Simon Fitzpatrick & Ema Lea caught up with Craig Charles; DJ, Coronation Street & Red Dwarf Actor, Comedian and soul enthusiast prior to a live 3 hour broadcast of his Radio 6 Saturday evening Funk & Soul Show. He is about to make his North East debut as a DJ presenting The Craig Charles Funk & Soul Club on the 21st Of November at The Trojan Rooms in Whitley Bay. We found him in rude health and exuberant funky spirit.
What can people expect from a Craig Charles funk and soul night?
The Craig Charles Funk & Soul Club does exactly what it says on the tin: It’s high-octane good time music. It’s two pounds of funk in a one pound bag. I play funk and soul music and try to mix it up. I play a lot of psychedelic soul like Sandie Shaw’s version of Sympathy for the Devil and The Voices of East Harlem’s Run Shaker Run.
I also play more heavy beats, afro beats and the like. People come for a good time. It’s a chilled out crowd. People are there for the music and lot of the people who come are generally quite knowledgeable about music. We get a lot of young people at the shows but there’s a vast age range. Older cats can come and step out too.
How did you become a DJ?
When Kiss FM in London got its first licence they got me in as a DJ and that was way back in 1990. Then I was just a celebrity name but that got me going. Ten years ago we started the first funk and soul show. When I first started DJing I was doing stand up and I never really played out very much. It’s only in the last couple of years I’ve started to play out and it’s really gone through the roof. I’ve met amazing people doing the Funk & Soul Show: James Brown, Marva Whitney, George Clinton, Dionne Warwick and people like that.
I got on really well with James Brown. I asked him how many kids he’s got and how old is the youngest. He told me his youngest was two so I said “It’s still working for you James on stage and off” and he goes “More on stage than off these days but I like you boy, I like your attitude.” I got on really well with James Brown.
We’ve had everyone on the show, well everyone apart from Stevie Wonder. We’re dead lucky. It’s like doing Parkinson in the 1970s with all the 1950s Hollywood Film stars like Eva Gardner and the like. We’re doing the Golden Era of Black American Music so we’re having all those people from the 50s, 60s and 70s and they’re legends and are sometimes shocked that we know so much about what they do.
You’ve started own band; The Fantasy Funk Band.How did that come about and what is it?
I had this idea, why don’t we put a fantasy funk band together on the show. We’d think of the best soul musicians and imagine they were in a funk super group. They didn’t have to be British then so we had Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown’s funkiest Drummer), Bootsy Collins on bass and people like this. We gave the fantasy band lists to a load of producers and they’d take samples from the original artists and build actual tracks up. This time we changed the rules. Now they’ve got to be living and they’ve got to be British.
We let the audience judge who should be in the band and once the votes came in I rang them up and they said they’d do it: We put the Fantasy funk band together. We’ve got two keyboard players Mick Talbot (Style Council/Paul Weller) and Hammond organ genius James Taylor. We’ve got Candi Staton’s bass player and Snowboy on percussion.
I do a bit of spoken word over the top. The Fantasy Funk Band is one of the achievements that I'm most proud of at the moment.
How did you get into soul and funk music?
My father came over from Guyana in the West Indies and he brought a load of records over with him. There was always Ray Charles playing in the house, The Platters, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. My Dad would play all this old stuff, in fact I was very close to getting called Otis when I was born. So I got it through my dad. My Dad had such a cool taste in music I didn’t have to rebel against anything. He wasn’t listening to Acker Bilk or anything like that so it was quite easy.
I got into the Beatles through my Mum and funk and soul through my dad. When I was thirteen or fourteen all my mates at school were either Punks, Mods or Hippies. I used to listen to a lot of Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy & Black Sabbath but I also got quite into the bluesy roots of music; Muddy Waters, BB King and John Lee Hooker and this led me into Parliament and P Funk, George Clinton and Funkadelic I reversed myself into what we’d call deep funk.
So you’re coming to Whitley Bay in November. Have you spent any time in Newcastle?
