• Sweet Harmony: Tootal Blog Talks to Music For Robots

    Jan Kincaid, the former drummer, songwriter, producer, and founder of the Brand New Heavies met Dawn Joseph, the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, when she started singing for the Heavies in 2013. The pair instantly clicked, and within their first week of working together, they were writing songs. Now they’ve formed their own band, Music For Robots (or MF Robots, for short) – their name, a subtle dig at how generic today’s music climate has become.

    Tootal Blog talked to Jan Kincaid about their new soul vision.

    By way of introduction what does it say on the Music For Robots business card?

    It would have “ironic” in brackets, that’d be the first thing. And then it would just be “music to make you feel good”. Obviously we live in strange times, and there’s a lot of music that reflects that but there’s a lot of things to be happy about still. And we’re very enthused by music, particularly the celebratory side of it. Whenever we play live, it’s a very dynamic and exciting show; that’s what we like from music, which seems to be what we do naturally, so we try and project that. Being introspective is okay but it’s also quite a selfish viewpoint. Sometimes you need to engage with everyone else, rather than just “woe is me” all the time.

    How did Music For Robots come about?

    Really, for the want of something new and exciting to do. I started Brand New Heavies back in the day with Andrew and Simon, and Dawn came on board in 2011. Straightaway we hit it off and started writing a together, just me and her. I was kind of the main writer in the band and used to working on my own but with Dawn I found a songwriting ally. She has an almost telepathic ability; she just knows the same stuff, the same points of reference, and the things I was into. I didn’t have to describe anything; she already knew what we were trying to do. And she’s incredibly open-minded; she doesn’t have a lot of musical boundaries. I know from experience when you get into writing sessions people can be really precious, especially if you’re in a big group of people. I found that quite frustrating sometimes, because everyone wanted to have an input, and sometimes if you know what you’re doing it’s nice to just run with it. And with Dawn, I’ve never had that problem, so before we knew it we pretty much wrote the last Heavies record together (‘Sweet Freaks’, 2014). There’s advantages to being in a band for a long time, in that you establish a sound and you have a way of working, or a framework, but you can only bend and move that a certain amount before people start getting uneasy.

    So this is a response to your personal situation, and to something bigger?

    MF Robots Dawn Joseph and Jan Kincaid.

    Definitely, it’s like a joyous release. I just wanted a totally new thing, and not having to think about expectations. And that celebratory side of the album also comes from the release of a lot of frustration, certainly in my part. It’s like being in a marriage for a long time, that’s plodding along and you’re not really expressing yourself in the way you want to. So, I had my massive mid-life crisis, I broke out, bought myself a sports car, and all is good! [Laughs]. I’m on that highway, going into the sunset, Tootal scarf blowing in the wind.

    Are there individual messages and themes that your songs explore?

    There are a lot of themes in there, for example a few of the tracks go into not being afraid. For me, I’ve been in a situation for a long time, twenty-five plus years, so there’s a part of you that’s always saying, “Do you know what you’re doing? Be careful” but a lot of the songs reflect that feeling, of taking that next step. Having enough self-belief and faith in the music, faith in what we were doing, to think actually, no, I’m going to do this. But I’m so much happier, and I’ve never regretted it for a minute. ‘Scary Monsters’ is about that. There’s actually no scary monsters there at all, only the ones you have in yourself, that little voice that’s always telling you to stop. Unless you take that step you’re never going to go anywhere, are you?

    Is Brand New Heavies a closed book now?

    MF Robots take to the stage.

    For me, definitely. It’s no longer a reflection of where my head is at in any way, shape or form. It’s become a bit of a heritage thing really, and it went as far as I could see it going. When you’re playing the same songs for twenty plus years, without really adding anything new it just gets a bit boring. I’m more interested in what we’re doing tomorrow than what we did ten years ago.

    The new album has a very full and rich sound; can it be recreated live?

    We’re taking the best elements, the effervescence and the joyous, celebratory, party side of it and we’re taking that out live. It’s quite raucous, and Dawn’s an amazing performer; she really does know how to engage with a crowd. The thing is, we’re quite a new band, so some of the gigs we’ve done, particularly the bigger festivals, there’s a large part of the audience that have never heard us; we’re very aware of that, but halfway through the set, they’re all over it. They have a really good time, and that’s the best we could ever wish for. It’s not about having to recreate the record, note for note, because it’s quite a big sound but we’re still going out with a horn section, guitar, bass, drums, there’s eight of us on stage, so it’s not a small band but for what we’re doing it’s right, and it sounds great.

    Fourteen unfamiliar songs is asking a lot of your audience. If you had to throw in a cover version...?

    We actually do two quite different cover versions. We do ‘Finder’s Keepers’ by Chairman of the Board, and we do ‘Keep That Same Old Feeling’ by The Crusaders. ‘Finder’s Keepers’ is our encore, it’s a bit raucous, it really gets people going, it’s the kind of song that just keeps going up and up. We’re thinking of adding a Dolly Parton song but we’re approaching it from an entirely different direction; it’s going to be interesting.

