On my way to The Charlatans’ Oxford O2 Academy gig I had the mildly terrifying realisation that I have been watching them play live for 26 years. This tour is a celebration of their 31st anniversary as a band (Covid denying them a nice, neat 30th), and marks the release of best-of album A Head Full of Ideas. Like the Tigger-ish tiger on the mid-90s t-shirts, The Charlatans never seem to lose their bounce (even though the challenges they’ve faced would make an Eeyore out of most).
Tonight, they had a sell-out crowd of long-term fans, and there was a sense that we were here to be reunited with old friends. The band’s arrival on stage was met with a bear-hug of a response: warm, enthusiastic and familiar. Tim Burgess scampered about like a man who has a secret stash of some magical youth elixir – with his bleach blonde bob and dungarees, he embodies that Charlatans bounce. Opener Forever gave the rest of us a chance to shrug off our winter jackets and - dare I say it - middle-aged dispositions, and rediscover our own inner Tiggers. Possibly making sure that when the band launched into the much-loved and unfailingly brilliant Weirdo we could all go suitably nuts without straining anything.
Being immersed in the full Charlatans sound is just gorgeous. There’s a reason their fans are so committed and loyal, and it’s not nostalgia for dragging your soggy flares around a smoky venue whilst drinking warm Stella (OK, a little bit of it might be!). Their combination of a groove-heavy rhythm section, hugely danceable guitar chops and a snaking, driving
The set felt carefully curated to give us a good mix of old favourites and newer offerings, showcasing the band’s ability to evolve their sound whilst always keeping that groove going. Classic Charlatans anthems, like One to Another, The Only One I Know, Just When You’re Thinkin Things Over, You’re So Pretty, North Country Boy, A Man Needs To Be Told and How High were beautifully interwoven with the drifty-dreamy moments of the earlier albums (Then, I Never Want An Easy Life…) and highlights from more recent offerings (Different Days, Plastic Machinery).
The only slight dip in energy came when the band left the stage after How High and it took the audience a little while to remember that this was, officially, the ‘end’ – i.e. the bit before the encore when you need to give it some noise and bring them back. There was almost a feeling of ‘ooh, it’s a nice little breather, because we’re waiting for Sproston Green to tell us it’s really the end’. However, it didn’t matter – after a brief lull, the requisite noise was made, the band returned, and treated us to a well-paced encore, with Blacked Blue Eyes and Trouble Understanding giving everyone a chance to get their breath back, ready for an absolute stormer of an ending, in the form of an extended Sproston Green. Not that anyone ever doubted the Charlatans would deliver anything less.
Admirably warmed up by Martin Carr and What Future (no easy task when it’s sub-zero outside at 7pm), both audience and band were on fine form. The entire evening felt like a true celebration – of the band, their music, and the fans who’ve been with them throughout.
THE CHARLATANS - NEW BEST-OF COMPILATION: ‘A HEAD FULL OF IDEAS'
OUT NOW, VIA THEN RECORDS
AVAILABLE AS: CD, 2CD DELUXE, 2LP, AND 3LPX EDITIONS