Music Friday, October 14th Words by: Adam Knight

Still havin' a funky good time: Q & A with Craig Charles ahead of his gig at The Venue

Music Friday, October 14th

Still havin' a funky good time: Q & A with Craig Charles ahead of his gig at The Venue

Craig Charles is responsible for some of the more joyous, shoe-shuffling moments of the last ten years. And of the last summer. And of the last week in fact. He played funk and soul to 60-odd thousand in Hyde Park a month ago and tonight he spins at The Venue in Hereford.

The listing of this gig, out of any other context, would seem surprising. Miraculous even. But the reality is that Craig Charles might just be the hardest working man in showbusiness, and moving past his half-century two years ago with a Benjamin Button-like vigour, the former voice of Takeshi’s Castle, and Robot Wars, and Corrie star is simply happy playing the “just best music in the world”, whether that’s in football stadiums or provincial clubs on a Friday night.

Now with the longest-running show on BBC 6 Music, the former hell-raiser is in real danger of becoming a true national treasure. It’s a role he wears well, all wide-smiled enthusiasm. But he’s the first to admit the irony’s not lost on him. “It’s a short step,” he says. “It just about staying alive long enough to make it.”

It’s a shift most others would dwell upon. But the truth is, he’s too busy for any of that. Catch the live show tonight and see why, all these years later, the party’s still following him.

Here's our Q & A with him from today, on everything from playing Hyde Park to which Justin Bieber track he thinks is a "tuuune".



As much as I’m sure it changes all the time – right now, what three tracks would make it in to your own Spinage a Trois [a feature on his show that callers pick their favourite three tracks]?

Oh wow. Jeez. At the moment stuff like the Grant Lazlo Orchestra’s 'Heard it Through the Grapevine' – that’s really cool – Mario Biondi’s This Is What you are, and anything from the new Lack of Afro album. They’re brilliant, they’ve got a lot of collaborations on it – with Joss Stone, Juliette Ashby, people like that.

In this era of Spotify and mp3 and the dubious blessing of having almost all the music all the time, listening to your show has still got that throwback feel of a time when you’d lose hours of your life digging through crates on the lookout for a rare track. In having almost everything a Google search away - do you reckon we’ve lost anything of ‘the search’ these days?

That’s we try and do on the  show. It’s grounded in the Golden Era of black American music but also does try and concentrate on the worldwide and European response to that music now. So a lot of the stuff that we play is being recorded now, is being toured now, written now from bands all over the world – The Bamboos, Roxy Ray coming out of Australia – bands like The Excitements coming out of Spain, bands coming of Italy, Chin Chin from Germany. People play funk and soul all over Europe plus we do try and, for example, if we’re playing Stevie Wonder, we’re not going to play Superstition, people have heard that. It’s nice to dig through his catalogue and play stuff people are going to go ‘wow I’ve never heard that played on the radio.

That searching thing, it depends who you hang around with. All my lot are all crate-diggers. We like going out and finding rare, undiscovered gems.

And what was the last time a track truly stopped you in your tracks?

Do you know what, there’s one that hasn’t been released, or it can’t be released, it’s never been turned in to a CD or a record but that Heard It On The Grapevine version – I just stopped in my tracks and I was like ‘oh my god’, it is such a thing of beauty. But they can’t release that. A lot of the racks we play aren’t even records. They’re not on CDs, they’re not on vinyl, I might have found them on a Bandcamp page or stuff like that. They’re not licensed, and you don’t want to mess with Marvin Gaye, you know what I mean. We saw what happened to Pharell.

Music has changed so much now, or the way it’s delivered. It comes at you in so many different forms. But there’s nothing better though than being in a record shop and some old Polish guy is running a box of bric-a-brac and he’s got a crate of records you dig through – and you find something that you know ‘wow, this is rare,’ and the guy wants 25p for it. That doesn’t happen that often any more unfortunately. People have cottoned on a bit.

The 6 Music show is now the longest-running programme on the station. You’re in danger of crossing over and becoming a true National Treasure. From the Cantril Farm estate to niche TV gigs like Takeshi’s Castle – did you ever see yourself here, and how does the role of National Broadcasting Institution sit with you?

I’ve got a great habit of shooting myself in the foot, haven’t I? I suppose it’s just not dying though. It’s a very short step from hell-raiser to National Treasure. It just involves staying alive long enough.