    ‘Finder’s Keepers’ is forty-five years old. Why is it that Soul and Funk particularly still sound so fresh and vibrant?

    It has all of those things we’re striving for, it’s celebratory, it’s joyous, it’s that gritty, real feeling, it’s passionate, it projects outward… all of those things, and Soul music is a true expression of spirit. In a musical climate where everything is generic, and boring, and very samey… most of the records you hear seem to be produced by the same producers, and even if they’re not they sound pretty similar. When you have twenty writers writing one record, which seems to be the norm just now, to me that’s just insane. If I’m trying to write something that’s honest and sincere, how can you tell a story that’s written by twenty people? It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t sound honest. It sounds like a business transaction. It’s more like a manufacturing process, rather than a creative process. And that’s where the name Music For Robots comes from, because we’re kind of cocking a snook at that whole vibe. I think that’s why reissues and re-releases are such a booming business for record companies, because it’s music was made with a purity of heart, and I think that’s lacking in a lot of music right now. I think that people want to hear that kind of honesty and that straight forwardness again.

    Did music play a big part in the home when you were growing up?

    MF Robots Dawn Joseph and Jan Kincaid.

    Massively, yeah. It was in the home, it was on TV, so many theme tunes, film soundtracks, adverts, all kind going around, as well as Pop music, so I picked up on a lot of stuff. When I was about nine, maybe ten, I got really into Rock ‘n’ Roll, and early R&B. I think primarily it was probably because of Grease, if I’m completely honest. Then I heard ‘Blueberry Hill’, and stuff like that, and I got more into New Orleans R&B, artists like Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry, that kind of vibe. And when I went to high school I really got into Soul music, then Jazz, Latin music, Hip-Hop and everything else in-between. Now my tastes are really eclectic, as they are when you get older. I was a massive purist when I was younger but now there’s so many things I’m hearing that I love.

    Let’s go back to the first to the first record you bought…

    It was probably a cheap Top of the Pops album, if I’m honest. No idea which one it was, or what year it was – a Seventies one. And it might have been bought for me. I bought a few records when I was ten, eleven, something like that, a few singles probably. And then when I went to high school, I really started buying singles properly, and I haven’t stopped since. Buying records has always been a passion for me.

    When you’re making an album do you think of it in terms of “track one, side one”, etc.?

    Because we weren’t rushing and we started this project before it even became an album, we kind of did it track by track and then suddenly we had six tracks, then twelve, and it was like, “ooh, this has become something special now”. And when we started to apply the polish and to hone it, we were sequencing it from a vinyl point of view, and actually we are doing double vinyl, so I did it as Side A, Side B, Side C, Side D. That’s how the album runs, that was very specifically thought out.

    We wanted to make it a really attractive package because I collect vinyl, so that’s what I look for as well. If you’re going to buy the vinyl, you want to have that full-on aesthetic joy whenever you pick it. And something that I can always go back to and think, “I love this cover” because that’s one thing that frustrates the shit out of me with Spotify, even though I totally get the ease of use, I want to find out who some of the players are sometimes, where it was recorded… all of that kind of thing.

    What about the first time you bought your own clothes?

    MF Robots Jan Kincaid and Dawn Joseph.

    From a very young age I was always the kid that was like, “No, I don’t want those, I want those” but I didn’t always have that choice; my mum was still getting my jeans from Tesco, and more frustratingly my brother is six years older than me but we were still wearing the same outfits, the same cardigans… there’s loads of 1970s photos where we’re wearing the same clothes.

    For me it was a youth culture thing, and the first time I got into something that had a strong identity it was Rock ‘n’ Roll, so I went out and I bought a shoestring tie and some luminous socks – there was a little shop in Ealing that had all that stuff - I started to roll up my jeans, even though I still had Tesco ones. I never had a drape coat or anything like that. Some sides of that fashion I was a bit uneasy with, because I thought it looked a bit silly. I did buy some Brylcreem but I had such fine hair it didn’t work, it kind of half flopped down. I’ve got these photos of my mate and me at eleven years old, looking more Flock of Seagulls than Bill Haley.

    When I got into high school everyone was either a Soul Boy, a Mod or into 2-Tone, maybe the odd Skinhead kicking around. I was very firmly a Soul Boy, so I was into Farah’s and the casual thing, even though I couldn’t really afford it. Everyone had burgundy cardigans and waffle shoes. Soul belts, Hawaiian shirts, and the G.I. thing, I went through all that. When I was fifteen it was putting the seam down the front of your trousers, with a Gabicci shirt, something like that. Slazenger jumpers, Lyle & Scott… I never had a Lyle & Scott, Slazenger was the cheaper alternative.

    Do music and style still go hand in hand for you now?

