Andy Buchan catches up with The Charlatans drummer Jon Brookes...
A Charlatan: A person who claims expertise that he or she does not have.
The Charlatans have always been many things to many people, constantly evolving as circumstances dictate. There at the beginning of the Madchester scene along with the Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays, the band then careered into the Labour hi-jacked gare-fest that was Brit pop. And all this despite tragically losing a founder member to a car crash and being swindled out of £300,000 by their accountant.
Successfully surviving where so many fell, the band have now arrived amongst the current breed of angular nu-wavers not to mention the proclivity of soulless, anaemic, manufactured pop wholly characterised by Lame Academy.
A simple trawl through meaningless numbers could easily define the band's success: 10 years, 8 albums, 4 million album sales and 15 top 40 hits. Impressive figures, yet they tell little of the real story. What number really defines The Charlatans and just where do The Charlatans fit in today's musical climate?
"We're the number one rock'n'roll band about," says drummer Jon Brookes. "We're still pretty reckless, you know. We don't give a shit about any record company executives or any perceived authority, we do our own thing, we do our own thing. We've always had something to say and people still want to hear it, which we are so grateful for."
Their new album perfectly personifies this staunch declaration. Leaving behind the LA Curtis Mayfield funk and falsetto of 'Wonderland' in favour of 60's simplicity and a Kink-y Small Faces vibe, 'Up at the Lake' is still quintessentially them. However, after Tim's solo country album, rumours and gossip abounded. Was there any chance that the Charlatans had become satiated and were to be put out to rock pasture?
"Nah mate, nah. But we did have to take a step back from things to get more perspective, you knoworramean, sometimes you can't see the wood for the trees. I won't give it up till I can't do it no more, do you knoworramean. You only get one chance in this lifetime, so I wanna make the most of it. We had a real hunger for this album though, we were really confident. People can see our honesty and vulnerability, they can relate to it and see themselves up there on stage."
It's this natural swagger and confidence combined with soul preserving honesty and a feel for the fans that has helped The Charlatans build a fan empire bordering on maniacal, whilst fellow luminaries have fallen by the way. Jon attempts to explain this, saying: "The British press are scared of any band who last for more than 2 records. But we've always had something to say. We didn't want to be one of those bands who haven't got anything to say, who cares about them? People are still interested in our group and that is such an amazing thing. We have 40,000 people trying to buy tickets for an event which hasn't even been released, you know."
Always grateful to the fans, Jon displays a real common touch putting him in an enviable position: able to live comfortably off the profits yet still able to bite, chew and vehemently maul the hand that feeds you.
"Music has become so controlled, you can get it delivered straight to your door. Everything is catered for. To have this opportunity, to make a difference is great and I wouldn't give it up for the world. I'd sack all the record company executives. I'd give money back to the musicians who deserve it and not to the shareholders. I'd just take all the corporate shit out of music once and for all, do you knoworramean. Actually, I'd just put them all in a line and shoot them all. End of problem."
Speaking their mind is just one facet of the band's captivating honesty, unabashed by fiscal forces and peer pressure. I then ask the loaded question of which 3 bands deserve to go into Room 101?
"Yeah, I've always hated the Spice Girls. And any of those manufactured plastic bands. And any band with right wing tendencies, anything associated with the BNP and all that rubbish. Anything that's spreading hate is just wrong. The way that our country has such a mix of people is one of its greatest gifts, yet it's fracturing some communities with all their racial hatred. For people not to see that and appreciate it really upsets me. It's something they should all be ashamed off."
To have this chance, after all the tragedies, after all the musical changes in Britain and after all the debate surrounding their future, means a lot to the band. "We have this attention in front of millions of people and to have them love what you do is very hard to give up. We're not going anywhere and we're 100% behind this album. You're only nervous if the stuff you've got isn't any good. But we have something to say and something to sell."
It's this intriguing dichotomy, at once berating and admonishing the capitalist structure, at another actively selling and promoting the album, that defines The Charlatans. Skilled at playing the game after 15 years of press, album launches and world tours, the band know their way round the machine, yet combine it with social sensibilities and a peoples touch. Outspoken yet humble, media savvy yet wholeheartedly honest, The Charlatans, it seems, are perfectly equipped to continue for another 10 years.