The Charlatans open UK tour in Hatfield tonight

LEGENDARY Manchester band The Charlatans will kick off their UK tour at the Forum in Hatfield tonight (Tuesday). Welwyn Hatfield Times reporter Ross Logan talked to Charlatans singer Tim Burgess ahead of the gig.

THE Charlatans are in the middle of rehearsals when the WHT calls, which explains the sound of chiming guitars I’m greeted with when singer Tim Burgess picks up the phone.

“Hello?” he says, before the clatter stops instantaneously, as if somebody suddenly turned the volume off. “Can you hear me mate? Sorry, we’re in the middle of rehearsals.”

If you think about it, this could be considered something of a WHT exclusive. We’re probably one of the first publications to speak to the band since it was announced that Verve drummer Pete Salisbury is replacing the band’s own Jon Brookes, who collapsed on stage during a gig in Philadelphia on September 15 and was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

That sound then, as brief as it was, could have been the media’s first taste of The Charlatans with Salisbury on the sticks.

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But first to more pressing matters: how’s Jon?

“He’s a bit groggy,” says Burgess. “He had the operation yesterday [Thursday, September 23], but it seems to have gone as smooth as it could’ve done.

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“It was supposed to take four hours, but instead it took three, and I take that as a good sign.”

The band were halfway through a 14-date tour of America when Brookes was taken ill, and they were forced to postpone the rest of their gigs in the States.

There had been concerns (not least at the WHT) that the band would have to cancel their forthcoming UK tour, which kicks off at the Forum in Hatfield tonight (Tuesday).

But those fears were allayed late last month, when Salisbury agreed to become a stand-in Charlatan for the remainder of the year.

It was Brookes himself, Burgess says, who suggested contacting Salisbury about becoming his replacement.

“That’s what Jon told us from his hospital bed in Philadelphia,” Burgess says.

“It sounds great rehearsing with Pete. He’s fitting in well and we’re really, really thankful that he’s made himself free to do this. It feels like a gift.”

In music history’s long list of tragedies and setbacks, it’s not overstating the point that The Charlatans have had more than their fair share.

In 1996, original keyboard player Rob Collins was killed in a car crash in Wales, a week before the band were due to support Oasis at the Gallaghers’ now legendary Knebworth House gigs.

Then in 2001, Collins’ replacement, Tony Rogers, was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He has since made a full recovery.

Now that Brookes has also fallen victim cancer, I ask Burgess how the band has managed to stick together for more than 20 years.

“Twenty years is a long time,” he says, philosophically. “Things are going to happen in that time.

“If you know someone, or a group of people, for 20 years, then something is going to happen to all of them at some point. I think it shows how strong we are – as a band and as human beings.”

All of this is discussed before we get to the whole point of the interview – the tour in support of their new album, their eleventh, Who We Touch.

“It’s all about the new record!” he enthuses. “A lot of people have been catching on to it, and I think they’ll all get behind our decision to carry on with the tour.”

Which brings us, quite nicely, to Hatfield.

“It’s supposed to be a warm-up gig,” says Burgess, before adding: “But it’s now going to be our first gig back since what happened, so it’s probably going to be a bit more of an event than that.”

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