    Oh, massively. And I really like fashion for its own sake; I’m very much into the thing of where youth culture and fashion meets. There’s an amazing book that’s just come out, ‘Rebel Threads’ by Roger Burton, that book is incredible, because when you see a lot of those histories it is mainly American stuff, so it’s really nice to see all those shots from the Fifties and Sixties and it’s all British style. I really like those little books like ‘The Ivy Look’, and there’s another one called ‘Icons of Men’s Style’, I love all of that stuff.

    Being on the warehouse scene, that’s where I started to see people dressing up, and I used to look up to some of those people like the Duffer’s and that kind of crowd, and I started hanging out with those cats and that was a real exciting time. There’s no tribalism in music any more, and that is really sad, I think. People don’t have that band they can look up to and say, right, I want to be like them. That was everywhere - Punks, Rockers, Skins, Teddy Boys, Soul Boys, Mods, all of that, and now you don’t have anything, and that’s quite sad. I definitely benefited from and enjoyed that tribalism, and it reflects on everything I do, whether it is conscious or not.

    Previously the name Brand New Heavies would have been enough to sell a few albums or tickets. It must be a challenge to start building a new audience from scratch?

    MF Robots debut album 'Music For Robots' is released on 4th May 2018.

    We’ve done quite well on social media so far, building it up kind of organically. We definitely want to get out to America and do some business there because I think potentially that’s a really big audience for us. I don’t think we fit into traditional radio so much, it’s so targeted at specific audiences, and I think that’s its downfall in a way. For me those little online stations are the ones that we were searching for back in the day, and while they come and go there’s some great podcasts as well. It’s a really exciting time in music, but there’s just so much out there – everyone can do something and promote it now. You get a much bigger range to choose from which means some things never get heard. And you have to be a marketeer to a certain extent, and you have to be a salesman and all of these things as well as being a musician, and if you’re from a younger generation that’s all you know

    Going forward, is there a Music For Robots master plan?

    Yes, to carry on doing what we’re doing, and try to do it as organically as we can. We want to do a lot more shows, play to a lot more people, and wake them up to what we’re doing, that’s the plan. And, of course, get the album out there because we’re really excited for people to hear it, because we put a lot of work into it. So far people have been really encouraging but you never really know – you just do something to the best of your ability, you never know whether people are going to accept it. People think, oh, yeah, it’s going to be just like the Heavies but actually, once you hear the album, there’s a lot more going on than that, and that’s the thing I think we will gradually get across. It’s a lot fresher than the last couple of Heavies albums, but it wasn’t a conscious thing, it was a case of the gloves are off and we have that freedom.


    ‘Music For Robots’ by MF Robots is out now on Membran Records, on CD, double vinyl and available to download and stream.

    Find them on Twitter @musicforrobots on Facebook @mfrobots and on Instagram @MFRobots

  • Dig The New Breed: DJs Emma Noble and Sophie Heath Spread The Gospel To A New Generation

    By way of introduction, what does it say on the Noble & Heath business card?

    Emma: “Noble & Heath - Double-decking Vinyl DJ Duo: Playing Soul, Northern, Crossover & Disco”. That’s what we usually tell people. In a nutshell.

    Sophie: Some people have suggested “Noble & Heath Sound Machine” too. We play soul 45’s at club nights, festivals and also have our own online radio show at Mi-Soul Connoisseurs.

    “Soul, Northern, Crossover and Disco DJ” is not a job that we’ve ever seen advertised – how did all this come about?

    Emma: It just accidentally happened.

    Sophie: It was our friend’s birthday, and Emma and I played a few records while people were arriving. We absolutely loved it.

    Making A New Impression: Emma Noble (left) and Sophie Heath behind the decks.

    Emma: People seemed to be responding well to it so we ended up playing quite a while in the end. Then at the end of the night, our good friend Dean Chalkley was at the party and came up to us and said, “Don’t stop doing this” - that has really stuck in our minds since.
    Next thing we know, Dean invited us to do a set at ‘Soul Box’, which is a monthly night he and Eddie Piller do at Old Street Records. We were nervous but luckily another mate of ours also asked us to come and DJ at his pub, so we used that as a bit of a ‘trial run’, and after we said “Blimey, that was brilliant”.

    We then felt so much more confident we could do Soul Box; and it just escalated from there and it hasn’t stopped since. For every gig we did, we kept getting offered another one and so on.

    Sophie: We had no free weekends for ages. We were enjoying it all so much that we were saying “YES” to everything that came along, having a great time and then wondering why are were so tired on Monday mornings at work.

    If there is a stereotype Northern Soul DJ then you don’t fit the profile. Does that inform people’s attitude to you?

    Sophie: No I don’t think so, a lot of the people we’ve DJ-ed with tell us they’re very keen to get fresh blood into the Soul scene.

    Emma: We’ve been very lucky, we haven’t experienced any negativity yet. If anything, we’ve had a lot of people trying to help us and encourage us.

