Friday, July 21, 2006

We've Lost Our Mate

Rob Collins (b. 23 February 1963, Sedgeley, England, d. 22 July 1996)

The Charlatans - One To Another
The Charlatans - Sproston Green (U.S. Version)

This Saturday (22nd July) will mark the 10th anniversary of the death of The Charlatans’ keyboard player Rob Collins. Rob was a hero of mine and his death affected me more than any of the other countless souls from bands I love who have died. I can remember hearing the news and being upset to the point of tears. I’m quite an emotional person, but I can’t recall another time I’ve cried when somebody I didn’t really know died.

It’s rare with bands that you find yourself drawn to the keyboard player. They can often seem peripheral, tucked away at the side of the stage - an embellishment of the sound rather than an integral part. Perhaps because of this perceived role they don’t often stand out. Not Rob Collins. He was the coolest member of The Charlatans, a genuine enigma, and his Hammond sound defined the band. Without it, they would probably have been just another baggy band, never scaling the heights of contemporaries The Stone Roses or Happy Mondays. Rob’s unique talent took it all to another level and anyone who saw them live will know how mesmerising he was to watch, hunched over his Hammond, and lost in the swathes of melody.

Rob was killed when his car overturned while returning from a local boozer to the Rockfield Studio in South Wales during the recording sessions for the ‘Tellin' Stories’ album. The rest of the band issued a statement to the fans: “We’ve lost our mate. There will be no change. We are fuckin’ Rock.” To anyone who didn’t know the band or their history this probably appeared like a rather cold reaction to such tragic news, but to the hardcore fans it was the perfect response – they were grieving but they would cope and The Charlatans would continue.

It’s difficult to pick one song as there’s so many that mean something to me and demonstrate Rob’s exceptional contribution to the band, but after much deliberation, I’ve plumped for these two. First up, ‘One to Another’ from ‘Tellin’ Stories’, one of the last tracks Rob played on. His thunderous keys that signal the song’s arrival constitute the greatest moment in the whole of The Charlatans career. It’s an absolute belter and a suitably raucous epitaph. For the second, I’ve headed back to their debut album ‘Some Friendly’ and the track ‘Sproston Green’, which is often seen as Rob’s signature track, jam-packed as it is with his swirling, psychedelic Hammond. I’ve posted the alternative ‘US Version’, which is essentially the same tune with a longer outro and therefore has more of Rob’s extravagant flourishes. Remember him for this - he was a fucking wizard!

Buy albums by The Charlatans from Amazon
The official Charlatans website here


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