The Charlatans: “A Head full of Ideas” 31st Anniversary Best of Tour at the O2 Victoria Warehouse, Manchester Saturday, 4th December 2021

 

 

IMAGES B WARREN MILLAR/WORDS BY JANET HARDING

 

We Can Feel The Atmosphere Change; It’s Been Slowly Building. Suddenly The Venue Is Filled With The Exhilarating Sounds Of ‘WahWah’ And Hammond Organ

 

The 16 year old me back in 1990, lying on my bedroom floor listening to “The only one I know” in complete awe, would be happy. The present day me, en route to see the Charlatans in Manchester, is very happy. I’m ashamed to say this will be my first time seeing them live – I’m excited.

In typically wet, torrential rain, Mancunian weather we park up in the Old Trafford area of Manchester.  As well as raining it’s blowing a gale, but luckily we only have a very short walk to our venue tonight: The O2 Victoria Warehouse – this giant in stature, impressive building isn’t difficult to find.  Iconic, true to its era and also rather stunning, it’s reminiscent of something from a Peaky Blinders film set.  Completed in 1932, the 2 looming warehouse constructions are some of only a few of their kind left standing. Originally built to house textiles for the Liverpool Warehouse Company, they’ve been lovingly kept true to their original style and history. This venue does get a hell of a lot of stick – it’s very unpopular with fans of gigs, but I actually, genuinely, really like it.  True – if you’re not in a car it’s really not easy to get to and from, but the venue itself I find is spot on.  I’m an architecture geek, that’s probably obvious, and I love history.  Adding into the mix my absolute love of live music, for me where could be better?  Industrial, cool, very stylish with original features, a brilliant balcony/mezzanine area.  I love that feel of being at a gig…in a warehouse… and especially with tonight’s headline!  

Tonight feels special.  Another anniversary tour, this time the decade-spanning legends that are the Charlatans. Postponed by the pandemic, the recently released ‘best of’ collection entitled ‘A Head full of Ideas’ was eagerly awaited and this, the corresponding tour, is causing excitement. The crowd gathering here tonight, like me, is really up for this. You can feel a real buzz in the air and a real enthusiasm.

Support Act:  Martin Carr

We’re in for an extra treat tonight as, starting the proceedings tonight is Martin Carr, former guitarist and song writer of the fabulous Merseyside band the Boo Radleys.  Martin now uses his creative genius for solo material and it’s truly something to behold…it’s pure indie indulgence time…made for this crowd! Looking very dapper in a trilby hat, and every inch the rock star, Martin (Carr) sure has that stage presence. Captivating from the off – dreamy, indie, rock, retro, it’s all going on and merges together into such feel good but hard hitting sounds  It’s brilliant!  Pounding bass, loud drumming and those jangly guitar riffs, with a fading in and out, giving at times a real dream-like quality, but guitary and loud enough to be indie rock and go getting.  Predominantly up tempo, it’s got the party started. Clever combinations and super memorable, we’re happy.  The feels are of that real 90s indie scene, but with freshness and a mellow edge; it’s new, it’s interesting, its current. Martin’s voice is light, smooth and even, but reaches highs and sometimes with a lower tone.  Controlled and effortless, it lends itself perfectly to this style. As a crowd we’re very happy, it’s dance-inducing, happy-making.  The venue has filled and suddenly, from the vibes of this excellent support act, it’s become alive in here.  A sea of bodies, moving in time to the beats being shared from the stage. What a start! A must see set! Thoroughly enjoyable.  Thank you Martin Carr.

 

 

The Charlatans – ‘a Head full of Ideas’ – headliner

 The Charlatans – This IS the one we’ve all been waiting for!  Another anniversary tour, another tour postponed by the pandemic, and another tour eagerly awaited. I can still remember the impact the Charlatans had when they first exploded into the music scene as part of the (then) new and ground-breaking Manchester/Madchester scene…I was hooked (still am).  It was new, it was cool, it was loud. Decades later the Charlatans are still a force to be reckoned with.  It’s true this band have faced tough times – tragedies and falls from grace, but haven’t most bands?  These guys have come back each time, and have come back bigger, better and stronger. It feels very laid back and relaxed inside Victoria warehouse at the moment, almost like the calm before a storm. Everyone is eager for the main act and had a ball with the support, but it feels very at ease, with a sense of impending excitement. 

