Telling Stories - Tim Burgess (2012)
9. Getting Straight
Whenever I was away from America, I missed the strong and sweet Hollywood cocaine that I’d grown accustomed to. It had been through a limited number of hands since its journey began in Colombia and had less of the teething powder, animal wormer or baking soda that routinely gets added by each new vendor to keep margins up. Like some people can spot a good wine, I had become a connoisseur of the devil’s dandruff.
I don’t want to glorify my use of drugs, and I am acutely aware of the methods drug cartels use which heap misery on huge areas of South America. But these are never your concerns when you’re lost in the middle of it all. You have a clearer view of things after you stop, and a level of honesty can be brought in that is not possible while you are still an addict. So what I’m saying is that anyone who might be shocked or upset by this – hi Mum, hi Dad – can be happy in the knowledge that it is in the past, and this candid talk isn’t available to anyone still in the grip of drug-use. There is a level of denial that disappears when you really are done with it.
There was such a difference in quality that I used to supply to a guy in Europe – that guy was me, when I made my trips home. I was a kind of drug dealer to myself, which at least meant there was a degree of trust involved. Having said that, I’d always nick a bit just before I posted it, thinking I’d not notice when I got it in Europe. Frank Zappa has a song called ‘Cocaine Decisions’. These were my cocaine decisions.
If I didn’t send some into the future for me to pick up when I caught up with myself, I would spend three days running around looking for what would inevitably be the worst gear in London or Manchester. Dealers are good to those who are good to them, but non-regulars get a raw deal.
Sending it in records was always my modus operandi, and always in a record by a band whose records I would never actually buy. I don’t know why, but I imagined that my case would be thrown out after it had dawned on the wily magistrate that I couldn’t possibly own a Jamiroquai record. Cocaine decisions.
Transporting the stuff took many forms. On tour buses I’d be travelling over the borders with my stash in a rucksack tied to a spare Leslie speaker horn parked at the very back in a flight case under the Hammond. It worked pretty well. I doubted that even the most chirpy pup would be nimble enough to clamber all the way back there through that – squeezing among the gear looking for the other gear.
Or I would put a bag of charity shop clothes and a consignment of pills anonymously in the hold of a National Express bus travelling to Europe, then catch a plane and meet the bus at its final destination. How do you do? Yes, thank you very much!
My DJ box was a flight case with approximately fifty records tightly packed in it – a perfect opportunity for taping a gram to the inside of the sleeves for a treat when the records were played later in the evening. The one-in-a-million chance of the drugs being found by someone else was reassuring, yet the Russian-roulette feel of the whole thing made the already enjoyable DJ jobs that little bit better.
It became a slight obsession, and on one trip to the UK I became stressed when I realized I’d forgotten to post anything to my destination. So I packed me an eight-ball (3.5 grams) in my belongings. When I arrived in London, I got a call to say my bag hadn’t made it and would be on the next flight; they would deliver to my hotel within 24 hours.
My jangling nerves and paranoia, mixed with one too many films, led me to envisage half a dozen plain-clothed officers standing around my suitcase, laid open on a table in an interview room at Paddington Green police station. Underwear is held in tweezers at arm’s length. Socks are in a see-through plastic bag marked exhibit A.
It was a very long 24 hours. Not only was I without my drugs, but I was looking at a 3 stretch. I didn’t even know what a 3 stretch was but I’d heard it somewhere.
At last there was a knock on my hotel-room door. ‘Mr Burgess, your luggage.’
I opened the door and there he stood – holding my bag was the least convincing undercover cop I’d ever seen. He paused and said, ‘You’ll be in a right state without this,’ evidently a knowing reference to the drugs. I looked up and down the corridor, as he surely had some sort of back-up. But there was no one. I looked at him and he gestured towards me again with my case. He was frowning and wondering why I hadn’t taken it. I took it. He asked me to sign his docket and he was off.
I was a free man, and I was pretty excited. There was only one way to celebrate. But I castigated myself for my stupidity and vowed I’d never do it again.
