Tim Burgess could write the book on record shops. In fact, he already has – The Charlatans frontman authored the deliciously titled Tim Book Too: Vinyl Adventures From Istanbul To San Francisco in 2016 as an ode to his unquenchable passion.
“A record shop was always the first place I would go to in every town that I ever went to,” Burgess tells Music Week. “I would track them down and meet people there who would give you a broad insight into what you should be listening to.
“As a musician, I think there is still a future for record shops because they are a community and an essential meeting place for like-minded people. Rooms surrounded by popular music and records are great backdrops to talk about a look and a sound that you want to try and create.”
As has quickly become convention in the Covid-19 era, Burgess’ Music Week interview takes place via Zoom call. The singer, who was Independent Venue Week ambassador in 2017, is again using his powers for good, this time to spread the word about the Love Record Stores global initiative.
“My life revolves around records – record shops have given me the backdrop to my story, so it is an amazing thing to be a part of,” says Burgess. “Record shops need to be protected because they give so much. It is an undervalued thing a lot of the time, so let’s make it not be.”
Separate to the UK’s annual Record Store Day (whose 2020 edition will now be split over three dates in August, September and October), Love Record Stores launched in March to help indie record stores in their battle for survival amid the horrors of the coronavirus crisis. Burgess and the LRS team are curating a 24-hour online party for the scheme’s flagship event on June 20, featuring ‘at home’ performances, DJ sets, virtual drinks, Q&A sessions and readings.
A number of record companies are making exclusive, limited edition products available on more than 130 independent record stores’ online platforms, with confirmed releases from the likes of Oasis, Radiohead, Nirvana, Caribou, Belle And Sebastian, Arctic Monkeys, Robyn, First Aid Kit, New Order, Jungle, Hinds, Moses Boyd and John Grant. Select labels are also designing exclusive T-shirts around the initiative, with proceeds going to the Music Venue Trust’s Save Our Venues campaign.
For Burgess, his love affair with music retail can be traced all the way back to his childhood in Cheshire.
“I lived in the great town of Northwich and there was a shop called Spectrum, which was later bought out by Omega, The Charlatans’ first manager’s chain of record shops,” remembers the eternally youthful 53-year-old. “I enjoyed spending time there and it was definitely part of the Charlatans story.
“Further afield, Piccadilly Records in Manchester was a place where I used to buy gig tickets and queue up outside for great records.”
Where would Burgess be without record stores? He might never have crossed paths with his future bandmates, for a start.
“My band formed because of a record shop,” he smiles. “All of The Charlatans had a connection to this Omega shop at different points in time and I actually met Martin [Blunt, Charlatans bassist] in that shop. We spoke about clothes, records and bands. He didn’t like the band I was in and asked if I’d like to join his.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Salford-born Burgess has scored two platinum albums with the seminal group: 1997 chart-topper Tellin’ Stories (340,766 sales – Official Charts Company) and 1998 compilation Melting Pot (325,966 sales), both on Beggars Banquet, as well as half a dozen gold and silver-certified LPs. The Charlatans’ most recent long-player, 2017’s Different Days (25,369 sales), was released on BMG.
Light relief has understandably been in short supply during the pandemic, but Burgess has done more than most to lift the nation’s spirits. His Twitter Listening Parties – where artists livetweet stories of their albums track-by-track as users listen and tweet along in real time – have attracted a huge following, making the star one of the unofficial faces of lockdown.
“It’s been amazing because I’ve found they’ve not only been very helpful to lots of people during this very dark time, but helpful to me as well because I’ve had something fantastic to focus on,” says the rocker, whose latest solo LP, I Love The New Sky, dropped last month via Bella Union, charting at No.31.
Fuelled by the popularity of the online gatherings (first conceived to celebrate The Charlatans’ 1990 debut, Some Friendly), Burgess’ Twitter following has swelled beyond 220,000. He has gone on to tweet through all of his band’s 13 albums as well as his five solo outings, and marvels at the level to which the concept has been embraced.
“There were obvious ones that were going to be big like The Streets and Oasis,” he says. “But with Dexys Midnight Runners [Searching For The Young Soul Rebels] the thing that came across most was the passion, and the Prefab Sprout one [Steve McQueen] was very emotional. All kinds of feelings have come from this place where you can’t see anybody, you’re just listening to their music and reading what they want you to read. It’s been so much more than I could have ever thought it would be, it’s been unbelievable really.”
Oasis legends Liam Gallagher and Bonehead became the latest artists to jump on board last Friday, joining Burgess for a dedicated run through Gallagher’s new MTV Unplugged live album.
“Everyone has been very generous with how much they’ve given and have opened up,” notes Burgess. “I’ve had great responses from Terry Hall and Paul Weller, who don’t really go on social media but didn’t need much convincing.”
And, taking aim at a certain notorious government adviser, Burgess predicts the idea will long outlive the lockdown. “I was going to say everybody being in the same boat, but everybody bar one person being in the same boat in not being allowed out, obviously added to this massively concentrated thing,” he grins. “People needed something to do at night that wasn’t just watching the news and wasn’t just Netflix and chill.”
Unlike the rest of the country, Burgess has managed to avoid becoming a telly addict while stuck indoors. Who needs Tiger King when you’re already the coolest cat in town?
