The Charlatans front man Tim Burgess and guitarist Mark Collins are currently whizzing up and down the motorways of the UK in the back of an aged Honda Civic playing intimate acoustic shows for their fans. Driver , road manager , security and merchandise manager on the tour, Nick Fraser ( Manchester’s very own Peter Grant), described the tour as being like a series of commando missions. They show up , quick set up, do the show hang around for a bit then back into the Honda and away, no hotels none of the usual tour stuff. Like minstrels of days gone by they are taking their songs from town to town making friends and moving on. Last night at the Union Chapel Islington gig Tim and Mark were joined onstage by Kevin Shields and a string quartet.
Back in the early 1980’s (83,84) I was lucky enough to watch The Clash on a similar trip. The band, disillusioned with the stadium rockers they had become, set off on a busking tour of the UK. I saw them playing by Grey’s Monument in Newcastle. After the set a friend of mine asked Joe Strummer if he’d play later that day in our rehearsal rooms in Gateshead (The Station run by the Gateshead Music Collective). He was up for the idea but insisted we needed to get people down for the show. So my friends and myself, in the days before mobile phones ran round Newcastle like lunatics telling everyone with spiky hair that The Clash were playing in our rehearsal room that afternoon. Imagine that , it’s the sort of news as a music fan you don’t expect to hear and the reaction we got in most cases was ” The Clash are playing where? -fuck off ! ” By 3 o’clock we’d managed to assemble quite an audience, a mixed bunch of punks, goths, flat topped students and rockabilliys all expecting to see The Clash perform live at The Station. Like all good rock stars they kept us waiting, nearly an hour late in strolled Joe Strummer followed by Paul Simonon we were gobsmacked. For the next half hour they sang and played our favourite songs, took requests and at the very end handed round their hats for loose change ..it was after all a busking tour, and then they were off.
The Clash had just played in my rehearsal room. I suppose that when bands like The Clash and The Charlatans do shows like this it’s a break from the usual tour bullshit. It’s a chance to get back to what live music is all about, a song, a tune, a voice, an audience and an open road.
Try and catch Tim and Mark (and friends) if you can on this very special tour, I hear dates are being added everyday! If you don’t manage that the full band will be playing at The Friends of Mine Festival in May.