Like any drug-user I usually failed to include the consequences in my list of concerns. A conviction in the UK or US would have made travel and visas a logistical nightmare for the band.
That was my life in The Charlatans for about three years. During the period of Up at the Lake and Simpatico I was beyond help. If anyone did try to help, I would be belligerent or I would just ignore them. No one was getting through. The real root of the problem was that I wanted to sabotage everything. At this time I wanted to destroy the band I loved because I couldn’t work with our manager, Steve Harrison. I couldn’t understand why the rest of the band wanted to keep hold of him when a clean severance would have been much more dignified.
Would it have saved me from my self-medicating nightmare? Perhaps. Well, I have to blame something. Cocaine decisions again.
I am pretty sure that Steve was aware that relationships were at an all-time low, but he must have been at best confused and at worst living in a nightmare of uncertainty and frustration. As a band I don’t think we could have been any crueller.
None of us was brave enough to face up to him and say it’s over. Martin was afraid of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, and none of us could pretend that we knew what to do. I blame myself. I was the de facto leader but too out of it to be in charge. It was a case of the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind.
And the rest of the band were in denial because they didn’t want to admit that I was the leader.
I didn’t give a fuck. They didn’t see it because he had been there from the start, but I’d lost all confidence in him. In fact I no longer had a relationship with him. He was good in the beginning, granted. But the band had made it easy for him. We were good. We were fresh.
There were situations in which he pretended he knew how to do something just because he was too proud to say he didn’t know what he was doing. It’s one of my least favourite traits. True, I don’t know what I am doing half the time. I don’t think in itself that’s a bad thing, in fact you can stumble upon great things sometimes that way, but I do think it’s important to let people know when you don’t know what you’re doing.
In many circumstances it could be a dangerous thing, and Steve just flunked his way through. And when he messed up, the repercussions always fell on the band. He just wasn’t strong enough defending us or fighting our corner. He often told us that Peter Grant was his hero, but Peter Grant would have taken a bullet for Led Zeppelin, whereas I reckon at this stage Steve would have sold us down the river for a prawn sandwich (his favourite). In my opinion, he was out of his depth in every area, and on top of it all he was desperate for financial security, as he was facing bankruptcy. The biggest crime of all: the desperate manager of a rock ’n’ roll band.
We’d all been dealt a huge blow when our accountant, Trevor Williams, a 48-year-old local who we’d completely trusted, ran off with £300,000 of the band’s money. Even worse, he hadn’t accounted for any of our taxes in the past five or six years and we were incurring daily penalties from the Inland Revenue – we eventually had to pay back £1.9 million.
On his court appearance in April 1999 he admitted taking our money and asked for twenty-one other cases to be taken into account. So I suppose at least we could take some solace from the fact that it wasn’t anything personal. His secretary told us that he left big cheques made out to himself lying around the office, as though he wanted to be caught. I think he must have had some kind of breakdown at the end.
When we first heard that something was up, we had a crisis meeting with Steve, who told us that Williams wanted to talk to us in his house – which was, inconveniently, right opposite our newly converted studio. So I went along with Martin, Steve and our lawyer. We were curious about his motives and his methods. At the time I didn’t realize the magnitude of what he’d done, and I was all ready to accept a cup of tea when we arrived, but Martin had the right approach – he had to restrain himself from punching him. Martin took it really personally. The beating never happened, but I think he did get to spit on Williams later on outside court.
Our lawyer asked him straight out why he had done it, to which he responded, ‘I don’t know.’ And that was the only information we got out of him. Though he did say that if we didn’t report him he’d do our taxes for free for the rest of his life! He ended up serving five years in prison.
And Steve? What had Steve been doing during this time? During the giddy heights of the second bout of Charlatans success, between 1995 and 1997, he had managed to build his empire up to six record shops in the northwest. I guess he took his eye off the ball while Williams (a family friend of his – he did Steve’s dad’s taxes) destroyed the band financially. It would take us ten years to get over it. If we ever have.
