Definitely different days and even extraordinary times at the SSE Wembley Arena as James and The Charlatans came to London town. Two big bands, two lead singers by the name of Tim, yet all under one roof. An interesting concept, two birds with one stone, yet who would headline?
Both formed in the 1980’s with a reference to the Madchester scene, their statistics are uncannily similar. James have released 12 studio albums, 3 live albums and 37 singles, The Charlatans 13, 3 and 40. Inconclusive. Yet who has been the most successful ? James have 1 number one album and 3 top ten singles, The Charlatans have 3 number one albums and 4 top ten singles so perhaps they sneak it by a cymbal clang? It matters little, clearly there is nothing between them so who would it be?
Well, it was Tim Burgess and his Charlatans who banged the first drum. Unfortunately for them the arena was barely a quarter full as they took to the stage just after 7.30pm, a necessarily early start because of there effectively being two headline acts. Most casual giggers usually pitch up an hour later and so, without forewarning of the particularly early kick off, it was perhaps unsurprising that the crowd was disappointingly sparse. Furthermore, with the airport style security entry systems in place at music venue these days, entrants are delayed even longer. Then there’s the beer and burger, another necessity in view of the time taken to reach Wembley, a catch up with a mate or a date, oh and then the music.
Burgess was not put off. The lights soon went down and he quickly launched into his familiar routine, beckoning the audience by raising his arms and, with his highlighted extended blond bob nodding and bobbing, it was classic Charlatans all the way. They were at their nuggety best, telling stories and rolling out their biggest hits such as The Only One I Know and One to Another to the delight of their die-hards and weirdos, even bringing the other Tim, Booth of James, to the stage to duet on North Country Boy.
As the audience swelled and warmed up, Burgess made reference to the tragic death of Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks only the day before, saying that “this was a song that he never wished to play” before giving an emotional and powerful rendition of Ever Fallen In Love, a young Pete looking on from the video screen. A moving guitar-fuelled tribute. Beautiful. There was not a dry eye.
Difficult to follow that. There was only one song that could keep the feeling going. It was their go to finale. Many bands have one. For The Charlatans, the numerous green t-shirts and sweatshirts in the audience emblazoned with the word “Sproston” tells its own story. From a slow start it builds and builds, the guitar chords quicken to a frenzied crescendo. Rumour has it that Burgess lost his virginity to a girl from Sproston Green. This was some finish.
Break time, beer time. Time to take it all in. This whole ‘double header’ event was something akin to those days of the double A side, when a band effectively released two singles as one. The question as always was whether one side would be significantly better than the other ? Here, could Tim B trump Tim B ?
Well, he gave it his very best shot. Burgess has presence, Booth undoubtedly more. With a body like elastic and moves to match, he transfixes his audience. He crowd surfs, he appears in the upper tier and really is the consummate exhibitionist and performer. He can sing too and bang the bongos to boot.
Showcasing their new album titled Extraordinary Times, intertwined with many of their old favourites such as Sit Down, Come Home and Sometimes, it was a mesmerising and enchanting show. They are eight piece on stage and, despite the old Wembley Arena being slightly archaic these days, the sound quality did justice to the quality of the performers. Booth even sought some audience participation in encore to one of their new songs, Many Faces. Wembley roused itself, chanting “There’s only one, human race, many faces, everybody belongs here”. He is right, they are right.
At Wembley, both James and The Charlatans belonged. They both sounded as good as ever. Honours were even. It was different and it was extraordinary.