Join the listening party with Tim Burgess

Tim Burgess’s virtual gatherings have become huge – and the Charlatans frontman’s salute to the NHS only makes Malcolm Jack love him more

Bringing people together on social media every night to take comfort in music and community, Tim Burgess has been a superstar of the entertainment world in lockdown. And here’s an anecdote that not only proves it but also underlines why it matters.

A couple of weeks ago the Charlatans frontman was announcing another slew of Twitter listening parties for albums classic and new – hosted by everyone from members of Oasis and Blur to Paul Weller, Joan as Police Woman, Róisín Murphy and Wolf Alice – when he was tweeted at by Colin MacDonald, a Scottish junior orthopaedic surgeon working in London, who wondered if a session for Gomez’s Mercury Prize-winning 1998 album Bring It On could be scheduled around his on-call shift times, because he’s a big fan and doesn’t want to miss out. “We genuinely will Colin,” Burgess quickly replied, showing his respect for the NHS. “We will organise a time that works for you and the band.”

Colin happens to be a good friend of mine – I’ve thought about him often as the coronavirus crisis has unfolded, working on the front line in A&E. He told me that Burgess direct messaged him straight after their public exchange to ask after his work schedule, and also to offer him free guest passes to a future Charlatans show. It really pleased me to hear, because, like many people in the world right now – whether they’re healthcare professionals, supermarket shelf-stackers or hard-pressed parents cooped up at home with small kids – he’s someone who could scarcely be more deserving of a little bit of kindness, nor fair chance to find a bit of respite in a great record enjoyed (virtually) with friends at the end of another long day.

“It just felt like the right thing to do,” responds Burgess modestly over the phone when I ask him about all of this, as he’s out enjoying a daily stroll near his home in rural Norfolk. “It makes you feel like you’re being helpful.” Not all heroes wear surgical gowns.

The concept could scarcely be simpler nor more effective – everybody who wants to join in hits play at exactly the same time on a designated album (there are typically two sessions each night, one album at 9pm and another at 10pm), then uses the hashtag #timstwitterlisteningparty to follow commentary from the artists, to whom anyone can pose questions. Burgess is online every night, keeping things flowing – offering drinks from the virtual bar. All very in character for a reformed wild man of rock, who has put his hard partying days behind him to mellow into one of the most upbeat and likeable celebrities around – a tireless advocate of good music, good coffee and transcendental meditation (“now is probably a good time to learn if you want to,” he notes); author, maker of weird and wonderful blissed-out solo records and all-round fountain of positive vibes.

It’s kind of a full-time job. I probably only slept about three hours last night

It all began with Burgess hosting a listening party for the Charlatans’ 1990 debut album Some Friendly, then approaching a few friends in the business to see if they might fancy doing something similar with standouts from their back catalogues. The reaction to the first few listening parties was so huge that soon musicians were approaching Burgess offering to do a turn; #timstwitterlisteningparty now trends pretty much nightly. Around 100 listening parties have either taken place or been announced, with more being added all the time – covering everything from Pulp’s Different Class to New Order’s Power, Corruption and Lies, Beth Orton’s Central Reservation and Mark Ronson’s Version, and future classics by newer artists such as Fontaines DC, Shame and Lanterns on the Lake. Burgess meanwhile continues to chase some of his all-time favourites – with Blondie’s Parallel Lines top of his wish list.

“People want to get involved and show the good side of musicians, who I have always believed to be mostly great people anyway,” says Burgess of his peers who, like the rest of us, suddenly find themselves stuck at home trying to find new ways to stay busy, positive, sane – and helpful. “Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand kicked it all off, and Dave Rowntree from Blur, and Bonehead from Oasis. I’ve always known they were cool guys. From then on it’s just grown and grown.”

The workload of organising everything is considerable. “It’s kind of a full-time job,” Burgess acknowledges. “I probably only slept about three hours last night.

“No, no spreadsheets have been made!” he laughs, recoiling at the suggestion – he’s still too discerning a rock star to touch Excel. “But I do have a few Word docs on the go.”

While the listening parties will have some promotional benefits for Burgess’s forthcoming very charming solo album I Love The New Sky, he isn’t earning a penny from any of the listening parties, and has resisted calls to livestream the sessions or otherwise upscale their lo-fi format. “It’s perfect as it is because it’s so simple,” he reasons. Were any further evidence as to Burgess’s dedication required, then know that on Friday evening when he sat in on listening parties for the Chemical Brothers’ Exit Planet Dust and Cocteau Twins’ Heaven or Las Vegas, he did so in spite of the fact that he was mourning his father Allan Edward Burgess, who had died earlier that day after a long battle with illness.

“I’ll keep doing them every day for as long as it takes,” Burgess resolves. Not only to be helpful, but because when times are hard, like you or me or my doctor mate Colin, he takes a lot of solace in listening to great music with friends. “It’s always a buzz,” he beams.

Keep up with all the listening parties at timstwitterlisteningparty.com and by following @Tim_Burgess. I Love The New Sky is released May 22 (Bella Union)