“I’ve been preparing for the listening parties, doing interviews about my album and trying to be of help, in some way, to my seven-year-old. I have to take some sort of responsibility in the homeschooling thing, which obviously to a seven-year-old boy is of no interest whatsoever,” he chuckles.
With his trademark bleached pudding bowl barnet engulfing the Zoom screen, the indie icon settles down for a cosy chat on music in all its forms, Generation Z’s indifference to albums and why physical music still matters...
How did you become involved with the Love Record Stores campaign?
“I was approached and it seemed like a good idea. I suggest a Record Store Of The Day on Twitter and Instagram and that leads people to the actual shop and what they have for us all to consume. I was told I could do as much or as little as I wanted, but if I’m getting involved in something I like to really get involved, so here we are.”
What needs to happen to help record stores through this incredibly challenging period?
“Well, they’ve got to be protected. They’ve got to be looked after and that’s what this is about in lots of ways. They have had tough times over the years, but there are some amazing shops and amazing people working flat out, so with support they’ll be fine. Some won’t, but that’s always the case. But good luck to everybody, that’s what I say.”
You lived in Los Angeles for over a decade, how does the record shop culture in the US compare with the UK?
“The first record shop I went to [in LA] was a place called Aaron’s and I was blown away that they had an R Stevie Moore section. That was a big thing for me because he was someone that only existed on the internet as far as I was concerned. And then, of course, Amoeba opened and it was meant to be the biggest record shop in the world, I think that was their tagline. I went there every day just because I hadn’t got much else to do, but also because I liked being surrounded by records.”
Streaming has clearly emerged as the public’s music consumption format of choice, so what remains so important about physical music?
“It is information and it’s about sharing. If you don’t share then what’s the point? We all know how fantastic streaming sites are and how convenient it is to have music on your phone. But there’s nothing quite as amazing as actually holding a record and finding out its purpose – why it was created, who played on it, what the lyrics mean. People do like a physical thing and the information that is on there.”
Maybe that goes some way to explaining the unexpected resurgence of cassettes...
“OK, just stay there for one second [briefly exits screen]. Before Christmas I got that [holds up portable cassette player]. I don’t know whether it’s a novelty thing, I haven’t used it as much as I thought I would, but music is an amazing thing – whatever the format.”
The Charlatans were putting out free downloads as long ago as 2007, so it’s not like you’re averse to embracing modern tech...
“I like old records in good condition because that’s how the artist wanted them to be received, right? But I like represses too, because there are a lot of records that are a bit crap now, just because they’re so old. A repress is a beautiful thing because it gives you the best of both worlds. When I’m travelling on the train or underground I love listening to music on my iPod, which is possibly more retro now than a record! And then I listen to music all the time on my computer. I’ve just put a CD out of my latest record as well, so everything is covered. I love listening to music, what can I say?”
How much value do you place on your own physical record collection?
“My record collection is a reflection of me and it’s an ongoing thing as I grow and change and move. Some of the records don’t make it to the age of 53, but some have been in there for 40-odd years. If you look at my record collection, you will understand me a little bit more.”
Another advantage of physical music is you can hand it down to the next generation...
“There is that – if he’s interested! There is so much information in my record collection for somebody else to have one day and that’s a great thing. Whether it’s scientifically going to help the human race, who knows? But I think it probably could.”
As you’re no doubt aware, the received wisdom is that the digital generation has little interest in listening to full-length albums…
“And I think that’s totally OK. The most amazing thing about the listening party is that everyone has said how enjoyable it is to listen to an album in its entirety, and that gives hope. It’s not just a kid thing, there are older people who just like tracks. They think, ‘I’ve got no time now that I’ve got kids. I don’t want records, I want something that doesn’t take up as much room and I only want to listen to tracks because then I don’t have to think very much’. But then [during lockdown] all we’ve had is time – and to sit and listen to a record is a very enjoyable experience. I think people have realised through the listening parties that it’s an experience that shouldn’t be devalued, it actually does something to your spirit, to your soul and makes life a little bit more enjoyable. A good record should take you on a magical trip.”
You launched your own label, O Genesis Recordings, in 2011, what’s the story there?
“Lots of friends told me I should start a label, but I’m sure everyone has friends who tell them they should write a book, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good thing! But one day it twigged on me that I wanted to record somebody and there was no way for it to come out, so I did what my friends said I should do. I enjoyed being the one responsible for the curation of the label and choosing the artists. It’s all stuff that sells in very limited amounts, but that wasn’t the point – the point was that it would be of interest to some people.”
Continuing the passion project theme, how did you come up with the idea for your Tim Peaks Diner/festival stage?
“I had a label and needed a place for the bands to be able to play. The idea was floating around and then Kendal Calling offered us [a site] for three days of the year. The backstory is that I had just started on Twitter. Looking for conversation, I mentioned coffee and got more responses to that than anything else I’d posted about, so I realised I needed to have my own coffee. Then the diner came along, the bands had somewhere to play, the coffee had somewhere to be sold and all the profits went to the David Lynch Foundation. It’s got bigger now so we can’t just have O Genesis bands, everybody’s welcome.”
Last question, 25 years from now, do you think people will be dissecting LPs from the 2020s with quite the same gusto as the 1990s?
“Oh, some will, there’s always a jewel in the crown. I was listening to Theophilus London’s [Bebey] album the other day. It’s like a new version of hip-hop and I was thinking, ‘It’s not just a flash in the pan, this is going to last’. So yes, I do.”