Tragically Hip: Black Kids Live @Ancienne Belgique 11/11/2008

Black Kids Live @ AB Club, Brussels

Black Kids Live @ AB Club, Brussels

If there is any doubt which period is being celebrated at Black Kids first show in Brussels, one only has to look around at the smattering of 30-somethings nodding along to 80’s hits by the likes of Cyndi Lauper before the band take to the stage. But while the day-glo styling, Flock of Seagulls haircuts and self-conscious dancing hints at the decade that taste forgot, Black Kids can’t, for the most part, be mistaken for a nostalgia act.
Firstly, these slightly awkward looking Floridians were barely out of short pants before the 80s were over. Secondly, despite their Human League harmonies, Black Kids sound very ‘now’. (Whether that’s a good thing or not is another discussion). They seem to be the latest of a clutch of bands to make a splash by combining guitar-driven edginess with sometimes naff-sounding party synths. It works well on many of the tunes they lavish on the compact and tragically hip crowd at the AB Club. There’s enough post-punk in songs like I’ve Underestimated My Charm (Again) and Love Me Already to suggest the Kids didn’t grow up with just a collection of New Romantic albums while I’m Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend to Dance is the dance cross-over hit The Cure have been looking for since 1987.

But then there are songs like Look at Me When I Rock Wichoo and Hurricane Jane which dig up the corpses of the more indulgent aspects of the 80s and force them to dance without a hint of post-modern irony. There are moments when the music, much like Black Kids themselves, appears not to have been given time to fully grow up before being thrust into the limelight. On tonight’s evidence, while Black Kids go down very well with Converted from the Blogosphere, a certain amount of maturity may be needed before the real world is theirs for the taking.

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Belgium’s Movers, Shakers, Svengalis & Kingmakers (2008)

backstage_500x375For many outside of Belgium, the revelation that this small European kingdom of 10.5 million people has anything resembling a music industry may come as something of a surprise. The discovery that it is actually a fountain of creativity and talent will probably add shock to that. Incomprehensible as it may seem, even a large section of Belgian society is unaware of the burgeoning musical movement its little nation plays unwitting host to. All of which makes the movers, shakers, Svengalis and kingmakers behind the scenes an even more shadowy group.

 These are the people who push the buttons and pull the strings; who cadge, cajole and convince the other players in the game to give their band a chance or to put a name out into the Belgian ether. They are the hidden faces of the scene, toiling behind the stardom not only against international indifference but often opposition from within their own borders. They share a common goal and yet competition between them is sometimes fierce.

As befitting a covert centre of operations, the offices of 62TV Records is an unassuming terraced house in a quiet back street of Anderlecht. Without being privy to its existence, one would walk past in ignorance, blissfully unaware that the rise of Belgian legends dEUS and current pulse raisers Girls in Hawaii was masterminded behind its shabby façade. Inside, 62TV shares space and staff with distributing and producing powerhouse Bang!, forming a collaboration which has become one of the most influential in Belgian music.

Wherever you go and whoever you speak to in the Belgian music industry, the name of Pierre van Braekel will eventually crop up. The boss of 62TV and founder of the Nada booking agency has been a major player for the past eleven years. Alongside co-founder Philippe Decoster, van Braekel has been instrumental in sculpting the Belgian musical landscape.

“Philippe and I started off booking bands in Belgium but soon found that when these bands got big, they went off and started working with larger companies,” he says. “It didn’t take us long to realise that something was wrong so we started up a management and recording business and joined with Bang to create a complete record company.”

Van Braekel, a former musician and communications graduate, delved into his past and dug up a few names which he hoped would help get his fledgling empire off the ground. “At university, I interviewed a few up-and-coming young guys in the business as part of my thesis,” he recalls. “When we started out here I looked them up and people like Thierry Coljon at Le Soir were then making their mark.”

Coljon, now Le Soir’s music editor and chief critic, acknowledges the impact of contacts made in those early days. “The whole galaxy of Bang! has definitely grown to play a huge role in the Belgian music industry alongside Le Soir,” he said. “Together they play an important role in the start-up phase of new artists in much the same way as Pure FM does on the radio and Le Botanique and the other cultural centres do on the live scene.”