Subsequently, Steve had to declare himself bankrupt as a trader over the accountancy fiasco. A shopkeeper with no shops. He lost everything except his income as manager of The Charlatans.
So the root of all my problems were my manager and the death of Rob, and they were amplified by my increasing reliance on drugs. In the beginning, we were all so close. I loved Steve. Maybe I did rely on him too much, but I had a lot to deal with. I went from a small rehearsal room in Wednesbury to having all these hits and travelling all over the place. I remember doing press in Amsterdam at the American Hotel in 1990. Marianne Faithfull came and sat at my table and just stared at me with a sexy smile as I was doing my interview. I had a feeling that Marianne wanted me as her next love experiment! I think she was still living on the streets at the time, or maybe it was just after that period, but she was looking good!
And then on one occasion in 1993 I was backstage at the Limelight Club in New York, lying on the floor, on my back, with a girl lying next to me, on E, when Madonna walked in, shades on and her hands covering her eyes. There’d been a strong rumour before we played that she was coming to see us, and later I heard she danced all the way through the set. I wasn’t surprised. The band were hot, and the Manchester scene was a worldwide phenomenon. After all, Mick Jagger had shown up in Atlanta.
Perhaps it was the deli tray, the cigarette butts and the cans of beer on the floor that caused Madonna’s reaction. ‘Gross!’ I think she said. Or maybe, ‘Oh, gross!’ Anyway, she wasn’t impressed. It obviously wasn’t the face-to-face meeting she or, for that matter, I had hoped for.
I was beginning to get really well known. Everywhere I went, people would want me to stop and talk to them. Kids would follow me everywhere. It was fun, but I couldn’t really go out any more. I was followed and photographed everywhere I went. Beggars Banquet licensed our records out in each country in the world, and in every posh office there would be an older woman, the Vice President of the label, say, who acted like she wanted me to seduce her. And I just couldn’t do it. I just seemed to be running away from older women all the time. It was of course something that would have really appealed to the teenage me – maybe it was a case of being careful what you wish for.
I wanted to sort myself out; I didn’t want to do rehab. So I pretty much locked myself in a room at the K West Hotel for nine days before going on tour to promote the 2006 album Simpatico. The first four days were awful: goose bumps, hot and cold sweats, headaches, feeling sick, wild mood swings, confusion and regret. I really wanted to do it without Michelle being around, because I knew I would take out my frustration on her. I didn’t want her to see me in this state either.
I tried to take my mind off the withdrawals, but everything just seemed so dull. All the programmes on TV were mind-numbingly boring. I tried to sleep, but I could only do it sporadically. I would pace around at four in the morning. I was hot and I was cold. I wasn’t aching, but my mind was craving.
Later I went to see Dr Nish Joshi, a medical guru, Princess Diana’s nutritionist and an all-round health miracle worker, in Harley Street, London. After a consultation and full confession, he put me on a 21-day detox programme. I was persuaded to go by our tour manager, Curly Jobson, the brother of Richard Jobson from The Skids. ‘Persuaded’ isn’t quite the right word – he just asked me if I wanted to go and see Nish. There was no pressure, but he was a patient and came to me with glowing reviews of the doctor. He had an appointment on Monday, the next afternoon, and invited me along. It was the best thing I could have done.
From the moment of my confession I began to feel better. I’d finally told someone about my problems. Obviously, I did have issues, but until this point I hadn’t admitted them to myself. The simplicity of what I had to do hit me there and then. I had no guilt and no apologies to make.
But I was now 38, I would be 40 in a couple of years, and I was tired of being ‘That Tim’, the one captured in this interview by Sylvia Patterson for Sky in December 1995.
Tim Burgess, singer with The Charlatans, is one of the most likable rock stars in action.
His passion for music is inexhaustible, he dances constantly to his own inner tune, clicking his fingers, grinning till you think his face will split, extolling the joys of music and most other things in life. I once danced with him in his own living room to his own record after a deliriously drunken night out, and left at eight in the morning, glad to find a rock singer who didn’t care two monkeys for cool.
