Charlie Dore: (singing)
Nick B: So Charlie.
Charlie Dore: Yes.
Nick B: Welcome to your kitchen.
Charlie Dore: Thank you.
Nick B: It’s very kind of you to have me here today. When did you first start playing music?
Charlie Dore: When I was about 13, 14. There was a girl at school who’s brother was in a rock band, and she had an old… I think it was a semi-sold body camera? A semi-solid body guitar that she kept on the top of her wardrobe, and we were in the same dormitory at school. And she’d get it down periodically and play a Joan Baez song or something. And so I became interested in that, and I asked her if I could borrow it. And that’s when I started writing a few terrible, teenage songs.
Nick B: Full of angst.
Charlie Dore: Full of angst. Full of angst. And I mean, I come from a musical family. My mom’s family, they all played, every one of them. She was in a band called the Tetherdown Night Owls, based in Muswell Hill, because Tetherdown is a road in Muswell Hill. And she played in a dance band. She played piano. And she was just one of those naturally musical people, and she read music, which she tried to make me do. Help me do, I mean. And we fell out about that, because I’d learnt to play be ear, and copy her. And so I enjoyed being six, or seven, I enjoyed being able to play things, classics, that I remembered, and play them really badly. But it was a bit like my mom.
Whereas when she presented me with a little book, which I sill have, by the way. A little theory book, and it was called Jibbity F and ACE. You know, the notes. G, B, D, F, A, C, E. And I thought, stupid book. Hate it. And anyway, so I was already playing piano a bit. Badly. And then I stopped and we had a truce. She just said, “Well, you’ll learn it if you want to, in your own time,” which was smart.
And then the guitar came along, the dusty guitar from the top of the wardrobe. And then I bought my first one with, I cashed in some premium bonds that I’d been given, and I bought my first guitar from a music shop in Pinner. It was a classical guitar, because that’s all I really… that was the one that looked nice.
Nick B: What was the very first piece of music that you learnt on it?
Charlie Dore: Learnt? Well, I think Beatles, probably. Beatles or Paul Simon. Yeah.
Nick B: Composed your very first song on it?
Charlie Dore: I did.
Nick B: And what was that song called, do you remember?
Charlie Dore: It was called, “Everything is Blue”. It was really appalling, and I think it was like, just that I’d heard that a lot. It was very Beatles. They used a lot of that. I won’t go further, health and safety. And oh, it was just appalling. Something about blue-shaded orange peel lies in a blue baby’s hands. It was really… I won’t say any more because it will only come back to bite me.
Nick B It was the ’60s, wasn’t it?
Charlie Dore: It was the ’60s, yes.
Nick B Sorry, I shouldn’t have said.
Charlie Dore: You shouldn’t have said, you mean the ’70s?
Nick B I mean the ’70s, yes obviously.
Charlie Dore: How could you? It was solo until I went to drama school, and I met Julian Littman, and we’d both been released from rather strict boarding schools and we were like, bang. Out there. “Hey.” And we used to sit and play in the foyer of this old theater where the school was based. It was Arts Educational, and we were the one old building left in the Barbican. They were building the Barbican at that time, but there was this one little old tooth in the middle of the place, which was the Golden Lane Theater. And that’s where the school was. And we used to sit, when we had a break. We used to sit in the foyer area and the guitars would come out.
In those days, I don’t remember us writing together in those early days. We played covers. We played Paul Simon songs, we played incredibly high, only something rodents could hear, version of “Summertime”. And we did a gig at the London College of Printing, I remember. And we did a gig at the Load of Hay in Oxbridge, I remember.
Nick B: Would you say your first love was music?
Charlie Dore: No, not really. I was brought up in a really musical family. I used to hear my mom playing the piano downstairs when I went to bed as a little girl. And my grannies, both my grannies played, and my Aunties. They all played piano, so that was in the background. But I wanted to be an actress, in a musical. Singing. That was-
Nick B So it was very specific. It wasn’t just, you wanted to be an actress. You wanted to be an actress in a musical.
Charlie Dore: Yes, I wanted to sing as well, yeah.
Nick B Let’s talk briefly about your theatrical career. Are you still acting now?
Charlie Dore: In the early ’90s, after having done some various acting jobs in between playing gigs and things like this, the most acting I did was every Saturday night we ran a comedy improvisation club, and so that was-
Nick B Was that the Old Dogs, or…
Charlie Dore: That was the Old Dogs. It was called Dogs on Holiday.
Nick B Oh, sorry.
