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The Charlatans: Up At The Lake - They wanted to write it differently, for creative reasons, and personal ones


Feature: Jack Foley

UP AT The Lake marks the first Charlatans album to be solely produced by the band themselves - and it took an almighty effort to put together.

Speaking moments after the final track had been completed on their eighth effort, at north London's Mayfair Studios, drummer, John Brookes, let out a cheer of delight and revealed that the band had been working in their recording studio, Big Mushroom, in Cheshire, practically every day for the past 12 months.

And Martin Blunt reckoned some congratulations were in order - to Ken Nelson, who mixed six of the tracks in the Liverpool studios where he had worked on Coldplay's two albums, and to themselves.

A heated debate then ensued over the track, Apples And Oranges, the first track that Collins and Burgess wrote during their writing retreat on Bodmin Moor, last Winter.

Collins insisted that that was no title for a tune with such a militant, martial beat. Rag Bag World was way better.

But Burgess retorted that for an album as fundamentally different from the LA swagger of Wonderland, the band's last album, this album needed at least one song with such a quintessentially British name.

It is typical of the band's desire to continue to push themselves that they should debate such issues whole-heartedly, particularly given that work had been completed!

Fifteen years since forming, it's been nearly three years since the scorching rock and soul of Wonderland marked a new direction for them, defined by Burgess' falsetto style.

Well, they've gone and done it again!

For a start, having introduced that falsetto on the last album, Burgess has binned it on this one.

He maintains that it didn't fit the vibes this time round.

Up At The Lake is, in Blunt's words, 'stripped down', but not in some neo-folk acousto-cobblers style.

Dead Love may not feature any drums, and be flush with Collins' delicately picked guitar, but it also features cello and viola players from the Liverpool Philharmonic, which lend dramatic power to Burgess' scouringly heartfelt vocals.

Meanwhile, the title track and first single is being hailed in the publicity as 'another classic Charlatans anthem' - a toast to the high life, but also to the lows that shadow every peak.

Last November, Burgess and Collins took themselves off to a cottage on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall.

In one direction, the jail. In the other, the lake. All around, sheep and cows. They had a TV, and Burgess brought an armful of records (including his cherished Cash/Dylan bootleg), and Collins brought his guitar and what Burgess calls 'his secret stash of chords and riffs'. They shared the cooking.

They had done this before, for 1997's Tellin' Stories, but, in the wake of Burgess' 1998 flit to LA to live with his American wife, songs had latterly been written via heavy bits of travelling.

That worked for Wonderland, a record full of speed and neon and jet-trail guitar, made by people zooming back and forth across the Atlantic.

"I could always smell Wonderland," grins Burgess. "The smell of asphalt, but Up At The Lake couldn't be in greater contrast.

"They wanted to write it differently, for creative reasons, and for personal ones. Which, come to think of it, are pretty much one and the same for The Charlatans.

"The first song me and Mark wrote together was Another Rider Up In Flames [on their third album, Up To Our Hips].

"Back then, I did feel we were the son's of Mick and Keef.

"But now we live in different parts of the word and we have different ways of doing things.

"I'll be honest, things did get difficult for us when I moved to LA. But those differences count for nothing when we're together - we just click, and we can just write."

Post-Wonderland, the various members of The Charlatans enjoyed a brief sabbatical.

Burgess made a solo album, I Believe, and toured with a new band (including a couple of stadium support slots with The Rolling Stones).

Collins did a bit of production, and toured with Starsailor.

The 'Blunt and Rogers Roadshow' toured Ireland DJing and party crashing, and Rogers also produced a single for Moco.

Jon drummed on some Chemical Brothers tracks and gave his support to all.

"Some people thought this [album] wouldn't happen, that we wouldn'ít have another Charlies record," admits Burgess.

"I never thought that, but everyone felt very, very weird. I knew it wouldn't be the end of The Charlatans, but I knew it would be a new beginning for us.

"I have to learn, man. Moving to LA, doing a solo record, even dabbling in DJing - you have to get food for your record."

So, for The Charlatans' eighth album Burgess and Collins did things differently again.

They went to Bodmin, and gave themselves ten days to do ten songs. They did ten in nine, and allowed themselves a big, two-man party on the final day.

The Charlatans subsequently premiered three of their new songs at Manchester's Old Trafford cricket ground, in front of 20,000 fans, last Summer.

Of these, the clangy Blue For You, the uplifting Try Again Today and the ragged Feel The Pressure, it is the latter that is most immediately noteworthy, courtesy of Tom and Ed Chemical's fizzing production.

(The long-standing friendship between the two bands also finds form on the Chemicals next album, on which Burgess sings and Brookes drums.)

"It was a good record to make," enthuses Burgess. "If me and Mark had gone to Bodmin on a different day, or at a different time of year, it would have been a different record.

"I really love that about records: it's a struggle to get there, but when you get there it just becomes what it is. It's a snapshot."

But given the many changes over the years, what is it about working together that keeps them going? And keeps them pushing towards new directions?

Burgess rubs his stubble and focuses: "We love music, and we can't stop. I'm a searcher; We all are!"

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