Here Sylvia Patterson takes him out for lunch, watches him get heroically drunk, graciously accepts his gift of a watch, and tries to deposit him home despite him not having a clue where he lives.
‘Mam? Your friend. He has fallen down the stairs.’
The barman is concerned. He has the look on his face of someone who is considering calling an ambulance. Tim Burgess is not concerned. He has the look on his face of blithe oblivion because he, unlike the barman, is the happiest man in the world.
He is also the drunkest man in the world. And, in the last two hours, he has not only fallen all the way down the pub stairs and gained a profound limp, but proved himself a spectacularly bizarre, bona fide nutter of pop rivalled only by the king of errant lunacy himself, i.e. Bez from Black Grape.
Firstly, Tim was ‘jet-lagged out of me head’ so there was only one thing for it: four bottles of wine with the Italian meal. The Italian meal of broccoli pasta which he half ate and then enquired four times as to whether we’d eaten yet or not. He didn’t remember drinking his beer either. Waited for the return of his credit card when it was sitting in front of him inside the leather receipt book for half an hour. Gave me his watch, a fake $35 Rolex affair with special countdown effect for deep-sea divers, for no reason, howling ‘Cheers! Nice one! This year’s been the year of presents!’ Attacked the ivories of the restaurant piano player on the way out the door. Couldn’t find the pub he’s been drinking in for years. Started cuddling everyone; great big bear-hug embraces to knock the wind out of a typhoon. Showed everyone his new tattoo of a sleeping cartoon tiger on his back. Ended up with his head in the lap of your reporter’s chum after giving her his plastic Beatles bag and all its worldly contents. Sang Oasis’s ‘Champagne Supernova’ from the bonnet of a car. Couldn’t even remember he lived in London. Was told by a homeless person in a doorway that if he didn’t get up off the Soho pavement he wouldn’t get a taxi to take him anywhere. He steadied himself on a wall.
‘You live in Chalk Farm, Tim,’ said my chum, who was the only person not on the pavement in Soho, to which he replied ‘That’s it! Ace! I’m going home!’ So, finally, he went home, unconscious in a taxi. Or woke up in hospital, or in the wrong continent, whichever came first. For a man whose behaviour borders on the suicidal, Timothy Burgess, the people’s friend, is what you’d call a life enthusiast.
He is also mad. It’s a much abused word, mad, attributed to anyone with a semblance of personality, but he really is proper coo-ee clouds pan-dimensional mad mad. He doesn’t sit, he grooves in his seat, shoulders undulating to some constant inner rhythm, fingers clicking, his arm shooting into the air every three seconds with mad-for-it delight. He does this in front of the waiter and the startled fellow flinches as if the Northern loon was about to sock him in the jaw for not pouring the wine fast enough.
He speaks to you on the end of your nose in a low Northern slur of pronounced inarticulacy, ending a theory with ‘You know what I mean, though … or whatever …’ veering into a polar opposite subject and/or emotion until you haven’t a bloody clue what he’s on about any more. He means everything he says. And then he says ‘Fuck it!’ or ‘I can’t be arsed!’ and breaks out in uncontrollable cackles. He is a 7-year-old boy tumbling around in the deceptively big-boned body of a 27-year-old man. And a top geezer, a real-deal pop persona and the happiest man in the entire world in the zenith of a personal vindication because up until this year, he and his band were universally presumed to be, as Tim would have it, ‘a gonner’.
It is the triumphant pop year of 1995. The Charlatans’ triumph shone the brightest because everyone thought they were dead. From the bench on the side of Britpop pitch hysteria, they quietly brought us their fourth LP, The Charlatans, and from oblivion, it went straight into the charts at number one; a huge, sumptuous, celebratory album of power-pop excellence hailed as the second LP The Stone Roses took five years not to come up with.
