Baggy, Madchester, whatever you want to call the movement that was the genesis of the risibly named Britpop phenomenon, the Charlatans have proved themselves to be the last men standing. Many of their contemporaries exploded onto the scene with a blinding supernova flash, only to fade away. The Stone Roses sat out their Silvertone Records deal and decamped to Wales for two years to record Second Coming which ultimately tore them apart. The Happy Mondays went to Barbados to record Yes Please on Factory Record’s dime, only to consume boatloads of crack and come back empty handed – a move that would send the label bankrupt and take down much of the movement.
The Charlatans just plugged away, releasing album after album that not only stood the test of time, but moved with them. That’s not to say the band hasn’t suffered tragedy and trials that threatened to tear them asunder, but they just kept quietly banging out great albums. Time after time.
Despite being known amongst the other bands on the scene as being the biggest cainers of them all, they didn’t attract the excess headlines of their counterparts. Singer Tim Burgess was known for keeping a Pringles tube full of Ecstasy Tablets with him on tour and his autobiography (that shares the name of this album) is a must for readers of rock and roll history. Always known as Manchester band, they were actually from the West Midlands and saw themselves in the throbbing soul traditions of other Black Country groups such as Dexy’s Midnight Runners and The Spencer Davis Group. It was only upon recruiting Salford lad Tim Burgess that the band moved to Northwich – the Cheshire town on the fringes of Manchester that Burgess had settled in.
Three albums later the group suffered a setback when keyboard player, and linchpin of their sound, Rob Collins, got a touch of jail time for being the getaway driver for an armed robbery (and provided comedian Rob Newman a great stand up routine). Just as Britpop had reared its head and the industry firmly placed a crown on it, The Charlatans returned with a brilliant 1995 self titled album that put them back in the public consciousness.
In the summer of ‘96 recording for the self-produced Tellin’ Stories began. From its opening of echoing harmonica and warm-up of a wah-wah pedal, you feel you’re in for a treat and then the weight of No Shoes drops on you. It’s instantly anthemic and feel good. Featuring electronic backing from Tom Rowlands of The Chemical Brothers, its lyrics of “Walking with no shoes, filling my kidney’s up with booze” had the hook to appeal to the ‘Lager, Lager, Shoutin’ Britpop Boys in pubs up and down the nation. They didn’t stop there. Tellin’ Storieshas anthems in spades. North Country Boy, One to Another, and How High were nailed in a single session at Rockfield Studios. Title track Tellin’ Stories is an acoustic driven stomper recorded in later sessions at Mornrow Valley Studios and they are all amongst the finest feel good sing-alongs that the 90s had to offer.
Tragedy struck however on the 22nd of July, just three weeks before The Charlatans were due to play the biggest gig of their lives – supporting Oasis at the legendary Knebworth gig to 250,000 people. Rob Collins died in a car accident driving from a nearby pub to the recording studio. Martin Duffy of Primal Scream stood in to finish the recording of the album.
Not just wall to wall bangers, there’s subtlety on here too. Only Teethin’ is a soulful number that showcases the sweeping Hammond organs of Collins, Area 51 has the feel of a cosmic Northern Soul floor filler, and Get On It reminds us of their Midlands soul boy roots. The album fittingly plays out with the instrumental Rob’s Theme as a tribute to their lost band member. Tellin’ Stories didn’t suffer the sound of bloated beer and cocaine excess that blighted much of the middle 90’s (Be Here Now anyone?) and is an amazing album to blast out loud, drink to in the sun or put through headphones and appreciate the aural subtleties you miss while you’re singing along and channeling your best baggy walk. The Charlatans are never in your face, but always ready to tap you on the shoulder and gently remind you how brilliant they are.
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