Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1065

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Feature

Craig Charles: The funk, the whole funk and nothin' but the funk

Craig Charles @bluesandsoul.com
Craig Charles @bluesandsoul.com Craig Charles @bluesandsoul.com Craig Charles @bluesandsoul.com Craig Charles @bluesandsoul.com

What can you say about Craig Charles that hasn't been said already? He's talented! Haha only joking Craig...

This actor, stand-up comedian, poet, author, T.V presenter, voice-over artist and radio presenter (I've probably missed a few of this lively Liverpudlian's talents, but I think you get the picture...) Sorry, where as I? Oh yes.... This man of many talents, known under several guises to his adoring public - including; to devout Sc-fi comedy fans, iconic looser Dave Liester in Red Dwarf. And more recently at the other end of the viewing scale, with the just as devout viewer, as Coronation Street regular - the hap-less and unlucky in love cab office owner Lloyd.

It's not all been a bed of roses for Charles - being involved in a drug scandal a few years ago made him front page news and threatened to wreck the career he'd worked so hard to create. And without giving the thumbs-up to drugs by applauding Charles - his efforts to leave that side of the tracks, is full testament and he has to be credited for pulling himself out of that particular hole - so why not give the kid second chance, so why not the second coming of Charles - so why not indeed!

To understand this jack of all and to give you a picture of the real Craig Charles, what better way than to talk to him about the thing he love the most... No not Craig Charles!... But, his music of course!! With a vast array of c.d's/vynal and a growing repartition of not just being just a DJ, but an actual music lover, a connoisseur of music if you will - not just any ol' musica "ohhh noooo". His other women, the tick to his tock, the egg to his chips is that music they call... "funk!" With a funking stand-out show that takes pride of place in the soon to be axed (how very dare they!) 6Music schedules, plus an ever growing allegiance to the said show - Craig has a real belief that he can bring funk to the masses. And with artists literally queuing up to go on his show and parade their wears, creating a fantasy funk band (featuring a who's who in the funk world), being booked for every major festival this year AND being asked to take his funk set to the Cheltenham Jazz Festival - you kinda get the feeling that by jove I think he's actually got something! And boy does he know how to use it...

I catch up with the effervescently talkative funkiter just before he takes to the waves for his weekly Saturday 7pm - 10pm slot, to try to scratch the surface of his musical inspirations and his funky aspirations ...

Lee: So how did the Cheltenham Festival gig come about Craig?

Craig: Yeaaah! It's great - came a bit outta left field that one. The number two at Radio 2, a guy called Lewis Cardi, phoned me up and said "Craig, would like to play Cheltenham Jazz Festival?" And I went "Well, yeah - but you know they've never ever asked." He said "Well they're asking now, will you come and play it?" And I went "Well yeah, put them in touch..." It's like one of those ones that I've never actually been to - but I've always wanted to go to, but never sort of made it. So its weird the first time I'm ever gonna make festival, is me playing it - but I'm really looking forward to it. It's one of those ones that's on your wish list isn't it. It's one of those ones you've just gotta give it a tick too. I'm really, really looking forward to it.

Lee: It is regarded as the creme de la creme of Jazz Festival's over here...

Craig; Its like Jazz music's Glastonbury d'ya know what I mean. And a lot of the music we play is infused with Jazz. We play a lot of Jazz-funk - play a lot of Hammond funk and that kind of stuff, which has got its roots in that kind of Georgie Fame kinda jazz, kinda boogie. As I say, a lot of our music has got sort of jazz overtones and is kinda jazzy. That whole funk, soul, jazz... That whole era of black American music from the '50s to the mid '70s is kind of a statement in our show. I don't think its gonna stick out too much, plus I'll probably make the set a little bit more jazzy. But I don't think we're gonna be doing that much different to what we normally do you know.

Lee: Your playing the University Of Gloucestershire Students Union, is that right?

Craig: Sounds good to me...

Lee: Sounds ideal, it'll be cheaper beer for a start!

Craig: We've been thinking about trying to do a student tour, of all the student unions and all that kinda stuff. People seem to think that when we play out the audience is all over thirty, but its not man. The music that we're playing now is appealing to anyone from eighteen to like sixty-fu*king five! We seem to have such a wide range of audience age wise - not just a male preserve either, it's more than fifty percent female I'd say. So we are kinda sweeping the board with the ol' demographic as it were, so I wanna get into the Universities - because unless we start connecting with them with getting it... We've got a little band called the Funk Soulettes. My daughter who's twelve now and her and her friends come and sing our jingles for us and they are really into the music. It's trying to get the music to people like that, and if we don't get to people who are twelve and get them growing up with funk, and soul an' stuff - then the music will die!

Lee: You do a lot of festivals don't you mate - do you think that's a good way to get to the younger gen?