As the lights go out we can feel the atmosphere change; it’s been slowly building. Suddenly the venue is filled with the exhilarating sounds of ‘wahwah’ and Hammond organ – it’s spine tingling – these instantly recognisable sounds, the intro of ‘Forever’.  As the iconic Tim Burgess (saviour of lockdown with his listening party live streams) enters the stage the cheers go up a notch, the tension heightens. He launches into the first verse after energetically dancing around stage in that ‘edgy’, ‘lose yourself’ style he invented 30 odd years ago and the place goes wild. The musical storm has broken and it’s raining music and creativity all over us. Pure nostalgia, we’re all back in those early years, and it seems fitting that we’re gathered in an actual warehouse setting, Manchester music and warehouses being synonymous with those days of indie, dance and raves. A huge screen at the back of the stage adds to the history by playing videos of the band’s hits and images and photos of the guys from across the decades as well as various artworks. ‘A Head full of Ideas’ is the ‘Best of ‘Collection, originally to commemorate the 30th anniversary of this decade-spanning superband, this year being the 31st. It’s a catalogue of progression, if you like, starting from the 1990 beginnings in that Manchester scene, right up to the present day. I don’t use the term ‘superband’ lightly; the Charlatans, having had 13 top 40 studio albums, 22 hit singles and 4 top ten hits, have indeed earned this title!  With a real identity of their own, the Charlatan’s sound is well known and equally well loved, the driving sound being of that Hammond organ, with crunching guitars, that distinctive wahwah and fading, thumping bass lines; drumbeats reminiscent of that real northwest style of even house music at times, but a strong 60s influence. The flavour is firmly indie or indie rock. Every song is as good as the last and performed exceptionally with so much energy and enthusiasm, it’s truly nonstop stuff!  As a crowd we devour every song, fans are bouncing, ‘mosh pit effect’ in full force, it’s full steam ahead on the Charlatans’ reminiscence liner!  It’s one hell of an atmosphere.

 

 

Originally hailing from the Midlands and Cheshire, Tim Burgess was born in Salford before moving to Northwich, so always identified the Charlatans as a Manchester band. The sound certainly fits the bill.  Becoming one of the biggest bands of that scene, their huge hit ‘the Only One I know’ became an anthem not only of the band, but of the era. An obvious choice as a song to feature I know, but to me it just sums up that whole feeling of that Manchester rave on, indie madness of back then, and it made the Charlatans a household name.  It’s a classic!  Tim Burgess is en route to his local garage for a packet of cigs as he suddenly realises he has the melody and some words developing, races back home to his parents’ house as he’d forgotten the dictaphone he always carried around. He fondly remembers:  “Never did get the fags”.  Tim explains:  “It’s a song about teenage feelings: I like somebody, why don’t they like me? I was 21 or 22 or something but still had those powerful feelings. I was a big Byrds fan so the line ‘everyone’s been burned before, everyone knows the pain’ is a nod to their song ‘Everybody’s been burned’.”  Tim adds: “I was ecstatic when the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn said he loved us!” 

Influenced by the Stranglers, Stax Records, Joy Division and the Doors, Martin Blunt, bassist,  says: “Everything came together in summer 1989, Acid house was in full swing, the repetitive beats rubbed off on what we were doing, so suddenly we sounded like the Spencer group on E!”  The wide variety of influences is easily heard in the cleverly layered and intricate tapestries of sound produced by the Charlatans.  Tim’s voice is light, joyous and hedonistic, but with a real angst behind it, like the cheery recital of pure misery.  The contradiction works – there’s almost yearning to his vocals but with a breezy, high vibrational tone – innovative, genius, each song differing from the last but with those must-have 60s feels and organ driving recognisable sounds.

As a performer Tim is super energetic, he’s bounding around the entire stage, bouncing up and down, shaking that famous floppy, bowl-cut hair about, and the microphone waving and stirring which has become his calling card. We love it, it’s full capacity in here ,it’s rammed, everyone’s jumping, dancing and feeling the magical vibes this band create.  No messing, they get stuck in, no small talk; back to back songs are played, fitting a very impressive 21 songs into tonight’s set. It’s gone down well, very well. It’s been a high octane, nostalgia fuelled, nonstop, magical journey of crashing indie genius, with a further 3 songs in the encore to boot. Tonight has been stand out for me – an electric atmosphere, loyal fans who’ve thoroughly loved being a part of this celebration.  I heard from one such fan that he’s seen the Charlatans 22 times!! It’s not surprising. Tim’s enthusiasm, getting the crowd to sing along, clap and raise their hands, and the band’s energy have been boundless. Songs like ‘Weirdo’ and ‘Can’t get out of bed’ uncorked the bottle of musical excitement and fizzed over us tonight. It’s been quite something from beginning to end. I was a fan before, more so now – I’m a huge fan. Everything was delivered in abundance tonight: a well and truly show-stopping, spectacular montage of brilliant, classic, passionate and innovative songs. It’s no wonder the Charlatans have stood the test of time. Hats off to these guys, they earn their status as legends! Here’s to more decades filled with Charlatans’ music!

 

 

SETLIST

1/ Forever. 

2/ Weirdo. 

3/ Can’t get out of Bed. 

4/ Then. 

5/ So Oh. 

6/ You’re so Pretty.

7/  Sleepy Little Sunshine Boy. 

8/ Just When.

 9/ One to Another. 

10/ Different Days. 

11/ Ian Rankin Spoken Word. 

12/ Plastic. 

13/ Easy Life. 

14/ A Man Needs. 

15/ Blind Stagger. 

16/ The Only One. 

17/ North Country. 

18/ How High. 

19/ Blackened. 

20/ Trouble understanding.

 21/ SPG.

 

 

 

 

 

FOLLOW THE CHARLATANS

 

FOLLOW MARTIN CARR

Warren is a live music and festival photographer based in Cheshire and covers gigs/festivals mostly in the North West of England. He has been photographing live music for over 10 years and has covered major artists and festivals

FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA