Tony Rogers of the Charlatans talks to Alison Lee about how this classic indie group is faring in the face of a fast-changing music industry.
Britpop has largely fallen by the wayside over the last decade- but some groups that emerged from England in the early nineties are still going strong. The Charlatans are a case in point. “It was such a huge industry when we started, compared to how small it’s got” says Rogers.
Record companies “have had to diversify into other areas” to combat plummeting revenues, with serious consequences for the musicians themselves. “They want to own every part of you, your merchandise, every image!”
But Rogers doesn’t believe the musical horizon is entirely bleak. It’s “the changes in styles of music” that keep this dynamic industry alive, while at the same time old trends are constantly re-emerging: according to Rogers “things have come full circle”. Blood Red Shoes, the Enemy, and Irish band Humanzi are some of the new acts that Rogers himself is a fan of.
How have the Charlatans themselves adapted in an industry where your fans can own all the music you’ve ever released at the click of a mouse – without paying a penny for it? Their reaction may seem totally illogical – they released their latest album, You Cross My Path, entirely free to download from the Xfm website.
“The record industry was in a bit of a mess – for every album that was sold, someone would go out and download the album ten times”
But here was method to the madness- The band felt the record industry was in “a bit of a mess- for every album that was sold, someone would go out and download the album ten times. We got fed up of that.” So why just give away their music? “The idea was to reach a wider audience” explains Rogers.
Did this generous approach work- or did the band simply end up shooting themselves in the foot? “It’s been tremendously successful!” says Rogers. Releasing the album free to download meant “it reached people worldwide, in countries where a record company wouldn’t promote your album”.
This has made the Charlatans an extremely busy bunch – they’re slap-bang in the middle of a tour which includes Japan, Australia, and New Zealand as well as Britain and Ireland. They’ve never played such a long list of exotic locations before, and Rogers insists that it’s “purely and simply down to giving it away free!”
All bands have had to deal with a metamorphosing music scene – but the Charlatans combated serious problems a lot closer to home when the original keyboardist, Rob Collins, died in a car crash in 1996.
Rogers (who replaced Collins) says there is a sense of “unfinished business” between the remaining band members regarding the departed Collins. But at the same time “you work as a group, you like each other’s company, and you want to keep on making records!”- So the band never faltered.
“A mad bunch of Celts!” is how Rogers describes the typical Irish audience. “It’s one of our favourite cities, Dublin.” The Charlatans deserve a warm welcome- they’ve managed not only to stay afloat in the sink-or-swim music business- but they’ve done it while staying true to themselves and their classic brand of solid indie rock. Let’s hope they keep up the good work.