Charlie Dore: That was the name of the… but we weren’t quite old dogs. But the Dogs on Holiday, it was supposed to signify two things that were the most fun. A dog, plus you add a dog on holiday, that’s double the fun. That was supposed to indicate that. In the end we became known as the Hurricane Club, because that was the name of our club. So that was an acting gig, because although we were improvising, we were all performing, acting. But I did, I started out as an actress. My first job was in repertory theater in Newcastle for two years, which was great, because it’s how I got my acting card, which you needed in those days. So it was two years of work.
Nick B And the famous director who was there at the time was?
Charlie Dore: Michael Bogdanov, sadly no longer with us. But Michael was a incredible director because he’d learnt with Peter Brook at the Royal Shakespeare Company, so everything was… nothing was done in a straight way. Everything was exaggerated or done on a trampoline, or on a scaffold. No production was done in a straight… presented in a straight way. And being 18 years old, I was like, “This is fantastic. This is cutting-edge theater I’m at now.” And I couldn’t believe my luck. I loved it. Absolutely loved it.
And I came back to London. Pinner actually. Old Pinner, and I did little acting jobs. Little acting jobs, little bits of fringe, and so on. And then we did the…
Nick B We’re getting there, aren’t we?
Charlie Dore: The R word. Me and Julian Littman, and an actor called Karl Johnson, who you’ll know, because he works all the time. He was up at Newcastle, and-
Nick B Was Julian at Newcastle too?
Charlie Dore: Yes, we got Julian up there as well. I was there for a year, and then in the second year when the said, “Stay on,” there were couple of productions where we went, “This is perfect for Julian.” They liked actor musicians out there. That was how I got the job, being an actor musician.
And yeah, so he was up there. Karl was up there, who was my boyfriend. And we got the gig doing Rainbow.
Nick B You can’t stop there.
Charlie Dore: I can’t stop there. It was 18 months of writing three songs a week, which was quite a good training. You were given a brief. And even then really, we didn’t want to be… they wanted us to be wholesome and of course, because it was for young children. So we weren’t trying to be subversive in that way, but we didn’t just want to be too wholesome.
Nick B You wanted a bit of cutting edge.
Charlie Dore: We tried. We tried to sneak that in, yeah. We did, yeah. Inasmuch as you could wearing a stripey top and dungarees. Which was par for the course. Although I’ve seen some photographs of me wearing these big blocky heels, where it looks like I’m wearing a medical boot. That was fashion then.
We all went our separate ways, really. And I did various bits of TV, and fringe theater, and that sort of thing. And then I just kept being pulled back in the direction of music. It just followed me, and I was busy going, “Go away. I’m going to the Royal Shakespeare Company.” But in the end, it’s nice to be wanted. And the opportunities were there. I started playing to replace a friend of mine, Sam Mitchell, who was playing in the Pancake House in Westbourne Grove, and he wanted somebody to take over for him on Monday nights, which I did. But I didn’t know enough material. I mean, I’ve talked about this before, but it was a time when I hadn’t really written very much at all. So really through Karl I was introduced into a lot more stuff than I would otherwise have discovered. People like Robert Johnson and a lot of bluegrass as well. And also more country stuff, like the Flying Burrito Brothers, and that sort of thing. And so we would sit and play that at home.
Charlie Dore: Yeah, country and bluegrass, and of course a big influence on me, Jimmie Rodgers. Jimmie Rodgers the yodeling brakeman. But I was more keen on his ballads, and the more lyrical stuff. But I might have had had some beginnings of ideas, because when I started listening to people like Louden Wainwright, and the McGarrigles, which came a little bit later, I was really inspired. So I didn’t really start writing my own stuff until about… seriously for me, until about 1975, ‘4 or ‘5 really, that I actually started putting together songs like “Fear of Flying”. And various other songs that then ended up on my first album.
Nick B The songwriting process for you, describe that if you can please.
Charlie Dore: Difficult. Sometimes you get a gift, you get an idea that comes almost fully-fledged, and you just have to follow it, chase it down, pin it down, and do the fine-tuning. That’s rare. And mostly, it’s if you’re lucky in my case, it’s a good idea that has legs. And then I write the first little bit of it, and then there’s this massive desert of what could be written afterwards, and I have to just dig in and follow that, and try and remember the first taste of it, the flavor of the thing, in order to be true to the original idea.
And sometimes you can do that, and you… its good. And then you listen to it after doing it, oh, that’s rubbish. And then you have to throw it away. I’m not as prolific as some people, because I do throw a lot of stuff away. A lot of it is strangled at birth. Although I do keep… I’m quite environmentally conscious about my songs and I do recycle little tiny, little bits that I’ve found.
Nick B So sometimes you might put a song together that’s composed of three ideas that you may have had at different times?
Charlie Dore: Well, it’s usually one central idea, but it’ll be maybe with a line or two that I remember from another song that didn’t make it.
Nick B Is the idea usually musical or usually lyrical?