    Sophie: People have said to us that if our younger generation don’t take on this music then it could disappear - particularly the Northern Soul scene. We’ve met a lot of really good friends through it all too; we’ve got our own little group who are all into the Soul scene, which is really nice.

    Emma: Before we started DJ-ing, we were within the Soul scene anyway; going to club nights, and going dancing… so we knew a lot of people who have since been very supportive. They have seen what we are doing and said, “Come and do a slot at ours”.

    Did music play a big part in your younger years?

    Sophie: The only musical person in my family was my great-grandad, who used to play Jazz saxophone and piano. Apart from that, there wasn’t really much musical talent, I was more into my dancing until I turned 18 and I became aware of pubs and going out at the weekends! I guess I found the music I loved later on, particularly when I moved to London and became more aware of what is out there - this ‘Soul Scene’.

    Emma: Very different for me. All my brothers and sisters have music in the blood. I grew up on a farm, and Dad had a dedicated music room; he really encouraged us to try and play instruments. We’d sit around a campfire and have little jams. My Dad loved Trad Jazz, classic Rock ‘n’ Roll, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and he and my Mum also loved Motown, so subconsciously it was always there, going on in the background. My brothers also had large record collections so I would hear stuff from them too. That definitely had a big part to play for me.

    Emma Noble (left) and Sophie Heath at a recent instore event for stylish shoemakers G. H. Bass & Co.

    Have you always been cool and trendy or do you want to confess to some fashion faux pas?
    Sophie: I was a bit of a Tomboy growing up. I lived with my Dad, so he bought my clothes; military camouflage trousers, thick knit jumpers, baggy t-shirts and ‘sensible’ shoes, anything that was ‘sensible’ really. I used to go fishing with him every weekend or just hanging about in the garage messing with cars so didn’t really wear dresses and definitely nothing girly!

    Emma: Me too - I grew up with four older brothers, so all my “hand-me-downs” were boys clothes basically.

    Can you remember the first record you bought and where you bought it?

    Sophie: It was cassettes for us - I used to tape things from the radio and listen back to it, and I got really hooked on John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom”. But I didn’t record that song just once; I recorded it through the whole cassette, back and front. I used to put it on in my Mum’s car - constantly! Sadly my Mum’s car got broken into one day and it got stolen, but I think she was pleased when it was gone! My first 7-inch record I bought when we started DJ-ing was Willie Parker “I Live The Life I Love”.

    Emma: My first tape was “Wild Wild West” by Will Smith, which samples Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish”, so I must have been subconsciously attracted to Soul back then, even if I was unaware of it. And the first 7-inch I bought when we started DJ-ing was “Rap, Run It On Down” by Nate Turner and Vanetta Fields, which is a fast tempo Northern one.

    Sophie: Both great Northern Souls singles actually.

    Emma: We bought them online; we find it hard to make time to go looking through actual record stores these days, don’t we?

    Sophie: Yes, unfortunately! I’ve also found that you have to have a certain level of self-control. I don’t let myself root through that many records; otherwise I would just end up spending so much money.

    Emma: Yeah - It’s an expensive habit.

    Sophie: They’re not even expensive records we’re buying; it’s just the amount we’ve bought.

    Emma: I guess we pay for a single what other people would pay for an album. We’ve definitely not got to the stage where we will pay hundreds or thousands of pounds for a record.

    Sophie: We aren’t that type of record collector though. We buy it because we want to play it, not keep it polished and neatly filed away. It’s about whether it makes you dance. We will quite happily buy re-pressings as well. Some people are really stuffy towards that but to us – we’d rather play a repress then not play it at.

    When did you decide four hands were better than two?

    Learning from the best: Emma Noble (left) and Sophie Heath with Norman Jay MBE.

    Emma: We met at the interview day for our University, and we were the last two to be interviewed, so we were just left together… there would have been hundreds and hundreds of people that went through there that day, it was weird how fate decided that we were the last two left. We ended up getting on, and became best mates. We both liked going to the same clubs with old music, and then as time’s gone on, together we’ve found this passion for Soul music particularly. And it’s just grown and grown.

    Sophie: And also it’s more fun being together behind the decks. We can have a good dance and a laugh together. I think we have been a lot more proactive together too, we put a lot of effort into our record buying, prepping for our radio shows and even the artwork we do for events, so having the two of us makes it easier.

    Emma: It’s much more fun than being by yourself. And I think we both bring slightly different things to the table. We both like Soul music but one week Sophie might bring a record that I won’t, or she’ll find a new record that I wouldn’t necessarily buy.

    Sophie: Yes, we introduce each other to a lot of new music.

    Emma: It’s a nice combination. Sophie loves the slower groove stuff, whilst I’m more inclined to the fast tempo stuff.

    Never tempted to “cheat” and use CD or MP3?

