Entertainment & Arts

Tim Burgess on the power of listening to music ‘together, apart’

Tim Burgess Image copyright Tim Burgess
Image caption Tim Burgess: Solo star, Charlatan and your listening party host for the evening

Roosters are crowing and horses are clip-clopping within earshot of Tim Burgess' Norfolk isolation bunker.

The quiet rural home, which he shares with his young son, is a world away from the rock 'n' roll carnage of his Los Angeles days. It's from precisely here though that the 52-year-old has been leading the resistance against the lockdown blues with his popular online album love-ins.

Or as Tim puts it, rather more succinctly, "We listen to albums together, apart".

"The idea is so simple, but it works on so many levels," he says.

The opening two weeks of Tim's Twitter Listening Party - celebrating classic albums and future favourites - appears to have struck a chord with many people left stranded on social media, thanks to insights from many of the star's musical friends, including The Chemical Brothers.

And for the second Saturday indoors in a row, the twice nightly virtual shindig briefly topped the trending charts, as he invited his followers to join him and former Oasis guitarist Paul 'Bonehead' Arthurs, for a socially distanced deep dive into the band's best-selling 1995 LP, What's the Story (Morning Glory?).

"I wanted to do something that I thought would be helpful, or make me feel a bit helpful," explains Tim, who sadly recently lost his father.

"I knew it would connect with people, as I've done it with Charlatans events.

"But I just thought if I include some people that I know who would be into it - like Bonehead, or Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand, or Ride, or Dave Rowntree from Blur, then that's the first week sorted!"

"I thought it might be big," he adds.

Now, with the party schedule growing quicker than the queue outside an inner-city supermarket, we asked its host about the importance of people interacting through music during these troubled times, and the release of his fifth solo album, I Like the New Sky.

How's isolation going so far, Tim?

I'm pretty okay with it. Or maybe even used to it. But there is something about being close to people that I do miss.

I'm a writer who writes at home, but I'm also a frontman in a band and I like to connect with people.

Describe your typical listening party set-up for us. Is there food? Booze? What about dancing?

There was dancing to [Chemical Brothers' debut] Exit Planet Dust. I'd be a fool not to!

I haven't got time to eat or drink. I get quite nervous before it starts. All I've got to do is press the button and write a few tweets but it's the responsibility.

I always have some prepared things to say, because I always want to answer as many people back as possible.

So, you know, it's becoming my full-time job!

It's really taken off. What's been the main thing to take away from it, up until now?

People are saying that they haven't listened to an album for ages, in its entirety, and I think that it's an amazing thing that we've got time now to do that.

Even though you can't see them - unless your family are doing it - you can feel that people are there because you can see them writing stuff.

Everyone has had something amazing to say and it's so good that there's great new bands [The Orielles, Fontaines D.C, Pip Blom] coming and getting involved.

The Morning Glory listening party threw up memories of you guys supporting Oasis at Knebworth in 1996. That period was obviously clouded by the death of [late Charlatans keyboard player] Rob Collins. What do you remember about the gig?

I don't really remember very much to be honest. I just knew that we might not play again.

Rob was our number one musician in the band, and probably the best singer. I always had to look at him to be able to know that I was singing in tune, and he wasn't there so it was really difficult.

His replacement that day, Martin Duffy [of Primal Scream], is a maestro.

We came off the stage and, and me and [guitarist] Mark Collins both thought we might not do it again.

But time goes by and you just have to dig deep and feel the friends around you and move into a new realm really.

Do you feel like now is a time for everyone to re-evaluate what's actually important?

Without a doubt. People are obviously learning that they've been taking a few things for granted. And realised that people are really important.

I love being out here in the quiet, but I also love going to the city. I get the electricity from other people, and I think we've missed that.

I've got a six-year-old as well that I'm with now 24 hours a day and he wants my attention all the time. You start to realise how important school is.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption (L-R) Mark Collins, Tim Burgess, Rob Collins, Jon Brookes and Martin Blunt of The Charlatans at Reading Festival in 1992

How are you finding home schooling?

I'm not trying to drill science and maths into him but I'm talking to him about volcanoes and coronavirus and the environment. But trying to get him to do a bit of spelling and reading is really difficult!