For the second time in their six-year history, The Charlatans were number one LP titans of pop; it happened before with their debut Some Friendly in 1990: The Year of Baggy. Their year of Smash Hits superstardom, of being lost in American deserts, of psychedelic rock ’n’ roll jubilation. And then The Curse began. Madchester was stoned to death in the grunge avalanche. Their new tunes were panned. Martin (Blunt – bass) went down with clinical depression. Jon (Baker – guitar) left. Mark (Collins – guitar) joined and became an alcoholic within six months. On 3 December 1992 Rob Collins (keyboards) drove the getaway car in an armed off-licence robbery. The band carried on, didn’t really think he’d go to jail for, you know, real. Rob’s case came to trial in September 1993; he was sentenced to eight months in Shrewsbury prison. Now, two years later, The Charlatans are enjoying a return to ‘Flavour of the moment’ status with, it has to be said, unfeasible gusto.
So. What went right?
‘All right,’ says Tim, downing at least half a pint in approximately four seconds, ‘it was the realization, when Rob went to prison, of everything that we could lose. So me and Mark started to write tunes.’
It was the first time they’d written together, just the two of them. They wrote somewhere in the region of five songs every week, no matter if they were rubbish or not. They weren’t and it saved their lives. And saved Tim from the demons of his inner asylum.
‘I went through a real self-loathing period, me,’ he says, puffing on the hour’s 87th cigarette. ‘Seriously. Honestly. I just hated everything that I did. When the second LP got trashed I really thought it was all my fault and everything that I ever did was shit. But there was something weird inside me that made me want to do it even more. I never did this to start with for any other reason than to be a great band. I didn’t do it for the girls – I never had a real phobia about being an ugly git, I never had Pete Townshend syndrome, know what I’m saying? I just got addicted to doing LPs, which sounds really shit but it’s true. So it wasn’t a case of holding onto the reins; it was a case of setting them on fire and that’s what we did, so … cheers!’
Tim didn’t visit Rob in jail once.
‘No,’ says Tim looking suddenly forlorn, ‘I apologized to him at the time but I didn’t approve. Of what he’d done. Because he put my life in jeopardy and I wasn’t asking for it. But we survived and I love him; he’s spooky but he’s a good guy at the end of the day.’
Do you know why he did it?
‘For the buzz,’ says Tim plainly. ‘He’s into danger, he’s just like that’ (begins fiddling with a watch which is too big even for his enormous wrists). ‘I’m going to find the perfect person to give this watch to – I love giving me stuff away …’
How come you’ve never lost the plot like some of the others did?
‘Dunno,’ grins Tim. ‘I just have a good time, me – you’ve just got to be yourself, haven’t you? Oh God (sets his hand on fire with his fag), now I’ve burnt meself. I reckon I’m the Observer and everyone else is the Sunday Times, know what I’m saying?’
‘Rob’s definitely the Sunday Times, he’s always getting out of his mind. Rob’s the kind that’ll kick the door off its fookin’ hinges and sleep in the bath. Oh God, I can’t be doing with all this me representing the band any more! What’s that there? Is it vodka?’
It’s water. Maybe you should have a small sip?
‘Where’s me beer? Oh, I’ve drunk it.’
In 1983, aged 15, Tim left school with one O-level in English and a head full of Milky Way, quite possibly.
‘When I left school I was told I was never gonna get a job,’ he says, rolling around in his seat. ‘I was fookin’ told it. And it wasn’t a put-down; it was just the truth – there was no opportunities in this country.’
From the age of 11 Tim had been a music obsessive. Went to see Killing Joke aged 11 in his school uniform. Spent nights hiding in his room listening to John Peel and making up imaginary set-lists for The Fall and New Order. So, naturally, his personal pop dream began.
‘No,’ corrects Tim breezily, ‘the band thing never came into me head at all. I didn’t think about anything. I thought I’d just do nothing. Did not know nothing, honestly. Then I got a job at 16, which me dad put me up for at ICI (where his father worked along with the entire population of Northwich), and everyone thought it was me dad that got me the job but it wasn’t. I just said the right things. Said it was a brilliant job, said it’d be top and I could do it better than anybody else. So put your faith in me.’
And you were completely lying through your teeth?
