By Daniel Kohn
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If adversity builds character, the Charlatans UK have enough to fill a Tolstoy novel. Born of Britain's late-'80s Madchester movement that gave us bands like the Stone Roses and Primal Scream, the Charlatans were at first everyone's little brother, waiting to grow up to show what they could do. A decade on, and most of their contemporaries have called it a career, promptly fading into obscurity. But what has made the Charlatans different has not been their tenacity, but their flexibility.
"We want to be a band that people can trust," guitarist Mark Collins once said in Rolling Stone. "We've never had that grab-the-money-and-run attitude. We've been true to ourselves and true to the people who listen to us."
Formed in 1988, the five blokes have seen more than their fair share of hard times. In 1990, during their first period of wide U.S. radio exposure with "The Only One I Know," bassist Martin Blunt suffered a nervous breakdown. A manager embezzled about a half-million dollars from them. And founding keyboardist Rob Collins (no relation to Mark) went to jail for eight months on an accessory-to-commit-armed-robbery charge (he died a few years later in a drunken-driving accident just before finishing work on the band's fifth album, Tellin' Stories).
Singer Tim Burgess credits the band's ability to survive on a strong spirit. "You got to be tough," he said. "I think we've had more knocks than anyone."
One of the knocks was that Americans more or less forgot about the Charlatans and many other British bands once the Nirvana-induced haze of the early '90s settled in. But the band's star began to rise again as part of the current Brit-pop tide. "I'm not into labels, but I suppose it sells records," Burgess told Addicted to Noise. "I think it's just like pop, but it's not techno, not a New Kids on the Block sort of thing. I want something more for us, though. I want more of a sort of rock sound. We've always had it in us, and I think we've evolved over the years."
That evolution was most obvious on their 1995 self-titled CD. It was packed with all the Charlatans' classic groove elements and signature keyboard work but distinguished by Mark Collins making his guitar the centerpiece, injecting a classic Rolling Stones feel and proving that the Charlatans really were a rock & roll band after all.
After the release of Tellin' Stories, the band took a small break, with Burgess moving to SoCal to be near his girlfriend and take the odd DJ gig in LA clubs. The band almost didn't make another album, but Rob Collins' replacement, Tony Rogers, fit in so well on their last tour that they decided to continue on with last year's Us and Us Only. They're putting the finishing touches on their next opus and embarking on a national tour that stops at the Glass House on Sunday night.The Charlatans UK play with the Stereophonics and DJ Dia of Café Bleu at the Glass House, 200 W. 2nd St., Pomona, (909) 469-5800. Sun., 7:30 p.m. $20. All ages.