View: Together in isolation and the rebirth of Adventures In Stereo
Music can be a solitary or community activity. Historically, of course, it’s been the latter, its foundations a vital component of tribal life, but it would amiss of anyone truly enthralled by contemporary music to suggest they didn’t spend much of their youth alone in their bedroom engulfing vast quantities of new music, pouring over liner notes as vinyls, tapes or CDs sent new and exciting sounds through the speakers in their teenage rooms (for the younger among young you that would be streaming and wireless earphones).
But of course, while music is an activity that can be embraced alone but it is more powerful when experienced together. So what happens when circumstances mean you can’t socialise or come together as a physical community to enjoy art, music and culture? Out of the darkness of such a scenario, step forward Tim Burgess, frontman of The Charlatans and saviour of many a music lover during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’m penning this blog entry months after the worst of the (first) COVID-19 lockdown in my corner of the UK. Pubs and bars have reopened, work places and schools are reinhabited and record shops are once again allowing browsing. The pandemic has not gone but circumstances and freedoms continually shift. However, it was only a matter of weeks ago that we couldn’t leave our homes, bar for an hour’s exercise a day, or to peruse the empty supermarket shelves on a desperate hunt for flour or toilet roll.
For many this was the toughest of times and the truest affects of the lockdown on the nation's mental health are only starting to be understood. Separated from friends and family many were, and still are, alone, locked inside their houses with no conversation or a warming hug, their only link to the outside world through digital means. It was a dystopian nightmare being played out in front of our eyes.
I for one searched for an outlet. I was lucky, I lived with other people, my wife and a young son, but even the daily family activities soon became routine and mundane. Any other human interaction generally had one topic - the virus - while the news and other media resources were as soul sapping and needed to be avoided. There was though a new community being formed that sparkled with its simplicity but effectiveness.
The first time I joined a Tim’s Twitter Listening Party was a drunken stumble through Oasis’ seminal debut album Definitely Maybe. Our lead guide was Paul Arthurs, aka Bonehead, but with support from the likes of Brian Cannon of Microdot and photographer Kevin Cummins. I dug out my CD copy to delve through the liner notes but spun the beautiful silver 25th Anniversary Edition on my turntable.
I had no idea what laid behind the door I was opening when sitting down with the laptop that evening. My wife and I supped on beer and worked our way through a large packet of crisps as I continually refreshed Arthur, Cannon and Cummins’ twitter profile pages. I was captivated. The sharing of stories not just from the artists but fans was a heart warming experience. The sight of unseen photographs, notes from the album’s production and artwork development left me salivating for more. I bashed out my own contributions on the keyboard. These were my people and I was having a real-time interaction with them. A carrot from the world before lockdown was being tantalisingly dangled in front of me and I grabbed it with both hands (pardon then mixed metaphors).
I was hooked. These listening parties gave me a target. A place to vanish into. The forthcoming dates with the likes of Doves, The Cribs and The Libertines were added to the shared-diary I have with my wife, even if she had little interest in the artists involved. The replaced the entries we would have had for gigs now live music had all but ceased. I did attempt to explain the concept to friends but with varying success. . Maybe I did a poor job, their love of music different or maybe their craving for such a channel was less than mine.
I, however, had a found a community of kindred spirits, joining me as I revisited albums that had been collecting dust in the CD collection stored under my bed. I obsessively dug out memorabilia in the shape of ticket stubs, flyers, badges and other bits and pieces. I spent days stuck in my house reminiscing, thinking back to my youth of trips darting into Central London in the earliest of my gig-going days and then at Uni, where I shuttled between the northern cities of Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield to see the newest bands during the early 00s. The festivals I attended religiously each summer. I bored my wife senseless with these stories before, after and during listening parties. Soon I would be relegated to our son’s playroom or to donning headphones for certain bands or genres.
Next I was digging out old reviews and interviews I had written for my (now defunct) students' union newspaper, of which I was the proud music editor for two years in the section named Adventures In Stereo. I reread my old articles, squirmed at the childish prose, and hurried the fading copies back into the carrier bag they had lived in for nearly fifteen years - but not before taking a quick snap on my phone. Along with photographs of other items from my past they would act as part of my contribution to a forthcoming listening party.
