When is a pop star not a pop star?
Tim Burgess, cherubic lead singer of baggy britpoppers The Charlatans and lock down listening party hero, wanders on stage at The Fleece and adjusts a lovely, stripey cardigan.
His seven-piece band gathers around him, he picks up a microphone, looking at it as though he’s never seen one before, and says “Hello. We’re going to play you some nice music”.
There’s no stadium shaking intro tape. There are no lasers and fancy lights. There’s no shadow boxing, Jagger-esque swagger.
When is a pop star not a pop star? Just about now.
Almost certainly what unfolds over the next 70 minutes will have been a disappointment to some. The noisy boys at the bar (please, for the love of John Peel, stop chatting at gigs!) clearly came to drink and sing along to 90s hits.
They look utterly bemused for most of the night and fall into yelling into each other’s ears, arms around shoulders, knuckles dragging on the floor. It is, very much, their loss.
Simply because, you see, this un-pop starry pop star is just brimming with wonderful indie pop songs. In the years before Britpop some amazing records were made; they were jangly and melodic, slightly ramshackle and beautiful.
Burgess has tapped right into this and is making records that might not be organ driven groovers but they are drenched in a gentle charm.
The title track of the latest album, Typical Music, is proper old fashioned indie pop; it’s melodic, ragged and garage-y.
On Lucky Creatures a tiny sliver of Charlatans keyboard pokes through and pure pop ba-ba-bas ricochet around. Both songs lay out exactly where this evening is going to go. The choruses are subtle and nagging, the songs little rickety gobbets of joy.
As these songs build, it becomes obvious that the band that Burgess has around him is pretty amazing. They’re billed as the All Star Band and that is precisely what they prove to be.
One such is the violin player, Helen O’Hara, best known as the fiddle player in Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and she adds textures and flavours to almost every song. Even though she stands in the shadows she utterly shines. She takes great pop songs, like The Mall or Only Took a Year, and perfectly complements that distinctive Burgess voice.
Oh My Corazon is swept along on a tide of piano, keyboards (thanks to Julian Cope/Spiritualized legend Thighpaulsandra) and O’Hara’s violin and leads right into the only moment when Burgess becomes a capital-P pop star.
The Only One I Know isn’t kept back for the encore, it’s right in the middle of the set; throbbing, grooving, pulsing away. It is, undoubtedly, the huge hit single that those noisy boys at the bar want to hear.
It would be foolish to pretend that there was a better track played all night. There wasn’t. However, the final track was Empathy for the Devil and, if anything could come close, then this was it. A lop-sided, utterly sublime slice of sunshine, a bona fide pop song played by a bona fide pop star.
Main photo: Gavin McNamara
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