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The Charlatans - The Great Pretenders

Author: Carlisle Rogers
Monday, November 3, 2008

The Charlatans are one of those British bands that, much like Ocean Colour Scene, have been making records for over a decade (and lots of them, at that) and scaling the same heights as much bigger acts in their homeland, but remained rather elusive in Australia. That’s all about to change, however, as the Midlands rock five-piece tour down under for the first time. 3D’s Carlisle Rogers speaks to guitarist Mark Collins.

The Charlatans have been crafting their version of Midlands indie rock since 1990. The fact that, 18 years later, they have just released their tenth album, You Cross My Path, is impressive. The fact that it hit number two on the British indie chart is astounding, but throw in the fact that it’s good, and relevant, and it’s tempting to call it dumb luck. Bands usually aren’t good enough to come up with good ideas for that long.

People usually have an attention span these days, when it comes to bands, of about three weeks, until the radio station starts playing something else. For their fans to have held on for long enough to have raised new fans themselves, the Charlatans are doing something right.

“We’ve been keeping ourselves busy with an album every two years,” says Mark Collins, who has been with the band since 1991. “That’s what keep us going, the desire to make a different sounding record each time and letting people hear new influences within the band. When it comes to writing, it varies and depends on who had the initial idea. We all get stuck with the writing, but I guess I write the majority of the guitar lines, but sometimes Tony the keyboard player might have a guitar line or I might have a bass line or a drum line, but it all seems to come together at the end of the day. We’re not particularly precious with who comes up with the idea, if it’s a good idea, it’s a good idea. No one says ‘I’m not playing that because I didn’t think of it,’ we’re cool with that.”

Collins says You Cross My Path began with an apartment in Los Angeles.

Tony Rogers, the keyboardist, and I hired an apartment in Los Angeles and we spent a month out there with Tim Burgess getting our ideas together. We went off and did the recording in Ireland and we’ve got our own studio in England as well. We mixed it all in London. Moving things around keeps us on our toes. It’s good to get out and about and we were doing gigs in between just to keep ourselves fresh. If you’re in one place for more than a month, you start getting cabin fever. It’s good to pack up and move somewhere else.

“I think the lyrics have a lot to do with Tim venting some anger at some people in our past that we’ve managed to get rid of. I think it’s actually a quite positive record, even though people get both barrels from Tim. We try not to and we always try to think of what’s coming up next. We haven’t really had that much time to get reflective. If we’ve done a record, we concentrated on the recording and we’re not in the full-on playing live mode at the moment. We’re getting into places we’ve never been in before.”

Initially giving the album away, Collins says the band was trying to embrace the new music economy, which assumes that recorded music is nothing more than a band’s marketing budget for live shows.

“When we started recording, we found ourselves in a position where we’d run out of contract with our old label,” he says. “They offered us a new deal, but we didn’t like the sound of the new deal. We had our own studio and we thought we could finance it ourselves to just keep it indie. By doing it that way, without having major label pressure, we could release it whichever way we wanted. We hooked up with a radio station in the UK called Xfm and we organised a deal through them to play us 20 times a day and give people an opportunity to download the songs through the website. We could do it for free with the idea being that we could get into a million iPods in the space of a month rather than have it go through the usual formats. Initially, that was our idea, to get out to people as quickly as possible and by doing it that way, more people would hear about it and want to see us play live.

“It’s all changed and we wanted to be at the front of it. I think there are going to be a lot of bands, not doing it exactly the same, but coming up with their version of what we’ve done.”

So this year, the Charlatans will be heading to Australia for the first time to ply their live trade, and push the new album.

“It has taken us a long time to hook up with the right contacts and the right places we want to go to,” Collins admits. “We never had anyone in our corner in places like South America, but now we’ve got people who are putting on shows for us. The band will be flying in from various parts, Tim will be coming in from America, a few of us from the UK and Ireland, but our touring party we keep quite small. It’s basically [the] band, a few sound people and our manager. It’s not like a Rolling Stones set-up where there are 15 busloads of people – we keep it tight.”

WHO: The Charlatans
WHAT: Play The Forum / You Cross My Path through Cooking Vinyl / Shock
WHEN: Friday 14 November / Out now