The Charlatans timed their entrance into England’s music scene impeccably: they formed in Northwich, just 20 miles outside of Manchester, where a new rock and roll sound had developed, in 1989, just as “the Manchester Sound” was about to get a lot of attention. Thus the Charlatans—along with the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, and Inspiral Carpets—became one of the originators of what was actually the second wave of the Manchester scene, described as a “danceable combination of mind-expanding grooves, sing-along melodies and psychedelia.”
Though some accused the Charlatans of planning their strategy specifically to exploit the Manchester scene, they consistently tried to disassociate themselves from it in the press. “Why should we be defined by any city? We’ve never considered ourselves to be from any scene,” singer Tim Burgess told David Wild in Rolling Stone. “If we’re anything, we’re a British band—we’re popular all over the country.”
Initially, the Charlatans asked Steve Harrison—owner
Members include Martin Blunt, bass; Jon Brookes, drums; Tim Burgess, vocals; Mark Collins, guitar (replaced Jon Baker, 1991); and Rob Collins, keyboards.
Band formed in Northwich, England, 1989; released independent single “Indian Rope,” 1990; signed with Beggars Banquet and released debut album, Some Friendly, 1990.
Addresses: Record company —Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
of Omega Music, a record store in Northwich—to manage the band. Harrison took singer Tim Burgess to one of the Charlatans’ club performances; Burgess loved the band, but he thought the singer was “poor.” He told Harrison he would like to sing for the band. The band split up for a few months, then reemerged in August of 1989. Burgess had joined bassist Martin Blunt, guitarist Jon Baker, keyboardist Rob Collins, and drummer Jon Brookes in their assault on England’s music world.
The Charlatans independently released their first single, “Indian Rope,” in early 1990; it sold nearly 20,000 copies. The single and their live performances received favorable responses from their audiences and gained some attention from the U.K. press. Ian McGregor of Melody Maker reported his observations of the crowd at one of the Charlatans’ early performances, noting, “The audience is seriously baggy—baggy hair, baggy clothes, baggy dancing.”
Talent scouts of the British label Beggars Banquet took notice of the band as well and signed them in 1990. They released their debut, Some Friendly, that year. Within two days of its release, the record went gold in England and debuted at Number One on the U.K. charts. Some Friendly featured the songs “The Only One I Know,” “Then,” and “Overrising.” The Charlatans had made their mark.
When the time came to take their music to the United States, the Charlatans discovered that a San Francisco-based band fronted by one Dan Hicks had played under the same name. So, the Charlatans voluntarily added “UK” to their name to set themselves apart. “Really, it shouldn’t be the Charlatans UK,” Burgess asserted in Rolling Stone. “It should be the Charlatans the World, shouldn’t it?”
The Charlatans did take their tour worldwide from America, performing in Japan, England, and Europe, where they played numerous festival dates. Critics generally received the band with praise but accused them of trying to recreate 1960s music with their psychedelic sound. “We want to be progressive, not retrospective,” Burgess insisted in Rolling Stone. The singer told Chris Roberts in Melody Maker, “We are a band of our time, but I think we’ll exceed the time.… I just think we’re the ultimate force. As a unit, we are the ultimate force. I can say that with a lot of confidence.”
In a thorny twist, the year 1991 threw many obstacles in the path of the Charlatans UK. In August Jon Baker left the band, claiming he had nothing more to offer the project. Then, in October, the group was forced to cancel several concerts in Europe because bassist Martin Blunt had collapsed from a mental breakdown while the band was in the studio. According to a report in Melody Maker, Blunt is a diagnosed manic depressive and suffered similar attacks before the Charlatans signed with Beggars Banquet. Blunt kept a doctor in the studio with him after he was discharged from the hospital.
The Charlatans recruited guitarist Mark Collins, formerly of the Waltones, to replace Baker. And in 1992 the band released their second album, Between 10th & 11th, and their hit single “Weirdo.” Produced by Flood, who had worked with the likes of U2, Depeche Mode, and Nine Inch Nails, the LP nonetheless did not measure up to the success of the group’s debut. It spent just two weeks on the Billboard 200 and sold less than 100,000 copies in the United States.
Adversity hit the band again in December of 1992, when Rob Collins was arrested with his friend Michael Whitehouse on charges relating to an armed robbery. Collins claimed that he did not think Whitehouse would commit the crime—until he heard a gunshot while he waited for him in his car. When Whitehouse returned, he drove him away from the scene. Collins pleaded guilty to assisting the offender, and the court sentenced him to eight months in jail.
The Charlatans spent 1993 recording their next album, though they did take some time off to play the two-day Daytripper Festival in Brighton, a show in Blackpool, and the alternative-rock Reading Festival. They returned in 1994 with Up To Our Hips, which they recorded at Monnow Valley studios in Monmouth, south Wales, with producer Steve Hillage. They released “Can’t Get Out of Bed” as the first single from the album and began yet another worldwide jaunt.
