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The Charlatans’ Some Friendly 30th anniversary: “a close representation to the very idea of psychedelia”

The ’90s veterans’ debut album turns 30 and via a personal tale, we dissect why it’s stood the test of time.

The Charlatans were my late wife’s favourite band.

There’s nothing she didn’t have. All the albums, 7″ singles, posters, limited edition pins and badges, Tube maps, you name it. Our place was littered with the band’s regalia.

Then there was the live shows. Travelling to Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Merseyside, Lancashire, London, Brisbane. The whole fucking bit.

At a Tim Burgess solo show in December 2013 at London’s Islington Assembly Hall there was an opportunity to meet the man himself.

“I don’t want to,” she said.

“Go on, he’s your all time hero, for goodness sake,” I replied.

So, with that, I walked nervously towards Tim Burgess and spilled the details. He came over, shook my wife’s hand and started talking and suffice to say, she was shaking more than she was on our wedding day.

And here’s the thing. All of this, being dragged from counties and countries, simply to see a band I had never truly taken to. I guess that’s what you get when you haul your wife to a Deafheaven gig.

The things we do for love…

These days (pre-lockdown, of course) I only really go to The Charlatans or Burgess gigs in hope that my wife’s spirit is stalking the perimeter, looking on as Burgess‘ melodies coil around the euphoric splendour of Sproston Green.

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Admittedly, I also go to a Charlatans gig in hope that it’s heavy with Some Friendly material. It may have been their first album, but it’s up there with their best.

To an outsider, The Charlatans have this elusive northern quality. Almost like an in-joke or a hypnotic drug that was exclusively prescribed to those who have always inhabited this part of the world.

The Charlatans fans like(d) Britpop, no question. But given the choice, it’s The Charlatans all day long. They are like the only band one needs to have in their life.

It was Tim Burgess‘ intangible ways and years on it has risen to further prominence. An individual possessing the ability to constantly think outside of the box, not just musically, but in the art of commerce (Tim Peaks and more recently during lockdown, Tim’s Twitter Listening Party just to name a few).

To use a cringe-worthy buzz phrase designed by strung-out marketing fools, the man is indeed ‘market leading’.

That level of ingenuity and artistic acumen was there from the early stages, too.

The Charlatans circa 2019 (photo credit: via the artist's Facebook page)

Some Friendly doesn’t have the blustery swagger and aggressive undercurrents which the Stone Roses started and effectively handed to Oasis. Some Friendly is pervasively more sophisticated than that.

While it may be somewhat exiled from the band’s larger body of work, it still holds a loose, shambolic aesthetic giving it a raw vitality. Without question, it still occupies the top end of their discography and presents The Charlatans as a band that wouldn’t stick around rehashing weathered templates many of their contemporaries milked for most of the ’90s.

As the future would prove, Some Friendly was like The Charlatans sticking their head through the door to their noble baggy and Britpop contemporaries for a quick hello, swerving the cup of tea.

It’s a good thing they did.

While Blur and Oasis were stuck in pubs feeding off the hedonism of cheap lager and the Manic Street Preachers were in libraries with noses in books, with Suede flitting between the two, The Charlatans were, well… just doing their own thing.

Recorded at the Windings studio near Wrexham in 1990 shortly after the band had begun, it seemed like the beginning of The Charlatans‘ well-documented bad luck which has sadly included two of their members leave this world (keyboardist, Rob Collins, in 1996 and more recently drummer, John Brookes, in 2013).

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The Some Friendly sessions included the band falling out with the studio owners, with equipment getting broken and the like. The usual band shenanigans in those days and you can sense the unrest through the album, too, but it’s more like a beautiful mess rather than the sounds of a slapdash disaster.

It all starts with You’re Not Very Well and the late Collins made his mark early doors with meandering keys which proved vital all the way through Some Friendly.

As the years have passed the more White Shirt feels like a psych-laden jangle-pop classic that would inspire many of the bedroom-pop drones that have emerged over the past decade.

Cuts like The Only One I Know and Flower burst with endless swing, John Baker‘s psych harmonics and Collins‘ Moog wig-outs and, in the case of the former, no real surprise that it remains as one of the band’s live staples.

With Collins‘ echoing keys, Opportunity dispenses a hymnal-like quality while Martin Blunt‘s bass lines doff the cap to acid house and Hacienda homage.

Does much need to be said about Then, other than it’s the perfect amalgamation of pop and rock music? Live, seeing them open with the song is the reason one feels compelled to fill these column inches.

Then there’s 109 pt2, which is, oddly enough, the most prominent moment of Some Friendly. Yes, the seamless swerve of Flower, the country-tinged Sonic and the epic closer that is Sproston Green will steal the show for many (and perhaps rightly so), but 109 pt2 embodies the spirit of The Charlatans.

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An inherent nod to Throbbing Gristle—a band worlds away from any baggy or Britpop concern—with 109 pt2, The Charlatans provided a snapshot into who they really were. A band with a sneaky knuckle ball up their sleeve and with this, alongside the benefit of hindsight 30 years on, it illuminates Some Friendly as something that doesn’t actually feel like a baggy record.

Notwithstanding all the bearded-clones trying to reinvent the wheel on psychedelic music, if anything Some Friendly is a rather close representation to the very idea of psychedelia.

There’s an atmospheric splendour to it that’s made it age far better than, say, Primal Scream’s Screamdelica, not to mention feeling far more authentic than a lot of the above noted psychedelic-rock tribute acts.

While The Charlatans may never fully infiltrate my world, there’ll always be a special place for them on the basis of those aforementioned tales and, indeed, Some Friendly – a record that has its place at the top of the queue.

An album of a reflection where I look up and I say, “Yeah, you might’ve been onto something there.”

And the faint reply penetrates through the dark clouds enveloping those northern skies.

“Yeah, I know.”

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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