First Issue Revisited: The Charlatans on “Wonderland” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Tim Burgess and Mark Collins in Los Angeles, 2005.

First Issue Revisited: The Charlatans on “Wonderland”

Three Weeks in Wonderland

Aug 11, 2022 Photography by Wendy Lynch Redfern (for Under the Radar) Issue #69 - 20th Anniversary Issue
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As part of our 20th anniversary coverage we thought it would be interesting to conduct brand new interviews with some of the artists interviewed in our very first issue way back in December 2001. We weren’t able to talk to everyone for a variety of reasons but luckily many of the first issue artists were game for a catch up to discuss their albums from the early 2000s and what they’ve been up to since. With each new interview we’ve included a small image of the layout of the first page of each artist’s original article from our first issue. These articles originally ran in our 20th Anniversary Issue, but are now being posted online. Here’s a First Issue Revisited interview with The Charlatans.

Tim Burgess in Los Angeles, 2005.
Tim Burgess in Los Angeles, 2005.

The Charlatans were never supposed to arrive in Wonderland.

Frontman Tim Burgess says The Charlatans were never supposed to maintain momentum beyond the Manchester scene that defined their early work. To make a single album was an achievement; a second one was unheard of. With 48 singles and 13 studio releases in the rearview mirror, Burgess and company have defied all odds with a 30-year-plus musical legacy. In the early ’90s the band was labeled as Madchester and by the mid-’90s they were associated with Britpop, a scene they have long since outlived.

“It’s funny because when the band first started, we were considered to be part of a scene or, for some, the second wave of a scene,” says Burgess. “Grunge came along and was considered to have taken over the Manchester scene or the shoegaze scene or whatever it was.

“In some ways, there was doubt about how long any of these bands would last,” he continues. “Two albums was kind of unheard of. So I really went out guns blazing thinking we’d do one album and that would be it.”

The Charlatans feature from Issue #1.
The Charlatans feature from Issue #1.

There was a bit of shock and even panic when The Charlatans were not, in fact, done despite what scenes were in or out. But it’s that all-in approach cemented on the first album that Burgess says has actually helped the band from the beginning. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, we’ve got a second chance. What do we do now?’” Burgess laughs. “I think that was good in a way. We never had a master plan.”

It’s been over 20 years since Burgess decided to move to Los Angeles, where he lived from 1998 to 2010. It was a necessary personal shift to get away from local fame that jeopardized the band’s longevity. After five albums, the band had recorded Us and Us Only in response to the death of original keyboardist Rob Collins in a car accident. Their attempts to record thereafter fell flat, according to Burgess, so he decided to get away with a girlfriend to Southern California.

“I think you sometimes have to look for new reasons to keep going, and Los Angeles was a reason,” he says.

After failing to find time when they lived within a few miles of one another, Burgess said the invitation to come to LA helped each Charlatans member carve out the requisite space to come together. It was there that Mark Collins, Martin Blunt, and Jon Brookes joined Burgess for a three-week stint, just long enough to sort out the songs that would become 2001’s Curtis Mayfield-influenced Wonderland.

“The whole thing was wonderful,” says Burgess looking back on the sessions. “It was just a California thing. I’ve been obsessed with Manchester music. I love New York, Berlin, LA—all these amazing cities that produce incredible music. So I was really on an LA trip—Gram Parsons, The Beach Boys, they’re just heroes to me.”

It didn’t hurt to have Daniel Lanois swing by to play pedal steel or legendary session musician Jim Keltner to add some drums. However, Burgess also says the band’s drug dealer was there to add some creative input as well. “It was a moment,” he says.

“We would start usually around 7:00 at night until 7:00 in the morning, but that changed from like 11:00 at night to 11:00 in the morning,” laughs Burgess, who gave up drugs in 2006. “Our dealer was there the whole time helping us make decisions. And I don’t know whether I’m dreaming this or not but we had Sly Stone’s desk. It was just full of that world, really. There were arguments and it was all cocaine decisions and all of that, but it was a moment. In fact, I wanted to stay in it so much that I made a solo album straight after that, in my opinion, could have been the follow-up.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 69 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, our 20th Anniversary Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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