Thursday, 2 February 2017

Telling Stories - Tim Burgess


What do we want? Sex! What do we want? Drugs! What do we want? Rock'n'roll! When do we want it? Now! What have we got? Telling Stories by Tim Burgess! What do we get? Scrapings from the barrel of a career in pop gone awry!

I was never enamoured by the Charlatans and equally I was never enamoured by Madchester, Baggy, Brit Pop or any of the other genres the Charlatans were associated with. I admit, I liked various songs from those times and (I admit again) I liked the drugs but as scenes I always felt they were too contrived and each overly desperate to be perceived as 'a scene'.
As ever, the music press and the music business seemed to be categorising and labelling a mixture of bands for their own ends; dividing and ruling, building 'em up and knocking 'em down. The Only One I Know by the Charlatans was good as was Polar Bear from their Some Friendly d├ębut album, along with Tim Burgess's collaboration with the Chemical Brothers on the track Life Is Sweet but apart from these I never followed the Charlatans at all.

So why read Burgess's book?

Well, I read an interview with him not long ago - it may have been on the Quietus website? - where he was talking about his love of early Eighties punk rock and naming a bunch of bands that revealed a knowledge of them. In the same interview he said he was also an old Crass fan who used to buy all their records and go to their gigs.
This piqued my interest because I also happen to know that he's had Crass writer Penny Rimbaud reciting a poem on one of the Charlatans' albums and has had Crass artist Gee Vaucher design that same album's sleeve.
Was there another side to Tim Burgess that had been kept hidden by his pop star image, I wondered?

Upon reading Telling Stories, he does indeed tell us about his old punk rock records and how Penis Envy by Crass altered his attitude toward women for the better. He mentions also how as a teenager he would walk around his local village with the words 'Who killed Liddle Towers?' painted on the back of his jacket; which is quite amusing because a lot of kids at that time did exactly the same but with different slogans and messages.
In the Anton Corbijn-directed Joy Division film there's that scene showing Ian Curtis with the word 'Hate' painted on the back of his coat. Nowadays, of course, it's only brand logos that people sport on their clothes - the ubiquitous 'Rockface', as an example. A sign of the times, I think.

All of this, however, is mentioned only very briefly in the book and is almost lost in a blizzard of other musical influences ranging from Kraftwerk to Gram Parson to Bob Dylan. Burgess is a music fan. First and foremost, above anything else.

Burgess comes across as a nice guy without really having a bad word to say about anybody, not even the Charlatans' accountant who fleeced them for £300,000. Enthusing about favourite bands and people, however, doesn't really make for riveting reading which is why it isn't until when Burgess dishes the dirt on Radio 1 DJ Simon Mayo that it starts getting interesting.

Mayo had made The Only One I Know his Single of the Week and had called Burgess to tell him he had to call in to the show at six in the morning for a chit chat on the radio. Burgess declined and Mayo was apparently furious, saying that Billy Joel had called in from New York the week before when he was given Single of the Week. Was Burgess claiming he was bigger than Billy Joel? Or bigger than Simon Mayo?
'You'll never be played on Radio 1 again,' Mayo told him. You've got to laugh, haven't you?

The book peaks with Burgess's confession of his band's penchant for blowing cocaine up each other's arses so as to get a better hit a la Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks. Now, call me old fashioned but doesn't everyone who's serious about their drugs get to a point in their drug career where they're keen to get the most out of their investment?
Most people simply progress to more exotic cocktails of drugs or to the needle or whatever but there's no mention of any of that in the book, and for a northern industrial drug taker such as Burgess was, it seems a bit strange.
Like the scene from Trainspotting when Renton visits his dealer and he's asked if he'd care for a starter and Renton replies 'No thank you, I'll proceed directly to the intravenous injection of hard drugs, please.' Did Burgess simply bypass needles and pipes with a 'No thank you, I'll proceed directly to the cocaine up the arse, please.' Which makes me wonder which method is deemed the most controversial? Intravenous injection or up the arse with a straw and a funnel?

For all this, however, I also wonder if Telling Stories is actually deserving of all the plaudits laid upon it because it's not that good. Near the end of it, Burgess mentions his Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle LP and how he bought it from his pocket money and how it's now signed by Sex Pistols' guitarist Steve Jones who he counts now as a friend. 'He drew a cock on it,' he tells us. Which is rather juvenile, puerile, childishly offensive and immature - but also brilliant! It's exactly what you'd expect and what you'd want from Steve Jones. It's a sort of confirmation of how you perceive someone to be.
It's just a shame that it's probably the best bit in the book...
John Serpico


  1. I had no idea about Tim's love of '80s punk and Crass, etc. so this was really interesting to read, thanks. If I were to see the book in a charity shop I might well pick it up for something else to read, but in the meantime I get the feeling your post probably covers the best bits so well that there's no need to!

    1. My copy cost a whole 50p from a charity shop, C. And yes, I probably have covered the best bits though I imagine Tim Burgess might disagree? By the way, I'm currently reading a book that you recommended and I wanted to thank you for doing so. You'll see what it is soon, once I've finished it and write up about it. Thanks, C!

    2. Ah, you're welcome. I'm now interested and intrigued to hear what it is - and what you thought. Look forward to it!

  2. Simon Mayo is a c*nt. Always has been, always will be.