    Sophie: No. I think it’s good that we’re restricted to a record box, we have to be more selective about what we take to gigs, what we buy and also it’s satisfying have something tangible. If you were playing MP3’s it would just be an endless choice of music.

    Emma: You consider a song a lot more when you are buying it on 7-inch vinyl for some reason.

    Who are your musical heroes?

    Emma: A lot of today’s music is lacking the Soul that music like Motown had. For us, when Amy Winehouse came along she had that modern flair, with a lovely old school sound. She introduced a new type of music to a lot of young people so we’ve always admired her. She was a huge character and she created a big stir.

    Sophie: I think it’s just that we can relate to her, because it is “now” or in our lifetime. We’ve got quite a soft spot for strong female vocalists, like Aretha Franklin, Ann Sexton, Margie Joseph – when we do our radio show we actually notice that it’s sometimes all female artists that we play.

    Does music and style go hand in hand?

    Emma: I guess we are part of a subculture of music and style. We’ve always thought that part really interesting. We’ve found each other and ourselves through a passion for decent music and lovely old stuff. We, and a lot of our friends, have a particular love for ‘60s, ‘70s vintage clothing.

    Sophie: And also with vintage clothing, even though there’s a lot of retro-style clothing being made now, it kind of gives you an individual look, as you won’t see anyone else wearing the same thing, which is quite nice; it sets you apart.

    Emma: If people are a part of something, they often use clothing to project that. “I’m into this, so I’m going to dress like this”

    How do you set about discovering new tunes to play?

    Putting on the style: Sophie and Emma, rocking the Tootal Paisley.

    Sophie: Now we’ve started doing our radio show, we listen to a lot of other online radio. Also when you’re hunting for music on YouTube, it often leads you on to finding something else. It’s an endless journey or bottomless pit of discovering new music! We’ve also found, particularly since we started doing the radio, that a lot of people that have approached us and said, “Oh, if you like this, you might like this”. I like that because it’s a lot more personal.

    Emma: Spotify gives you those Discover Weekly things and the Release Radars, and Recommended Artists which is a great way to discover new music. You can spend a day listening to an artist you haven’t heard before.
    And, of course, going to see our mates DJ. Like we were saying earlier, a lot of the older generation on the Soul scene have really helped us. They’ve got years more knowledge than us, so we’ll listen to what they play, and if we like a song we’ll go up and ask, “What’s this then?’

    Apart from your own events, some favourite club nights?

    Sophie: When we’re not DJ-ing, we go to a lot of Soul Weekenders or All Dayers, like the one at Blackpool Ballroom, the Brighton Mod Weekender and there’s a great one in Manchester. We don’t particularly go to any regular club nights though we used to love going to Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues when we were students, and Madame JoJo’s. Sadly Madame JoJo’s got shut down but Gaz’s is still going strong.

    Emma: Yeah ‘The Good Foot’ at Madame JoJo’s, it was a great night. That’s when we were students and we would go out and hit it hard, you know? We probably still do - a bit - but we are more likely to go to the pub or to see our mate’s DJ now. It’s actually on our “To Do” list for this year, to start going to more nights in London. We would also like to get our own resident night up and running this year.

    Apart from setting up your own club night, what else is in The Masterplan?

    Sophie Heath (left) and Emma Noble: Soul, Northern, Crossover, Disco... and Steps?

    Emma: By day we’re both graphic designers; with the whole Noble & Heath thing unexpectedly taking off, we’re actually finding it a little bit hard to balance our work life versus DJ life. So, our long-term plan is to start up the ‘Noble & Heath Studio’, which would give us the freedom and flexibility to do both.

    Sophie: And to combine our passions, to be a studio specialising in design for music - branding, album artwork, books, events, etc.

    Emma: We’ve both done some design for Acid Jazz releases and I’ve just finished branding a new music venue in Peckham, so for us that set up would work perfectly. We’ve been booked for quite a lot of European festivals this year so this would make balancing our time a lot easier!

    Sophie: The short term aim is to get that residency up and running. And just keep trying to educate ourselves – it’s a constant learning curve for us. We would love to do some big festivals this year too.

    And finally, what records do you always have to keep in your box?

    Emma: There are a couple of overlaps that both Sophie and I have and love and we generally start our sets with them…

    Sophie: Ann Sexton “You’ve Been Gone Too Long”.

    Emma: We always have a lot of Bettye Swann and Barbara Acklin.

    Sophie: We always have Margie Joseph…

    Emma: Alice Clark… those five, that handful…

    Sophie: Oh, and they’re all women!


    You can find Noble & Heath on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter at @nobleandheath

    The Noble & Heath Soul Show on Mixcloud is hosted by Mi-Soul Connoisseurs every other Monday. All their shows are also available on their mixcloud page:

  • The Hardest Working Man In Show Business? Craig Charles Talks To Tootal Blog

    Your list of credits on Wikipedia is the longest we’ve have ever seen: Actor, comedian, author, poet, television presenter and DJ. Do you ever take time off?

