Perhaps better known by some as “that bloke from Robot Wars” or, even more likely, “that Scouser from Red Dwarf”, to the enlightened Craig Charles is now, and has been for some time, better known for his reinvention as “THE bloke for funk and soul”. Thanks to his weekly BBC 6Music slot and his quasi-legendary club night, his name has turned into a byword for a good night out. Indeed, amongst certain friends of mine The Craig Charles Funk and Soul Show has become something of an inescapable tradition. Even for those who prefer their beats mechanised and their vibes decidedly darker, there’s something undeniable about the joy Charles manages to bring to dancefloors that keeps bringing them back. Maybe it’s his well-documented (just have a quick YouTube) enthusiasm behind the decks, maybe it’s his encyclopaedic knowledge of the genre or maybe it’s just his knack for pulling out just the right song at the right moment. Whatever the case is, it’s not often an opportunity gets passed up to see him perform.
Despite Charles being a frequent fixture on the club circuit in Liverpool and Manchester, the popularity of his night is unwavering and they usually sell out well in advance – many is the time I’ve been left ruing my slow trigger finger. Fortunately tonight, armed with my reviewer’s credentials, I’ve managed to wangle a spot aboard the funk and soul express.
The Shipping Forecast is packed to the rafters by the time we arrive but, thanks to the space offered by both floors, never feels overcrowded. Allowing the occasional breather when things get a bit too hot on the dancefloor is much appreciated, unlike many of the sold-out nights in the underground stage. This being Boxing Day, the atmosphere is decidedly festive from the get-go but that certainly doesn’t stop Charles trying to turn it up a notch or two. Armed with his collection of well-known favourites, rare edits and remixes, the dancefloor is in the thrall of his bass-heavy set. Mixing things up between the more familiar – Marvin Gaye, Jackson 5 – while throwing in a few more obscure choices means there’s enough to keep everyone happy, from the ardent fan to the casual listener. It may not be DJ Harvey, dropping obscure psych-disco from Japan, but Charles has a way of wringing something new out of even the most overplayed classics, making them sound fresh and enjoyable to even the most cynical of ears, keeping people coming back year on year. If he keeps up his enthusiasm, I certainly know I’ll be back for more.