On the face of it you would think it would be extremely difficult for someone to make a bad hair/cardigan combo appear cool. For Tim Burgess it’s like lifting a finger. He could come on the stage wearing a crash helmet and still exude his trademark aura and have the crowd eating from his hand.
Over the years it has seemed to me that the colour of his hair has been very important. The darker the colour the more zen the approach; the more inscrutable the demeanour. Right now in the growing out, blonde mop phase there is much more of the inner Indie kid trying to fight off the 25 years since Some Friendly launched The Charlatans onto the international stage; and much more of the extrovert on show.
A good sprinkling of attendees in the Percy Gee building tonight obviously dated from that time but most are not wearing as well as him (me included!). Not that Tim is quite as cute as he was 25 years ago but there is definitely a suspicion of a painting in an attic somewhere. His band-mates are fighting Father Time as well, but with less success. I suspect that they are on the cusp of having to ditch the Manchester haircuts.
There were loads of kids in too, so age was no barrier to the place being lively. I have been to the o2 Academy venue here previously but never when it was as packed as it was tonight, and this really made for a top atmosphere. I think Tim picked up on it from the off, coaxing more and more cheers from his fans and taking his usual crowd photos on the iPhone, destined for Twitter or Instagram.
He was also following a “Big Saturday Night” theme, half teasing the crowd as if the band’s appearance was the biggest thing in Leicester tonight (and it may well have been), and half applauding them for their fervour. By the time the set had progressed to North Country Boy he was complaining that the night was going too quickly for him, and it did feel a bit like that.
Over the years he has always appeared slightly bemused when trying to talk to the audience; his most successful communication is non-verbal, all gestures and smiles and Tim just being Tim. Tonight was no exception with his tongue-in-cheek description of the “last night of the Midlands tour” falling on deaf ears (the previous night they had been at the Civic in Wolverhampton), or when he recalled the old prog-rock clichÃ©, “we only used to be able to play for forty-five minutes; now we have one song longer than that”. People roll their eyes but love him just the same.
As a band they know how to put a set together. They played seven songs from the new album Modern Nature, but although new and unfamiliar to a lot of the crowd this had no effect on the atmosphere, or their attention. Favourites appeared just at the right time: Tellin’ Stories, One To Another, Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over and How High producing even more leaping about and crowd surfing from the audience.
Of the new stuff Emilie and In The Tall Grass really stood out for me, maybe because they hark back to the feel of the earlier songs, and are marked less with the West Coast vibe that comes with some Charlatans tunes these days. A weirdly rockist version of The Only One I Know was followed by one such tune, Come Home Baby; nice enough but a bit superficial compared to others on the album.
The encore also flew by ending with a splendid Sproston Green and the security kept busy picking the surfing bodies off the edge of the barrier. There was still time for a few more iPhone camera shots and a quick post somewhere (actually this turned out to be Twitter – @thecharlatans if you’re interested), before Tim took his hair, cardi, phone and aura away with him until the next time.
Talking In Tones
North Country Boy
Let The Good Times Be Never Ending
You’re so Pretty, We’re so Pretty
I Need You to Know
One To Another
Lot to Say
Just when You’re Thinkin’ Things Over
In The Tall Grass
The Only One I Know
Come Home Baby
Blackened Blue Eyes
Review: Ian Gelling
Photographs: Stephanie Colledge