Michael Halpin Journalism


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



Whatever The Charlatans do in their career, two things are always certain.  They will always come back fighting and they will always be over-shadowed by The Stone Roses.  Mountain Picnic Blues is a case in point.  Their mid-90’s 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 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-something’s who happily strutted their stuff to One to Another in 1996, have on a few occasions recently asked: “The Charlatans? Are they still on the go?”  Yes, they are still on the go, which, when you watch Mountain Picnic Blues and take into account their story, really is something quite remarkable.

Mountain Picnic Blues  - The Making of Tellin Stories begins with a potted history of The Charlatans up to that point, covering the period 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 give their recollections on the meteoric rise of the band, 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.

The Charlatans are something of a people’s band and the fact that they carry on regardless of what they are encountered with makes them this way.  Also the flaws and the stumbles that they have experienced in their career make them a more realistic prospect as a band.  When Mark Collins talks about the fact that Charlatans classic such as One to Another, North Country Boy and How High were recorded in one session and how everything was going so well: “there would be no prison from now on and no breakdowns”, you’ll wince in the knowledge of what happened next to band mate Rob Collins but you’ll also appreciate the realism. 

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

The pivotal moment in The Charlatans career was Rob Collins’ death and their reaction to it.  As they famously played Knebworth less than three weeks later, Tim Burgess talks about the band “(going on stage) like wolves that day.”  One disappointment from the film (aside from it not being long enough) is the lack of live footage from the 95-97 period.   Yet, a photograph of Tim Burgess onstage at Knebworth with his fist clenched by his side and an expression holding every emotion that he must have been going through his mind that day  manages to truly affect. 

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

The album entered the charts at number 1 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 emotionally affecting film.

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