Review: The Charlatans Mountain Picnic Blues – The Making of Tellin’ Stories

By Michael Halpin

Whatever The Charlatans do in their career, two things are always certain; they will always come back fighting and they will always be overshadowed by The Stone Roses.

Mountain Picnic Blues is a case in point, their mid-90s period is arguably a better story than that of The Stone Roses recent resurrection.

Yet Made of Stone, due for release at the end of the month, is big news whereas Mountain Picnic Blues, like much of The Charlatans career, is a more word of mouth affair.

The two high-water marks in The Charlatans career have been their The Only One I Know period and the period from 1995-1997 when two number one albums and three top ten hit singles came their way. 

Aside from these they have been very much a band for those in the know, a band that quietly plugs away, doesn’t air their dirty washing in public and always manages to survive. 

In my experience fellow thirty-somethings who happily strutted their stuff to One to Another in 1996 have asked whether The Charlatans are still on the go. 

The answer to that is a resounding yes, and is really quite remarkable when watching their story unfold in Mountain Picnic Blues.

Mountain Picnic Blues – The Making of Tellin’ Stories begins with a potted history of the band from 1989 when they first came together, right up to 1996 and the beginning of the recording sessions that would eventually give birth to the Tellin’ Stories album. 

Tim Burgess, Mark Collins, Martin Blunt and Jon Brookes all share their memories of the band’s meteoric rise, the critical backlash apportioned to Between Tenth and Eleventh, Rob Collins going to prison and things getting back on the right track for the band through both Up To Our Hips and The Charlatans album.

When Mark Collins talks about how such classics as One to Another, North Country Boy and How High were recorded in one session and how things were going well, viewers will wince in the knowledge of what happened next to band mate Rob Collins

Each band member talks in detail about what was going on in the band in the run-up to Rob Collins’ death during the recording of Tellin’ Stories – a scene where bassist Martin Blunt visibly struggles to talk about the loss of Rob Collins is particularly moving.

The pivotal moment in The Charlatans’ career was undoubtedly Rob Collins’ death and their reaction to it at Knebworth less than three weeks later.

One disappointment from the film, aside from it not being long enough, is the lack of live footage from the 95-97 period.   

However a still of Tim Burgess onstage at Knebworth, clearly emotional with his fist clenched by his side will affect even the strongest of people.

Following Knebworth, the films carries on with The Charlatans fighting spirit and their decision to finish the Tellin’ Stories album and subsequently take it on tour.

The album entered the charts at number one and the bittersweet feelings within the band are talked about candidly before the anti-Hollywood-ending draws the film to a close.

Mountain Picnic Blues is an insightful, compelling, sometimes funny and emotive film.

Life in The Charlatans wasn’t a bed of roses after this period with cancer, fraud, drug addiction and a brain tumour all affected the band, but they have survived and surely somewhere along the line that’s another story.

Image courtesy of thecharlatansnet via YouTube, with thanks

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