Tim Burgess Q&A: “I used to think music was a form of witchcraft”

The musician talks Barack Obama, Twin Peaks and teleportation.

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Tim Burgess was born in Salford in 1967 and became lead vocalist of the Charlatans in 1989. He has released 13 albums with the band and four solo records, and is a practitioner of transcendental meditation.

What’s your earliest memory?

Three years old, building sandcastles on a beach with my dad. My dad is not so well now and he doesn’t remember much, but then life was ahead of us both and nothing mattered more than those sandcastles.

Who are your heroes?

I was a Seventies kid so heroes were easy to find: George Best, Bruce Lee, Evel Knievel, Muhammad Ali. As an adult my hero would be Alex Ferguson.

What book last changed your thinking?

Pick a Chord: Bert Weedon’s Short Cut Guitar Guide with Instant Chord Finder has had the longest-lasting effect on me. Before it, I thought that music was a form of witchcraft where I didn’t know the spells. It allowed me to think I could learn to play and maybe even join a band.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Barack Obama. He has a serenity that so many politicians lack. They have bluster and shoutiness. He has a calmness and a coolness that has departed from politics.

What TV show could you not live without?

It’s been and gone but Twin Peaks was everything that TV could be. It totally clicked with me. I still go back and watch episodes when I have time to pass.

Who would paint your portrait?

If it could be anyone from history, Andy Warhol would get the job. If it’s somebody around now then it’d be David Hockney. It’s not even about what the picture would look like, I just imagine that talking to them would be the most amazing experience.

What’s your theme tune?

Something cheerful that might even have a bit of whistling in it. Maybe I could write it and then get some royalties each morning as it plays while I walk down the street waving to people. A kind of “The 59th Street Bridge Song” feel to it. “Hello lamp post, what’cha knowin’?”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Meditate twice a day for 20 minutes.

What’s currently bugging you?

Right at this very moment: that the band Poison Girls weren’t bigger and that the CD pressings of their albums were not very good (on vinyl the albums sound brilliant).

What single thing would make your life better?

Teleportation. Travel is an amazing thing and I still love visiting places but it takes a lot of time. It’s cool when you’re with family and it’s all part of the adventure, but sometimes getting from A to B can seem a bit of a chore.

When were you happiest?

I’m happy a lot of the time, but I suppose my happiest would be in the six years since my son was born, maybe on a family holiday to Nice when we went out on a boat trip. It was a magical few hours, if a bit choppy on the way back – a reminder that nothing’s perfect.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I’d run a coffee shop that puts on events. I do that at a few festivals and it’s like having a parallel other life while still being the regular me.

Are we all doomed?

I’d say we were partially doomed with some sunny spells in between. That’s my philosophical weather forecast. l

“One Two Another: Line By Line: Lyrics from the Charlatans, Solo and Beyond” by Tim Burgess is published by Constable

This article appears in the 24 January 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Power to the people

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