Over the past four years, I have grown to hate Twitter and its seemingly endless feed of bickering and bad news; since the pandemic started, that disdain has grown tenfold. However, on a Wednesday in late May, I watched and refreshed as Simon Le Bon tweeted the details behind Duran Duran’s landmark 1982 LP Rio. This was a social media moment, at least for someone who has loved Rio since the age of five. At a time where it’s starting to feel like we may never hear music in a physical space with other people again, Le Bon was guiding us through the now-classic album in a virtual space. He shared the people and places that inspired lyrics, stories from the recording studio and insight from 30-something years later.
There have been other moments that made me glad I haven’t deleted Twitter from my online habits: Miki Berenyi giving the history of Lush’s 1996 album Lovelife; Siouxsie and the Banshees drummer Budgie taking us through Kaleidoscope, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. All this is because of British musician Tim Burgess, known for both his work as lead singer of The Charlatans and a number of solo albums. (His most recent full-length, I Love the New Sky, came out in May and he followed it up with the EP Ascent of the Ascended in November.)
Since March, when it seemed like virtually the whole world had been grounded – no concerts, no dance clubs, no digging sessions at record stores – Burgess has been bringing together a global audience for journeys behind-the-songs of classic and contemporary albums. Tim’s Twitter Listening Party was the best thing – maybe the only good thing – about Twitter in 2020.
The roots of the project go back almost a decade. In an email interview, Burgess explains that he was inspired by seeing actor Riz Ahmed tweet about the opening scene of the film Four Lions as it aired on television. “It was a brilliant thing,” he says of reading the commentary on Twitter as he watched the film. Burgess thought he could do that with one of his records and so he did soon thereafter with The Charlatans’ 1990 debut, Some Friendly. In the years that followed, he would repeat the effort for his other albums, both with The Charlatans and his solo efforts, to coincide with release dates and anniversaries.
On March 23, when the pandemic lockdown began in the U.K., he did another Some Friendly listening party on Twitter. “Alex Kapranos tweeted that he’d got that record for his 16th birthday and was excited about the listening party,” Burgess recalls. He wondered if Kapranos wanted to host one for a Franz Ferdinand album. Turns out, he did.
Tim’s Twitter Listening Party hit its 600th installment on December 19. New Order’s Low-Life, Hercules and Love Affair‘s self-titled debut, Chvrches’ The Bones of What You Believe and Kylie Minogue’s Disco are just some of the albums that have been up for a listen. Some artists, like Róisín Murphy and Blur’s David Rowntree, have made multiple appearances. Some listening parties have come with surprises. When The Music, who broke up about a decade ago, had their listening party, they announced a reunion show that went on to sell 10,000 tickets. Burgess will be the DJ.
“I think everyone who hosts a listening party finds a similar thing – you don’t listen with a critical ear,” says Burgess. The listening parties give people a chance to hear their work when the pressure of making the album has passed. With time, too, the songs take on lives of their own.
“They can be a hugely emotional experience,” says Burgess of the listening parties. “I love the idea of seeing tweets from people saying what the songs mean to them – sometimes that helps you see a song in a different way, the stories it has acquired since it went out into the world.”
He says that the artists participating in the listening parties have often commented to him on the experience. “So many artists have DM’d me straight after saying that they were blown away,” says Burgess. The most common response from artists, he says, is that it’s like a live show. He’s also kept in touch with a number of them and says that there might be some projects next year stemming from the listening parties.
For Burgess too, it’s been an opportunity to listen to music in a different way. “It’s been an incredible experience to listen to 600 albums in a disciplined fashion. I get everything ready, headphones on,” says Burgess. “When I listen to music outside of the listening parties, it’s a bit more informal.”
Maybe, it’s been a little inspiring too. “I’ve written eight new songs in the last couple of months if that’s a measure of being inspired,” he says.
For fans, Tim’s Twitter Listening Party is a fantastic resource. It’s insight and reflection on the music coming directly from the people who made it. Even if you miss one as it happens, you can revisit the listening parties on your own time through the website that archives all of them. You have the option to either scroll through the neatly organized tweets or replay it as you listen to the album at home.
Burgess hadn’t planned to archive the listening parties, but he received a message form a “tech genius” named Andrew Brindle who had something to show him. “I nearly fell off my chair when I saw that he had built the replay feature – even then, I thought it was for one listening party,” he says. “It was for them all. It’s a labour of love.” Brindle recently added a feature where you can buy tickets to live shows.
Meanwhile, two other Twitter followers – Mat and Matt – separately contacted Burgess to help with scheduling. That led to a calendar spreadsheet, which is how they’ve been able to organize so many listening parties, and a website feature with links to indie record shops.
Certainly, Tim’s Twitter Listening Party turned out to be much bigger than its creator anticipated. “Genuinely, when we started back in March, it was a plan to do my albums and The Charlatans, maybe over a couple of weeks at most. Now it’s something we could carry on as a permanent thing,” says Burgess.
“It’s so much about the people who take part, they are what drives it,” says Burgess. “And the artists who give their time and share their stories. And, of course, they’ve helped keep me sane too.”
Follow Tim Burgess on Twitter for ongoing updates.