    Not really. It’s all about time management. I’ve got very good at sleeping in cars. I’ve got a driver, a pillow and a blanket; I just get in the back of the car and sleep all the way to the next place. I don’t even know I’m travelling. Which is quite good…

    I’ve actually gone on stage and said “Hello” to the wrong country. I do a lot of ski festivals. We did Andorra this year, we did Meribel, we did Bulgaria; that’s just the Skis. Then we did Croatia, Australia, Ibiza, Majorca… it’s quite nice though, to travel and play music. The other day, I come home after I’d finished the radio show and I said to my 14-year old daughter, “I’m really tired”. She said, “Dad, playing music and talking nonsense isn’t really work, is it?” I felt like grounding her! I don’t really see it as work; I see it as fun. I’m lucky; I feel as though I get invited to all these really cool parties and I get to choose the music.

    If you had a business card you’re not going to fit all that under job title. What’s it going to say?

    Chocolate Love Monkey. That’s my wife’s pet name for me; I don’t know how P.C. it is but she calls me her Chocolate Love Monkey.

    One of your first breaks came when you climbed onstage at a Teardrop Explodes gig. What’s your recollection of that evening?

    I was 15 or 16, and they’d just bought out Kilimanjaro. And ‘Reward’ was at the top of the charts. They did these four nights at The Temple, this club in Liverpool. I heard them turn on the speakers and all that, and I jumped up with this poem;

    He’s really into the music scene / No one’s been where he’s been /He saw the Pistols at the Hundred Club / He f***ed a girlfriend of a UK Sub / ‘Cause he’s really into the music scene,

    He told me Strummer was a queer / Said he’d bought Siouxsie a beer / When he mentions Ian Curtis well he always sheds a tear / ‘Cause he’s really into the music scene,

    Taught Pete Wylie all he knows / Used to manage The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes / know a celebrity because he knows loads / He’s really into the music scene,

    What’s his name I hear you shout / I can’t say he’ll sue if word gets out / But I’ll tell you something to give you hope / It begins with Julian and ends in Cope.

    And then I just went, “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Teardrop Explodes!” And I jumped off the stage, and they came on, faces like thunder!

    You were subsequently in a few bands yourself.

    Craig Charles meets The Screaming Eagle of Soul: With the late, great Charles Bradley.

    Yes, I was in a band called Watt 4, with Roag Best. I was 14, 15. We used to rehearse in The Casbah, which is the first place The Beatles played; a coffee shop in West Derby. It was decorated by The Beatles and that’s all still there; it’s worth a fortune. Mona owned it, Pete Best’s mum. Neil Aspinall and Mona had an affair; and Mo had Roag, so he’s kind of Pete’s half-brother. Roag was the drummer in the band; I played keys. And Pete used to be always hovering around. It was quite weird being steeped in that Beatles history from a very early age.

    I was in there for a while but we were shite, and nothing happened. Then I was in a band called Shades Of Grey. And a really cool band called The Lawnmower, who did, “Ride your pony, get on your pony and ride”; all that kind of stuff. So, yeah, I’ve done a lot of music.

    Any unfulfilled ambitions in that area?

    Not really. I used to write all the lyrics and stuff like that. I got to the stage where the bands kept breaking up, and I ended up with a surfeit or lyrics and a deficit of musicians, so I kind of re-jigged them and turned them into poems, and that’s how my poetry career started.

    Where you actually signed to Acid Jazz Records at one point?

    I was, the album never came out. Eddie Piller phoned me up the other day, and said he’s found some of the tapes; the tapes got stolen. That’s a real lost, forgotten album, that. I was really proud of the work. And Eddie says he’s found a track called ‘Handgun’, which was way before The Sopranos; “Handgun, handgun, handgun. Put your hands on your head and give me all your money”. Very similar to the Alabama 3 track but years before.

    These days you’re a fixture on national radio. Is it right that one of your first radio appearances was a John Peel session?

    The Red Wedge Comedy Tour, 1986: "Ooh, a little bit of politics there".

    Yes, I did two John Peel sessions. I did one in 1983, and one the year after, ’84. It was featured in John Peel’s Festive Fifty. I was, what, eighteen? So, that was a proud moment. There was a track on it, a kind of Reggae infused track, called ‘Party Night’ which Peel used to really get into.

    Then I did the Red Wedge comedy tour; me, Skint Video, Mark Miwurdz and an all girl troupe called Sensible Footwear. We used to have meetings at Red Wedge with Billy Bragg and Paul Weller. It was about trying to give Socialist musicians and artists a platform to express their work because it was all “Thatcher’s Britain” at the time. It was quite nice to be involved in the early days of that, sort of, agitation, I suppose. I was doing that Red Wedge comedy tour when Saturday Night Live started; Ben Elton, you know, “Ooh, a little bit of politics there”. Fry and Laurie, and Harry Enfield. And I became a regular on that; ‘Angry Young Man’ stuff.

