Ok, let’s not do any Red Dwarf, Corrie or Robot Wars references for this review, let’s just cut to the chase: Craig Charles is a one-man party machine. This much-loved ex-soap actor, ex-poet, ex-TV presenter and (not ex-) comedy actor knows exactly how to have a good time. As fans of his incredibly popular BBC Radio 6Music / Radio 2 Funk and Soul Show will tell you, he is a true master of ceremonies; his presence on the decks guarantees you will get down, no question. And his live show – The Craig Charles Funk and Soul Club – at Norwich’s Open on 19th February was a perfect example of just how good he is at his job.
The evening started relatively slowly, with Norwich’s own The Dinch (Future Radio) and Easily Dunn (Spankd) gradually warming the place up over 90 minutes of 60s/70s funk and remixes. But by the end of their set, their hard work paid off: they handed their successor a packed dancefloor, crammed with a crowd all hyped up for a night of dancing. Which is unfortunate, because that’s exactly when DJ Cheeba massively dropped the beat.
Although his trademark audio/visual mashup of tracks, modern beats and archive video footage demonstrated some half-decent skills, the 30 minute tribute to Bowie was a total car crash. Making no adjustments for audience reaction, it was self-indulgent at best, an arrogant unnecessary mess at worst. “Never mind groovy music we can dance to – let’s go clubbing to see Russell Harty on a big screen talking to someone” said no one ever. For the entire set, it was evident that practically no-one in the audience knew the songs. Only the first chorus of “Starman” got a partial singalong from the crowd – but he instantly threw that away, as he irritatingly switched to another song, then another, mid-track (not unlike that other Bowie travesty from Lady Gaga, but let’s not go there…)
Towards the end, he admitted he wasn’t ever going to get the audience on his side, as they stood there, confused: “It’s nearly over” he confessed. Lesson to be learned, DJ Cheeba: A nightclub on a cold, rainy Friday night really isn’t the place to play around with a pre-selected jumble of relatively-obscure glam rock songs / slow folky acoustic tracks released before most of your audience’s parents were even born. Save it for showing off to your mates.
To be fair to him, straight after BowieGate, DJ Cheeba grafted for the next 45 minutes to build the atmosphere back up to pre-Bowie levels, with an excellent selection of modern reworkings of classic 60s soul and funk tracks, with accompanying video clips – and credit where it’s due, by the end, he more than succeeded.
But when, just after midnight – and not a moment too soon – Craig Charles finally swaggered onto the stage, clad in impressive jacket and ridiculous hat, he arrived with a clear message for the crowd: amateur hour was over. Because, for the next two hours, it was party time. Not a beat was dropped, and not a soul in the place failed to get their groove on. It was a wall-to-wall funk and dance frenzy, and it didn’t let up for a minute. The atmosphere was electric throughout, with the crowd hypnotised by Charles’ impressively impeccable selection of legendary tracks mixed with the new.
And man, was he adored. Towards the end of the set, for the entirety of an extended instrumental mix of Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing which must have lasted at least 15 minutes, he had the entire audience enthralled by his mere presence, as he sang and danced for them, the crowd growing more and more desperate for him, reaching out to touch him: Craig Charles, the absolute messiah of funk. And many achieved their desire, as he shook hands and signed autographs from the stage, swimming in this intensely emotional outpouring of deserved total adoration.
Not bad for a smeghead in his 50s. Oh damn, I wasn’t going to do one of those.