‘Honestly, between you and me,’ says Tim, because he is nuts, ‘I’ve wanted to do every single job I’ve ever had properly. Whether it’s the mail in ICI or working in an office pressing computers – and that’s the scary thing. I must be a bit of a jobsworth.’
‘It’s the truth!’ he hoots. ‘I’ve fookin’ made sure I’ve given it my all every time. I have to do things right and it’s the same with singing. You’re dying to laugh, aren’t you? I know you are!’
Every weekend he’d take coach-trips to Manchester with his gang, hang around the station and the record shops. Went to gigs. Some mates formed a covers band, The Electric Crayon Set, with Tim singing, or rather screaming, Iggy Pop and Zeppelin tunes. Madchester was inventing itself. His mate Steve Harrison from the Omega Music record-shop told him about this new band, The Charlatans, and they went to see them. They had something, principally a groove-monster Hammond-organ nutter called Rob Collins, but they needed a proper frontman. Then the rubbish one left; Tim joined. In the summer of 1989 they wrote a song called ‘The Only One I Know’, put it out on their own Dead Dead Good label; it went straight to the top of the indie charts. The rest is hysteria/wilderness/hysteria and several billion sentences with the word ‘lips’ in them. And right now, those lips were made for drinking.
‘I think we’re getting a bit of a reputation for being drinkers, aren’t we?’ supposes Tim, ordering another bottle.
Well, yes you are, but then so’s everybody else.
‘It’s getting serious,’ notes Tim. ‘Gets to me that, a bit – it’s better to be a thinker than a drinker.’
Oh, you can be both.
‘Well, yeah, you can be everything (massive grin). There’s definitely something that’s happened this year – everyone’s just up for it! Don’t know what it is. The brilliant tunes? Maybe you have to drink to do something brilliant. Which comes first?’
Tim loves his fags and booze. He once said, ‘I love smoking, and I love drinking because it makes me smoke more.’ He can open bottles of beer with his ear. The Charlatans have just returned from their latest American touring jamboree – 18 days and 10 gigs with Menswear. The two bands rapidly bonded and proceeded swiftly on to the rock ’n’ roll diet of blow and bevvy – ‘Menswear are brilliant, it was house-on-fire stuff. We all lost our minds a bit, heheh.’
Before they’d even landed The Charlatans were arrested – for enjoying themselves in the company of ‘a tosser’. The bloke in front of Tim’s seat objected to the beery tomfoolery behind, put his arms around the back of his seat, hands deliberately obliterating Tim’s in-built TV screen.
‘So me and Mark,’ giggles Tim, ‘started tickling his fingers.’
The bloke went berserk. Slammed Tim’s seat, made a formal complaint to the appropriate authorities.
‘So when we landed in New York,’ says Tim, ‘there was a Tannoy announcement saying the plane would be delayed while they waited for the police. They moved everyone out except us and the police came on and cuffed us all up. We got taken to the Port Authority cells. There’d been all these Chinese whispers that we were all swearing and spitting and smoking on a no-smoking flight, which was all lies. I was a bit scared, the guns and being cuffed and they’re massive on planting stuff on you. They read us our rights, all this knobhead stuff. Got the FBI in. Took our passports off us and took our shoe-laces off us – don’t know what that was for, I thought maybe it’s just because they think we’ll hang ourselves! (looks bemused) I wouldn’t hang meself, I’m loving it at the moment, you can’t put a downer on me!’
Three hours later the FBI pronounced the situation ‘ridiculous’ and freedom was granted.
Jail-bound or not, Tim loves the travelling, he loves America and he loves his new tattoo, taken from the Daily Express cartoon by Kelvin and Hobbs [sic]: ‘I love it because it looks like he’s asleep and he can’t get out of bed. Tigers are top: they’re ferocious and cuddly.’ He also loves Chloe, his girlfriend of the last two years, the two years in which Tim’s been happier that he’s ever been before ‘but never content: there’s too much to be getting on with, but happiness is cool.’ And so’s being in love.
