Written by Dan Knight.
Ahead of their 30th Anniversary tour dates this winter, The Charlatans took to the stage at Gorilla on the 15th of November to deliver a charity benefit for NHS workers with myself in attendance. The band will also be publishing a compilation album of their best hits entitled A Head Full of Ideas.
Few artists have responded to the unique challenges of the pandemic as well as Tim Burgess, the floppy-haired, ever-smiling lead singer of The Charlatans. ‘Tim’s Listening Parties’ captured the attention of music fans all over the world during the initial wave of the pandemic, where Burgess would live-tweet albums alongside the original artist, giving people much needed respite from the strains of Covid life. Therefore, it was no surprise when it was announced that, as a precursor to their new UK tour, they would play a free gig for NHS workers, as a thank-you for their tireless efforts over the past 18 months, a real generous gesture.
The appreciation everyone in the crowd felt for this was obvious from the get-go: cheers met the arrival of the band onstage, as they opened with an extended instrumental before being joined by Burgess, who immediately led into ‘Forever’, with Burgess’ voice immediately taking on its familiar nasal qualities. The band then rotated through some back catalogue tracks, including ‘You’re So Pretty’ and ‘Sleepy Little Sunshine Boy’, with the crowd staying energetic and enthusiastic throughout. Burgess was clearly in his element too, on multiple occasions stopping to savour the atmosphere emanating from the crowd, as well as recording during songs to post on his ever-growing Twitter account. Before long, they’d slipped into a steady routine, with Martin Blunt and Mark Collins (on bass and lead guitar respectively) both really enjoying themselves, looking perfectly composed while Burgess led the way, hair flopping as he sang.
Soon, they moved into familiar territory, starting to introduce some of their biggest hits. First, there was ‘One To Another’, the familiar chords of the intro evoking a huge reaction before the opening chorus kicked in. A break in the chaos was secured by a performance of ‘The Blind Stagger’, before the crowd were again brought right to life by the opening riffs of ‘North Country Boy’, swaying as one as Burgess sang the lyrics he has for almost 25 years at this point, and enjoying them in exactly the way he first sang the song all that time ago.
From there, some of their newer tracks were given a run-out, crowd still onside as the band rattled through tunes like ‘Different Days’, ‘Plastic Machinery’ and ‘Trouble Understanding’. With the end of the night in sight, classic hit ‘The Only One I Know’ appeared, with the organ riff a real throwback to songs such as ‘Saturn 5’ by Inspiral Carpets and other tunes from that era. The main set was polished off by ‘Love Is The Key’, which, while a good song in its own right, was not what was expected to be the closer.
It was therefore no surprise when the band reappeared on stage a short while later, immediately jumping into ‘How High’, a classic from the late 90s, with the crowd enjoying the track, but also waiting in anticipation for what they knew was coming. Sure enough, as the ageless, extended build up to arguably their best song began, all in attendance went ballistic, with some real movement towards the front. As Burgess continued to play the showman, there was almost a collective release of the angst of the last 18 months that everyone in the room had felt, a real moment of unity as the gig climaxed, and something which was much needed for the people who have helped keep us safe
Were the Charlatans one of the great bands of the nineties? Probably not.
Was it one of the most intense gigs I’ve attended? Definitely not.
But if you ask whether this gig was a special night, forged in the spirit of community, charity and gratitude, done for nothing but the purest reasons? There is only one possible answer.
Final verdict – 9/10
You can find an earlier deep dive into the Charlatans back in 2018 from now Editor Jack here!