North by Northwich

Four minutes in a chippy with The Charlatans? Well, two of them anyway. We sat down for a “speed-interviewing” session with bassist Martin Blunt (MB) and keyboardist Tony Rogers (TR) to discuss (very quickly!) the great North by Northwich Exhibition they’ve curated and the new EP.

What’s been the highlight of curating your own festival North by Northwich?

TR: For me, it always will be the playing live bit, but that aside, I think it’s just nice to see the amount of interest it’s generated. We’ve had young kids coming to it, not knowing much about our history, and then getting involved which is great, and then seeing all the old clippings of our past, it’s really interesting, I can’t believe how fast it’s flown! It’s been 28 years since the band started and you just think, where did that time go! It’s an interesting festival, there’s a lot of great people involved, and a lot of people from all over coming to it.

MB There’s been a lot of goodwill, from the council. There are quite a lot of new bands playing around town at different venues, and I think we were just trying to draw more people in, cos you know what it’s like in a lot of towns in the UK. Sadly, a lot of town centres are closing down, and we just wanted to try and get something happening again. It’s like Altrincham, only down the road from Northwich, which for years was decaying, as down the road they built the Trafford Centre, but now, it’s got its own identity back, and fair-do’s to all involved in that. Hopefully this will regenerate this area a little bit, y’know do some blue sky thinking, and try and get something going. It’s a lovely town, just lots of empty shops.

After all these years, what’s been your highlight of being in the band?

TR: There are different highlights I would say. I remember playing Wembley Arena once, and that being one of the most perfect gigs we’d ever done, in terms of performance. But then, there’s so many other highlights. I mean, when you release a record and it gets to number one, that’s a highlight, I think really just being around for twenty eight years, is incredible. I don’t know where that time has gone. You only ever do one album at a time so to us, it feels like it’s just twelve or thirteen years, because each album is like a year, then it takes two to three years to tour it and everything like that, it’s all just flown by!

Even though you relocated here from the West Midlands, what are your favourite memories of Northwich from the early days of the band?

Martin Blunt

MB Our old manager Steve Harrison ran a really good record shop here, Omega Music, and he took a liking to what we were trying to do as a band. There was a bit of interest from other labels, but he just said, let’s release a 12” ourselves on our own label. He financed it himself, and that was the first one on Dead Dead Good Records which came out in 1990, Indian Rope. That was the start of it really, it sold in excess of 30,000 copies, and then we had a lot more interest from there.

Your gold discs are proudly displayed in the exhibition. Do you still get them, and do you still get the same sense of excitement and achievement?

MB It does. They’re on display now, but they were never on display in my house. They were just in a box at the back of the studio, so I thought I’d let them see the light of day. I think Tim sold most of his to charity, that’s why there is mostly mine up there!

Do you still get the same sense of excitement when you get a number one or top five album?

TR: Yeah definitely, of course you do. The last album went to number four, and that was equally as good as getting to number one, because in the current climate, you’re in and you’re out, so to still have a top five album is incredible, it really is, and that gave me just as much of a buzz as getting to number one.

Times have changed a lot since the band began in terms of technology, now streaming music and using social media are part of everyday life. How do you think technology is helping or hindering the band at the moment?

TR: I think it’s good. You can’t stop progress, you know what I mean, you can’t stop the revolution, and that’ll naturally evolve and get bigger and bigger and bigger. I just wish that there was a bit more of an income stream, from actually selling records, especially as it’s become very saturated – you don’t get your two or three months in the charts anymore, unless you’re Ed Sheeran or someone like that, otherwise you can expect to go in and out, which is such as shame. It’s sad that the only way to earn money these days is by just playing live, it’s the only way, or merchandise. It’s a shame because it costs more to make the records than the money that comes in off the back of them so I do feel a bit sorry for bands. Although having said that, a lot of new bands don’t need record companies anymore to get their stuff out there, they can do it themselves and make it that way instead.

You have a new EP “Totally Eclipsing” out 8th June, where was it recorded and what was the motivation behind the new tunes?

TR: We recorded a lot of it at our own studios, Big Mushroom, in Middlewich, we wanted to hang around here in Cheshire, and we’ve had that studio for a while now. We also recorded one of the songs down in London in Konk with a producer, David Wrench, and I think it turned out great. It’s another step in the way that we’re going, I think EPs are the way forward. I mean I do love making albums still, but I think EPs could be a good way to go, and just release more of them. Rather than do an album every two to three years, you could do two or three EPs over the same period of time, with the same amount of tracks. But going back to the new stuff, yeah it’s out and I just hope people like it!

Tony Rogers

MB Well, the album “Different Days” came out last May, and so towards the end of last year, when we had some new tracks, we though instead of waiting for us to get enough for an album, why don’t we just pt a four track EP out, while the songs are still there. So we recorded some in our studio, which is about nine miles from Northwich, which is also where we recorded the last two albums. I mean, before “Modern Nature” was recorded, we’d not recorded at our studio for the last three albums, we didn’t want to get too comfortable within ourselves, but obviously with the events that happened within the band, with Jon’s illness, we just wanted to get back to our own space. As it turns out we reconnected with our studio, and with each other.

What’s the best bit of kit that you own?

TR: My favourite one is the one that’s on show in the exhibition. That’s a nice, real old C3 (Hammond Organ). I’ve had it since I was 21, it was the first one I ever bought. It came out of an old working man’s club and cost me £200! It’s still working perfectly – that’s my best bit of kit. Oh, and I’ve got George Harrison’s Mellotron! I got that by default, as George Harrison was having his repaired, and I was having mine repaired at the same time. Mine was ready and he needed one quickly, so he had mine, and I had his!

We’re in a chippy, what’s your chippy dinner?

TR: Curry sauce and chips, with a tub of mushy peas as well.

MB Large peas, and chips.

The Charlatans new EP “Totally Eclipsing” is out 8th June 2018

From the early days of creating handmade zines, in a DIY paper and glue style, interviewing bands around town, then pestering Piccadilly Records to sell them, to writing for various independent mags such as Chimp and Ablaze, writing about the music I love is still a great passion. After testing the music industry waters in London with stints at various labels, being back in my hometown again, writing about this city’s vibrant music scene is as exciting as ever. All time favourite bands include Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Patti Smith although anything from electro to folk via blues and pysch rock will also do nicely too. A great album, is simply a great album, regardless of whatever musical cage you put it in.