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REVIEW: Tim Burgess

By Margaret Chrystall

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Tim Burgess takes the mike. Picture: Andrew Smith
Tim Burgess takes the mike. Picture: Andrew Smith

EARLIER in the evening, The Velveteen Saints had insisted in one of their songs Rock N Roll Is Dead.

But at TIM BURGESS’s solo Ironworks date, it wasn’t so much dead as put on hold for something more interesting and intimate.

Actually, the Glasgow band kept their full on r’n’r alive despite the song title, though they had the task of playing to a room of empty tables with the early arrivers clinging to the back of the room. But it didn’t make the music any less powerful and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who went home to check them out online.

Bluetones’ former frontman Mark Morriss showcased some new songs from his latest album, gave some assured banter and after opening with the smart lyrics of It’s Hard To Be Good All The Time – loving "you are the scream of a jet", he literally noised us up.

"It’s a long time since I played here, make some more noise!" he demanded with a big smile.

So we did and got Bluetones’ classic Bluetonic for our trouble.

New song Consuela will be on his album out in February, then it was back to Bluetones’ Keep The Home Fires Burning and Space Cadet.

Emotion powered Tim's vocals. Picture: Andrew Smith
Emotion powered Tim's vocals. Picture: Andrew Smith

Mark said: "You’re all strangely quiet for a nation of high-functioning alcoholics."

Someone in the crowd replied: "We’ve just got up!"

But more treats included old song Marblehead Johnson followed by the first single from the upcoming album is out this month and more Morriss gold: "I talk to myself more these days … which is good".

Sixties retro feel was part of the Hatcham Social magic, Ketimine Queen the first song they announced, then Crocodile: "She’s just a smile on a crocodile" as you marvelled over the ringing guitars and pure hamrmonies.

As well as bringing along an eclectic line-up of supports to make a real evening of it, Tim created a night that was pure revelation. And it was a joy to hear music so different from the one-time baggy-labelled swagger rock of The Charlatans, Tim stretching his voice and his presence as a performer.

The set included seven songs from latest album Oh No I Love You made with Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, two from Tim’s earlier solo album I Believe and a selection of five eclectic covers – if you included three Charlatans numbers, one The Only One I Know.

Reading the lyrics of A Case Of Vinyl. Picture: Andrew Smith
Reading the lyrics of A Case Of Vinyl. Picture: Andrew Smith

The mood of an art happening, a poetry reading – something not quite a rock concert, anyway – was set up when Tim picked up his folder of lyrics and opened the gig by reading us the song lyrics of A Case For Vinyl, from the Wagner-Burgess album.

The repetitive power of the "just because I didn’t win" refrain lulled you into what, for some, might have been a bizarre start. But it works as a poem.

And in a night almost quietly haunted by the recent death of Charlatans drummer Jon Brookes, it set your mood on reflective.

But instantly second song Doors Of Then reset to an upbeat, slightly country feel many of the tracks from the album share, the album title words "oh no I love you" making their appearance.

Backed by Charlatans guitarist Mark Collins plus Finnegan and Toby Kidd from Hatcham Social, Tim’s accompaniment left plenty of room to focus on his voice.

Tim – with his latest hairstyle, blonde and pure rock god, mysteriously hiding most of his face when he wants – leant into the song, leant in to our photographer to give him a good shot and added intent to his performance. It was only later the photographer pointed out the dreaded sandal-and-sock footwear that, rocked up by the ever-stylish Tim, looked pure nonchalant beatnik from a Paris catwalk near you.

Tim makes sock-and-sandals rock. Picture: Andrew Smith
Tim makes sock-and-sandals rock. Picture: Andrew Smith

It’s much the same when it comes to his voice. There’s a style there that wins you over and an ability to leach emotion that overcomes any lingering doubt about the strength of the singer’s voice.

The tracks from the new album sees Tim really testing it too.

The Economy saw the voice swooping around in an eerie falsetto, while a couple of songs later, Tobacco Fields – one of the stars of the album – and penultimate song of the set The Graduate took him down to the lowest reaches.

"This is great!" commented Tim after Tobacco Fields. One of the audience had alrady suggested after The Economy that it had been too long since he’d sung at what he called "the very famous" Ironworks (The Charlatans started and ended their tour there back in 2008!).

But looking round, Tim made a comparison: "It kind of looks like a cruise ship ... but in a good way! I’ve never been on a cruise ship, but I’ve seen them on TV!"

He hauled himself back to the setlist.

"This song used to be called Hours and it’s now called ... Hours."

It sounded like classy lounge music, so maybe it wasn’t a surprise when he returned to his boat theme at the end of it.

"That sounded a bit like a cruise ship song," he suggested. "A Christmas song – or too early for that?" he queried, before quickly moving on to discuss the next song.

"The last time two of us were here we were here with three other people ... as The Charlatans," he said.

"And we’ve really got to do a Charlatans song now," he told us before performing a very different version of Impossible where inflections of Bob Dylan remind you that’s just another of Tim’s many eclectic music influences.

The crowd loved it and though there was not one sign that those in the audience had really come to hear Charlatans songs, each of the three we got – with The Only One I Know and North Country Boy – got a really warm reception.

But before we got there, there were more quirky covers to share.

Tim introduced Arthur Russell as "one of my favourite artists of all time" before performing I Couldn’t Say No To Your Face, possibly an introduction for most people to the work of the American singer songwriter who died in the 90s. Jackson Browne’s These Days, first recorded by supercool German chanteuse Nico, followed and then we got The Only One I Know, the guitar from Mark making it undetectable for a few bars until Tim’s vocal – and recognition kicked in and a couple of girls took on the duties of backing vocals.

Tim was at ease with the crowd. Picture: Andrew Smith
Tim was at ease with the crowd. Picture: Andrew Smith

Inbetween Arthur Russell and Nico, Tim played us The Great Outdoors Bitches, one of the hookiest songs from Oh No I Love You: "everywhere I look, reminds me of you". After that, The Graduate powered on the set starting like a cowboy songs and straight on into I Believe’s Oh My Corazon with its little Charlatanesque falling melody and the set closer.

The encore came after a short delay and just a doubt that we’d seen the last of Tim.

But he was back for a brisk North Country Boy.

"I think we’ve got a scene going on here," said Tim like a happy missionary with a roomof willing converts.

"I saw a unicorn in Inverness today," he said, adding – just as you thought he might have flipped – "... a statue!"

"Vikings tomorrow," was a reference to the next gig in Shetland.

"But no sign of Nessie yet! You’ve been lovely."

White was our reward, it wasn’t rock’n’roll, but as the lyrics from Kurt Wagner go "Heartbreak’s on hold".

It’s easy to love this Tim too.

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