The Charlatans – Interview – 2017

13 albums in, all Top 40 affairs. That's how consistent and popular this quintessential turn of the 90s band has been. They were always lurking in the shadow of The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays, but Manchester's The Charlatans have proved themselves far more durable, and far more prolific. Moreover, their new album Different Days continues the return to form they started with on their last album, Modern Nature. It also features a number of guests from the world of rock 'n' roll, including Johnny Marr and Paul Weller.

Initially formed by Martin Blunt who, along with Tim Burgess, are the only two original members left. The band fused soul, r'n'b and garage-rock, immediately making an impression with the hit 'The Only One I Know'. It's been a hell of a rollercoaster ride since then for this remarkable band.

Brightonsfinest talked to bassist Martin Blunt just prior to their appearance at The Great Escape in Brighton.

Where are you living nowadays?
Still in Northwich, Cheshire. I've been here 25 years. It was where the band was formed. It's our spiritual home, and it's all good for getting connected to Manchester or Liverpool. I'm originally from the West Midlands.

I can't believe that Different Days is your 13th studio album!
The last album was our first album for five years, having to deal with what happened at the time, which is well documented. That seemed to bring out a lot of interest and people relating again to the band. Which did us a lot of good. There was a lot of media interest after the last album, including Germany, France and Italy, and Australia. And off the back of that we did non-stop touring for two years. We're ready to start again.

Tell me about the album
We've got quite a few guests on the album, which gives it a really good twist. Johnny Marr co-wrote a song with Paul Weller, and Sharon Horgan did some backing vocals, the actress from Catastrophe. Anton Newcombe from The Brian Jonestown Massacre is on there. We've got a couple of old friends from A Certain Ratio. We put our take on things and then people would come in and say 'I can add to this'.

There's loads of guests on the album!
It's something we'd never tried before and we think it's worked really, really well.

What was the spark to get all all these guests involved?
It's always been talked about. Why not now? We've known Johnny and Paul for quite some years now. And Stephen Morris from New Order, he did a couple of drum tracks. He said he would come along as long as our heating was working. We've got our own studio in Cheshire which we've had since the late 90s. Apart from Anton and Paul, most people were in close proximity.

Pete Salisbury is the new drummer?
He's been playing the drums for us the past six years, on and off until Jon (Brookes) sadly passed away (2013), and permanently since then.

Anyone play bass parts on the record apart from yourself?
There's one, which sounds like a Tamla Motown collaboration with two bassists on the track. I had a feel on it but I was thinking something else could added, make it more Bootsy Collins. A guy called Jay Johnson, who used to be in a band on Factory Records, he nailed it.

And A Certain Ratio? They've been around longer than you guys.
Yeah, it was Derek Johnson's brother, Don Johnson who plays drums with A Certain Ratio. When I heard his name I thought we were going to get the guy from Miami Vice! He ended up playing a lot of percussion for us.

I see Ian Rankin is also involved.
Yes, we've got some spoken word on the album. I said to Tim why don't you ask him. So, he did that before the track 'Plastic Machinery'. You know, there's going to be lot of automation on the horizon, and will make quite a lot of the human race redundant. He did an original piece before the song. Kurt Wagner from Lambchop also does some spoken word before the track 'Not Forgotten', but those are Tim's lyrics. He gives it a different twist, like something out of a Dickens novel.

How did you hook up with Kurt Wagner?
Tim, some years ago, did a collaboration with him, where Tim wrote the lyrics, and Kurt did the music, on Tim's Oh No I Love You album.

And Anton Newcombe?
At one point there was talk of him doing the record. We actually sent the track to Berlin, which he also arranged, which is where he resides these days.

Did Paul Weller and Johnny Marr play on the same track?
No, separate tracks. Marr played on 'Plastic Machinery' and 'Not Forgotten'. Tim and Paul had been talking for some time. Paul said 'I've got this idea for a chord structure' and we went down to Black Barn Studios in Surrey, which is Paul's own place, and came back with the track, 'Spinning Out'. Paul played a wurlitzer on it.

Have you played any of these songs out live yet?
We went out to Majorca last weekend (mid-May), and we're going to do Brighton (The Great Escape) where we will set the songs off in a more intimate setting. I've suddenly got a lot of friends who I haven't seen for years (referring to guest list requests for the Brighton show). Mark (Charlatans guitarist) has basically gelled all the different guitar parts into one guitar line for when we play live.

The gigs at Lancashire Cricket and Oldham Street sound like biggies.
There's a street in Manchester called Oldham Street where there's a whole load of things going on. It started off as a coffee shop and a record shop coming on board, and before we knew it we got a pop-up pub, a pop-up tearoom and another 18 shops. It's taken on a life of its own. Tim also has his own coffee pop-up, called Tim Peaks! The next day we'll be playing Lancashire Cricket ground along with The Courteeners and Blossoms.

How does it feel to be doing this after so many years?
We never took it for granted, or the people who bought the records and still relate to the band. I feel that if there is one band I would want to be in it would be The Charlatans. There's still fire in the belly. We're enjoying a renaissance.

Jeff Hemmings