While Coljon and others played their part in the early rise of 62TV/Bang!, one chance encounter changed things more than any other, not just for the company but the whole of the Belgian music scene.

“We’d been putting on our bands in Brussels for a while when I met a guy from Le Botanique at a gig,” van Braekel remembers. “It was ten, fifteen years ago and at the time Le Botanique was just a chanson venue. We got talking and he offered us a space. They provided the PA and the lights and we booked the bands. That’s how Le Botanique became a rock venue and how we brought bigger and bigger bands to Brussels.”

The man whose chance encounter with van Braekel led to the establishment of one of the premier rock venues in Belgium and helped launch one of its most successful independent labels was Paul-Henri Wauters.

“When we started 20 years ago, we relied very much on the local energy and the people creating that. I think this is normal when you establish something,” Le Botanique’s artistic director says. “You gather people around you who are dynamic and want to be part of this new thing. You build it up together over a number of years and it is a process that never ends. The people and the situation are ever-changing but these foundations you build remain.”

Wauters believes that Brussels in particular is unique in terms of networks due to the cultural diversity in Belgium and the many international communities which thrive in the crossroads of Europe. Most important, he says, is the connection between Le Botanique, the cultural centre of the French-speaking community in the capital, and the Ancienne Belgique, its Flemish counterpart.

“We work together and we have the same mission: to give local bands a chance to get recognised on the international scene,” Wauters explains. “Once a year we host a small Belgian festival and we decide on that together. Other times during the year we have the situation where we have a band which can attract a good audience and we put them on at the AB one day and then the next they’re on here at Le Botanique and we make an integrated promotion for that. These events can only be achieved through cooperation. We have much more to share than to fight against.”

Le Botanique’s innovative collaboration with the Ancienne Belgique is central to a new and stable support network between the capital’s venues. But it wasn’t always that way.

“About ten years ago, the atmosphere in Brussels was very weird,” says Kurt Overbergh, Wauters’ Flemish counterpart at the Ancienne Belgique. “Everyone was very secluded in their own venues and determined to defend their own territory in a very unhealthy way. But in the last five years there has been an increase in very intriguing collaborations between the venues. The set-up with le Botanique would never have been possible a decade ago.”

According to Overbergh, the network built up between the venues could not operate if not for the links they have built up with the managers and booking agencies. “There is a real network with the venues in Brussels and throughout Belgium right now. But to organise anything with the bands you need the community of managers, tour managers and agencies. Working together in a network makes you stronger. We have a common goal to make the cultural landscape of Belgium a better place. It’s a very beautiful time for cooperation.”

Bernard Moisse has a different, less utopian view of the scene. A promoter with ten years of experience working with Belgian and international acts under his belt, Moisse has a more pragmatic outlook.

“I have regular contact with Le Soir, (Belgian magazine) Télémoustique, with Bang, with lots of labels and managers but it is not really a connection,” he says. “It is normal and it is necessary to have contact with these people when you work in the music industry. They are the players and if you want to play too you have to work with them. You don’t have a choice. It’s like family – you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. They are there and you have to be with them. You may not like it all the time but that is how it is.”

Thierry Coljon’s network of industry players has changed over the years but the teams have stayed the same. He still deals mainly with the promotional managers of the record companies who set up interviews with him and provide material for reviews, although most of those he started out with are no longer in the game.

“I’ve been in this business for 25 years, I was the first full time rock critic at Le Soir and all the promo guys I worked with in the 1980’s have since been fired,” he said. “Record companies these days see this job as a young man’s game so I now deal with a lot of fresh faces. Trouble is, some of these guys may be able to speak three languages but a few know absolutely nothing about music.”

Coljon now works in closer contact with the bands in Belgium. “This is a small country and you get to meet the bands more,” he said. “After forming initial links with the artists, I now work more directly with them, but only the Belgian bands as those signed to majors in the UK and US are harder to get in touch with.”