    I remember I used to have a Wendy Dagworthy jacket that I wore on all the shows. I’d love a scarf made out of that now. I do that a lot; I see things and think, “That would make a nice scarf”.

    Your main “occupations” all attract a fanatical audience. Is it the fanatic in you that attracts you in the first place?

    I don’t know; I’ve just been very lucky. I’ve managed to appeal to a lot of different demographics. You’ve got your ‘Corrie’ demographic, you’ve got your Red Dwarf, Robot Wars, Takeshi’s Castle, now The Gadget Show. Then the Funk & Soul Show crowd is completely different; so I suppose if you work hard enough and you do so many things, and they’re not shite, you can build up a following that way.

    In Red Dwarf: Back To Earth, Dave Lister visits the set of Coronation Street, where he meets the actor Craig Charles. To quote The Happy Mondays, that must have “twisted your melon”.

    Two Worlds Collide: Red Dwarf Back To Earth visits Coronation Street (Photo: © Dave TV)

    I did twist me melon; it was such a weird thing. And my mate Simon Gregson, who plays Steve McDonald, we got him into the show as well. I don’t know how they pulled it off. I thought the storyline was brilliant; it was a bit Corrie Meets Blade Runner, really. The Red Dwarf cast arrive back on earth, and they find out they’re actually characters in a sitcom, and unless the writer writes new episodes they’re going to cease to exist. We go off to find the actors who play us, and we end up on Coronation Street looking for me. Walking into The Rovers as Lister was just so bizarre, it’s like two worlds colliding. That’s a very special memory. It was really fun to film; I thought it was a great story.

    Let’s talk about style. Can you remember the first time you were allowed to buy your own clothes?

    My Mum said I could buy a Budgie Jacket. I had a black and white one, with a Penny Round collar. I actually saw one online the other day but it was too small for me. It was a proper 1972 one, as well. My Mum used to be a seamstress, and she’d make a lot of clothes for us. We’d have the six-button waistband Birmingham Bags, with pockets wide enough to put an LP sleeve in. And before platforms it was stack heels. I had an Afro; I looked like a little Michael Jackson, to be honest.

    Where did your love of Tootal scarves start?

    Just call him Scarf Ace: Craig Charles in Bristol, 2016.

    I always liked that Carnaby Street, Sixties Dandy look. The Proper Mod, High Fashion look. Everyone seemed to be wearing these scarves. I thought, “Where do you get a scarf like that?” I think it might have been Dean Rudland who said, “That’s a Tootal scarf”. And then I did a bit of research into Tootal, and I know it’s been going for hundreds of years, and all that kind of stuff. Proper, lovely silk, and a lovely feel to it. So, that’s how my love affair began, so much so that Lister in Red Dwarf wears Tootal scarves all the time now. Tootal might have been going for hundreds of years but three million years into the future, it’s still around. Which is quite cool.

    Was there much music in the home when you were a child?

    Yeah, my dad came over to England in about 1958. He was a Merchant Seaman, and he missed his boat back; he was in Holland, and because he had a British Guyanese passport, instead of sending him to Guyana they sent him to Britain. He ended up at Liverpool Dock with a bag full of records and a pocket full of change. When most of Liverpool was listening to The Beatles in our house we were listening to Harry Belafonte, and Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding; Motown, Stax, Philadelphia and Miami Soul. I suppose I kind of grew up in a parallel universe in Liverpool. We weren’t into Beat music – you know, The Kinks and The Who – we were into what has become the golden era of Black American music, and that’s what I grew up listening to.

    What about the first record you bought?

    The first record I bought was the Bay City Rollers. What can I say? My Mum made the trousers; tartan stripes down the side and tartan cuffs at the bottom. “Bye bye, baby, baby, don’t cry, baby”. I must have been 8 or 9, something like that.

    When did you start collecting records?

    Scrubbed Up Nicely: Revisiting the Probe Records site, Button Street, Liverpool L2.

    I started hanging out in Probe Records, in Liverpool. It was when Pete Burns used to work behind the counter. Adam & The Ants road crew used to hang out at Probe, as well, with their ‘Ant Music For Sex People’ tattoos. And Geoff (Davies, owner) took me under his wing, and that’s when I started really getting into music more seriously. I reverse engineered my way into Funk and Soul, really, because I was really into Led Zeppelin. When Houses Of The Holy came out, I thought it was a brilliant album. Then I got Led Zep 1 through 4, and I’d be playing it and me Dad would go, “Him steal that!” He introduced me to John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters and B.B. King, and he’d say, “There’s that lick”.

    When Parliament / Funkadelic started I really got into George Clinton and P-Funk. “Wants To Get Funked Up; Can You Imagine Doobie In Your Funk? P-Funk; Uncut Funk; The Bomb.” That opened up a whole world for me, you know? Funkadelic’s ‘Maggot Brain’ is just amazing; I saw them play it live at Glastonbury, and that Eddie Hazel lead guitar lick, man… it goes on for about five minutes and it was mind blowing.

