Tim Burgess and The Charlatans were one of Britpop’s most popular acts but in 1996 the group’s keyboard player Rob Collins tragically died in a car crash while recording fifth album Tellin’ Stories. Frontman Tim talks through their comeback single One to Another and how the band found the strength to carry on…
‘We’d enjoyed really great success with The Charlatans. It was our self-tiled fourth album and went to the top of the charts. We were feeling on top of the world and went straight back into the studio to start working on new material. We always worked like that and the first signs were the songs [which went on to be singles] One to Another, North Country Boy and How High.
One to Another was based around a riff that Rob Collins came up with. For me, it was a follow up to [the band’s 1992 hit] Weirdo with the riff being the most important part.
We went to a rehearsal studio near Stone just outside Stoke on Trent where Rob just relentlessly played this riff to me, Martin and Jon. Rob liked to play things over and over until it got to breaking point and you’d just have to say ‘fucking shut up!’. Mark [Collins, guitarist] came up with this Beatlesy twist on it which allowed me to sing the actual verses. It’s pretty intense.
At that time, we’d been working with the Chemical Brothers on and off. I met them through Heavenly, the PR and record company who ran a club night in London. Tom and Ed had a residency down there. On the first night I ran up to them to tell them how much I loved their set.
So when we were recording Tellin’ Stories we asked them if they’d get involved and One to Another was the first idea we sent them. But it was a complete collaboration. Tom came to the studio in Rockfield and came up with the ticking clock and psychedelic rumblings you can hear. They took the track away with them and sent us a final mix. We dismantled that and built it back up again and sent it back. There were a few disagreements but we eventually settled on a final version.
[While we were recording, we’d been booked to play Knebworth] where Noel Gallagher had the idea of bringing together all of the important or notable bands of the time. Oasis, Prodigy, Ocean Colour Scene, Chemical Brothers and us.
But with what happened to Rob, we cancelled. Then Jeff Barrett from Heavenly, our PR, rang and said we had to do Knebworth. I replied: ‘We can’t because, I don’t know whether you’ve heard, but our keyboard player has died.’ I was being an arsehole.
He said: ‘Look you know - it’s impossible but there’s a possibility.’ Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie put their keyboard player Martin Duffy forward as they really wanted to help us do it. This was like two days after Rob had died.
After the call I spoke to the band and reiterated what Jeff had said. The group agreed and we just fucking did it.
Right up until the gig, I don’t know whether any of us knew what was happening but we knew that we wanted to play out of our skins. But on the morning of Knebworth none of us wanted to play. Everyone was petrified. But our manager had a mental idea that we arrive by helicopter. It was ostensibly because the queues were so big but he told us later that it was about geeing us up.
We arrived by helicopter and I remember getting out and all these journalists came running up to us with cameras and mikes - it was so weird. They said: ‘Tim, Tim, so sorry about the tragedy [pause] so who are you most looking forward to seeing today?’
I just said: ‘us’. I meant in the way it could have been a total train wreck. We’d been practicing but emotionally we’d been on the edge. We’d given ourselves the opportunity to play in front of 125,000 people and either move on or crumble on the spot. But something otherworldly happened and we were the best band of the day.
That gig cemented the resolve to carry on and finish the album. For the longest time, we were gonna carry on for Rob or for Rob’s family but the whole of Knebworth was behind us. Liam dedicated Live Forever and Cast No Shadow to Rob, people were crying, laughing. It was just incredible really.
One to Another
Written by: Tim Burgess, Mark Collins, Jon Brookes, Martin Blunt, Rob Collins
UK publishers: Warner Chappell Music Ltd