Francois Fabri, manager of up-and-coming bright young things The Vismets, has had many positive experiences working in the multi-layered Belgian music community but while he speaks glowingly of the advantages of networking, Fabri also believes that there are cliques within the wider community which actually oppose collaboration and create barriers.

“There is an established scene and network in Belgium which is archaic and doesn’t like change,” Fabri says. “There are some people in this established circle who criticize new bands openly without justification.

“This is a group of guys from the generation before us who are protecting their status, their acts,” he claims. “But they are eventually going to have to let go. There are so many young managers, bands and promoters coming through, that in five to ten years this old guard are going to have to step aside. You have to give these guys credit because they really pushed Belgian music forward but now they have to make way for a new generation.”

Bernard Moisse agrees. “There is some opposition, yes. Sometimes someone will say, ‘I work with this guy and no other agency’. They have their own people and they have built a relationship and trust with this agency, and that’s cool, but that sometimes stops bands working with another promoter, getting into a venue or getting on a radio show.”

Despite conflicting opinions on the nature of the behind-the-scenes networks, everyone involved says that to stay in the game, you have to play by the rules.

“It can be a lot of fun, but these relationships are business relationships and if you want to work with these people and continue to work with them, you have to be professional,” says Bernard Moisse. “Everybody is important; the musicians, the managers, the venues… Everybody plays a role in making the record or the show and what happens after that. It’s important to have a good relationship with everyone.”

“It is a small country, everyone knows each other and word of your approach spreads quickly,” adds Vismets manager Fabri. “If you’re reliable, people hear and then want to work with you. Promoters and venues respond to the fact that this project is good, this manager and this band are reliable and they’ll turn up and pay the bills. If you can get into the circle you will only stay there and earn respect by being respectful.”

The Complex Mind of Dan Klein: Vismets (2008)

danyHere’s a reminder for your diaries. Check out the schedule for Wembley Stadium’s summer concerts in 2013. If Dan Klein has his way, The Vismets will be rocking the UK’s largest venue with their psychedelic brand of electro-rock in the grandiose culmination of the Brussels trio’s five-year plan. “It’s a big target and an arrogant statement but if you don’t want that level for your band, then what’s the point?” Considering The Vismets have only been around for eight months, have only four recorded tracks available to fans and are currently unsigned to any label, one could be excused for dismissing this quote from the band’s singer and leader as typically naïve wannabe rock bluster. But spend any time in his company and it becomes obvious that Klein is an old musical soul in a 28-year old’s body and has been a rock star in the making since the age of six. Such lofty pretensions, one feels, have been given a lot of thought and that the band’s current tag of Brussels’ bright young hopes has not been bestowed lightly.

Klein began putting together a master plan for world domination in a Paris loft two years ago while studying drama in the French capital. After turning his back on acting, he joined his brother Anthony’s band, Talkshop, as a guitarist and tasted fleeting fame after the band won the 2006 Verdur Rock talent competition. While that experiment failed to ride the wave that success created due to artistic differences, Klein had seen the seeds of potential stardom sewn and vowed to carry on with his music. “Here I was, back from Paris after five years of building something, and suddenly I had nothing. But I had started the Vismets project on MySpace with some demos before Talkshop so I thought, hey, let’s do this now.”

After a six-month search for band members, the Vismets came out of the virtual world into reality with Klein as guitarist and vocalist, his brother on guitar and keyboards and drummer Nicolas Collaer completing the three-piece. It was a difficult birth. “At the start, it wasn’t good,” Klein says. “I wanted the rock’n’roll life, and I was living the rock’n’roll life…but there wasn’t a lot of music happening…” That all changed when a local promoter heard some of the Vismets’ demos and offered to represent them. “I got a call from Bernard (Moisse at Progress Booking) and he said, you have a gig in six weeks. I thought it was too soon and said no.” After a rapid re-think, the band got their act together and in just over a month, the Vismets were celebrating a triumphant debut gig as support to fellow Brussels band Montevideo at Le Botanique.