Craig: Yeah I do. I mean, this year the festivals have just gone crazy - we're doing Glastonbury, we're doing the Big Chill, we're doing Kendal Calling, we're doing Jersey, we're Mostly Jazz in Birmingham, we're doing the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, we're doing the Vintage (at Goodwood) Festival in August. We're doing so many festivals this year, it's a great cos people get to watch and listen too all different types of music. We get so many emails to this show (Funk & Soul Show on 6Music) saying "I didn't realise I liked this kind of music till I heard it!" People sometimes have got weird ideas of what soul and funk is. People think that soul is what you hear on Smooth FM you know - one of our rules is "Don't play music that you can hear at a wedding" [Laughs]. People kinda think that soul music is that stuff that you dance to at weddings and it's not! It's all about real musicians. It's about a real horns section, a real base player, real drummer - not a drum machine. Not Rn'B! Well, what they call R&B now- it's not the real Rn'B what you and me know. It's this kind of pop music which they call Rn'B, which is not fuc*king rhythm n' blues at all! It's nothing like that - Rn'B is all about real musicians. It's more a kin to rock music in many ways I suppose. Good ol' fashioned rock music with Led Zeppelin and that kind of stuff - it's more a kin to that, than it is coming out of black America at the moment.

Lee: Is that why you get the musician's to appear on your show and get em' doing their stuff live?

Craig: Yeah we love that - we love The Sessions. What we do is set the studio up, and then we do it like its a party. It's a bit like Later With Jools Holland in a way, but kinda groovier you know - we go round and talk to the drummer and to the bass player and all that. We talk about music and let them play live -sometimes I'm the only person in the studio getting a gig performed for them! Whether it's Underbelly, or Lack of Afro, or The New Master Sounds, or the Fantasy Funk Band... Which is like, a band we put together on the show - was one of the best Sessions that I've ever been at. And the good thing about that, they're playing the festivals with us this year. They are gonna be playing Glastonbury and the Big Chill with us and it's gonna be absolutely amazing!

Lee: Yeah I was coming on to that - a mate of mine Snowboy plays with the Fantasy Funk Band...

Craig: Snowboy whoooooo! I mean, if you hear his percussion break on 'Move On Up' it's electrifying - absolutely electrifying! That band are gonna be brilliant - we got like, James Taylor on Hammond, we've got Eddie Robinson from New Master Sounds on guitar, we've got Ernie Macone from Virtually Everybody On the bass, Mike Bandoni on drums from Function, we've got the Haggis Horns on the Horns (funny that) - don't know if you've heard John Terrell sing with Smooth and Terrell. He's got one of the best voices working out there at the moment - he's on male lead. Dionne Charles is on female lead - the audience chose the band and the audience chose most of the songs as well. We start rehersals next week or the week after - we're making a documentary for it for the telly as well. I can't wait mate - it's the proper X-Factor d'ya know what I mean. These guys are like the top, in their chosen fields and I just can't wait. I'm trying to get Stevie Wonder to come and play with us, but I don't think it's gonna work.

Lee: Well you never know, he reads Blues & Soul (err, yes I do know he's blind)...

Craig: I never thought the band were gonna work - I had an idea in bed one night, woke up and thought "I'll give that a try!" So I got the audience... What we were gonna do is hand it out to re-editors and mixers and producers and that. We were gonna take samples from the drummer, samples from the bass player and samples from the guitarist and all that and we were gonna make songs that way! I just thought, "I'd give it one go and see if they'll all come and play with us" and they were all, man and women up for it! So I thought we've gotta do this. It's one of my achievements that I'm most proud of at the moment...

Lee: Yeah I bet! Was there anyone on the wish list that you didn't get?

Craig: Well no, not really - cos as I said, the audience chose the band. However, they did chose originally - they chose Norman Whatroy on bass from The Blockheads and he couldn't do it cos he was on tour. And the they chose Alice Russell as the female lead and she couldn't do it cos she was on tour - but the band we finally got together, actually feel like a band you know... They had a day to rehearse and record nine tracks at the Maida Vale, and at the end of the day, it was liker the band had been together forever! It was like, an amazing feeling.

Lee: I love Dionne, but shame about Alice Russell - she's one of my favourites, great voice...

Craig: Yeah, she's got a brilliant voice you know. My favourite at the moment is Roxy Rae, have you heard her voice?

Lee: No I haven't, no...

Craig: Well, she's sung on a couple of the tracks on the new Lack Of Afro album and she's singing on about three tracks on the new Underbelly album. Man, she sounds like Amy Winehouse - only 100 times better! It's like Amy when she was sober right at the beginning - it's an amazing voice she's got on her. Her real name is Sasha - she's from Australia, but she sounds like a fifty year old back lady ya'know what I mean - amazing man!

Lee: Can I ask you about John Terrell as you mentioned him earlier- I caught you at the Big Chill last year. I have to say you played a superb set there. I think it was the hottest day of the year...

Craig: Ohhh man! You know when I started, there was nobody there! I started playing music and it was an empty field and I thought "Oh fu*k, we'll have a party amongst ourselves!?." About three or four tunes in, I turned around, and we had thousands of people dancing in the sunshine and there was such a feeling - You know like The Field (Kevin Costner film), it was like "build it and they will come!" We just built this wall of funk and people just fu*king arrived, it was brilliant man.

