How Tim Burgess and his Twitter Listening Party kept music alive during lockdown

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One year on that, ah, covidend has found brilliant form in multiple ways. Burgess made TTLP badges, featuring his stylised likeness drawn by an artist fan, with the proceeds going to the Music Venue Trust campaign to protect independent venues, another of his passions. He’s also partnered with Flare Audio to make earphones, again featuring his likeness.

“People want to join, and they want to bring their own creativity,” he says, adding that that includes “people with tattoos of my face”. What are we talking? Arms, boobs, bums? “Certainly those places,” he squirms. Tim Burgess has, he nods, slightly mortified, “created a monster”.

A fan in Japan created a pixel version of him, in the style of very early computer games, then expanded on that by creating sequences featuring the pixelated adventures of Burgess and other Listening Party artists Blossoms and Badly Drawn Boy. They’re soundtracked by eight-bit recording versions of Charlatans classics ‘The Only One I Know’, ‘One To Another’ and ‘North Country Boy’.

“The latest one is a nightmare where the Twitter bird is trying to steal my records,” he says, adding that all eight of these clips are being released today to mark the first birthday. He’s now working on making them playable games, selling them “for a few pounds”. And, throughout, his age-defying blonde bob is keeping the brand on-message, the better to amplify and cohere the charitable fundraising. “I went jet-black for the album release and that definitely didn’t look right,” he reflects ruefully. “It didn’t match my complexion.”

Also announced today is a book. The Listening Party, to be published by DK in September, will feature the tweeted stories of 100 of the past year’s albums. As with the badges, headphones and computer games, royalties will go to support the embattled live music sector. As he puts it: “People want to buy something that’s gonna help them go to gigs again in the future.”

And that’s the power of the party. In these 12 months that have crushed the arts as a live, communal, collective, participatory experience, Tim’s Twitter Listening Party has become a cultural phenomenon, one led by an unassuming people’s champion and musical folk hero who won’t thank you for calling him any of those things.

“I just want to keep doing it. Someone asked me the other day if I was proud. I’m not proud – I’m just really happy with how it’s gone. And I want to keep going the idea of what it is. I don’t want to monetise it. I don’t want to sell it down the river. I want to keep it as it is: really basic.”

The simplicity of the idea is the source of the magic, agrees Alex Kapranos. “But also, a lot of it is to do with Tim’s personality,” adds the Franz Ferdinand singer. “There is nothing about him that is in any way snide, or judgemental, or trying to say one artist is worth more than another, or promote his own sense of coolness. He’s just got a universal sense of positivity which makes the entire thing work.”

So, if push comes to shove, which ones have stood out, and which didn’t work? A gentle soul who’s keen to keep his big tent as welcoming as possible, Burgess won’t name names. Pressed, he mentions one British band who didn’t come with the right attitude, and one American musician who was woefully unprepared. But generally he’s found magic in all of them.

“I’m such a massive fan of The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshess and New Order, they were great, and Lol [Tolhurst], Budgie and Stephen [Morris] were fantastic contributors. It’s amazing that you get so much more information from the drummers! They’re sat at the back watching everything, and they remember everything.

“Simon Le Bon was another game-changer,” he continues, “because when I was growing up, he was the biggest pop star around.” Ditto Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp. “He put so much into True that it blew my mind. We spoke about 10 times on the phone before he did it, because he wanted to be clear, and we got on really well. The stories about him writing True in a council house in London with just his mum and his brother as the audience – mindblowing.”

At the other end of, well everything, were The Libertines, who’ve done 2002 debut Up The Bracket and its eponymous 2004 follow-up.

“The great thing about their Listening Parties is that they’re exactly like the band are on stage. They all had to be involved, and Pete [Doherty] and Carl [Barât] are arguing and bumping into each other. And Pete wrote his comments on a typewriter then tweeted those.”

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