The Fantasy Funk Band
It's always special when you get an exclusive on such a special swoop. The brief was; I'd get an hour of their time but to keep a low profile too. Never the less we at B&S were tickled pink to have been allowed into the very private world of Mr Craig Charles and his top secret plan to launch his Fantasy Funk Band on an unsuspecting general public.
An exceedingly good idea that came to him whilst laying in bed, a kind of Funk X-Factor where the public decided who should be in the finest UK funk band of all time. Today was D-day, a one day rehearsal for everyone to get it down and be ready to gig. Craig Charles had lit the fuse and his fully formed personal vision was about to give birth! I caught up with various band members who were surprisingly relaxed and in a cheerful manner. First up Jovial Geordie and throat thrasher extraordinaire No1, John Terrell..............
Emrys: How's it going John, are you in good spirits?
John: Amazing! The vibe up there (in the rehearsal room) is something really special, to have everyone back at Maida Vale again is just a pure buzz - especially for an older monkey like myself!
Emrys: So you are the frontman in this operation, how's it shaping up and what tunes are going to feature you Mr Turrell?
John: The original four tracks from the Maida Vale session, which were; Mayfield's 'Move On Up', 'Season Of The Witch', Barrattt Strong's 'Money' and Marvin's ‘End Of Our Road’ - which is an absolute stomper. The rest of the set includes funk and Northern Soul tunes chosen by Snowboy, who is the absolute don!
Emrys: You don't have a lot of time to get this together due to Craig's TV commitments, amongst other things. Are you feeling the pressure?
John: Pressure! What pressure? When you're playing with s#*t hot musicians there isn't any! But when you play with some bands you can find yourself having to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse to do stuff. But with these guys, in that tiny floor space, I'm among British Gods of music! What a total pleasure it is for me.
Emrys: What's Craig Charles bringing to the table then, what's his speciality?
John: Mr Charles! Sir Charles!! His special skills are that he is Mr Charles!!! He's an amazing guy, he's someone that's taken me personally to where I am now. I always said that the Maida Vale session was my best day ever, yep the best day of my life, then all of a sudden to be rehearsing with these people - to think Craig has done this for me, although the Maida Vale audience picked me, Craig championed the whole thing and it's an amazing heartwarming experience for me.
Emrys: It's been a great year for your band too ‘Smoove & Turrell’, tell us about that.
John: With Smoove & Turrell’s first album, it wasn't about selling a million records or anything like that. It was meant to let people know what we're all about i.e the northern funk - and I'm really excited about our new album too!
Emrys: What can we expect from that?
John: More funk! But with a disco edge creeping in. Production wise, Smoove's done a sterling job. He's my brother at the end of the day and I think we're just a lot more connected with the whole thing that's going on. The first album was basically Smoove and his tracks needing a singer and then me adding my stuff on top.
Now we're working together brilliantly, I think the second album will be a stormer!
Emrys: How do you guys write, what's the process?
John: Loops most of the time. He'll send me something and I'll get a melody, then we'll go back and get the rest of the band in one by one. It's a good way of working because if you have a full band working on one thing it's hard for everyone to express themselves. Where as the way we do it is, the floor's yours, you know what the melody is. Do what you can do, next person, your turn and so on -then you piece the whole thing together. The guys aren't even full time musicians! They'll get the credit one day and be able to pack the day job in mind!
Emrys: How's your relationship with Jalapeno, your record company?
John: We're lucky we have free reign and artistic control. Trevor believes in us and is 100% behind us, and in time I believe we're going to get there. I've was working with Crak & Smak at the Hague festival recently, absolute legends! And their band was awesome. It's all a learning process but the signs are good, we've built all our relationships from the roots up, the only way to do things!
Emrys: I can't argue with that, thanks for the interview and knock'em dead at Glastonbury!
John: We will man we will, cheers!
Next on my hit list was our very own Snowboy, who I managed to catch whilst on a short break from rehearsals.
Emrys: Snowboy how's it going. How's the rehearsal?
Snowboy: It's brilliant! It's all coming together very quickly but you'd expect that with the line up of musicians, with their caliber, plus most of them are bandleaders in their own right. They're used to working with tight deadlines.
Emrys: I hear you're only having the one get together, is one rehearsal enough?
Snowboy: Well you know funk is meant to be a bit loose, if we mess up some of the endings we'll laugh. It's not a pop gig or anything, besides most of the records we love are jammed on the day. You can hear that much of it improvised on the spot - probably written half an hour before and recorded on downtime, yet still it's authentic and that's what we're trying to achieve!
Emrys: How are you and the rhythm (Mike Bandoni-drums, Ernie Mckone-bass) section doing?
Snowboy: Alright; Well what can you say about Ernie. He's an institution in our British funk world and together with Mike it feels so rock solid. I mean what else do you expect, James Taylor on Keys and Eddie Roberts on Guitar - these guys are second to none, they are really disciplined musicians.
Emrys: So what's the plan, how far is this project going to go?