‘Everything revolves around it,’ notes Tim, ‘everything that I do. Every day I consider Chloe’s feelings. She inspires me. I think it’s the best thing in the world. I really do.’
It’s easy for him to fend off the inevitable lure of female fandom.
‘I like meeting new people,’ he states. ‘I’m into it, but I’m also loyal and that makes people sick, but loyalty’s cool. I think when you’re loyal you have to question why (begins to crumble for no reason whatsoever). I think too much. Honest I do; I think too much all the time and I don’t even know what I’m thinking about. I always thought that Timothy Burgess was a cool classical name but Martin Blunt was very sporty.’
‘Chloe’s me stabilizer,’ says Tim, returning to the plot. ‘She’s mental but she’s me voice of reason, she’s a Taurus, a bit of a backbone. I’ve got a fully formed backbone, but there’s someone there just needs to pull it from the back, an outer-puller. Oh God.’
‘I’m so shit with words, me, I’m tellin’ yer. No one fookin’ ever understands a thing I say – now why is that?’
You’re a somewhat bizarre conversationalist.
‘No one gets what I mean or say,’ says Tim, looking perplexed. ‘They feel it but they don’t get it. I wish I could be really … what’s the word … integral and talk about proper stuff. I always imagine Jarvis Cocker to be really clever. I’m averagely statistical.’
He begins shouting, becomes finger-snappy demented.
‘May Jarvis never die!’ he shouts. ‘He’s one in a million! And I’m one in 10 (gales of laughter). Nah, I’m one in a million as well. I think. I don’t know what I am, but I’m finding out.’
I doubt there’s many of you in a pound.
‘Honestly, just tell me,’ he intones, ‘just tell me what I am! Because I’ve not got a clue! I still don’t know what the fuck’s going on in my head.’
Have you always danced at all times, while sitting and walking, the lot?
‘Yeah. It used to be with a hunch, but now I’m a bit straighter. Now why is that?’
Haven’t got a clue, mate.
‘I think people slouch when all they’ve got in the world is hatred. You straighten up when you’ve got something to celebrate.’
And he’s got much to celebrate, not least being so good-looking it’s preposterous. He’s got those sweepy eyelashes that form semi-circles on the cheeks. His eyes are gigantic and ink black. The thick, dark hair. The snub nose. The famed lips. The perfect teeth. Must have a profound effect on your life, being beautiful. What does it feel like?
‘Feels like nuthin’,’ he cringes, genuinely mortified. ‘Dani Behr is officially classed as good-looking, but you wouldn’t want to go out with her, would you? You’d hate her!’
There must be security in good looks: after all, people have killed themselves because they’re ugly.
‘Yeah, but I’m really … like in some relationships I’m really not self-assured at all. Seriously. I’m not into people for looks; I’m into what people get up to, what they kick up about, people who make a fuss. Rather than just sitting there being gorgeous. I don’t even think I’m good-looking (begins flattening hair down into a deeply nerdy bowl-cut). I’ve never ever, ever fancied meself. Oh God, so what do I do? Is that weird? Do you think that’s weird?’
I think everything’s weird.
‘I like records. I like records more than I like people! Hyickick!’
I go to the bathroom and leave Tim with the tape-recorder on in case he feels like telling a story. He does. And it goes like this:
‘Hello. This is Tim. I’m going to tell a little wee story about the time we went to Sweden. It was top, right – we were playing on a little boat in Sweden sailing down the river and we got to the end of it and it was unbelievable right. Our sound geezer he got taken off the boat and he got slammed into prison and no one knows what the story is because it was kept really quiet and he’s only just got out. The only problem with telling this story is that everyone in The Charlatans seems to have been in prison and that really worries me. Because I really want to be taken seriously for our music and I get scared sometimes that people don’t take us seriously. And it’s probably one of the hardest things in the whole world to get. But I think we’re getting there. And all the devils inside me are beginning to turn into angels.’