    What about the first time you DJ-ed?

    When Kiss FM stopped being a Pirate station Gordon Mac offered me a job as the breakfast DJ.  The first time I went out playing live I had a friend called Simon Hodge with me, who’d be at the back telling me what to do. I didn’t start mixing for years but now I mix it all up; now I do it all myself. Back in the day I’d just be a selector because I used to like David Rodigan, and people like that; people who could just give you a selection of music that would go through the night. A lot of Northern Soul DJs are like that; you can’t really mix Northern Soul, to be honest.

    The Craig Charles Funk & Soul Show on the road.

    We’ve kind of created this genre where its music you know in a way you’ve never heard it before. That’s where all the remixes come in, and stuff like that. We’re trying to take the golden era of Black American music and make it relevant to a modern dancefloor, and that means getting it to the 18 to 25 year olds. My show is not for purists; snobs who want to listen to stuff on the right label, with the right catalogue number, blah, blah, blah; that’s not what we do. We bring a party, and we try and package it in a way that makes it relevant to a modern dancefloor. That’s why there are hardly any men of my age in the audience; it’s generally young people. A lot of the stuff I play has been recorded now, mixed now and we want to make it alive for the next generation; it’s not a history lesson.

    John Peel famously kept a record box with his personal favourite, ‘save in the event of fire’ 7-inch singles. What’s in your own personal “can’t live without ‘em” box?

    I’m kind of into album experiences more than 7-inch singles. I love the idea of, I suppose, the Black response to the Summer Of Love, 1967. When Black bands took off their suits, stopped the syncopated dancing, grew out their Afros, started wearing beads and flares; Psychedelic Soul. I’d definitely have What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life, Hot Buttered Soul by Isaac Hayes, The Undisputed Truth, The Main Ingredient, then Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The Chi-Lites, that kind of stuff.

    Then the modern stuff; I like the new Allergies album, I think they’re really cool. I love Smoove & Turrell; when you go and see them it’s like a stag night has just arrived in town, it’s crazy. I really like Cookin’ On 3 Burners, who were over from Australia recently and played with me in Manchester. Ivan (from CO3B) has got a label called Choi Records, and he’s put out some really cool stuff.

    I’m actually doing a project with Cookin’ On 3 Burners. I wrote these epic poems, which I did with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. We did two so far, we did Hansel & Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood; they’re about 45 minutes long. I’ve done the orchestral version of them, Iain Farrington wrote the music, but now I’m going to do a Funk & Soul version, with Cookin’ On 3 Burners doing the music.

    You already have your own Fantasy Funk Band, with has featured some amazing talents. If time and money were no object who would be in your ultimate line-up?

    Ooh… I suppose Clyde Stubblefield, or Bernard Purdie on the drums. Let them rotate; one might be doing a session somewhere else. Bootsy Collins is probably on the bass, and Nile Rodgers on the guitar. I’m going to put Georgie Fame in; Georgie or Jimmy Smith on the Hammond would be pretty cool. Or Jimmy McGriff… there’s so many great Hammond players. Tower Of Power on the horns. Now, vocals; Teddy Pendegrass if we’re going for that Soul sound, or Bobby Byrd or James Brown if we’re going for the more rugged, testosterone fuelled approach. Candi Staton, if we want to do a Soul vocal, Betty Davis if you want to give it the full throttle. That would be a band, wouldn’t it!

    Are there any signs of you slowing down?

    My brother, Dean, died when he was 52; I was in the jungle, doing I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. They brought me into this room and said, “Bad news; your brother’s dead”. He was only two years older than me. That’s why I left Coronation Street; I thought if I die tomorrow, like Dean just has, would I be happy with what I’ve achieved? Well, no, I wouldn’t really; I’d been in ‘Corrie’ ten years, and I want some new adventures while I still can; while I can still remember the lines.

    What’s next for you?

    I’m doing The Gadget Show at the moment; that goes out on Fridays on Channel 5. The new Red Dwarf XII is Thursdays on Dave. I’m too busy, really; I’m just trying to keep all the plates spinning. Don’t want to let any drop and shatter, which I’ve been want to do in the past. Staying happy, staying healthy, working hard – living the dream, really. I really enjoy it. I’m 53 years of age and I’ve been on telly since I was 18, so I’ve done alright. I just want to keep it going, you know what I mean?


    The Craig Charles Funk & Soul Show is on BBC 6 Music every Saturday evening at 6.00pm, and available on demand on BBC iPlayer.

    Craig Charles House Party is on BBC Radio 2 every Saturday evening at 10.00pm.

    Red Dwarf XII is currently showing on Dave TV, Freeview Channel 12, SKY TV 111, Virgin media 127.

    For details of live events and all other information visit

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