Since that show in October last year, the clamour for Vismets at home and abroad has increased with a burgeoning following in France swelling the numbers of the faithful in Belgium. “We call it a buzz,” says Klein. “We have a relatively small CV of live shows behind us but word travels fast. It’s down to communication as much as anything else. People like what they see and say so.”

Vismets have just finished an extensive three-band club tour of Belgium and are preparing for a busy schedule in June before a massive home town gig as part of the La Nuit du Soir line-up at Cirque Royale in September which should see the band’s buzz increase further. In between these shows, there is the small matter of finishing the songs which will form the debut album. It should be an eclectic selection. Equal parts raging egoist, vulnerable artist and control freak, Klein channels the spirits of like-minded mavericks such as Syd Barrett, Jim Morrison and Brian Wilson into his songs and adds his own contemporary twist, something he calls a baroque electro-rock frenzy. “You have to make the music of your time,” he says. “Artists are like historians, and our music should say something about the era we live in.”

Time will tell if the Vismets succeed in capturing the zeitgeist and or indeed if they reach the end of their five-year plan as stadium rock gods. But for now, rest assured that there is something special brewing in Brussels and in the complex mind of Dan Klein.

From a Vantage Point: dEUS (2007)

deusThe derelict builders’ yard and precarious stairs which lead to a former artist’s loft in a tatty area of downtown Antwerp belie the fact that you have just entered the kingdom of Belgium’s premier rock act. At the summit of the vertigo inducing climb, however, you’re treated to a panoramic view of the Flemish capital’s distant spires and welcomed into the homely nerve centre of the dEUS family and enterprise.

The Vantage Point studio, built during the band’s most recent hiatus, is not only dEUS HQ but also the womb in which the band’s latest baby has been conceived. The first album since 2005’s Pocket Revolution is due on April 18 and drummer Stéphane Misseghers can’t wait to proudly announce its arrival to the world.

 “We’ve been working on the new album for the past year and we think we’ve made a good one,” the drummer says. “You’ll notice a different sound from the other songs, it’s a good vibe, but it’s not like the songs are radically different. There won’t be that big a difference between the old and new songs on the tour. We’ll mix them up and we’re sure it’ll work. We are proud of this record and we want to scream it from the rooftops and bring it to as many people as possible.”

After the mammoth 160-show Pocket Revolution tour ended in October 2006, dEUS have hardly been sunning themselves on exotic beaches. “We’ve been working pretty hard since that tour ended,” says Misseghers. “We’ve worked on other projects, our singer made a film, we built up our own studio…We haven’t been sitting around.”

Judging by the studio which is now their base and the crafted nature of the songs on new album Vantage Point, one can tell the band has been busy. “We’ve built up our own studio in the time between albums,” Misseghers says proudly. “It’s also called Vantage Point but there is no connection with the album title. It’s not like the next album will be called Vantage Point 2 just because we record it here as well. Vantage Point as a name for the studio works for us because this is our base, where we look out onto the world.”

The world dEUS looks out on now could have changed irrevocably in the time they’ve been away. Since the band’s first incarnation in 1989, many musical movements and trends have come and gone. But one of the band’s secrets to survival has always been to follow their own way and never conform or compromise, even when their eclectic tastes have created experimental soundscapes which have not gone down well with everyone.

“The fact that our sound changes a little from record to record is due to the fact that the line-up has changed with almost every album,” Misseghers says. “This album is the third with the same band and that’s unusual for us. And that gives it a stable and cohesive feel. It’s more straight forward and the songs are tighter. Half the songs, including Slow and The Architect, have been written by the band and they came out of jam sessions, the others were written by Tommy (Barman), the band’s mastermind and brain.”

Eighteen months may have passed since they last played live, but the expectation surrounding the new album and tour remains huge. Venues have been sold out in minutes across Belgium but Misseghers is quick to tone down talk of a revival. “In Benelux, the band’s popularity has always been at a crazy level,” he says. “We don’t need to make a big statement saying ‘hey, we’re back’ because we have always been there and the fan base has always been there.”

