Bloomsbury, London: the heart of British literature and not a shop selling vinyl records for, oof, at least half a mile. Tim Burgess, frontman of The Charlatans, is sitting in a stupendously sunlit room in the offices of Faber & Faber, publisher of his new tome Tim Book Two: Vinyl Adventures From Istanbul To San Francisco. Part paean to LPs and part autobiography, it features a cast of 54 contributors including Ian Rankin, Lauren Laverne, Andrew Weatherall, Bob Stanley and David Lynch, with each naming an album that deserves closer inspection.
Tim Book Two namechecks a hefty amount of music so it won’t come as a surprise to learn there’s also an accompanying compilation album. Tim Burgess Presents Vinyl Adventures From Istanbul To San Francisco, on O Genesis, is an eclectic selection to say the least, spanning Fad Gadget, Joy Division, Duane Eddy, Willy Nelson and Tchaikovsky (the latter being the choice of Vini Reilly). You might not appreciate every track but, like the book, it’ll trigger a few musical journeys of your own.
Today, Burgess is wearing a full black ensemble including a beanie covering that oft-discussed blond mop. Now 49, he’s a changed man, with drink and drugs replaced by meditation, fatherhood and, in true Twin Peaks style, damn-fine coffee.
British Ideas Corporation: You have a compilation album out to accompany your new book Vinyl Adventures…
Tim Burgess: There should be more books that have soundtracks. It’s a great compilation and I’m thrilled that people let me use their songs. The Clash never let anyone license their material but Mick Jones pushed it through.
From your book, we’ve learnt that Ian Rankin is a Joy Division fan and that he also DJs.
Well, he DJ’ed with me. Ian’s a massive fan of music and a lot of his books are named after albums and songs. He loves Joy Division, Throbbing Gristle, Tangerine Dream and Hawkwind. I knew he had an extensive music knowledge, that’s why I asked him to be involved in the book. He definitely loves going to see bands because when I met him, he’d come to see us.
When you DJ, do you use vinyl?
Sometimes; most of the time CDs.
Vinyl’s prone to scuffing while DJing. It can be costly to replace.
I used to DJ with just vinyl. When I was going abroad, I’d need big metal cases. Sometimes I DJ northern-soul nights, so that’s all 7”s. It’s really great to play 7” after 7”, but a lot of the time, I DJ in clubs where they want to hear Britpop or Manchester stuff and I have that on CD.
How many vinyl records do you own?
Hard to say but anywhere between 3,000-5,000.
Do you convert vinyl to mp3?
I buy a lot of mp3s as well. Most of my favourite albums are on mp3. We have to travel all the time, don’t we? On the Tube, or if you go to the gym or something like that.
Do you go to the gym?
I do, yes.
You’ve had a total life changearound by the sound of it.
Yes, I have.
Do you miss the old life?
No, I just think of it as something that’s been put on the shelf. To put something like that on the shelf isn’t such a bad thing.
A vinyl record has the power to take you back to a time and a place in a way that a download can’t.
That’s true. The download would probably have been in your front room on your computer. But which computer? I’ve had about three now. A record, I’ll always remember getting the cellophane off and looking at the vinyl, reading all the names of people. There’s the producer, the guy who did the artwork, and you think, “I wonder what their lives are like?” When I was a kid, I bought the Madness 7” “My Girl” and it had six members on the front, all individual photographs, and I remember sitting and wondering about them while having a Coke in a café.
You were a DJ from an early age weren’t you, playing church halls?
Yes, ha-ha-ha. Playing the same record over and over until Ian Cass came along with a Stranglers record. And I remember playing “Temptation” by New Order at the same place; “Blue Monday”, too.
Are you a New Order fan?
They’re my favourite band. No one’s ever taken their place because they were the first band that taught me about emotion, and it probably had something to do with the fact that I was 16 as well. They had sophistication and had it all going for them. You had Tony Wilson [Factory Records’ chief] involved with them, and you had the Haçienda. “Temptation” was the first record that I had by New Order. But “Blue Monday”, I remember hearing it on the Top 40 countdown on a Sunday and I knew it was them but it was such a long song that it took ages for confirmation. It was a song that changed everything.
“Blue Monday” is a long track but there’s not one moment of slack on it, and it still does the job.
It does. Every time I DJ, I play it.
Another song that doesn’t date is The Charlatans’ “The Only One I Know”. It’s funky as hell and rock solid.
Oh wow, thank you. Yes, it’s amazing how long that one has remained.
Do you keep your records in alphabetical order or by genre?
Alphabetised but I’m pretty slack. The albums are in alphabetical order. The stuff that I DJ, generally, is kept in a separate area. If it was a northern-soul night, it would just be my box of northern-soul 7”s. They don’t have to be in alphabetical order.
You’ve got some gigs coming up over summer, a couple of festivals.
With The Charlatans, we’re at Kendal Calling, SportBeat, Godiva and Electric. We first did Tim Peaks at Kendal Calling – that was five years ago. They gave us the information centre, which is kind of a shack. We put coffee in there and we put together a weekend of bands and “In Conversation With”. We’ve had Tim O’Brien from Jodrell Bank telling us about the universe, we’ve had Chris Hawkins from 6 Music doing his show from there and Paddy Considine.