Snowboy: To be honest, I don't know really. We'll get Glastonbury and the Big Chill out of the way and take it from there. The big record companies are interested too, so with their backing you could take it anywhere really. I think the time is right for the Fantasy Funk Band, basically a glorified covers band spreading the gospel of funk and the like. Something on this scale will really help all the other smaller funk bands out there. It will also give the general public, that normally wouldn't go and see lesser known funk bands, wider knowledge of the genre - a win, win situation I reckon.
The average person on the street likes to hear songs they know, we can give them that and expose other funk to them as well. This is a unique project not attempted in the UK ever before and all credit to Craig Charles for pulling it all together. We're all pretty happy and we all get on very well, most of us have known each other for years anyway and played together in various guises - it's a fairly errr, incestuous scene! We're all up for this - we've been discussing ways to create that high impact definite, because when we hit it, we will want a definite lift off!
Emrys: I'm sure you will Snowboy, cheers!
So moving swiftly on, there was just enough time to catch a few words from the man himself - Craig Charles, who whisked me off to the local pub round the corner for a swift pint and a natter.
Emrys: What's the Plan CC? Is this Red Dwarf meeting the Mothership Connection you seemed to be on a funk and soul crusade.
Well you could call us the new ambassadors of funk in the UK I suppose, we're trying to sell funk and soul to the world! And in many respects it’s working. When I listen to Radio 2, even Steve Wright is touching on it! That's a healthy sign. I'm into good time music, not navel gazing shite - I hate that kind of music. I'm into good time party tunes with good vibes with people just dancing and moving to the music - we aim to be ambassadors of that.
Emrys: What reactions are you getting from the band today then?
CC. They're all happy in their skin and they all want to do it besides all of them having their own pet projects. They're comfortable with me and my ideas i.e get the gigs out the way and do a record!! I'm going to make sure it's the right deal, proper appreciation and proper pay! Who knows about the future? If it ended sooner rather than later after the album, all I care about is “did the guys think it was worth it” and “did we go out on a high?” Let's just say right now we're making music and having a good time!
Emrys: tell me about the two front guy and gal John Terrell & Dionne Charles.
Regarding John, have you heard a better voice than his? He has a lovely tonal quality and he interprets lyrics in such a way it makes you just want to be him! Real quality and such a lovely bloke. Dionne is an absolute belter to who can get stuff out, it's all coming out - a rawness that's been stuck in her digestive tract for years!! Two great singers different to each other but driven along by such a fantastic band. Take for instance Ernie and Mike who got such a groove on at the Maida Vale 75th anniversary session, in fact after two minutes I knew this was going to work. Ernie's smile said it all, he's the boy all the American groove artists who come over ask for. This is a real privilege for me, I've got him on board and so willing to!
Emrys: And the other musicians, your thoughts on them?
CC Pinch me! Pinch me! James Taylor in my band! He doesn't need to do this, yet he phones me up and talks about music and I'm like what the heck! He wants my opinion and such. Crikey he's a real legend and a real perfectionist, but you know the best thing about James? He's more than happy to just turn up and play that bleedin' Hammond, which knocks me dead every time - real heavy stuff! We’ve got a band full of band leaders! That's why it's coming together so well, the boys were primed when we did the BBC session - we did nine songs rehearsed and recorded in eight hours and mate it sounded like an album!
Emrys: And your thoughts on Eddie Roberts the MD of the band?
CC: Oh man, I think he's the best guitarist working today in any genre - another person you just want to be. The New Master Sounds are incredible and ripping it up stateside like no other band from here. I have to tickle myself to think he wants in!
Emrys: So what have they let themselves in for, how much commitment is required?
CC: Initially the two festival gigs then three weeks in the studio sometime later in the year. I really don't want anyone to think of this as a burden, I hope they'll all be dying to reconvene and put a belter in the bag. We even had a tour lined up supporting the Who but I don't think that's going to happen now Townsend's got bad tinnitus, so it's all come to a standstill. We even tried to get on the support for Led Zep but that hasn't transpired either! We're playing around with big ideas, so it won't be the club circuit - no way! We're trying to be greater than the sum of our parts; For instance, all our bands can play the Jazz Cafe for instance but my thinking is, "let's find a place where we couldn't possibly play and see if we could fill that!"
Emrys: I like your thinking Craig, nice talking to you!
So that was it! I had to leave the band to finish off their precious rehearsal. It's a shame I didn't get to speak to Eddie or Dionne but the place was tiny and you don't want to outstay your welcome. Suffice to say the group sounded fantastic – and did I mention they've got the Haggis Horns too? Another indispensable ingredient that seems to have ended up as a footnote! But it really was time to leave this particular musical landscape on such a scorcher of a summer's day as I skip out of the Hornsey industrial estate safe in the knowledge that the flames of funk were fuelled and flying freely, lionized by possibly it's UK's only saviour the inimitable and yet strangely self-deprecating Mr Craig Charles. No big responsibility but it's in your hands mate!
Read Emrys' full interview with the Fantasy Funk Band in August's special printed edition of B&S, as the FFB prepare to take this years top festivals by storm - James Taylor and Craig Charles tell us about their roles within the band, including Mr. Charles comparing himself to one of the Happy Mondays, believe it or not... "I think I'm going to be the bands Bez!" Read it in our Vintage Edition - purchace from this site from August 13.
Words Emrys Baird