The new album also signals a new change in approach to work. At various points in the band’s almost 20 years of existence, long breaks between records and huge tours have slowed their momentum. This is all about to change.

“The new tour won’t be as harsh as the last one,” Misseghers says. “We’re going to start off with 20 shows before the summer, then we’re going to do some festivals and in the end of the year we’re going to do another tour with bigger venues. In between that, when we have a couple of months off, we’ll write another record. We want it to roll a bit more, keep the releases closer. You start to feel it when you haven’t played for a year and a half, it’s hard. So this time, we’re going for a smooth start and then build it up and by the end of next year, hopefully, we’ll have a new record.”

Back from the Brink: Travis (2008)

travis_090825_006_small_proIt’s the summer of 1999. The flame of Britpop which flared so brightly and arrogantly has long been extinguished; leaving the majority of its former leaders burnt out and charred. Rising out of the ashes, Travis take to the stage at the Glastonbury Festival and play Why Does it Always Rain on Me from their album The Man Who. The heavens duly open along with the floodgates of fame and success. The deluge of plaudits and accolades which follows sweeps them along on a wave of popularity, leading to them being crowned the Biggest Band in Britain™. Then, with the stadiums of the world at their mercy, Travis come crashing down.

 “It’s really hard not to implode and unravel when fame like that hits you because you’re really stretched very thinly,” says guitarist Andy Dunlop. “We were trying to play these massive UK gigs while attempting to break the US and keep the momentum going in Europe all at the same time. It kind of all caught up with us. After all the hype and the hysteria, we just had to put the brakes on and disappear for a while. When we came back, we had to want it. Luckily, we did.”

When the Scottish four-piece resurfaced, the musical landscape was very different. Melodic, melancholic stadium rock was now de rigueur and bands like Coldplay and Starsailor had taken up the baton. Travis responded with The Invisible Band, an album reflecting the group’s belief that the music should always be more important than the image.

“With The Invisible Band, it was all about the reaction to that mad fame,” Dunlop says. “We wanted the music to be out there and for it to be less about this image of being a big band. That whole crazy period taught us that fame is cheap and it’s not worth chasing. So that album was all about our reaction to hollow fame.”

Perversely, the album brought more adulation and lead to the more organic, moody and political sounds of 12 Memories, an album which exposed Travis to what could be described as their first media backlash.

“After 12 Memories, which was an extremely cathartic album, we were a bit bruised by the negative response to that,” Dunlop admits. “We’d put ourselves out there and got shot down to a certain extent. But with the follow-up, The Boy with No Name, we started to rebuild and stretch ourselves. We tried a lot of different things to try and find out who we were at that point. We rediscovered our self confidence through that whole experience.”

The band’s rediscovered confidence is evident throughout their new album, Ode to J. Smith. The first not to be based on personal experiences, Ode to J. Smith features a series of characters which appear throughout the last day of protagonist J. Smith’s life. It’s typical Travis in many ways, with delicate harmonies and hooks, but there is an unsettling, brooding darkness throughout. The combination has led to many critics calling it the band’s best album ever.

“The new album’s written from a totally different perspective and angle from the others,” Dunlop explains. “It’s the first not to have that autobiographical theme to it. It’s more novelistic and thematic with its cast of characters and its journey.

“We really enjoyed making this record and I for one love listening to it,” he adds. “As a whole piece of work, it’s our most complete record since The Man Who and I’m really proud of how it works. It’s a collection of songs which tells the story of the central character, J. Smith’s last day of life. He dies, goes to heaven and is then turned away, ending up in hell. It poses a lot of questions, like why he didn’t get into heaven and why hell turns out to be enough for him. Ultimately, it’s about redemption.”

Paul Weller’s Brand New Start (2008)

weller21Most people when they reach the big five-oh start thinking about taking things a little easier. The majority of their working life is behind them and, if they’re lucky, they find themselves established in a comfort zone within a profession they are both happy and satisfied with. But, as anyone who has followed his career will know, Paul Weller is not “most people”.