The Charlatans had survived the rise and demise of the Manchester music scene. “I think it was really healthy for music at the time,” Burgess said in an Atlantic Records press biography. “I’m proud to have grown up in Northwich and lived through it. There were a lot of groups that came and went, but the music’s always been more important than where it came from.”
The Charlatans had modified their organ-drenched sound to lean more on guitars. “Everyone’s always said we’re a strong live band,” Burgess explained in the band’s biography, “and we wanted to sound that good on record. We let ourselves go a bit.” With a new approach to their music, the band also decided the time had come to drop the UK from their name. They did not decide to change it to “the Charlatans the World,” but no doubt they still plan to conquer it.
Some Friendly, Beggars Banquet/RCA, 1990.
Between 10th & 11th, Beggars Banquet/RCA, 1992.
Up to Our Hips, Beggars Banquet/Atlantic, 1994.
Billboard, April 20, 1991; May 23, 1992; February 19, 1994.
Melody Maker, January 13, 1990; February 10, 1990; March 3, 1990; March 31, 1990; May 12, 1990; May 19, 1990; June 9, 1990; June 16, 1990; October 13, 1990; November 3, 1990; November 17, 1990; December 22, 1990; March 9, 1991; June 15, 1991; June 22, 1991; October 5, 1991; October 12, 1991; December 21, 1991; February 22, 1992; March 7, 1992; May 22, 1993; August 28, 1993; September 25, 1993.
Musician, June 1992; May 1994.
Raygun, April 1994.
Rolling Stone, April 18, 1991; July 9, 1992.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Atlantic Records press materials, 1994.
The Charlatans are credited with being the first of San Francisco's psychedelic bands of the 1960s. While steeped in the drug culture of the era, the band's music does not resemble the feedback-drenched, psychedelic blues and electric instrumentals of fellow San Francisco bands the Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Instead, the Charlatans created a music that evoked an earlier era of jugband blues, parlor piano, and ragtime. The band members personified the musical era they recreated by adopting a fashion sense that included vintage turn-of-the-century clothing, including hats, vests, cowboy boots, and pocket watches, as well as a fascination with firearms. The band's only official album release, The Charlatans, released in 1969, only features two original members. Earlier, a series of recordings made for Kama Sutra in 1966 resulted in the release of only one single, "The Shadow Knows," which is the only officially released document of the band's most popular lineup.
The Charlatans formed in San Francisco in 1964 as the brainchild of George Hunter, an architectural model builder who had seen some of his building designs produced while still a teenager. Hunter was a student at San Francisco State College, where he also taped collages to accompany the choreography of his girlfriend, Lucy Lewis. Hunter met Richard Olsen, and the latter's youthful appearance, physical attractiveness, and background as a clarinetist inspired Hunter to form a band around him, despite the fact that Hunter played no instruments himself, and could barely carry a tune as a singer. Hunter recruited a high school friend, Mike Wilhelm, to play guitar in the group, and pianist Mike Ferguson joined the group shortly thereafter. Ferguson managed the Magic Theater for Madmen Only in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. Between Hunter's fascination with Old West fashions and mythology and Ferguson's knowledge of Victoriana, the group developed the unique visual style that would define the Charlatans. The group's original drummer was Sam Linde, a neighbor of Hunter's. Linde was quickly replaced by Dan Hicks, a San Rosa musician in jazz bands and dance orchestras, and the first and most popular incarnation of the Charlatans was in place.
The Charlatans quickly became avatars of the mid-1960s drug culture, a reputation only enhanced by their tenure at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1965. Olsen and Wilhelm met Chandler Laughlin, a Red Dog employee visiting San Francisco to purchase antiques for the renovation of the Red Dog. Mistaking the pair as members of the Byrds, Laughlin offered them the house band position, but after learning they were not the Byrds, he offered them the job anyway. The band leapt at the opportunity, with the exception of Hicks, who was finishing college and due to take a physical in preparation for his draft induction. Hunter paid him a hundred dollars, and Hicks graduated, intentionally failed the intelligence test of the draft physical, and departed for San Francisco with his band-mates. The band's Red Dog audition consisted of the intoxicated band playing before the Red Dog staff.
During this period, they formed the core of their repertoire, which consisted of covers of such songs as Roy Acuff's "Wabash Cannonball," the New Lost City Ramblers' "East Virginia," and Jelly Roll Morton's "Alabama Bound." An early attempt to record the group with producer and San Francisco deejay Sly Stone was unsuccessful. After Wilhelm was arrested for drug possession, future Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cipollina traveled to Virginia City to replace him, but was told that the band was returning to San Francisco with the newly bailed-out Wilhelm.