I think everyone takes that kind of thing for granted, you know, shove them off to school…

Once the lockdown restrictions are hopefully lifted, can you see the listening parties continuing?

I can see them going on beyond lockdown. I just see them getting bigger and bigger.

The Cult want to do one now and The Flaming Lips is happening.

It's kind of just become its own thing now. I think people are copying them… I've also had people offering advice on how I should film them, or make them more effective. But you know what? I just say, 'I like them the way they are'.

Next month you'll be able to host one for your new solo album. How was it writing solely on your own for the first time?

I do write alone a lot, but this is the first record that I've ever thought, 'Right, it's going to be a Tim Burgess album, I'm going to write it myself and I'm going to spend some time where I don't do anything else apart from write this album.'

A lot of the time I'll be like, 'I've got a couple of songs, I think some sound quite Charlatans, some maybe not.' Or I'll be writing a book or doing some gigs or something.

Everything just gets fragmented.

This was something that I thought if I spent some time just on all the songs that will be for this album, then it'll be a very focused thing.

It's been described as a record about love, anger and loss

It's all those things really. Remember, it was my main focus for a year, and a lot happens in 10 minutes for me!

Everything's in there, from finding some new friends that I've shared lots of experiences with already. To falling out with people who I wouldn't want to ever see again.

And that's life.

What's it like sonically-speaking?

I wanted it to sound as natural as possible and for the melodies and the lyrics to kind of direct where the chord sequences are going.

I wrote everything on an acoustic guitar, but wanted everything in the recording to be vocals and piano. Not ballads, you know, driving piano. The drums are really crazy, kind of Ringo crazy.

At Rockfield Studios [near Monmouth, Wales] there's a sound, for the vocals especially, that I really wanted for this record. So I went there for the first time in 25 years. I invited Mark Collins over and he played and slept in the same room as he did 25 years ago!

There's lots of reasons why we didn't go to Rockfield [for so long] but the main one is that Rob Collins died in a car crash at the bottom of the drive.

But then, you know, life goes on and me and Mark both talked about it while we were recording and it was a beautiful thing.

Image copyright Cat Stevens
Image caption I Love the New Sky is the singer's fifth solo album

You've had to reschedule your UK tour for October. Did you consider putting the album release back, as some artists have done?

No. I mean, I understand why obviously.

The live situation has nothing to do with us when it comes to making decisions.

The mad thing is we managed to do four shows in New York - we were supposed to be doing South by Southwest but that got cancelled - then fly home the day after because it was the last flight back home.

So it was pretty crazy. It seems like that must have been years ago, in a utopian past.

But as far as the album coming out, I've already talked about it to everybody all over the world and said that it's coming out in May. So it just seems daft to change it now.

And also it will give people something to look forward to and we can do a listening party around it.

How are your fellow musicians feeling about things generally at the moment and what would they like to see?

I'm not feeling creative at all at the moment and most of the people that I've spoken to are not either. Everyone is kind of like, 'Yeah, I wrote a song called Wash Your Hands… and that's kind of as far as it went!'

You can't really dictate when you write. Any creative person will tell you that you can't just go, 'Right, OK, I'm going to be creative today'.

It just comes when it comes and I think with all the changes, everyone has to just look after their kids or watch the news.

Some of my friends are going down rabbit holes. Some people are losing it a little bit and some people are drinking too much. I'm a bit worried for people's mental health really.

Well, you are certainly doing your bit to help. Before we let you get back to nature, when all of this is finally over if you could see one of the albums from the listening parties performed live which would it be?

[After much deliberation] OK, final answer; Exit Planet Dust by The Chemicals, because I can be involved - I can sing on one track. And I'd get to see Beth [Orton] again, and Tom and Ed - I love them to bits.

The other one would be Prefab Sprout, Steve McQueen, because it was so emotional.

And that's not to say they are any better than any of the others either.

I'll be an eternal fan now of everybody who's been involved with doing it.

I Love the New Sky is out on 22 May, and Tim's Twitter Listening Party takes place twice every night, at 9pm and 10pm.

Follow us on Facebook, or on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts. If you have a story suggestion email entertainment.news@bbc.co.uk.

More on this story