I’ve got some good friends in the North East. I used to do a lot of stand up comedy in Newcastle. Where was that place on the Boat? The Tuxedo Princess? That was rough as a badger’s arse. I spent a few rough nights in that place I can tell you. John John Turrell and DJ Smoove are good mates of mine and I see them quite a bit. I like the north east but I’ve never been to Whitley Bay. I don’t know what to expect from the gig on the 21st, but if it goes well we’d love to come back. We’ve got a residency in Manchester and we’d like a residency in the North East.
How did you get the job in Coro?
They asked me a couple of times and offered me a variety of roles which I said no to. I then met up with Simon Gregson in Dublin who plays Steve McDonald.
I met him in a club called Lillie’s Bordello, which is as seedy as it sounds and we had a great night just chatting at the bar. A few months later they offered me a job working with him in the cab office. I got on so well with him that I thought I’d give it a try and that was six years ago.
Were you nervous about taking the job on?
Not really all though I was doing my first scene in the Rovers because it is such an iconic place. I was born in 1964 so the show was four years old then and I’ve grown up with it. My mum and dad were avid watchers. It’s one of those shows that when they call as an actor it’s one of those boxes to tick. So I was just chuffed really.
How do you feel about the upcoming live edition of Coronation Street?
It’s going to be cool man. I cut my teeth doing live TV. I used to do Saturday Night Live and Wogan every Friday, even Pebble Mill at one. Plus I do the Radio live. Some of the actors are worried, they really are. I can’t really tell you much about the live show but everyone wants to be in it. I’ve got my wish and I’m in about two scenes but some of them are in twelve scenes and they’re going “Oh my God!” A lot of these people have only been in Corrie, they don’t really know anything else so it’s going to be nerve racking for some people. I’m looking forward to it and you know what, if it goes wrong it makes it better! It’s quite good with this whole tram disaster thing.
They did a story about a train disaster years ago but with that one you just heard a bang, it’s very different now, there are massive raging fires and all sorts of stuff.
I read that you weren’t a trained actor before you did Red Dwarf?
I started off as a poet. I did Saturday Night live and things like that. None of us on Red Dwarf were trained actors. Chris Barrie was an impressionist, Danny was a dancer and Robert was a kind of, well I use the term loosely, a stand up comedian. He was in a comedy troupe called The Joeys: Absolutely awful. He’ll admit that himself.
We hought we were doing this curious little sit com on BBC 2 that would just disappear. We didn’t really think that twenty two years later people would be still going on about it.
It’s still on Dave and its BBC Two’s highest rating television show ever. That’ll never get beaten because television habits have changed.
Any chance of you doing any more stand up?
Yeah. My stand up is so close to the bone it would just get in the papers all the time and they’d relate it to Coronation Street and make life difficult for me. The last tour I did was called the sick bag tour. It was about the history of sick jokes. We had people picketing our gigs with banners outside which was brilliant for the show. I told an Emo Philips joke and these protest groups got hold if it and I was getting death threats and everything. So I couldn’t have that kind of stuff going on now because it would get me into trouble. I’ll definitely like to do some in the future. We’re thinking of doing a Red Dwarf stage show. It would be great if we could have Starbug, Red Dwarf spaceship, crashing through the back of the theatre and landing on the stage. A bit like Mary Poppins but with a spaceship rather than a woman on an umbrella.
I’ve written my Autobiography; “On the Rocks”. The publisher wants to put it out but I’ve gone off the idea. It’s too hardcore. It’s the unclean truth of everything. I do a lot of work for Radio Two, I’m doing Steve Wright for Christmas And New Year and I’ve done Janice Long for eight weeks this year and I see the future of what I do as building towards a weekly slot and having the weekends for funk and soul. This is all brutally honest here, so I need to get my feet under the table at Radio Two before I bring out the autobiography. I’m not saying I’m going to leave Corrie either. I think I can do all these things.
I love doing the Craig Charles Funk and soul show and my live DJ sets. It’s not really a job; It’s like getting to go to a really good party and getting choose all the music as well.