I’m the kind of person who lives in the day, you know. You can’t really be defined by your past, you’re only as good as your last hit. And I have had a load of shows from Robot Wars to Takeshi’s Castle so I have this wide demographic. But you’re only as good as your last one, so it’s just a case of trying to keep the work good, trying to keep it relevant. And just, you know, doing your best.

What big change(s) have you’ve seen in the club scene over the last 10 years?

I’ve noticed that my audience has got younger and younger and younger. And it’s got very female-oriented as well. It’s not just guys in their 40s in Sherman shirts.

I play good time music. It’s different from the house nights where a lot of the beat-matching gets in the way of a lot of the music. You’re just matching the beat and there’s no difference in the rhythms so it becomes very same-y. Where I try and mix it up a bit.

And funk and soul, it’s just the best music. And it’s the basis for all the house music. All the house music is sampled from it. I might remix my stuff on the dancefloor but it’s still got that Gold Era black American music. I’m just dead lucky. I get to play my favourite music and people pay me to do it. If you’d told me that 15 years ago, I’d have been happy with that.

From the outside, it would seem like you’re one the hardest working man in the biz – I saw you get Old Trafford moving last Saturday, listened to 6 Music show on iplayer this morning, and now you’re going to be playing a slightly less storied spot in Hereford’s The Venue on Fri – how do you find the hours in the week? And what’s it like going from a 75,000-seater to the ‘cosier’ settings a provincial club?

I get some stick about that to be honest, I need to slow down a bit. But I enjoy it too much. I get invited to some of the coolest parties and I get to choose the music, that’s the way I look at it.

The Old Trafford thing was such a strange gig to be honest. It was like playing to 70,000 people who weren’t really listening. I just did it for the experience.

But a few weeks ago I played Hyde Park and had 60-odd thousand people and they were all up for it, going bonkers.

I love Glastonbury man. We try and do the Friday afternoon and kick off Glastonbury and then do an epic set – I play for like four or five hours – and then I play inside the spider on the Sunday, and that seems to go across pretty well. I’ve played so many festivals this year and they’ve all been fairly special to be honest.

 What’s the good, bad and the ugly about still playing those kind of smaller venues?

They are all very different. Do you know what, you play to the room. And your job is to keep that room dancing. There could be 50, 000 people in that room or there could be 600. But you’ve still got to keep them dancing.

12728880 10156330300330467 4179967360225410481 n

Your daughter might’ve stole the show from you at Soundwave in Croatia this summer. She's an amazing singer - was she brought up on a steady diet of funk and soul or is there some real teenage clashes over the car radio?

She did steal the show from me, the little cow. Yeh she was brilliant. We had her playing with the Fantasy Funk Band a couple of weeks before that, up on stage with Lemar and Mica Paris and she sang that song and stole that show as well from the divas.

I’m good in that I encourage them to listen to their music. I’m not one of those dad’s who goes, ‘that’s shiiite’. But, because of my job and because I happen to listen to a lot of records they’ve been exposed to an awful lot of it - I’d like to think they know what’s good and what’s bad.

And actually she plays some great music on her own. That Justin Bieber tune, ‘My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone..”-  that is a tuuuune. There’s great new music that isn’t funk and soul, and I like my kids to be exposed to it all – and not to be afraid to express themselves and say ‘dad, have you heard this?’

And if she follows you in to the music business, what direction do you see that business going in, in the near future?

I don’t know what’s going to happen. Musicians are finding it very difficult to make money. The only way they can make money really seems to be by touring and the only way they can get bums on seats is by getting played on the radio. But they’re not really earning any money out of being played on the radio and people aren’t really buying CDs and stuff like that. And it’s so easy to download their music for free, so it’s very difficult to 'make it' in the music industry. But then someone like Adele comes along and proves that you’re talking nonsense.

I think that’s what she wants to do. I’m not actively encouraging her, but I’m not discouraging her either. My son brought an album out with Lack Of Afro a couple of years ago. He had five songs on their album, and he’s got a great voice. He’s in the studio now – Jack Tyson-Charles – and he’s about to bring out his first EP. So he’s sort of followed me in to it. But again he’s not making any money. I’m still bank of Dad, you know what I mean.


Doors open tonight at The Venue on Gaol St at 11pm. Follow The Venue on Facebook to stay up to date on the next big names coming to Hereford.

Do you want to write for Herefordshire Live? Get in touch on Facebook, Twitter or say