In 1966 the Charlatans made their first attempt at recording an album. They were introduced to Erik Jacobsen, the record producer for the Lovin' Spoonful, at the time the best-selling American pop group. The Spoonful recorded for Kama Sutra Records, and the Charlatans eagerly signed a contract with the label. Jacobsen, however, found recording the group a difficult process as they were unaccomplished musicians at best. Progress on the album proceeded slowly, as Jacobsen divided his time between coasts in order to record the Lovin' Spoonful. The band kept busy during Jacobsen's absence by performing as the house band for a San Francisco strip club, and the experience helped the band refine their playing abilities. In the meantime, the band attempted to record "The Shadow Knows," a cover of a song made popular by the Coasters that Kama Sutra executive insisted the band perform. The band hated the song, however, and Kama Sutra sold the single to Kapp Records, which released it in October of 1966.
In 1967 the band once again tried recording; this time with famed performer and producer Leon Russell. The sessions were unsuccessful, and tensions among the band escalated. Hunter fired Ferguson, replacing him with Patrick Gogerty. The group also hired drummer Terry Wilson, freeing Hicks to play rhythm guitar and sing his compositions as a front man for the group, "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?" and "We're Not on the Same Trip." Despite his heightened profile in the band, Hicks was the only original member of the band who could be considered a professional musician. His increasing frustration led him to form Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, a quintet featuring It's a Beautiful Day violinist David LaFlamme, bass player Jaime Leopold, and two female backup vocalists. The Hot Licks opened shows for the Charlatans, and received more positive reviews by such revered critics as Ralph Gleason. In the meantime, Hunter's negative behavior toward Gogerty (who, Hunter discovered, was homosexual) led the pianist to depart in 1968. Hicks left to pursue his muse with the Hot Licks shortly thereafter. Unhappy with Hunter's lack of musical ability and overbearing demeanor, Wilhelm and Olsen opted to fold the band legally.
With Hunter out of the picture, Wilhelm, Olsen, and Terry Wilson re-formed the Charlatans as a quartet with pianist Darrell De Vore in 1969. The group recorded The Charlatans for the Philips label. De Vore contributed several originals to the group's canon, which still included "Alabama Bound," "Wabash Cannonball," and the Johnny Cash classic "Folsom Prison Blues." According to Joel Selvin, author of The Summer of Love, the album is "an unenthusiastic coda to a misspent career, a band life that began in the summer sunshine and high hopes of the Sierra Nevadas and straggled to an end the previous year in Vancouver and Seattle." All Music Guide critic Bruce Eder disagreed, however, writing that "in all, heard properly for the first time in decades, this is a rather gorgeous and gently challenging piece of San Francisco rock, incorporating elements of blues and big-band swing, as well as '50s rock & roll and elegant '60s pop…. It is one of the prettiest and most subtly beguiling albums to come out of the '60s San Francisco scene." Following the release of The Charlatans, drummer Wilson began serving a prison sentence for marijuana possession, effectively ending the group forever. The group's work is preserved on compact disc reissues and bootlegs, including the 1991 CD San Francisco Nights, which includes the Kapp single "The Shadow Knows" and the previously unreleased Kama Sutra single "Codine."
For the Record …
Members include Daniel DeVore (joined group, 1968), piano; Mike Ferguson (left group, 1967), piano, drums; Patrick Gogerty (group member 1967-68), piano; Dan Hicks (born on December 9, 1941, in Little Rock, AR; left band, 1968), drums, guitar, vocals; George Hunter (left group, 1968), vocals, autoharp; Sam Linde (left group, c. 1965), drums; Richard Olsen , bass; Mike Wilhelm , guitar; Terry Wilson (joined group, 1967), drums.
Group formed in San Francisco as the Androids and, later, the Mainliners, before renaming band the Charlatans, 1964; began recording debut album for Kama Sutra records and released single, "Codine," 1966; pianist Ferguson replaced by Patrick Gogerty, drummer Terry Wilson added to lineup, Dan Hicks switched from drums to guitar, 1967; Hicks, George Hunter, Gogerty left band, pianist Darrel DeVore joined, 1968; remaining lineup recorded Philips label album The Charlatans, 1969.
"The Shadow Knows," Kapp Records, 1966.
The Charlatans, Philips, 1969 (reissued as The Charlatans 1969, Acadia, 2000.
San Francisco Nights, Rhino Records, 1991.
The Amazing Charlatans, Ace, 1996.
George-Warren, Holly, and Patricia Romanowski, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside, 2001.
Selvin, Joel, Summer of Love, Plume, 1994.
Rolling Stone, March 1968; May 25, 2003, p. 15.
"The Charlatans," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 6, 2005).