Q&A: Tim Burgess on performing with Helen O'Hara, his listening parties wish-list and missing gigs

"It's frustrating not to play live but musicians are well versed in waiting around."

Earlier this month, Tim Burgess made his Jäger Soho Vinyl Session debut, which saw the singer/songwriter perform for the first time with violinist Helen O'Hara (formerly of Dexys Midnight Runners), which was "a dream come true".

The Charlatans frontman chose the tracks 'Lucky Creatures’ and ‘Sweet Old Sorry Me’ from his acclaimed solo album, 'I Love The New Sky', to perform live and record straight to vinyl creating a one-off acetate.

The rare vinyl (there is only one in existence) is up for grabs in a raffle* (enter here) with the money raised from donations going to the Music Venue Trust.

We caught up with Burgess to discuss his Jäger Soho Vinyl Session, his legendary listening parties, which have seen contributions from members of Oasis, Blur, and Spandau Ballet, to name a few, and how he's been coping without touring and festivals amid the coronavirus pandemic.

How did you prepare for recording the tracks straight to vinyl. Lots of rehearsal beforehand? After three decades in music do you still get nervous before things like this?

Because it was two songs, one day of rehearsals was enough - we'd not played together since early March so it was good to get back together - plus we had a new band member who we'd not played with before.

But when that new band member is violinist Helen O' Hara (from Dexys Midnight Runners) you know you're in safe hands. It added an extra level of excitement to both days and it was a dream come true for me. Even after all these years, there are definitely nerves that things are going to go well - it's a case of wanting to do your best.

Congratulations on 'I Love The New Sky'. This was the first time you'd penned a whole record completely yourself. Was that something you intended to do?

Yep, normally I work with other people - even on solo records, whether that was with Kurt Wagner from Lambchop or Peter Gordon. I've always enjoyed the process, with The Charlatans, there's been five of us with input, so I'm used to sharing the responsibility. Working on my own was something I really enjoyed but I've always loved changing things up.

Was it therapeutic for you?

It was definitely therapeutic to write the songs on my own - it's a different kind of discipline to a team effort or even just writing with one per person. It felt good. I always had the songs on my mind while I was working on them, so each train journey or even when I was playing football with my son, I'd have the songs on my mind and I was constantly making notes and recording melodies on my phone.

The listening parties have brought music lovers so much joy amid the pandemic. Has it been a blessing having that to work on? What's been your highlight? 

It's always good to hear that people are enjoying the listening parties - they have been quite a welcome distraction for me while we've been living through very uncertain times - I'm used to being really busy and lockdown presented lots of challenges for everyone. I started the listening parties nine years ago - I did them for Charlatans albums and my solo records, and it was something I shared with my Twitter followers for sessions, once in a while. And then, on March 23rd, I did a listening party for 'Some Friendly' and invited some friends to host them for their own albums. And it all went crazy from there. The highlight? So many. Pixies, Julia Holter, Run The Jewels, The The, Spandau Ballet, The Breeders. Bonehead's Oasis listening parties were brilliant, as were Dave Rowntree's for Blur. It's so hard to pick a favourite.

How have you coped with no gigs. Musicians live to be on the road? 

It's frustrating not to play live but musicians are well versed in waiting around. On a tour or at a festival 95% of the day is waiting around and trying to stay occupied. I've really missed playing live but everyone is in this together, so many people are missing out on so many things. I have a tour booked for April next year, and in the current situation, I'm just hoping those dates can go ahead.

Have you learnt anything new about yourself since we've all had to slow down? 

My organisational skills have been tested to the limit with the listening parties and I've learnt I've got the chops - I get lots of help with the website but I've been navigating some intense diary software. I'm not a very good primary school teacher.

They've taken on a life of their own now. Are the listening parties here to stay?

I think so, we were doing three a day back in July and we managed to do 470 from March to September. 10 was the most we did in one day.

Maybe we can scale back to four or five a week at some point - but I'm happy to carry on with them if it still seems like people want them to happen.

You had Bonehead and Liam, The Libertines, New Order involved. Who else is on your wish list for listening parties?

Blondie, Bob Dylan, Wu Tang Clan and Kate Bush would be good. 

It's the 30th anniversary of 'Some Friendly' next month. Did you have any plans to mark the milestone before COVID hit? Are you going to do anything for that online?

We had lots of plans but none of them can happen - we even changed the plans when new restrictions came in but the latest changes have made those impossible. We're not sure what that leaves but we'll let people know once we do.

Jäger Soho is a collaboration between Jägermeister and Soho Radio which aims to provide a platform for musicians, brands, projects and makers. Follow #JagerMusic for the latest news.

*The raffle to win Tim Burgess' vinyl closes at 9pm tonight (30.09.20).