But it wasn’t just rediscovering past favourites and forgotten albums but also unearthing the unknown. Diving into more listening parties led to me listening to artists I had never before heard or albums that had passed me by. Inevitably new vinyls appeared in our record collection as a result.
And with that came dives into newest of releases, some on the week of release, such as Andy Bell's The View From Halfway Down (read our review here) where I was to digest some of the newest and most talented of our contemporary music scene that I had not heard in depth to date. The most notable of these the listening party series for the Mercury Music Award nominees.
Soon I wasn’t just sharing memories but tweet-length reviews of these newest records. My wife instantly saw how my mood in changed as I found a creative channel through writing these 280 character-length reviews. She alluded to me that I should do more, as a way to attempt to manage any mental health issues and because, frankly, she could see I simply enjoyed writing - even if no one would ever read the words I was penning. The rebirth of Adventures of Stereo had begun (and here we are, on the site that is the result).
But let’s not digress further into a spiral of naval gazing. The main protagonist of this story is Tim Burgess and his online endeavor. For fans of The Charlatans, Tim is a superstar. I remember many a drunken, night-time festival debate about the frontmen of our favourite bands. Liam Gallagher v Ian Brown v Tim Burgess. Who was the best lead man? Best singer? The coolest? They were these untouchable figures who graced the stages in front of us and the speakers in our homes.
Now Tim was interacting with us. He laid the foundations for us to discuss music and our memories together but didn’t take a step back. He joined in, commenting on, liking and sharing what we wrote. He wasn’t this untouchable idol, he was just like us - a music obsessive. Many of the tweets he has posted during the listening parties could have been written by any of the other attendees (bar the photos of him with many of the artists involved). He was as much a fanboy of The The and Dexy’s Midnight Runners as I was of The Charlatans, The Coral and Supergrass when I was donning ripped jeans and converse and leaping around the Leeds Cockpit or Sheffield Leadmill.
His love of music, sharing experiences and thoughts on genre-spanning artists is echoed by those who have taken part and has created something of a cult following but with it a healthy community. At each listening party I have “attended” (I don’t profess to have participated in them all) there are names (well Twitter handles) I recognise instantly, some even in the town I live in. I can imagine that if the chance ever arose I could happily meet a group of them in a pub and feel like we are already friends. I would hope Tim would join us (he could be the sixth person at our COVID compliant table). I would buy him several drinks of his choice as a thank you for the listening parties he has organised. And there have been many.
For this evening we embark on the 500th listening party on the good ship Burgess (Nick Mason's Saucerful Of Secrets at 8pm GMT). The listening parties have grown into something huge, addictive possibly, but importantly never designed as a marketing tool to sell records or keep bands and keep artists relevant during a period in which the music industry has been thrown in to turmoil (but it has helped) but as an opportunity to, within the madness, take an hour or so to focus on one thing; the album. It’s been in danger of becoming something of a lost art. In life before COVID-19 even I didn’t always have time to sit for an hour or two and take in a couple of records from start to finish. Life would get in the way.
Happily it is had taken central stage again. Lockdown allowed me to reconnect with music in a way I hadn’t for a while (and resulted in my bank balance taking a battering through mail order vinyl purchases). Renaging with the album format has also helped me mentally (though let’s be clear, it’s not a perfect, long-lasting solution to anyone is suffering - please see below) in a time when focus and distraction were in short supply elsewhere. The Tim's Titter Listening Parties have been an important vessel to do this. To say they have been a lifeline for many would probably not be an understatement. They certainly have meant a lot to me.
So what am I trying to say? Well, other than tuning in tonight, I also believe that two or three albums a day, some classics, some new, is a healthy amount. It should be recommended by everyone’s GP. And that dosage must include enjoying that experience with thousands of others people at the same time. A listening party is the perfect vector to do so during these times. As the poster created by Brian Cannon early in lockdown states, we’re together in isolation.
In this article I mention mental health several times. If you have or are struggling, please remember help and support is out there:
Childline: 0800 1111
Samaritans: 116 123
Domestic Abuse: 0808 2000 247
Mind: 0300 123 3393
Calm: 0800 58 58 58
Victim Support: 08 08 16 89 111
Alcoholics Anonymous: 0845 769 7555
National Gambling Helpline: 0808 8020 133
Narcotics Anonymous: 0300 999 1212