With such a varied CV it is difficult to sum Craig Charles up. Actor? DJ? Presenter? Poet? He has received a selection of cult followings over the years through Robot Wars, Takeshi's Castle and famously as Dave Lister in Red Dwarf. He is a regular on Coronation Street and is also one of the original DJs from BBC 6 Music. Still hosting his 6 Music Funk and Soul Show he is also a very active live DJ. Although enjoying all of his projects, it is clear after a few minutes of talking to Craig that his live DJing is one of his favourite passions - particularly on the festivals circuit. Here he discusses his DJing, wanting to do another series of Robot Wars and the first series of Red Dwarf in over a decade, which is due to air later this year...
One of the big festivals you’re DJing this summer is Soundwave in Croatia - excited?
Yeah I’ve had some wicked gigs with Soundwave on the boats on the Thames and we tore the place apart. So I’m looking forward to doing this one with them too. I’ve never been to Croatia before and I’ve heard it’s beautiful so I’m looking forward to that.
Is there anyone else on the bill you’re excited about seeing?
Well I love De La Soul. I’ve not heard any new stuff from them in quite a while but it’ll be good even if they just do a greatest hits set. Which I think you should do when you play a festival. If you go to a festival and see the headline act and they just do their new album or something - you’re just thinking “No! We want the hits!” At a festival people might not be specifically a fan of yours but you’re the headline act and they’re going to go and see you – they don’t want some self-indulgent performance of the new album – they want to be able to hear the hits and sing along and feel a part of it. So it’ll be great if everyone gets into that spirit.
What can festival goers expect from you?
I’ve been creating this mix for a few of my festival shows this year which is classic funk and soul tunes but I’ve been mixing them in way that you’ve never heard them before – it’s fucking banging!
What UK festivals are you doing this year?
I’m doing Jodrell Bank with Paul Weller and that’s on what’s traditionally the Glastonbury weekend because of course there’s no Glastonbury this year. I’m curating the Sunday for the Birmingham Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival. We’ve got The Family Stone playing on that one and Gilles Peterson is doing a set too. I’m closing Kendall Calling again, which is the fourth or fifth year running I think. I’m doing about 10 or 12 but I did a lot more last year but there seems to be less festivals around this year.
Why do you think that is?
A lot of them seem to be having a rough ride. I know at the Big Chill last year – it didn’t go well for them. When I did my slot we had more people at my stage than on the main stage, which obviously isn’t good for a big festival like that. I think it was like 40 000 capacity and only sold 14 000. It seems this year a lot of festivals have either gone out of business or have taken a year off. But then again it was getting a bit out of hand – there seemed to be festivals bloody everywhere, from really small ones of about 2000 to absolutely massive ones. I think Glastonbury over the last couple of years has been getting too big. I’m starting to prefer the smallish sort of 20 to 40 000 capacity festivals rather than Glastonbury. I mean if you’re staying at the East Dance Stage or something and you’ve got to walk up to Shangri-la it’s like an hour and a half walk to get there!
The new series of Red Dwarf is like Grumpy Old Men in space.
How do you prepare for a show live compared to preparing for your regular Radio 6 show?
On my radio show it’s much more of an overall view of the genre whereas in the live show it’s music to dance to. So it’s much more dance orientated than the radio show. On the radio show we can dip it down and play a nice bit of soft southern soul or we can go northern or we can do classic mid-tempo deep funk, that kind of stuff. But on the live show it’s very much more aimed at getting people on their feet and keeping them on their feet – I play a load of classic tunes that I remix and re-groove. So I might take a modern dance beat but still keep the essence of the original song - I do a lot of that. I play quite bit of ska and reggae and rare funk that people won’t have heard. No set is ever the same, I just see how it goes with the audience and see what they react to and what they like and just try to keep them dancing for the full two hours. Within the first few tunes you tend to find the pitch of the audience and just kind of go along with that.
Do you think in some ways DJs have an advantage over a band in being able to pull up any track that they want?
Yeah I don’t see why more festivals don’t have DJs playing their main stages because there’s nothing to get the party started like a banging DJ. I headlined the Wickerman Festival last year in Scotland and I went on after all these bands and it was 28 000 people in a field going absolutely fucking mental. It was one of the best experiences of my life because they were so up for it. You can play a lot of stuff that the entire audience is familiar with and not just the fans of a particular band.
What can you tell us about the new series of Red Dwarf?
It’s six episodes filmed in front of a live studio audience, done like back in the day. It’s the four of us back together on board ship. All of the classic websites and hardcore Red Dwarf fans, who I don’t think have liked much Red Dwarf since series 6 are going crazy about it. Hopefully people will love this one because it’s proper funny. It’s the same writers, same cast and I’m really pleased with it. We all look a bit older, like grumpy old men in space. It’s gone back to the classic Dwarves, it’s about the relationships between the four individuals and the way they get on. And it’s got that claustrophobic feel of being stuck on the ship again, drifting aimlessly in deep space, 3 millions miles from home… looking for a hot curry.
Was it strange getting back together again?
Although the last series made was 1998, since then every year we’ve released a DVD so we would get together to do the commentary. So we’ve all still worked together for a couple of days every year, just doing merchandising and conventions all over the world and stuff. So coming back to it we didn’t really feel like we had been away from each other very much and we’re all close pals. I mean I was 23 when I started Red Dwarf - I’m now 47 so it’s a massive part of my life. I hope the audience enjoy this new series as much as we did.
It was 28 000 people in a field going absolutely fucking mental - it was one of the best experiences of my life.
You seem to have always been involved in projects that attract a cult following – do you think there’s something about you?
It’s always been quite accidental for me. I mean no one knew Red Dwarf was going to be the phenomenon it became. And I remember doing the first series of Robot Wars thinking “Oh my god what have I done with my career?” None of the robots were working they were pulling them into the arena with invisible twine! And Takeshi’s Castle was just a bit of a fluke - like we had thousands of hours of footage of this Japanese game show made in the 80s that we had to edit and sort of make something out of it and just give it a try. And in the end we did over 150 episodes of that and it really took off - there’s still loads of people into it. So it’s always been sort of accidental and even the genre of music I play, funk and soul, it’s not mainstream – I’ve never really been a mainstream guy until I got into Coronation Street. I mean that’s quite weird because I don’t think you can get any more mainstream than Coronation Street.
I remember you first of all from Robot Wars…
It was a crazy show and I loved doing that – who would have thought something like that would work? I wish we would do it again – but it got very dangerous towards the end and they were building these robots bigger, stronger, faster and more powerful. They were cracking the protective screens and these screens are supposed to be bomb proof! Imagine a hundred kilo robot lying on your lap or landing in the audience and spinning around – it would be carnage. So it was getting to a stage where health and safety were getting very worried.
But yeah any cult following has always been accidental for me. I guess if you had a plan to start with - it wouldn’t have been a bad plan really. I’ve ticked a lot of the boxes – I’ve got the mainstream following from Coronation Street, I’ve got the cult following from Takeshi’s Castle and Robot Wars. It’s different generations that I attract I guess.
Craig will kick off his summer festival dates in June including Jodrell Bank on the 24th of June and Soundwave on the weekend of the 18th of July. The new series of Red Dwarf will be aired in the Autumn.
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