Tim is a ‘big-time insomniac’ who often wakes up at 3 a.m. with the urge to wash all his clothes and have them ready for 6 a.m., whereupon he will hang them over the doors. He gets lost everywhere he goes; never been able to find his way back to the same place twice, ‘not ever’. He reckons it’s because he can’t drive and he’s used to being dropped off all the time. I reckon it’s because taking responsibility for yourself is boring and there are more important things to think about.
‘You’re right,’ he nods, ‘but I’m too scared to admit it.’
He has two astonishingly distinct handwriting styles and whisks his Filofax out to prove it: one a beautifully neat, boxy, level set of capitals, the other a swirling extravagance – the work of two completely different souls.
Which one is the real you?
(Becoming incapable of speech) ‘The real me ish the capicals.’
Tim was told by a woman he spoke to in San Francisco he was ‘ultra-Gemini. She told me I was Geminied out me mind.’ It seems we have the evidence. And now an alarm’s gone off in his head. There’s something he’s not said and he must say it immediately. He switches the tape recorder back on.
‘The Charlatans,’ announces Tim, ‘are at the forefront rather than the backfront of anything musical in the last fookin’ 20 years. Everyone always thought of us as part of this Baggy scene and I always thought it was something different; you can drop out, do drugs and take over the world, that’s what I thought it was, but everyone else thought it was baggy trousers. We’re doing something that’ll last for ever. I just want to be great, that’s all. And now I’ve lost me credit card!’
You’re an absolute nutter, Tim Burgess, you really are.
‘I’m shorry! I really am shorry!’
Within three hours Tim will find himself comatose on his living room carpet. For my part, I will awake with a dodgy eye from a close-range arm-shooting incident, a limp to match his own and a lovely new watch for deep-sea diving with, several sizes too big. You don’t just have a drink with Tim Burgess: you have a surreal and life-threatening experience. Meanwhile, he’s too late for wishing he’ll be great one day because he already is. And the new-born angels inside him know it.
Dr Joshi was cool and happy to help: ‘Well, Tim, we shall just have to get you better.’ For me and my compulsive personality, a 21-day detox – a strict diet with thirty herbal supplements a day – was perfect. I needed the order and the ritual. I took them at exactly the same time every day. It seemed like the obvious way to get a drug addict onto an alternative habit. After a few days the pills started to kick in and the thought of getting better started to sink in as well.
And then I went on tour, which was ideal because people were genuinely watching out for me. I didn’t want the drink taken off the rider, I thought that would be too draconian to suggest to the band and would make me seem a little AA 12-step, but I did request my own room backstage.
It affected my performance immediately for the better. It had got to a point where I knew the songs were good, but the performances were letting me down in the studio and in the rehearsals. I had begun to feel like it was all a struggle.
The albums Up at the Lake and Simpatico were let down by the performances – not just my performances, but as I am supposed to lead then I only have myself to blame. I had got sloppy. Everybody knew. No one was telling me, but deep down I knew too.
Tony Linkin, our press officer at the time, but more importantly to me a friend, tried telling me in the nicest way he could, but there is only so much you can do. He definitely worried about me, though.
And Curly obviously knew, too. He knew that I wouldn’t be able to do a world tour in the shape I was in. I was going through my Fat Elvis phase and in rehearsals I just couldn’t sing without having a drink. A big fat line of bugle and a couple of bottles of wine, and I would be ready for a rehearsal. Then I would do a rehearsal and it would be shit. But I would carry on drinking throughout the day till I passed out, usually upstairs lying on the floor in front of the television, very often at 7 or 8 o’clock at night. Then I would wake up at two in the morning with the bottle there in front of me and I would fill my glass and start all over again.
I noticed the effects of the detox programme straight away. The singing on the tour got better with every show. Within three weeks, friends, co-workers and family started to say, ‘Oh my God, Tim, you look really good.’ Within three months, I had lost ten pounds and shed ten years in looks and the way I felt.
Actually, the choice was simple. It was either music, which I got into the whole bloody thing for, or dropping out at the bottom and probably ending up on the streets. I noticed just in time to save my skin.