When you hit on a concept as genuinely fun as the Charlatans' Tim Burgess has, you don't need embellishments—just music and a reliable internet connection.
The rules (if you can even call them that) of Burgess's hugely successful online listening parties are easy to follow. Everyone hits play or drops the needle on a chosen album at a specific time (usually 9 p.m. British Standard Time, to give everyone a pleasant distraction from the nightly news), and you follow along with fellow listeners on Twitter using the hashtag #TimsTwitterListeningParty. "Nowt complicated. That's it. ;)" Burgess says.
I started the listening parties nine years ago, and until a couple weeks ago it was just a thing we all did from time to time. Then I asked some friends and...well, it all went crackers. It’s still just us listening to an album in full but it’s having quite a ripple effect...— Tim Burgess (@Tim_Burgess) April 9, 2020
Burgess frequently gets the musicians and producers involved with the featured albums to take part in the experience, which adds a unique level of insight, expertise, and hilarity. Members of Oasis, New Order, Blur, Pulp, the Chemical Brothers, Belle and Sebastian, the Flaming Lips, the Cocteau Twins, Libertines, and the Cult (to name just a few) have all shared their memories of making these records, their experiences at the time, classic artifacts and unseen photos from that era, and reflections on what the albums meant to them then and now.
For someone who already loves these particular albums and artists, these listening parties provide a deeper appreciation for the music and the musicians involved, while making artists we idolize more human and accessible. It's also a way to connect with like-minded music fans around the world at a time where many of us are feeling isolated, anxious, and alone. Knowing that someone in Japan, Brazil, or Italy is into the music of Doves, the Breeders, Wolf Alice, or Supergrass like you are—and bonding with them on Twitter—makes the world seem smaller and more unified, if only for the brief 45-minute running time of the album.
These listening parties also give fans direct lines to tell these musicians just how much their music means to them. While most of the artists that take part are just trying to keep up with the album while it plays and sharing stories about specific songs, they can see the string of positive, emotional comments coming in thanks to the hashtag. Many have expressed how touched they’ve been by the outpouring of support.
With tours canceled or postponed and album launches delayed, these listening parties allow musicians to connect with fans—and maybe sell some records too. Burgess says U.K. record shops have seen an uptick in sales of albums featured on his listening parties, which helps out both the struggling stores and the bands themselves.
The listening parties provide moments of flat-out hilarity as well. While Pete Doherty shared that during the making the Libertines storming debut album, Up the Bracket, producer Mick Jones of the Clash demanded that everyone take a break at 6 p.m. so he could watch the British soap opera Eastenders. Brian Cannon of Microdot, the graphic designer who created legendary album sleeves for Oasis, the Verve, Suede, and Super Furry Animals, shared that Oasis' frontman Liam Gallagher's original idea for the cover of Definitely Maybe was a knife in a lump of butter.
It is also interesting to find out that, according to Stephen Morris, New Order got the name of their album Power, Corruption & Lies from the back cover of a copy of George Orwell's 1984 that Peter Hook was reading. Or that a real-life social worker named Geraldine that inspired Glasvegas' epic song "Geraldine," and she eventually went on tour with the band, selling merch for them. And that a pre-Gorillaz Jamie Hewlett did a Common People comic to promote Pulp's Different Class. It doesn't matter how much you know about a band or an album, you're bound to learn something new during these listening parties. In fact, when multiple group members tweet at the same time, even they get surprised by a memory or fact from one of their bandmates.
The listening parties are also a wonderful way to immerse yourself in music that’s new to you, while interactively learning about the album. These serve as brilliant introductions to both landmark records as well as more obscure indie classics, and can expand the musical tastes of young and old music fans alike.
And Burgess has archived the listening parties on his site: You hit play on the record and on his Twitter archive, and the tweets from him and his guests are shared in real time in sync with the album.
Last Thursday, Low became the first Minnesota band to take part in Tim's listening party. Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker provided commentary on each track from Low's stirring debut album, I Could Live In Hope, that revealed the personal side of a record already raw with emotion. In addition to sharing adorable early photos of the band, song inspirations (Bob Mould is the "man in the box" mentioned in "Words"), and early promotional materials, Alan and Mimi said that during the album’s recording sessions, producer Mark Kramer booked them at CBGB with future pals Soul Coughing as well as Minneapolis' own Dumpster Juice. Alan also shared this highly emotional memory about the first time Low ever heard one of their songs on the radio.
Ultimately, what makes #TimsTwitterListeningParty so engaging and entertaining is the music itself. You commit 45 minutes to an entire album and shut everything else out and just get lost in the music. You rediscover why you fell in love with an album in the first place or you can be introduced to a new favorite band. The online discussion is a pleasurable bonus that only enriches the listening experience.
The fact that the rest of the world is listening right along with you is enough to make you feel less alone for that moment, and like you've made thousands of new friends in the process. Music still has the power to bring us all together even though we are all doing our best to remain apart.