I bumped into a beret donned, spectacled Tim Burgess outside the venue as he was about to go back to the hotel in an M registration Honda Civic, their ‘tour bus’ for the current run of acoustic gigs. Forty years ago, this would probably have been a flower painted Volkswagen camper van and we would be listening to these stripped-back songs around a campfire in the middle of a muddy field.
Despite the best efforts of Natasha Parker at Work It Media, who treble checked everything was in place, myself and the other photographers present missed the first support act due to a cock-up with guest-list/photo-passes. A frantic phone-call to London got us through the door in time to catch the latter half of support-act Aaron Wright, performing tonight with a five piece band consisting of bass, drums, harmonica and two violinists doubling as backing singers. Singer/songwriter Aaron has accompanied Tim and Mark throughout this tour and admitted to me tonight that he was very nervous on his home turf. It didn’t show on stage though; his delivery was confident and charismatic as he delivered his repertoire of melodic short stories. The home crowd loved Aaron, which, by the way was 500+ strong. This is The Charlatans’ idea of an intimate gig, which gives you an idea of just how huge they still are.
The congregation gathered tonight was here to listen to the twenty year back catalogue of hymns delivered by the reverends Burgess and Collins. There was no organ tonight (pun intended), or bass and drums, just beautifully crafted songs delivered by the seated Mark Collins on acoustic guitar, and Tim Burgess on vocals. Burgess and Collins are accompanied by the multi-tasking Nick Fraser: Road manager/Driver/Security/Merchandise Manager, and a minimal amount of equipment; three guitars, an amplifier, a microphone and a change of clothes.
Following a quick re-shuffle of the stage, Mark Collins appeared on-stage, only to place a pre-tuned guitar on its stand. Some good natured, Glaswegian wind-up banter ensued, earning the offenders a friendly V-sign from Mark, who played mischievously with the audience as he continued to bring his other guitars to the stage from a door at the back of the stage. As the door opened, a cheer would rise, and Mark would quickly open and close the door repeatedly, resembling a comedy sketch. Soon after, Mark and Tim walked on stage and launched into ‘The Blonde Waltz’ from their 1999 ‘Us and Us Only’ album. I was a little dubious as to whether their set-list would work without the full arrangements, not helped by some of the crummy YouTube videos currently doing the rounds, which don’t do them any justice. The Hammond sound of Tony Rogers and Rob Collins before him are such an integral part of the whole sound; I couldn’t imagine The Charlatans without it. The acoustic versions were, however, beautifully arranged and delivered, and demonstrated just how strong their song writing skills are.
A further ten classics followed, in between Tim touching outstretched hands and signing souvenirs, including the forearm of a fan (the very same fan that kindly gave up his place at the front for me to grab a few images). Tim and Mark performed the song that started it all, ‘The Only One I Know’, to rapturous applause and cheering. There were obviously more than a handful of hard-core Charlatans fans in the room tonight. They were accompanied for the next four songs by Fill, drummer with the first support act, and Mark donned his trademark Rickenbacker electric, the audience appreciating the upbeat rest bite, finishing off with the classic ‘North Country Boy’. Their encore concluded with Tim playing acoustic guitar and Mark once again donning the Rickenbacker for ‘Sproston Green’, leaving the stage to the sound of an ecstatic audience. Job done; throw the amp and guitars into the back of the old Honda Civic and back to the hotel, just like the old days.
The Blonde Waltz
For Where There Is Love, There Will Always Be Miracles
Here Comes A Soul Saver
You’re A Big Girl Now
Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over
A Man Needs To Be Told
Smash The System
The Only One I Know
Blackened Blue Eyes
This Is The End
Blank Heart, Blank Mind
North Country Boy
One To Another
Review/photos by Steve Perks