, previously named 'Fecal Matter', stole their name decades later.....

Weirdo/Between 10th and 11th; 1992

Hey ho, rant over, and as good a way to start this piece as any, by commenting on that strangeness. But, you know these guys anyway, they got to a Billboard number 1 with this very song. OK, it was one of the Billboard subsets, Best Modern Rock, lasting in that spot for a full week in 1992. Modern rock doesn't seem such a bad title, as more accurate definitions struggled. Lumped in with Madchesteror Baggy even, in the UK, they were neither from Manchester nor particularly comparable with those that were, the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays, not least in the emphasis on a driving hammond organ led sound and a distinct northern soul and mod influence. I think it this, for then, retro sound that caught my ears, largely unenamoured by the rest of the pack. From their second album, Between 10th and 11th, itself named after the the venue they played their first US gig, perhaps suggesting this was where they were setting their sights. (The venue? New York's Marquee, or as we call it in this country, the Marquee US.) Sadly the momentum was lost somewhat when the keyboard player, Rob Collins, was arrested and imprisoned for his involvement in an armed robbery, arguably a foolish move when on the cusp of breaking america. Stories vary.

One to Another/Tellin' Stories; 1996

However, he was still there for their next three records, for even if US sales were next to no more, they were gradually building up ever a bigger name at home. The fifth record, Tellin' Stories, went platinum, arguably bolstered by the injection of some dance/electronica tropes courtesy Tom Rowlands (Chemical Brothers) and Martin Duffy (Primal Scream). The latter had became involved as Collins had only managed half the album, ahead of driving off the road at speed, without his belt belt and with excess alcohol. He died.

A Man Needs To Be Told/Wonderland; 2001

I felt the band were never quite the same again, never as cohesive, becoming more under the influence of the undoubtedly charismatic singer, Tim Burgess, even if, keyboards aside, the guitarist and rhythm section remained largely constants. Album number seven, Wonderland, even tried a change in focus, as Burgess steered a country influence, triggered perhaps by his longstanding Dylan fixations. Guitarist Mark (no relation) Collins even added pedal steel to his repertoire, even if it is Daniel Lanois on the record. Next came a backflip toward dance again, with the appearance of more of Burgess's previously guarded falsetto. Whilst the critics poured admiration on these releases, I personally felt a sense of desperation creeping in, and although their popularity as a live draw remained, sales were receding. Simpatico, number nine, wasn't even given the opportunity of a US release. It actually took a web giveaway to kick things back into gear, although You Cross My Path did get a more formal hard copy release later in the same year, 2008. Much more like it, this was a blunt reminder of who they were and what they were capable of, blending their original sound with a host of bolder ideas, but with a swagger and confidence missing over much interim output.

Oh Vanity/You Cross My Path; 2008

Bad luck returned to their ranks a few years later, their drummer, Jon Brookes, collapsing on stage during 2010, later receiving chemotherapy and surgery for the subsequently diagnosed brain tumour, only playing with the band again briefly ahead of succumbing three years later. Two albums, in 2015 and 2017, have followed, the band playing on, a soulful older statesmanlike hue beginning to appear, if the second of these trades arguably too heavily on the presence of guests, Paul Weller and Johnny Marr. So, what now and what next? Their website shows only they are still sporadically on the road, with no signs yet of any new material, give or take this year's record store day release of old and variations.

Talking In Tones/Modern Nature; 2015

Plastic Machinery/Different Days; 2017

Postscript: I toyed with putting up the lyrics of the featured song, as much as anything to see if I could make it fit my own view that it was the song that provoked one Thom Yorke and his band, Radiohead, to respond with this. Sadly the lyrics couldn't give me that indulgence, I finding it impossible to guage quite what or who the weirdo in question might be, possibly even Burgess himself. But, and without checking to see if the chronology makes it even possible, nice idea, innit!

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