Craig Charles talks Red Dwarf, James Brown, and taking his funk show on tour
Craig Charles main

Popular radio DJ and TV actor Craig Charles is back on the road with his renowned funk and soul show.

Ahead of a hectic schedule of Christmas and New Year gigs, he spoke to Mark Butler about hanging out with James Brown, reprising his role as Lister in Red Dwarf, and juggling Coronation Street with clubbing.

You’ve been presenting your BBC radio show for more than ten years now. What have been your own personal highlights during that time?

“There’s been so many, really. I’ve got to meet so many of my heroes. Interviewing James Brown was just incredible. The man invented funk and soul.

“I got on really well with him. You were supposed to call him ‘Mr Brown’, but when I was speaking to him I was accidentally going ‘so, James…tell me about your kids…’

“He went: ‘I like you son! I like your attitude! You can call me James!’

“They’ve all been very positive experiences. I did have a bit of a fight with Roy Ayers, but he had just literally got off a plane. The A-Listers are always the best to be around. It’s the C-Listers and D-Listers who are the worst.”

Why do you think the show has proved such a popular and enduring one?

“Because of the music really. People who are into funk and soul are into it for the love of it. And the show is based on the golden era of Black American music – which is some of the greatest music ever recorded. I could plan my show just by taking track eleven from every compilation I own. You’re never going to get a bad tune.

“It’s all just good-time music. I’m quite knowledgeable about it, but I’m an enthusiast rather than an expert. I’m learning all the time. I’m just enjoying it, and that’s infectious.

“We get so many people texting in while we’re on to say they’re dancing around the kitchen, cooking with their kids; or getting in the mood before going out.”

The general perception of funk and soul is that it’s very ‘retro’. Who, in your opinion, are the best new, up-and-coming acts around at the moment?

“Lack Of Afro, The Bamboos, Cookin’ On 3 Burners, The Haggis Horns; The Excitements out of Spain are going to be massive. Finnish funk is coming into its own too. It’s a very vibrant scene.

“What you have to remember as well, is that two of the biggest albums of the 21st Century have been soul records: by Adele and Amy Winehouse. So you can’t really say it’s niche.”

You’ve got a gig coming up at York Duchess on the 30th, and then a big New Year’s Eve bash in London the night after. What can people expect?

“I’ve played York a few times, and we’ve had a blast there. It’s a proper party; we tear the roof of the place! It’s music to dance to, and have a good time to.

“It’s gonna be a busy time, really. I’m doing Steve Wright on Christmas Eve too, and over the whole New Year period. And then it’s back to Corrie for the big move! It’ll be the last day on the old set soon, before we move to our new home at Media Centre.”

Speaking of your acting career…as a massive fan, I have to ask: how was it returning to Red Dwarf for more Lister shenanigans last year?

“Brilliant. Just brilliant. It was fun putting the locks back on, and getting back into leather!

“After five minutes of being back it was like we’d never been apart. All of us were having a laugh and there are running gags between us that have been going for decades now. I’ve known those guys longer than my wife! And I’ve been playing Lister for longer than I haven’t, if you get me.

“I also loved the fact that Red Dwarf X felt like a sitcom again. We stopped trying to make a movie, or an action series, and it was just four characters who don’t necessarily like each other stuck in a room, and the comedy just came out. It worked extremely well.”

Are there any plans to do further episodes?

“Yeah. There are! We’re going to do Red Dwarf XI, and it’s in pre-production now. It’s just a case of getting everyone together. Danny is busy doing Death In Paradise, and I’ve got Corrie obviously. It’s like getting The Who back together.”

Is there a Red Dwarf fact or anecdote you’ve never told anyone outside the show?

“Yeah. There is.”

Can you tell it to me?

“No. I can’t!

“Whatever happens on set, stays on set…”

The Craig Charles Funk and Soul show is on BBC Radio 6 on Saturdays from 6pm. 

Craig Charles plays The Duchess in York on December 30 and Dingwalls in London on New Year’s Eve. 

Get more information on these gigs, and other forthcoming tour dates, on WOW247

Mark Butler

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