 

This is, after all, the man who broke up The Jam at the height of its power and influence, choosing to leave behind the generational fury of one of Britain’s most successful bands for the sophisticated, soulful political comment of The Style Council. This is the man who returned from years of exile to help steer British music into a new era of song-driven dominance.

 

Back in the days of “speed and slow time Mondays”, few could have imagined that the angular and angry young Weller would still be lording it over the British musical landscape at the age of 50. But while some of his contemporaries lived fast, died young or aged disgracefully, Weller has survived both the vagaries of fashion and the rock‘n’roll lifestyle to come out on top as one of Britain’s most respected and influential musicians.

 

“I care about what I do,” Weller tells The Bulletin. “I don’t go throwing any old music out into the air. Additionally, I’ve never conformed to what people expected from me and I’ve always really done what I’ve wanted. I’m not out to conquer the world anymore – I’ve done all that – and I don’t feel any of that pressure. One of the benefits of getting older is that you’ve earned the right to do what you want to do. That’s been the most rewarding aspect of recent years, that people have really responded to the new directions I’ve taken.”

 

Weller has always been seen as somewhat of a maverick by an industry which has at times taken umbrage at his disregard for its obsession with sales figures, marketing campaigns and fabricated images. As a result, things have not always gone smoothly and Weller has at times found himself without label support. This, however, hasn’t stopped him from making some of his best music, sometimes on short-term contracts, sometimes on no contract at all. But Weller admits he’s increasingly becoming one of a rare breed.

 

“Young bands these days have it much harder,” he says. “There’s a lot of pressure to have a Top 20 or Top Ten hit and it’s becoming more difficult to do that without industry support. There’s no way that I could have been so indulgent at times if I hadn’t been in control of what I was doing. That’s a kind of reward for surviving so long in this business…something many kids in music today won’t get the chance to do.”

 

Just as swapping The Jam’s sharp suits and French crops for cycling shorts and frosted tips was considered a radical – and risky – change in direction back in 1982, Weller has again confounded critics who had labeled him a stodgy rocker stuck in his ways with his current album, 22 Dreams. The album ebbs and flows between quieter moments of subtle blues and pastoral folk, and experimental dabblings in psychedelia and electronica. Weller seems reborn as he weaves a rich tapestry of styles with a rediscovered confident swagger. From the first song to the last, the message is clear: Weller is back to taking risks – and loving every minute of it.

 

“I was just really conscious of trying something different on this record,” he says. “I wanted to challenge not only myself but the audience as well. I was just digging deeper to see what was in me. There’s loads of styles on 22 Dreams which I’ve never tried before and that really excited me because sometimes you think you’ve learnt all there is to learn and played all there is to play and then you can turn a corner and find a whole new world. That’s really inspiring.”

 

Weller also credits his co-producing team and the musicians who guest on 22 Dreams with helping to stoke the coals of his enthusiasm and for pointing him in new directions. “This album isn’t all about me, and it wasn’t all on my shoulders,” he says. “We had a great team of producers and some great musicians on this record, with guests like Noel (Gallagher), Gem (Archer, from Oasis) and Graham Coxon. Each of them brings something different to the sound and their ideas just lead you onto unknown paths. Having everyone sparking off each other made aspects of the record really spontaneous. Most of time, we just followed it where it was leading.”

 

With a new collection of songs, the ever-restless Weller is back on the road, bringing 22 Dreams to Brussels and the rest of Europe throughout October and November. So, with a possibly career-defining album in the can and yet another well-attended tour under his belt, will Paul Weller do the honourable thing and reach for his pipe and slippers? Not likely.

 

“I’ve got the rest of my life to take it easy,” he says. “Life goes by so quickly. You should try and do as much as you can. I’m still loving it and I’m still passionate about what I do. I’m fired up by this record and can’t wait to make the next one. This is a springboard to the future.”

