Tim Burgess's golden rules of rock’n’roll excess

Tim Burgess’s wild years were the stuff of Britpop legend. Here, the Charlatans’ frontman instructs Nick Duerden in the 10 golden rules of rock’n’roll excess

Nick Duerden
Saturday 21 April 2012 17:22
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In the 23 years since their inception, The Charlatans have experienced major success, fleeting failure, and more than their share of bad luck.

In 1996, for example, keyboardist Rob Collins, recently released from prison for his part in an armed robbery, was killed in a car crash. Shortly afterwards, the Manchester band were playing in front of 125,000 people at Knebworth, supporting Oasis on one of Britpop's defining nights. Elsewhere, bassist Martin Blunt has endured depression, replacement keyboardist Tony Rogers has had testicular cancer, and drummer Jon Brookes was struck down by a brain tumour. The band faced bankruptcy after their accountant absconded with much of their money, and to keep their collective pecker up, have over the years enjoyed an awful lot of imaginatively administered drugs.

All of which makes frontman Tim Burgess's autobiography, Telling Stories, a vivid read. Burgess, about to turn 45, should by rights be merely yet another rock casualty; instead, talking over his career highs and lows, he is breezy charm personified, and continues to hide behind the coy smile of a teenage boy.

"Am I a survivor?" he asks. "You could say that."

What lessons has he learnt over the past two decades of a decidedly wild rock'n'roll lifestyle?

Never underestimate the importance of a good haircut

"I always wanted to be a pop star. People say you either have it or you don't, and I suppose I did. I certainly always wanted to look the part. I went through a lot of different hairstyles early on, and then one day I came across an album called It's Different for Domeheads. I always thought the dome, or the bowl cut, looked cool. The Byrds had bowl cuts, and so did I. Before long, people were going into hairdressers nationwide asking for a 'Tim Burgess'. I liked that."

Be nice to groupies

"Groupies never appealed to me, and I've apologised to a lot of people who wanted to have sex with me over the years. But then I was always in long-term relationships with girls I loved and respected. I don't think I missed out, no, because they were inspirational girlfriends, and, at the time, I thought I would stay with each of them for the course."

Avoid Simon Mayo

"Success came pretty quickly for us. Within a year of me joining, we had a No 1 album [Some Friendly, 1990]. We didn't play the game, though. We didn't do friendly phone-ins with radio DJs, and we didn't hang out with other bands because we thought it would dilute our spirit. It was a strange time. Then it got stranger. Our second album [Between 10th and 11th, 1992] only reached No 21, which dented our confidence. We only regained it, and started to enjoy things, later on. And then, if I'm honest, we enjoyed things perhaps a little too much."

Experiment with drugs

"I remember sniffing petrol as a kid, and getting high off glue remover. I did magic mushrooms, I did ecstasy. Drugs were always part of my life, and I had a great time on them, to be honest. One time in America, we discovered the process of blowing cocaine up each other's arses. The nerve endings there are much more receptive. It was an intimate activity, sure, but then being in a band is an intimate thing. Why did we do it? Well, DVDs and playing cards will only take you so far on a 28-date tour of America. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time."

Quit drugs

"I think I got out of drugs at just the right time, but friends may tell you otherwise. I went to see a doctor, a nutritionist, in 2006, and he said that I had done myself certain damage, that I should stop doing drugs, and get better. So I did. I had implants in my ears, which I squeezed every time I had a craving, and which killed the craving. So I went all out, quitting drugs, and drink, and cigarettes. It was difficult, but I've got to say I've never missed them, not once, not at all."

Move to Hollywood

"Hollywood is a long way from Northwich, Cheshire, but I moved there [in the late 1990s] with my wife, Michelle, who was American. Mark Collins [The Charlatans' guitarist] said that me moving so far away would split the band up, but I knew it wouldn't. It wasn't 1990 any more; the world was getting smaller. We had MP3 files, the internet. Los Angeles was strange, and for seven years I didn't really understand it at all. It took somebody as charismatic as my wife, who had a car, to show me the city, and be my guide."

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Come back home

"I'm back in the UK now [Burgess's marriage recently ended]. It just seemed to make sense, and, besides, I got tired of all the travelling, the jetlag. The Charlatans have a studio in Cheshire, so it's nice to be so much closer to it. And the band is still very much a going concern: we're doing some live shows in the summer; I've got a solo album coming out in the autumn; and we'll be working on a new Charlatans album for 2013."

Find a yogi and take up meditation

"After I successfully kicked the drink and drugs, I was well into the idea of being clean. My doctor put me on a course of pills for 21 days, but I took them for three years. I wanted to become ultra-clean. A friend then introduced me to transcendental meditation. I looked into it, read up on [founder] Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and also the David Lynch Foundation [which teaches TM across America], and it just all made sense. I meditate for 20 minutes twice a day now. It's part of my life."

Accept that you're an old rocker

"I'm really happy ageing, actually. I always heard that life begins at 40, and I quite agree with that so far. I've got lots going on, and I've found balance. I've written this book, I've got a record label, the band is still going strong, and I'm in a great new relationship. I couldn't be happier, really."

Invent a breakfast cereal

"A few months ago, I threw out on Twitter that it would be fun to have a breakfast cereal that you could eat at festivals to get you back on your feet. Well, Kellogg's contacted me, and they are now producing it [ingredients include shortbread, raisins and "squidgy marshmallows"]. I've called it Totes Amazeballs, and we'll be selling it at festivals this summer. It was a silly idea, but we ran with it."

'Telling Stories' (Penguin) by Tim Burgess is published on Thursday

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