What’s Paddy like?
Yes, very cool. He’s a big music fan.
He’s a singer as well, isn’t he?
Yes. We put his band on as well as an “In Conversation With”. He’s a fascinating character, a really great guy. We’re both meditators.
He was spot on when he played Rob Gretton, the New Order manager, in 24 Hour Party People.
He was. Pretty scary, really. But he’s great, Paddy.
Why did you go blond? What prompted that?
I’d moved from Los Angeles and I was living in London again but I wanted a bit of LA with me.
So you went blond in LA?
No, after I left. I didn’t let my inner blond come out until I’d moved from LA. People have taken the p*** or mentioned Andy Warhol, and people can obviously say what they want, but it was a change of heart. I think it’s been alright. I like it but I never think about it, to be honest. But I think other people do.
It’s an eclectic group of people in your new book.
It is. It started with Stephen [Morris of New Order] in lots of ways. He’s got great stories, he’s very real and very interesting. I like getting him involved in the stuff I do.
Stephen Morris chose a Hawkwind LP.
Well, he gave me two choices. He gave me Can and Hawkwind’s In Search Of Space. I went with Hawkwind because I don’t know anything about them apart from “Silver Machine”. It’s interesting because you can hear Stephen in that album. You can hear him in Can, as well. Some of the records in the book, a lot of them I already had but I hadn’t heard this album by Hawkwind. I bought it in Reckless [Records] in Soho.
What equipment do you play your records on at home?
I’ve got a Linn. When I first got a pay cheque from The Charlatans, I bought a Linn. And then when I got really into DJing, I swapped it for two Technics. Now I’ve got a Linn again but I’ve still got the Technics.
Why have you moved to Norfolk?
I was living in Seven Sisters and my partner had family near Cromer. We’d go there to get out of London. Then we had a baby and just ended up staying there.
How old is your son?
A tough age, that. Difficult.
Three? It is.
Well, I’m up at 5.30am anyway.
You Tweet each morning at the crack of dawn.
Yes, that’s after I’ve been up for an hour, ha-ha. I get up early. I’ve always been an early riser, even in my most debauched times. Even when I was drinking, I used to go to sleep quite early.
Do you think if you didn’t stop the drink and drugs, you might have been dead now?
I don’t really think about it that much any more. The only time… hmm, I don’t know… I was talking to someone a while back and it bit me.
You say in Telling Stories, your 2012 autobiography, that you don’t regret that part of your life.
No, I don’t but I wouldn’t have been able to write about it without being the way I am now. If I was still doing it, I wouldn’t want to write about it.
Addicts often need to replace one addiction with something else. Has that happened to you?
Coffee has been a thing. To be honest, I can’t believe that I used to drink coffee in the past.
As if you needed it.
I know, exactly. It has come back into my life a bit more. When you’re in a recording studio there’s always coffee on the go.
Being a northerner, will you sometimes have a cup of tea?
Rarely. When I gave up everything, I went crazy on caffeine-free tea until I wrote and that’s when I started drinking coffee again at quite a high volume. I thought it would help with the writing and it did. But now and again, I’ll have caffeine-free tea.
Is there a biscuit of choice in the Burgess house?
We have all kinds of biscuits. And I like cake. And chocolate.
You run a record label, O Genesis. Did you learn nothing from Factory Records?
I’ve got a tattoo that says “FAC 33” [shows tattoo on his chest]. That’s “Ceremony”.
Did Tony Wilson ever make any money from running a label?
I don’t think he did but I like the idea of being able to put out other people’s music. I love young people who make music. I want the label to pay for itself, so it’s not like a vanity project, and a lot of the time it does but it’s mostly about giving people an opportunity to do stuff. It’s the same with Tim Peaks in a lot of ways. The coffee is part of it but Tim Peaks Diner is all about new bands and bands that we like.
David Lynch, who contributes to Vinyl Adventures, is a big part of your life, isn’t he?
In many ways, yes. I’m a massive fan.
When Twins Peaks arrived in the UK, it was a major event.
I missed that because I was on tour in America but we were all talking about it: “David Lynch is making a TV show, how crazy is that?” We watched it in a hotel room. There was this shot of a crow, and the close up of a crow’s eye, and then the gang, Cooper and Sheriff Truman and deputy Andy, all looking at this house and it was, “Wow, that’s amazing.” We got off tour and I bought the videos. It was fantastic.
Any thoughts on Tim Book Three?
Ha-ha-ha, if I say anything about it, I’ll have to write it, but I just don’t feel like writing anything. Fffff, God… I don’t know.
Tim Book Two: Vinyl Adventures From Istanbul To San Francisco by Tim Burgess (Faber & Faber) is out 21 July. Tim Burgess Presents Vinyl Adventures From Istanbul To San Francisco is on O Genesis and released 29 July.
The Charlatans play Godiva Festival, Coventry (2 July), Kendal Calling (28 July), SportBeat Festival, Gloucester (20 August) and Electric Fields, Dumfries (26 August). thecharlatans.net
Same Language, Different Worlds by Tim Burgess and Peter Gordon is released 2 September O Genesis.
“Colour Green” – Sibylle Baier, recommended by Kim Gordon