Let the good times be never ending: The Charlatans live in Belfast.

in Bittles' Magazine/Live

Music | Bittles’ Magazine: The music column from the end of the world

I had a bad toothache! After rain the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Noah decided to build a boat, I was soaked to the bone. Oh, and I am also a notorious misery guts! On first appearances the signs for a fab night on a wet and windy Saturday evening didn’t seem good. By JOHN BITTLES

Photo: Geoff Caves
Photo: Geoff Caves
Yet, after a powerful performance from The Charlatans awash with anthemic songs of fist punching delight, funky-assed grooves, sing-a-long moments aplenty and, in Tim Burgess, a lead singer at the peak of his powers, I was able to leave three hours later both a happier and better man.

It had been seven long years since the baggy survivors led by lead singer Tim Burgess had graced the sunny streets of Belfast. The last decade and a half had proven to be particularly challenging for the group who found themselves in something of a creative fug since the mighty Wonderland way back in 2001. Concerts and live shows passed by to widespread indifference with the tastemakers seemingly deciding that The Charlatans were a band well past their prime. The death of long-standing drummer Jon Brookes from cancer early last year would have been enough to convince most bands to call it a day.

Not so The Charlatans! If anything they came back renewed and stronger than ever with new album Modern Nature already sitting smugly as an undisputed highlight of the veteran band’s career. Stuffed full of life-affirming songs that swoop you up into a manly bear hug the record is an unbridled success. Rather than being a morose, self-pitying affair, Modern Nature reaches to the heavens in an album full to bursting with stand-out moments of unbridled joy.

Rumours also began to take root, which  spoke of a re-vitalised and re-energised band who had rediscovered the delight of playing live. So, when it was announced that The Charlatans would be headlining the much loved Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in my home town of Belfast it seemed somewhat rude not to tag along. Plus it was going to be in a tent in the middle of the city centre, and I’ve always loved camping out.

Photo: Geoff Caves
Photo: Geoff Caves
After a somewhat sedate support slot from local boys Documenta, The Charlatans purposefully strode onstage and instantly ensured that the entire audience were grateful they had made the decision to come by. The opening double whammy of Forever and Weirdo immediately introduced a festival spirit and a huge volley of cheers. From the off Tim Burgess purposefully strutted around the stage like someone with a point to prove, face forever hidden behind his trademark fringe, continuously goading and urging the audience for more. Behind him the band played with a fabulous sense of funkiness that produced widespread dancing and grins among the assembled throng.

The marquee setting was a perfect foil for the band and was beautifully illuminated with what looked like a million twinkling stars. The crowd were in high spirits throughout, caused in no small part by their desire to consume alcohol as if last orders were going to be called at any minute. At times it had the atmosphere of a football ground, but without the underlying threat of violence and aggro which can sometimes mar such occasions.

The new tunes from Modern Nature were beefed up and cranked up so that they ably stood next to the more well known songs. Of the many highlights So Oh brimmed full of longing, Come Home Baby had people singing along in glee, Emilie resembled a 90s classic, while Let The Good Times Be Never Ending already sounds like one of the songs of the year.

Photo: Geoff Caves
Photo: Geoff Caves
But, as always, it was the stone cold classics that most of the people braved the elements to hear. Of them, Telling Stories was heart-wrenchingly beautiful, while How High, at one point, threatened to bring down the roof. The rapturously received North Country Boy, One To Another and Just When You’re Thinking Things Over where fantastically thrilling to hear played live and even had this overly cynical jackass giving his booty a gentle shake or two. The biggest cheer of the night though was reserved for the evergreen The Only One I Know which instantly managed to turn the crowd into one, huge seething mass.

Yet, this was a show which never flagged, or make you think ‚This might be a good time to sneak to the bar!‘, and by the time the encore arrived most of the audience were exhausted, (or maybe it was just me). Somehow though, it seemed only fitting to discover that last bit of energy and to strain those fragile vocal chords to give Mr. Burgess and co the send off they well and truly deserved. My sore tooth was forgotten! Who says pop music doesn’t heal?

| JOHN BITTLES
| Coverpicture: GEOFF CAVES