Everybody knows Tim Burgess. He’s been involved in the music industry in one guise or another since the early '90s – first and longest with The Charlatans, then as a solo artist, a label boss, the name behind the Tim Peaks Diner stages at festivals across the country and, more recently, as the Twitter handle-god presiding over pandemic listening parties to counter the 10 o’clock news. He cuts a recognisable figure, with hair that’s been described as Warhol-blonde and a collection of bright-patterned jumpers to rival Noel Fielding.
His latest solo album, Typical Music, is anything but. Filled with wonky-pop asides and fuzzy rock riffs, Typical Music builds layer upon layer of influences and elements into an avant-garde collage.
‘Simon Raymond from Bella Union had given me a challenge to write another album, so I could tour I Love the New Sky and this album together after COVID. This was in April or something like that. I was like “Okay… I’ll try,”’ says Tim. He laughs like this was an impossibly daunting task – a sentiment which would seem more believable if he hadn’t then gone ahead and written not just a new album, but a double album at that.
‘What I was really doing in my head was calling time on all the negatives, which was Donald Trump and, you know, Boris Johnson. We had Brexit, we had COVID. I was like, isn’t it just time that we call time on all that?’
‘I did what I always do which is sit in a room every day and write,’ he says. ‘Different parts of the room, same guitar, maybe a different capo on a different fret but always the same room. And I didn’t get anything until Time That We Call Time in September.’
Time That We Call Time is an optimistic view of the future, mingled with a personal reflection of moving forward from difficulty.
‘What I was really doing in my head was calling time on all the negatives, which was Donald Trump and, you know, Boris Johnson. We had Brexit, we had COVID. I was like, isn’t it just time that we call time on all that?’ Tim says. ‘It actually was more personal than that as well. My life was changing and things were a little bit out of my control, so it became a personal thing really.’
Typical Music is an album – or a pair of albums, depending on how you look at it – that blends the external with the internal to great effect. It deals with the seismic changes of recent years, both politically and for Tim personally, but also looks beyond the bounds of the immediate to reach back into the past and stretch out into the future.
‘I liked the idea of a blockbuster, because things are so often not. My little boy, he’s nine now and he loves a good Harry Potter, he loves a good Star Wars. I think I was sort of influenced by that,’ says Tim.
The high-end production values and studio slickness of a blockbuster is definitely visible. Each element is treated with the utmost care, from the woozy psych haze of Kinetic Connection to the acoustic-led Sgt. Pepper's-esque When I See You. The latter closes out the album’s first half with a love story, blending spoken-word storytelling with tinkling toy-shop pianos, sci-fi synths and brassy accents.
‘When I See You took quite a while,’ Tim says. ‘It’s quite a long song, but it took a long time to get the tone of the spoken word right. I just found it quite difficult. I knew that the song would be okay without the spoken word at the beginning, but I really wanted to pull it off and I didn’t until the very very end.’
There were a few times throughout the process of writing and recording Typical Music that Tim was unsure if things were going to work out. Working with multi-instrumentalists Thighpaulsandra and Daniel O’Sullivan in the studio, he occasionally held back on bringing works in progress to the table out of an anxiety that they weren’t quite as developed as his other ideas.
‘There were a couple of songs I was nervous about showing because I didn’t know they whether they were up to scratch or not. But every time I did that they were both like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe you left this one out!” So I got to the point where I didn’t have a clue. I just knew that I wanted to keep going,’ he says.
He has a habit of pushing through. It’s probably why he’s managed to create such a vast body of work throughout his career. Of course, it’s also clear that Tim Burgess loves what he does. In addition to all his solo work there is, he says, a new Charlatans album needed, but ‘it’s gonna take ages’.
In the meantime though, the band make a cameo of sorts on Typical Music, in the form of A Bloody Nose. Kicking off with a squalling introduction, A Bloody Nose pivots into an anecdote about a Charlatans US tour in the early '90s, when Tim managed to avoid an unpleasant few hours in Arizona by opting to float around the hotel pool with a Long Island Iced Tea instead.
‘I decided to stay at the hotel because we’d just flown direct to Tempe, and the rest of the band went into the mountains in a car with an American A&R guy, and they ran over a boulder that burst the petrol tank. They saw help coming after a few hours, there were some lights in the distance. And the lights in the distance took three hours to get to them. And they were also wasted.’ he laughs. ‘I just thought, “It was such a good decision not to go out.”’
‘I think I’m just on the good side of anything too cheesy. But, you know, we all wear our hearts on our sleeves. Especially us lads.’
It's funny, considering the rest of the album seems to take the opposite view. Typical Music is full of love songs – non-cheesy ones, Tim hopes – some in the romantic sense and others in the sense of loving your friends, loving your family, and going out into the world. Written in a time of pandemic, the album keeps the faith that one day we’ll get back together.
‘There is definitely an optimism, like after this, we’re all going to spend more time together,’ Tim says. ‘I think I’m just on the good side of anything too cheesy. But, you know, we all wear our hearts on our sleeves. Especially us lads.’