“I’m 90 per cent sure I got the virus in New York,” says Tim Burgess, on the phone from his rural family bolt-hole in deepest Norfolk. “I was in bed for four days with all the symptoms and I’ve still got a chest thing going on now, but you can’t tell can you?”
No disease is gonna keep the mop-top king of indie rock good times down. Since the start of the lockdown he’s become the host of #timstwitterlisteningparty, a free-for-all online ‘happening’ in which all of Twitter starts playing a chosen album at 10pm every night and the relevant artists and other industry figures lead them through it in a Twitter-stream of studio memories, backstage revelations, memorabilia, pics and emoji applause for historically undervalued basslines.
Tim himself ran the first, on The Charlatans’ debut ‘Some Friendly’, followed by Franz Ferdinand detailing their debut, Blur drummer Dave Rowntree reminiscing over ‘Parklife’ (with interjections from Graham Coxon and Stephen Street), Ride hammering through ‘Going Blank Again’ and Bonehead doing ‘Definitely Maybe’, which catapulted the party straight into the UK’s Top Three trending topics.
“I started doing them at anniversaries of Charlatans releases,” Tim explains. “I’ve done them randomly for solo records, but I was thinking of what I could do and the idea came that we should broaden it out and ask other people to do them too, and it seems to be working out so far. The first one that came to mind was Alex Kapranos because he commented on the ‘Some Friendly’ one I did a while ago. Then Andy and Loz [from Ride] got in touch and Dave Rowntree and then Bonehead.”
Tim’s listening parties look set to become a cultural mainstay for the lockdown, with the likes of Suede, James, The Chemical Brothers, Shed Seven, The Cocteau Twins, The Fall and (ahem) this writer (album suggestions welcome) lined up to host in the coming weeks.
Do you feel it’s your role in times of crisis to bring people together?
“It’s an inclusive thing and it’s fun, which is something we need to have. It’s at 10pm for a reason, as a distraction from the Ten O’Clock News – anyone can watch the news at any other time of the day, so it’s not a protest. It’s less than 45 minutes, everyone seems to be able to say what they wanna say, it’s a great way for fans to find out what goes on behind the making of an album.”
What’s the best way to enjoy them?
“Definitely get some beers in or snacks or whatever it is you wanna do and it’s your choice – CD, vinyl, streaming. I normally give a countdown and we all start the record at the same time. It’s pretty funny if I say ‘this bass breakdown is amazing’ and someone says ‘what bass breakdown?’ There’s a latency which is all part of the fun. And we had a two-minute break for flipping over the vinyl and getting a refill.”
What have been the best bits so far?
“The Dave Rowntree one was pretty special. He discovered by the end of it that he had enough memorabilia for a Blur coffee table book just on ‘Parklife’, he’d laminated all these documents and lyrics that Damon had done and Graham Coxon and Stephen Street joined in totally unexpected. It’s all been amazing. There are people who’ve been to all of them.”
How important is music in keeping our spirits up?
“It’s multi-dimensional, it can soothe and it can help your mental health and it can take to somewhere else that these days aren’t allowing you to go to. I’ve not seen that many [livestreamed acoustic gigs], it’s not really for me but I’m supportive of it all really.”
You’ve got your new album, ‘I Love The New Sky’ on the way – will that help us through?
“It absolutely will, if we’re still in isolation by then. It’s out on May 22 so it’s quite a way off yet. At the moment it’s just about getting back on track. It’s terrible about all the festivals over the summer, I was gonna play all of them and I was really looking forward to getting this album out there on time, but if the album comes out and the shows are later then that’s okay. If I get out to play live in September I’ll be thrilled.”
It’s a very eclectic record – Bacharach, drones, synthpop, ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ intros…
“With The Cure, the song [‘Empathy For The Devil’] was written well before that intro came but I just realised a similarity in the chord sequence and you can’t beat a bit of The Cure. I like a lot of music and I’ve touched on these things before. I wanted to make an album that’s full of everything. Everything counts in large amounts, as they say.”
How autobiographical is it? Does it follow the story of leaving LA for London and ending up in the wilds of Norfolk?
“There are certainly elements of all of that – ‘Lucky Creatures’ is about the West coast of America, LA and San Francisco as is ‘Sweet Old Sorry Me’ – it’s downhearted in a tongue-in-cheek way. That definitely sounds like the Sunset Strip to me and hopefully the classic romanticism of Los Angeles updated. ‘The Warhol Me’ is very much about New York.”
What is the Warhol part of you?
“People might imagine it was the hair, but it’s the wandering through life observing things side of me.”
Is ‘Empathy With The Devil’ a divorce song?
“It could be. There’s a lot of decoys in there. The first being the title, to disguise it as being a pastiche of a Rolling Stones song. I love the idea of multi-layers and things that are going to be around for a while, and I hope that’s built in there.”
The electro-Bacharach song ‘The Mall’ appears to be a statement on finding validity in consumerism: “It’s somewhere to pass the time and you can be someone that you might like…”?
“Malls are very much places you can feel in limbo – the sparkling aspect of consumerism can really suck you in. But they’re quite a vacuous place as well, empty of any feeling. It’s about these boxes you’re in with all these temptations that try to suck you in even further. Although it’s a beautiful song, it’s an empty sentiment in a lot of ways.”
Who’s the song ‘Timothy’ about?
“That’s me. On this record it seemed less appropriate as Tim. I’d rather it be called ‘Tim’ but I thought ‘Timothy’ was more dangerous. It’s a self-portrait. I’d never done that before and it’s something I’ve liked on other people’s records. I like it when people reference themselves by name, like when Shaun William Ryder [Happy Mondays] says his name, and I’ve never done that before, so it went into the mix because this record is everything.”
What about the line “I can count all my friends on one hand” I thought you were a popular bloke.
“There you go, another decoy. I guess I was listening to The Fall, trying to be the Mark E Smith master of disguise.”
You sing about making the record too – on ‘Only Took A Year’ and ‘I Got This’?
“‘I Got This’ was the last song to be recorded so it really felt like I’ve got the album. The reason why I didn’t record it for so long was because I struggled with the title and I didn’t feel like I had it, so I couldn’t sing it with any kind of confidence.”
Piano ballad ‘Undertow’ sounds troubled…
“There’s always things going on in everybody’s life and I’d be crazy to say that I was involved in battles with people – during the making of this album I was having battles with friends and some people and it’s all in there. It’s a document of just over a year in my life and memories from way ago, it’s all in there. But some of it I’d be crazy to say what it was.”
‘I Love The New Sky’ is out May 22