Soul Survivors: The Charlatans (2008)

charlatansThe Charlatans are rock. They said so themselves in the now legendary press release which followed the tragic death of original keyboardist Rob Collins in 1996. That statement, which showed a resolve to continue in the face of such loss, remains true to this day. Few ordinary bands could experience the trials and tribulations of the Charlatans and still be here to tell the tale. In the face of adversity and changing fashions, they have remained solid. Rock solid.

 It seemed as though the Charlatans were up against it from the start. Their original sound found few takers in the music business and their 1989 debut single Indian Rope was only released after their manager scrapped enough cash together to get it recorded independently. But then the “Madchester” scene exploded and the Charlatans suddenly found themselves in the right place at the right time with the right tunes. Six months later and debut album Some Friendly was number one in the UK charts and the single The Only One I Know was a top ten hit. Suddenly they were at the forefront of a youth explosion alongside the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. 

It didn’t last long. The Charlatans jumped the Madchester ship as it was sinking and as a reaction to the latest flux in musical trends released the experimental but critically mauled second album Between 10th and 11th. American grunge flooded the UK market and the band found themselves on the fringes, already a relic despite their tender years. On top of all this, guitarist Jon Baker quit the band, bassist Martin Blunt was hospitalised with clinical depression and Rob Collins spent four months in prison for his involvement in an armed robbery. 

“Most people I think wanted a continuation of Some Friendly and the following singles,” said singer Tim Burgess. “Although for others, the Weirdo single and the whole of Between 10th and 11th blew a lot of people’s minds. I guess being a Charlatans fan you have to be prepared for random changes because firstly we get bored with the same thing and secondly I have a very broad understanding of music. Whatever style we stumble upon, we tend to master eventually.” 

Their third album, recorded against all the odds considering, saw the band return to commercial success before their fourth in 1995 cemented their position as indie rock stalwarts, returning to prominence as unlikely founding fathers of the burgeoning Britpop scene. Back on top, it was only natural that things would get worse for the Charlatans and they did. During the recording of fifth album Tellin’ Stories, Rob Collins was killed in a car accident, throwing the band into a maelstrom of grief and soul searching. 

Typically, even this would not be enough to break the band. After agreeing to play on, Tellin’ Stories gave them their biggest hits and elevated them to rock royalty status. “Music and what we believe in keeps us strong,” said Burgess in reference to the band’s rollercoaster career of high highs and deep lows. “We would die for what we do. We work hard for it 24/7.”

Unshackled from their Madchester roots, the Charlatans have since experimented with different sounds, releasing the country rock-tinged Us and Us Only in 1999, the acclaimed soul-funk Wonderland album two years later and last year’s reggae-dub influenced Simpatico.

 “I have records at home with the Dub Allstars doing Bob Dylan covers and reggae trio the Heptones doing Curtis Mayfield songs plus all the compilations of Country Got Soul on Casual records,” said Burgess. “People play what they love. Our rhythm section can be like Booker T or The Meters when they get funky. But experimenting with direction isn’t new to us. Don’t forget that when The Only One I Know came out we were called psychedelic and Between 10th and 11th was called avant garde.”

No longer wiry youths with bowl haircuts and life-threatening flares, the Charlatans are now the elder statesmen of the British alternative rock scene with the new wave of young underground stars lining up to pay homage. “I know The Klaxons and The Horrors refer to me as a role model,” said Burgess. But doesn’t it feel strange to be playing those early hits to kids who weren’t alive when they first came out? “It doesn’t feel weird playing The Only One I Know to 17-year olds because I think 17-year olds can still relate to us,” he added. “And besides, the song is ageless.”

The Charlatans may have suffered more than most on their journey but their spirit remains undimmed. A new album is in the pipeline as well as a European tour which will see them play their most intimate venues in years, such as Brussels VK Club. “I think it will be fun, romantic and fresh,” said Burgess of the low key tour. “We have played in many different situations and hung out with many interesting people but we have always been underground heroes. I think there is a really good vibe with the Charlatans and I think those who come will feel the passion and admire the beauty.”