The Charlatans, Seb Lowe, Troxy, London, December 7 2023

Imagine a ripe cornfield several acres across on a windy day with the breeze constantly shifting, creating ripple after ripple across the golden stems.

Words and Pictures: Adrian Hextall / (C) MindHex Media

The Charlatans – Martin Blunt (bass), Tim Burgess (vocals), Mark Collins (guitar), and Tony Rogers (keyboards) – have been on a remarkable journey for over three decades, from their beginnings as 1990 Manchester scene hopefuls to their current role as one of the most durable and treasured bands in British music, joined by a passionate and loyal following that has given them lasting success. Over the years, The Charlatans have notched 13 top 40 studio albums in the UK – three of them reaching Number 1 – alongside 22 hit singles, four of which made the top 10. The roller coaster highs have been accompanied by some shattering lows, any which one of them could have felled a less resilient band, from nervous breakdowns to near bankruptcy and the deaths of two founder members. Somehow, the band have not just carried on but adapted and transformed. The classic Charlatans sound – driving Hammond organ, Northern Soul and house-influenced rhythms, swaggering guitars and Tim Burgess’s sunny yet somehow yearning vocal – is instantly recognizable.

The last time I saw the band, they were performing a one-off, one night only, performance of classic,” Between 10th and 11th” at the revamped New Century Hall in Manchester back in 2022. After that, they headed south of the equator for a tour and before we knew it, they were back out on tour in the UK in support of their own 30th anniversary career-spanning best-of, “A Head Full of Ideas”. Around all of this, front man Tim Burgess has made a name for himself outside of the band and his solo music with the hugely popular “Tim’s Listening Party”, the latest one being a playback of one of Texas’s classic albums covering stories from the band, exclusive insights, anecdotes and more. Fascinating insight into some of our favourite music of years gone by. If that’s not enough, then his latest solo album, “Typical Music” is also out.

Somehow, the man that clearly never sleeps and the band he fronts have found time to sell out a UK tour and we got the opportunity to catch them in London at the beautiful Art Deco venue, Troxy, located in the swanky, modernised Shoreditch area. 

First up though, we had newcomer, Seb Lowe to get the ball rolling. 

Seb Lowe

The TikTok sensation and ‘Oldham troubadour’ brought with him a great full band sound featuring some gorgeous violin work courtesy of Seb’s most recent band addition, Kate Couriel. The live sound the 5-piece produce gathers inspiration from Levellers, Billy Bragg, Ferocious Dog and oddly Eminem. Where one song, where Kate gets to shine, might owe a lot to Brighton’s finest folk rock outfit, another where Seb puts his guitar behind him would see him rapping Marshall Mathers style with the band doing their best to keep up with him to keep it all flowing. 

The pace, delivery and energy could be considered slightly shambolic, a little all over the place, but oddly the combination works like a charm and I’m absolutely convinced that the band, who at times look like a Weezer tribute act performing ‘Buddy Holly’, are going to be huge at some point in the very near future. 

With lyrics that hit the heart of how they feel about the current state of the country (and their less than positive views of the current government), the set-list presents an artist that has his finger on the pulse of society and it’s a welcome and honest take on what many are often afraid to say. Nice work Seb, good job, keep it up, I hope you go a long way. 

SETLIST:

Kill him (he’s a Socialist)
I Fell In Love With a Talking Head
Billionaire Extraordinaire
Ode to Britannia
Killer For A Day
iPhone
Terms and Conditions (preceded by band introductions)

The Charlatans

And so to our headliners. With a crowd suitably warmed up, a packed to the rafters (yet short queues thanks to the numerous bars and sizeable number of bar staff present – thanks Troxy!) venue waited with high levels of anticipation to see what the band would bring to the table in celebration of their 30+ years in the industry. 

Suffice to say, disappointment was not one of those things. Gorgeous lighting, great sound, a front man who seems incapable of doing anything other than smiling with enjoyment during every song and a band tighter than a vacuum seal, everything we could ask for and that was just coming from the opening salvo of ‘With No Shoes’, ‘Can’t Get Out of Bed’ and the sublime ‘Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over’. 

Personal favourite and guaranteed sing along, ‘One To Another’ followed by one [what’s the word now?] banger after another. The crowd shout and cheers but more interestingly , they seem to sway together as one. Imagine a ripe cornfield several acres across on a windy day with the breeze constantly shifting, creating ripple after ripple across the golden stems. The more we watched, the more mesmerising it became. As ‘North Country Boy’, ‘Tellin’ Stories’, ‘Let the Good Times Be Never Ending’ and classic ‘Weirdo’ came and went the vibe and groove took the crowd in multiple directions. If you remember the music visualiser that came with iTunes back in the day, we witnessed that in human form when the band were on stage… fascinating. 

We then got second favourite, ‘The Only One I Know’ which again generated a huge sing along as evidenced below: 

 1997’s ‘How High’ from back in the day when Tim’s hair was a little more on the black side of things closed out the main set and to be honest it would have been easy to call it a night at that point, heading home happy to have heard so many favourites (although I could have easily picked a few more from some of the recent releases and added a second hour to the set given a chance) but the band came back after disappearing briefly and a three-song encore finished with ‘Sproston Green’ from 1990’s ‘Some Friendly’ album. 

Friendly is how I’ll remember this gig. A couple of thousand people moving as one to the trippy groove fueled music of The Charlatans. If Seb Lowe’s music is designed to rile us up and challenge authority then The Charlatans counter the seething levels of anger at the establishment and teach us to enjoy life, get on with each other and if they keep playing like they did at Troxy then, 2,000+ people at a time might just enjoy life a little more out in the real world. 

SETLIST:

With No Shoes
Can’t Get Out of Bed
Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over
One to Another
Toothache
Come Home Baby
And If I Fall
Jesus Hairdo
Then
North Country Boy
Tellin’ Stories
Let the Good Times Be Never Ending
Weirdo
Just Lookin’
The Only One I Know
Impossible
How High
Encore:
I Don’t Want to See the Sights
Bad Days
Sproston Green (preceded by band introductions)

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