Lee: Was it John Terrell who came on after your set?

Craig: Yeah, it was Smooth & Terrell that came on after us doing a DJ set. They normally play with a band, but sometimes they do it with a DJ and a vocal - it kinda works for what they do you know. What a voice, he's like the new Rod Stewart - only better do ya'know what I mean. Got a voice on him, it's like a cross between Rod Stewart and Joe Cooker - such a range as well. Such a quality of tone to his voice, fu*king amazing!

Lee: It was a great cross-over to have you and then him...

Craig: Yeah, it was a great day that. It was one of my favourite festival experiences that one - it was something else wasn't it. The weather was perfect and everyone dancing in the sun and all that. I only played between one and three in the afternoon, and to have that kind of vibe, that early on in the day was like whoooo. We just went with the crowd. I play across the board - Stuff from 1948, believe it or not, all the way through to what's come out to last week. But mainly we just go with the audience, d'you know what I mean, it's like we're not snobs - we're enthusiasts. I just like to keep the dance floor dancing...

Lee: So you don't know what you're gonna be playing for any specific gig?

Craig: I generally know my first three records and then I'll see how it goes from there. We bring the 'Trunk Of Funk' mate, we bring like, tens of thousands of records and C.D's with us. We kinda bring it all with us so we can go anywhere we want.

Lee: I was gonna ask you about 'The Trunk'... I've read you can have a party going for 24 hours with the ol' Trunk Of Funk - is that still the same now?

Craig: Ohhh mate, I can do a whole weekend without playing the same record twice...

Lee You said about a year ago, you had in excess of fifty thousand records...

Craig: Yeeeah, I've got a lot man... See what you've gotta realise, I used to do the breakfast show on Kiss FM as well. So I've got a load from that era, you know like, a load of that old techno and that kinda sh*t - I've got loads of them records, d'ya know what I mean. And I've been doing this 6Music show for nearly ten years mate you know. I was here a year before it was even started as 6Music, it was called the Y-Network - we did it for a whole year just testing it out before we started you know... So just from that alone, I must get fifty/hundred records a week sent. It just kinda adds up mate - it just adds up and I never throw anything away. My wife would love me to - I've got a library that's got more records than books in it now, and it's a big room as well, wall to wall. Got a lot of books as well, but i mean, I've got more records. There must be well over 50,000 by now - could be even 70,000!

Lee: Wow! And you're just gonna keep going collecting?

Craig: Ahh mate, I say "Never throw it away, you never know when you're gonna need it!" [Laughs] You could be at the end of you're life and you need that, y'know what I mean?

Lee: So d'ya buy records then Craig?

Craig: I buy records yeah, I buy a lot. There's a great, sort of used records, second hand vinyl sniffer scene in Manchester, and Leeds, and Brighton and places like that you know - and obviously London. Yeahhh, I do a lot of vinyl sniffing - But I'm not one of them ones that go out and spend two and a half grand on on a seven inch. If Ace or Kent brought it out on c.d, I'll play it off c.d mate - I'm not one of those ones "It has to be vinyl". I'll use all formats - vinyl, c.d, off the computer, whatever - it's all about the music, not about the way you deliver it as far as I'm concerned. Other D.J's feel differently though and they only wanna play vinyl and all kinda stuff, and fair play to them and respect and all that - but I'm into the music rather than the mode of delivery d'ya know what I mean?

Lee: Yeah I do... What's the one you're most proud of getting - the one that's most rare?

Craig: 'Psychedelic Shack' The Temptations, brought it last week - the album yeah, first edition off the press and completely spotless. The person that's had it for the last thirty years hadn't played it! Hadn't fuc*king played it!! I've got loads of kinda rarities and oddities and all that - I haven't got Frankie Wilsons' 'Do I Love You?' [Laughing] You couldn't get me an original copy of that could ya?

Lee: [laughs] Yeah, how many d'ya want?

Craig: I've got it on c.d, cos it went last year for twenty eight thousand pounds! That's a lot of money for a seven inch ennit. You'd be scared to play it wouldn't ya?

Lee: No I wouldn't play it, at all!

Craig: I'd wanna diamond needle or something to make sure the needle didn't fu*k it up!

Lee: Talking of priceless - many thanks for the interview Craig.

Craig: My pleasure, off to do me show now.

Lee: Cheers Craig.

Well all I can say after that, is an expression famed by Craig from his time on the Kiss FM breakfast show all those moons ago... And that is simply "Awoooooga!"

You can catch Craig at most of the main festivals this summer including the outstanding Vintage at Goodwood and Glastonbury festivals. Also very much worth a listen is his 6Music Funk Show on Saturday nights from 7pm -10pm (you can listen on the 6music website or on the BBC's IPlayer)
Words LEE TYLER

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz
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