At Leisure is a series of films produced by Luke Turner, writer and co-founder of The Quietus music website and filmmaker Ethan Reid, in which they explore the hobbies and interests of cult artists, and examine the connections between those activities and their work. In this latest film - which you can watch on the Lush player tomorrow (Friday) - we talk to Tim Burgess about importing Fair Trade coffee and the power of Transcendental Meditation
IN A NUTSHELL
Tim Burgess was one of the biggest stars of British indie music in the late twentieth century. Born in Salford in 1967, he grew up in Northwitch, Cheshire, becoming singer of The Charlatans before the release of their debut single Indian Rope in 1990. Alongside The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays, The Charlatans became leading lights of the Manchester music scene, having hit after hit before being taken to ever greater heights by the explosion of Britpop in the middle of the decade.
In later years, Burgess defeated a serious addiction to alcohol and cocaine with the assistance of film director David Lynch and the practice of Transcendental Meditation, for which he remains a keen advocate to this day. As The Charlatans continue to release some of the best music of their career, Burgess has put out successful solo albums and written two books. In the Quietus At Leisure film we find him in an entirely different role - manning the stall of his Tim Peaks coffee stand at the Field Day Festival.
Tim Burgess is a very busy man. You might expect a musician with a profile as big as that of The Charlatans’ singer to be taking it easy, three decades after he first hit the limelight as the pretty boy of the Manchester scene; all big-lip insouciance and floppy-haired, arrogant charm. After all, his band has released 13 albums, including eight that hit the top ten and two number ones, and headlined festivals around the world. Many singers would put their feet up, stop evolving, but over the past decade Burgess has if anything vastly increased his work and presence in the world.
You might well have seen this via his prolific tweeting and engagement with his fans and beyond - it was Twitter that led his Tim Peaks café becoming a popular stop-off at all sorts of festivals. (At the annual Lake District bash Kendal Calling it’s even become a stage in its own right.) But as ever with the platform, Twitter tells only half the story. For the best understanding on why Tim Burgess keeps himself so prolific your best bet is to read Telling Stories, the memoir he published in 2015. It’s one of the most frank, funny and honest rock & roll autobiographies out there, in which the singer never holds back on his frailties and the mess he got into with drugs and alcohol.
As he reached his 40s, it was an encounter with the film director David Lynch and adopting his methods of Transcendental Meditation that eventually helped Burgess to straighten out and get clean. Since he made that important step, his life has become a real hive of activity. That book was followed by Tim Book Two, in which Burgess wrote about the records that he’d been recommended by other musicians, writers and friends. As well as all this, he’s written and released two solo albums alongside his ‘day job’ in The Charlatans. The approach for both has been focussed around a surrendering of ego - something you might well speculate has a lot to do with the process of recovery from addiction and engagement with meditation. On Oh No I Love You he worked with Lambchop mainman Kurt Wagner, who wrote the songs for Tim to sing, with music played by a coterie of musicians from Nashville and the UK. In the recent follow-up Same Language, Different Worlds he collaborated with Peter Gordon, composer and multi-instrumentalist best known for his work with cult musician Arthur Russell.
The surrendering of ego isn’t just seen in Burgess’ own work. He founded the O Genesis label in 2011, releasing records by up-and-coming and established artists who struggle to get heard in an increasingly conservative industry. This passion-first signing policy has seen 7” singles and albums by the likes of Dutch post-punk weirdos Minny Pops, crime writer Ian Rankin, the poet Jack Underwood, prolific anti-folk singer R Stevie Moore, experimental guitarist Richard Youngs and Daniel O’Sullivan of cosmic pop group Grumbling Fur.
In this Quietus At Leisure film however we see him on the edges of music as he takes his Tim Peaks stall to the Field Day Festival in East London. Here, he provides a straight edge alternative to festival booze with cups of tea and Tim Peaks Fair Trade coffee. In the film we also find out more about the growers who benefit from every cup sold, as well as the best music to listen to once you’ve had a cup.
Five Easy Pieces - Where To Start With Tim Burgess
The Charlatans - Sproston Green
The last song on The Charlatans’ debut album Some Friendly, this track perfectly shows off their early sound; all organ-driven euphoria inspired by both acid house and Northern Soul. A huge fan favourite, it’s still played at the end of every gig the band play.
Chemical Brothers - Life Is Sweet
Tim Burgess was at the heart of the scene around the Heavenly label and their infamous anything-goes London nightclub the Heavenly Social. It was here that the Chemical Brothers cut their teeth as DJs, leading to Burgess’ appearance on this track taken from their debut album Exit Planet Dust.
The Charlatans - Talking In Tones
2015 album Modern Nature was The Charlatans’ first after the tragic death of their drummer Jon Brookes from a brain tumor. Regrouping in the face of this terrible adversity, they produced arguably the most consistent album of their career, of which this murmuring slick creature is a standout moment.
Tim Burgess - Tobacco Fields
Tim Burgess’ second solo album saw him head to Nashville to record with Kurt Wagner of Lambchop and a host of musicians from the capital of Country & Western. The result was a quietly self-assured record made up alike of Americana-infused pop songs and more expansive, reflective moments like this.
Tim Burgess - Cheree
In a release from just earlier this year Burgess covers Cheree by pioneering New York electronic group Suicide. Where that infamous duo married the aesthetics of rock & roll into nails and concrete noise, Burgess twists the song yet again to create something lysergic and woozy, a love song on a helter skelter.
“I’d dabbled a bit in songwriting before I joined The Charlatans but when I joined the songs were all about jamming. We all really enjoyed each other’s company and being in the same room so we’d just play and play until an idea would come. That would be the first part of a song. Things would come easily as everything was spontaneous. There would be no sitting down and starting with chords. The first time I really wrote a song was Can’t Get Out of Bed on our third album Up to Our Hips. That was the first time I ever sat down with chords and came up with a structure and a melody.”
“There’s a temptation to go looking for that archetypal rock star lifestyle. Vodka for breakfast, that kind of thing. You take the crazy fork in the crossroads and it’s fun for a while but it turns into a dusty road inhabited by the same kind of loons who’ve made the same choices. Eventually enough is enough. It felt OK at the time, but I think it was a lifestyle that couldn’t go on forever. It’s great for meeting like-minded freaky friends when you’re living like that and most of them are still my friends now – although they are like a calmer, quieter remix of themselves. Regrets can be dangerous and you can end up blaming your past for having too much of an effect on your future.”
“I’ve always loved cities. Manchester first, and then when the band started happening I moved to London as soon as I got my first decent pay cheque. I then ended up in LA for over a decade – which was … basically wild and crazy times in Hollywood. Add in that the band was always working and touring and that gave me the sense that whatever was over the horizon was the interesting place to be, you know? It wasn’t just about the wild and crazy times, mind. I like being around creative people, and I like being in places where things are happening”
"I [meditate] twice a day now. And it's weird, I get fazed by hardly anything anymore. I find it's really good for inspiration. I always knew about it from the Beatles and the Maharishi, and when I quit taking drugs and drinking five years ago, I wanted to delve a little deeper into myself . I'm a big fan of David Lynch too and I've always known he's done it for over 25 years. The first time I did it, I understood a lot of his films more."