Telling Stories, By Tim Burgess

 

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The Independent Culture

There are several eye-watering anecdotes in this memoir by Tim Burgess of The Charlatans, though one in particular stands out. It involves a straw, a paper cone, a Rizla paper and two willing participants, and offers the seasoned cocaine user a novel method of ingesting their drug of choice. Suffice to say that this chapter is called "Cocainus".

These are boom times for rock memoirs of the dissolute variety. Keith Richards's Life, Shaun Ryder's Twisting My Melon and Nile Rodgers's Le Freak are among the more recent examples. In Telling Stories, Burgess, who declined the services of a ghostwriter, writes candidly and with charm about the years spanning Madchester, Britpop and beyond in one of the most cherished bands of the past few decades.

Skipping over a happy childhood, the singer steams straight into his early musical and sartorial experiments (get the hair right and the rest will follow) and his audition, aged 21, for The Charlatans. From there he details both the high points – the No.1 albums, the tours – and the setbacks. These include the fraud by the band's accountant and the death of keyboardist Rob Collins, whose Hammond organ defined the band's early sound, in a car crash. Depression, broken relationships and brushes with the law also figure. As he zigzags through the years, Burgess refuses to get weighed down by bad luck and usually maintains a tone of comic bewilderment.

While there are flashes of rock star braggadocio – such as the suggestion that Liam Gallagher based his stage act on Burgess's – the singer doesn't shy away from confessions that cast him in a bad light, such as his meeting with Madonna. Finding him drunk backstage before a gig, she calls him "gross" and stalks off.

Burgess is sensitive soul in matters of the heart, eschewing the carnal pleasures offered by groupies on the basis that "I can't imagine a lonelier feeling than watching a person whose name you can't recall awkwardly leaving your hotel room." And he isn't above giving other bands credit when the occasion demands it: "If The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays had opened the door," he says, "we invited everyone in and poured the drinks."

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