Having risen to fame as the star of the immensely popular sci-fi sit-com Red Dwarf, Craig Charles is an actor, writer and music mad DJ. We discussed funk, soul, poetry and robots with the inimitable entertainer, ahead of his visit to York for a New Year’s Eve Eve (Monday, December 30) Funk & Soul Club show at The Duchess.
When did you fall in love with funk and soul?
I suppose it was when my dad came over to England in the late Fifties, kinda with a bagful of records and a pocketful of change. I spent my whole childhood listening to people like Ray Charles, Louis Franklin, Otis Redding and Nat King Cole, that kinda stuff, so I guess I got into it at a dead early age.
Then in the early Nineties when Kiss FM became a legal radio station I hosted the breakfast show there and started to build up my record collection.
Then of course the BBC 6 Music show [Craig Charles Funk & Soul Show] started about 12 years ago, and it’s been going ever since.
Tell us about The Duchess show?
Five or six years ago we thought we’d take the show out on the road, and we haven’t stopped touring with it since really.
It’s really good time music y’know, it’s fun music and it appeals to all age groups. People come down and they have a ball.
I like The Duchess, it’s a nice venue to play. It’s one of the smaller ones we play, so it’s nice and intimate. You can really throw a party in there!
You’ve often played MC, whether in space or for fighting robots…
Yeah, it’s just one of those things I think. It’s always been kinda accidental. I didn’t really have a career plan or anything like that so I’m just very lucky that a load of things that I’ve turned my hand to have taken off.
Who’d have thought Red Dwarf would still be going now? Who’d have thought it’d be the hit that it was? It’s such a strange premise.
And it’s the same thing with Robot Wars – I remember the first episode when they were pulling the robots into the arena with bits of invisible twine, and I’m thinking “what’ve I done with my career?” Then it turned out to the most watched show on BBC2.
And then Takeshi’s Castle – who’d have thought people would wanna see strange Japanese people throwing themselves at walls!? It just caught people’s imagination.
I just thought I was going to have a nice little niche [with the Craig Charles Funk & Soul Show] on 6 Music. It wasn’t going to get a lot of attention, it was just gonna be me and my record collection. It’s the most listened to show on the network now, so it’s just kinda caught the wind and took off. It’s all very accidental.
Do you think of yourself as a DJ or an actor?
Umm, I dunno! I used to think of myself as a poet really, that’s how I started out. I still write a lot now, but it’s hard to make money out of poetry. I got a book out last year called No Other Blue on Penguin.
I don’t see myself as anything really… kind of an entertainer. I love acting, and I’d never want to pack it in, I find it really fulfilling.
I love doing Coronation Street, so I’d like to keep that up as long as I can. Everything else I just wrap around Coronation Street, because that’s a large commitment and they have the first call on my time.
I just try and keep the plates spinning without any of them dropping. It’s all about time management. We gig on Friday and Saturday nights, Sundays I have off and then it’s Coronation Street Monday to Friday.
Sometimes they’ll give me time off to go and do Red Dwarf. If I can keep all the plates spinning I’m quite happy!
Any new poetry on the horizon?
I’m bringing out a poetry book next year, called Scary Fairy And The Tales Of The Dark Wood. It’s children’s nursery rhymes but with all the blood and gore put back in them, and it’s all seen through the eyes of this little fairy, who’s this kind of punk fairy in a tutu and bovver boots, and she influences the tales of Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel and Sleeping Beauty. They’re stories for children and adults really.
Tell us about your new compilation album.
It’s called the Craig Charles Funk & Soul Club Volume 2. It’s doing really well I’m pleased to say! I’m really proud of the music that’s on it, it’s 18 pure party starters. What we tried to do with the album is recreate the feeling you get when you’re in the club, and I think that came across.
It’s great putting the compilations together. It’s not a history lesson – although the radio show’s rooted in the golden era of black American music from 1960 to the 1970s, a lot of the music I’ve chosen is the European response to that music.
So it’s bands that are recording now, touring now, performing now, like Cookin’ On Three Burners, The Bamboos, Take Five, The Excitements, bands from all over really.
It must be nice to share the music that you love?
Yeah, it’s a great place to be! It’s nice to be in the middle of a scene, especially a scene that I enjoy so much, and it’s nice to be able to push these bands and support funk and soul!
- The Craig Charles Funk & Soul Club visits The Duchess York on December 30th, via local funk and soul promoters Roots
- More details on the Duchess website