Tim Burgess. You may know him as the lead singer of The Charlatans, readily recognisable from his shock of blond pudding-bowl-shaped hair and singer of some of the best songs of the last twenty-odd years.
You may also know Burgess as a prominent contributor to Twitter, or from his own brand of fairtrade coffee (Tim Peaks), his record label (O Genesis) or as author of a 2012 memoir (“Telling Stories”). He has even arranged for London’s tube map to be re-written with Charlatans albums as tube lines and Charlatans songs for tube station names.
I don’t know Burgess per se, but I did recently win one of his frequent competitions on Twitter having been rather fortunately chosen at random. The prize was some artwork by Pete Fowler (Monsterism, Super Furry Animals) for Burgess’ latest book. Both artwork and book are really rather wonderful.
After the success of his first book, which told an entertaining account of Burgess’ life as front man of The Charlatans, the further book was proposed, if only to take advantage of the brilliant title: “Tim Book Two”.
You can’t really let an opportunity like that go to waste can you?
But if the first book told the story of Burgess’ life, what was left to tell in book two? After all, in the first book, Burgess held little back.
Amidst the music being made and a band being formed and kept on the road were accounts of life on tour, some novel ways of administering drugs and chaotic tips on how The Charlatans somehow avoided being arrested for taking them.
So, having long since eschewed the traditional trappings of rock excess, instead of trying to find further tales of indie-band-related silliness, this new book finds a new topic, and one close to an increasing number of hearts: Vinyl.
A book about music, records, vinyl and record shops? What’s not to like?
Regular readers will have come across the odd vinyl-related adventure here at Every Record Tells A Story.
From taking a bet that you could track down Beatles albums below the cost of the re-issues a few years ago, finding a complete set of Bowie’s ’70’s LPs for £100, or building a complete beginner’s record collection instead of buying an Oasis box set, this blog has set itself the odd vinyl challenge, so the fact that Tim Book Two sets out Burgess’ own vinyl escapade is reassuring.
Sometimes it’s good to know you’re not the only weird one out there….
Tim Burgess’ idea for this book is inspired. He has asked fifty or so of his well-known friends including Kim Gordon, Ian Rankin, Iggy Pop, Kevin Rowland, James Corden and Neil Tennant to suggest an LP, one special to them, for him to track down in record shops as he tours the world with his band. In doing so we learn why that record was special to each individual and hear Burgess’ thoughts on the album and the shop he finds it in.
Like Bob Stanley’s 2014 history of modern pop music “Yeah Yeah Yeah”, this is a book best heard as well as read. However, unlike Stanley’s ordered history of pop music, Burgess’ book is as higgledy-piggledy as the best sort of record shops he inhabits.
The recommendations are truly eclectic and a non-vinyl loving reader can still enjoy the anecdotes and join Burgess’ voyage of discovery using streaming services and YouTube.
The book perfectly encapsulates the record collecting experience. The narrative is as rambling and diverse as a crate full of records. A chapter about Roxy Music takes in Dionne Warwick’s cover of Burt Bacharach’s “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” via Dexy’s Kevin Rowland, a record shop in Holt, Norfolk that doubles as a post office, taking in thoughts on rocketing rents in North London and a warehouse used as a studio by indie beat makers Factory Floor. The other fifty meander in the same way. A chapter about Joy Division is really about a Glasgow record shop but soon discusses why if LP covers are perfect for rolling joints and CDs ideal for cocaine, the practical alternate use of MP3s must remain a mystery.
So why has Burgess found himself so captivated by vinyl?
“There’s something hugely romantic about the way a second hand record arrives in someone’s hands” he muses.
“The person and the record may have been roaming the Earth for decades until their paths cross. Like in a film, both entities take different turns and live different lives until that moment when the album in front is flicked forward and the strings spark up in the soundtrack of your life…”
It’s also perhaps telling that Burgess likens his time on tour spent digging through racks of vinyl as a comfort mechanism, similar to a drug user or recovering alcoholic who seeks an AA or NA meeting at every town they visit.
“That’s why record shops work so well for blokes” he says at one point…
“You can talk about sleeve designers, catalogue numbers or long dead bass players without touching on feelings or emotions” he adds before wryly observing that “it’s not necessarily a good thing but it’s definitely a thing. ”
In the meantime, I asked Tim (let’s be familiar and call him Tim) via Twitter of course, if he could recommend a record to me. One that had meant something to him.
A few days later he responded, “Yeah! Let’s say 20 Jazz Funk Greats by Throbbing Gristle”.
So I too have been on a journey, inspired by Tim, to track down the album.
It’s not as easy as it sounds…
I tried my local record shops. Five’s in Leigh on Sea, Carmel records, Alexandra Guns and Leigh Records. I tried in London. Reckless Records, Sister Ray, Rough Trade East, Brill in Exmouth Market. Then the record fairs in Spitalfields and Southend.
So I spread my net wider, wherever I happened to be travelling. The Land of Grey and Pink in Chester.
Except 20 Jazz Funk Greats…
It was as though there had been a run on Throbbing Gristle. It’s a phenomenon I have remarked upon before. Before I started looking for the LP, it was probably as common as the cast of Towie, and just as cheap.
Whenever I asked now, dealers sucked their teeth and told me “copies are pretty expensive” and “if we ever get a copy it gets picked up straight away” implying there is some sort of ninja-style squad of Throbbing Gristle fans, who swarm the country’s record emporiums like locusts, stripping them bare when any appear.
I picked up some great records along the way, mind you. A copy of Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits and an early French copy of the debut album by The Stooges in Chester for £20 the pair. Bowie’s Let’s Dance and R.E.M.’s Green for £13 the two in Carmel. McCartney’s debut and U2’s Achtung Baby for £10 for both at Ben’s Records. A Sugar Pie Desanto LP for £8 in Spitalfields. My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless in Reckless Records for £35, (which sounds expensive until you see how much copies normally go for) and an original laminated sleeve / orange label copy of Bowie’s Heroes for £5 in Southend Record Fair. I even umm’d and ah’d over a Durutti Column LP – a band that three months ago I’d never heard of.
So all was not lost. Sometimes it’s about the journey rather than the destination…
I went back to the one local shop I hadn’t tried. South Records. They said they might be able to help. My heart leapt. It seemed there was serendipity at work here, which you will realise when you read Tim’s book.
But after a week of searching, even South Records couldn’t come up with the goods.
Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats remains on my want list.
But that’s okay. Record collecting is a long game.
Anyway, having heard just one of the tracks from 20 Jazz Funk Greats on YouTube, I don’t think Earth Wind and Fire have got anything to worry about just yet..*
Update, August 2019: I went to Discovery Records in Barnstaple, Devon this week and found a 1983 Mute records reissue of 20 Jazz Funk Greats in VG+ condition for just £15. A bargain if ever there was one, and a perfect example of how record collecting is a long game…
You can follow Tim Burgess on Twitter by clicking this link, and to find out more about his forthcoming book Tim Book Two: Adventures in Vinyl: Istanbul to San Francisco.
Click here for details of an accompanying CD and – yes – an LP which both feature music from the book. There’s also a Rega Turntable featuring the cover art…