Craig Charles: Funk & Soul x Sci-fi
The Liverpudlian polymath on Red Dwarf vs.Corrie, funk, soul, and a possible Robot Wars revival
By James York & Richard Luck, 7 November 2012
We're speaking to Craig Charles because he's about to release the The Craig Charles Funk & Soul Club, a definitive funk and soul record from his critically acclaimed 6Music radio show. But somehow, in spite of the uniqueness of the conversation that awaits, we'd be fools not to begin with the re-emergence of the very show that gave him his profile. So let's get onto the amazing tunes later, firstly Red Dwarf is back. (And it's funky, too.)
"It's brilliant!" That's all Craig Charles has to say about the return of Red Dwarf from the far reaches of space. A celebrated poet, DJ, musician, comedian and actor, he might have spent the last few years propping up the bar at the Rover's Return, but for everyone who knows him as cab company-owning Lloyd Mullaney, there's a dozen people who're more familiar with him as last man alive Dave Lister.
"I'm really proud of the new Red Dwarfs," Charles continues with regard to the episodes now airing on Dave. "The new shows just keep getting better and better. Of course, it was a real pleasure to make the show, and as far as I can tell, it's been really well received. That was the thing we were really worried about with revisiting something that's so well loved. But the people and the press seem to really like the new episodes. And that's amazing because Red Dwarf never got good reviews before - it was the fans that kept the show alive, making it the highest rated show on BBC2."
The lucky thing for me was that all the Corrie team are big Red Dwarf fans so the last thing they wanted to do was get in the way of a new series.
Craig Charles on clashes - Now there's a sentence
you never thought you'd read...
But if it was such a big hit in the '80s and '90s, why do Lister, Rimmer, Kryten and Cat now find themselves aboard the good ship Dave? Charles considers for a moment before coming up with an incredibly convincing answer. "When we started making Red Dwarf, it was during an era when Dr Who was fairly poor, so when we came along, our special effects looked so much better than theirs. Now of course Dr Who's back and it's not poor anymore and Torchwood's on and that's quite good, too. I think part of the reason we're now on Dave is because the BBC thinks it's fulfilling their science fiction remit with those shows."
While it might be set in outer space, Red Dwarf's has tended to be at its best when it's been more 'com' than 'sit', a notion Dave Lister's alter-ego clearly agrees with. "The plan with Red Dwarf X was to recapture the vibe of the first four or five series. Red Dwarf started off as a sitcom then it turned into a sort of action adventure comedy sort of thing where we spent a lot of the time off the ship visiting different planets, and then it turned into a comedy drama in the last special we made, Back To Earth, which was very filmic. Now we're back to being a shit-kickin', stonkin' sitcom! We've got the live audience back involved which gives it the feeling of a play. And we've made it more character based again which means it's not so much about space but about the way the characters interact with one another. It's like Porridge in space or The Odd Couple in space. It's about people who are flung together who wouldn't necessarily choose to keep one another company but unfortunately have to because circumstances dictate."
While the new shows might see the crew of Red Dwarf encountering the likes of Jesus Christ ("with hilarious consequnces"), the outlandish adventures can't eclipse Charles' ongoing affection for Weatherfield. If he had to choose, then, would he call himself at Coronation Street man at heart? "No!" he shouts before stifling a familiar chuckle. "At the moment I'm quite happy juggling both Corrie and Red Dwarf. As long as Granada are happy for me to do both shows, I'm happy to keep doing them. The lucky thing for me was that all the Corrie team are big Red Dwarf fans so the last thing they wanted to do was get in the way of a new series."
I've been doing it for the last 10 years now. It's the sort of job that doesn't feel like a job - I've never thought of it as work
Craig Charles on
The Funk and Soul Club 6Music show
The man who got his first break in comedy playing Bernard Manning's Embassy Club is also keen that his acting work shouldn't get in the way of his other interests. "I do The Craig Charles Funk And Soul Show on 6Music every Saturday night from 6 'til 9," he says with some pride. "I've been doing it for the last 10 years now. It's the sort of job that doesn't feel like a job - I've never thought of it as work. What's more, for the last five years I've been working the festival circuit with the Craig Charles Funk And Soul Club. For a while now I've had people saying to me, 'Craig, why don't you bring an LP out?', and we went to Freestyle and suggested putting out a record of some of the stuff we play on the show, and now we've got this three album deal! The first record's the perfect way to get a party started - every number's a banger!"
With his interest in music so great that he might be playing Glastonbury 2013 - "We've been talking about playing the West Holts Stage next year which has a 10,000 capacity" - and his acting career going from strength to strength, there remains only one question left to ask Craig Charles - when are they going to bring back Robot Wars?
One time the first assistant director got an ax through the top of his Timberland boot which came out through his heel.
Craig tells us about the
dangers of Robot Wars...
"Bring back Robot Wars!" he roars. "Believe it or not, we have actually thought about doing it again. The problem is, it got so bloody dangerous last time. One time the first assistant director got an ax through the top of his Timberland boot which came out through his heel. And then you had the robots getting thrown against those bomb-proof screens and cracking the perspex! You started wondering what would happen if a robot wound up in the audience's lap - there'd be claret everywhere! But I'd love to do it again - it's just a question of whether you could do it slick enough and on a big enough scale. You couldn't bring a show back like that on a smaller scale. You'd need things the size of Ford Tauruses with bazookas on the top."
Ford Tauruses! Bazookas! If we weren't already excited about Red Dwarf, we'd be begging Mr Charles to give Philippa Forrester a call and start rehearsinng his 'Awoogas!'
For now, we'll kick back and take on board some funky soul mashups.
The Craig Charles Funk & Soul Club' is due for release on 26th November.