Charlie Dore: It’s both. The concept of it, usually a title, is a good thing for me. And then I can follow that. But I will have to work that in musically. You know what I mean? I can’t write a whole song lyrically, unless it’s for someone else. I mean, I do that for other people. They’ll give me some music and I’ll do the lyrics for them.
Sometimes a song will start purely from a musical point of view, you know what I mean? I’ll discover… the good thing about being not a player like someone like Martin Simpson is that in my own defense, when I discover a new chord or a new sequence, that’s a big thing for me, you know what I mean? And so sometimes it can set me off. For instance, when I discovered that slightly discordant little… I mean, I wrote a song called “Firewater” which was about hanging out with a drunk, and that started here. And I was just playing around, this was a couple of years later, and I just went up the keyboard there.
And then I’d been thinking about, this was a song called “Man in Bed”. And the whole process of that was thinking about how different the experience of sharing a bed with somebody who you were sharing a bed with for the first time is, to sharing a bed with somebody who you’ve been with a long time, and how still they’re the same person inside, and you may know them really well. Hopefully you know each other really well if you’ve been together a long time. But that when you dream, it’s personal. It’s somewhere else you go. And this, that just seemed a strange thing to embody, a slightly weird thing.
Nick B This is maybe a good point, it reminded me to ask you about some of the songs you’ve written for other people.
Charlie Dore: Yes.
Nick B And amongst them, a UK number one, may we say, with surprisingly, “Ain’t No Doubt” by Jimmy Nail.
Charlie Dore: Yes.
Nick B Back in the ’90s, I think that was.
Charlie Dore: Yes, that’s right. Yeah, yeah.
Nick B Tell us a bit about that.
Charlie Dore: Well, I’d worked a lot with Danny Schogger, who’s a fantastic keyboard player. I won’t go into how I met him, because he’ll never let me forget it. He played for me for an audition, that’s another story, where I forgot all the words. And that’s another story. But anyway-
Nick B We could come back to those.
Charlie Dore: We could come back to that, yes. So yeah, we’d been writing for various people, jobbing songwriting to a brief, and we’d had a bit of success with various couples here and there. Especially in Europe, actually, which is hits in Europe, unless they come over here, totally secret. You could be making it up.
Nick B There was an Israeli band, wasn’t there?
Charlie Dore: Well, I had a number one in Israel, actually.
Nick B Wow.
Charlie Dore: Which I only found about the week it was number one. Somebody got in touch and was, “By the way, you’re number one in the charts in Israel.” I’m like, “What?” And then this was 1996, and I’d had a song called “Time Goes By”, which was on an album, my only album between 1982 and 1996. There was a massive gap there where I went, “I’m not playing any more. This record business stuff, I hate it.” And so I didn’t make any records. I just hated the whole A&R process, all that stuff. Being molded into some sort of shape, and anyway. I retired hurt at that point, and I just carried on acting and doing various things.
Anyway, long story short, there was an album called “Things Change” which came out in 1995, I think. ’94 or ’95. And there was a song on that called “Time Goes By”. And that was discovered and remixed into a dance hit by three Italians called Sold Out.
Nick B S-O-U-L-E-D, wasn’t it, Souled Out?
Charlie Dore: No, actually, curiously enough, because there also already is a band called Soul, as you’d expect, S-O-U-L-E-D, there is a band called that. But this was Sold Out, and they were a remix team. They worked out of Naples, and they wanted to do a dance version of it. And so interesting, I’d never had that happen to me before. And then it went on to be a hit in Italy.
Nick B So was it still you singing and everything, they just remixed it all, put in the drum beats, and et cetera.
Charlie Dore: Well, there’s several mixes of it. There’s about, I don’t know, five, six different mixes of it, all by-
Nick B So this was not somebody covering one of your records, this was you still, but-
Charlie Dore: This was me, doing a… yeah, bizarre. I mean, they were actually quite faithful to the song, because that song mix is of course, you can’t even see a sign of the song. There’s a faint, like one-liners or something, which is repeated. They were actually quite faithful to it.
Nick B Did you get any money out of it?
Charlie Dore: Funny you should say that. I’m still owed money for that.
Nick B Okay, so not likely to see any, basically.
Charlie Dore: I’m not likely to see any of that. It’s been… I don’t know what the situation is now with earning money out of Italy, but people used to say, at that time they used to say, “Make sure you’re paid up front.”
Nick B Difficult with a cover.
Charlie Dore: Quite difficult, yes. Anyway, so that became a hit in Italy. A pop hit, in the pop charts. Bizarre. And I went over there and went to a radio station and there was a crowd of people outside, and they were doing a day of, it was to do with something else. Anyway, loads of people coming and going. Lots of other Italian artists and things. And a big crowd outside the radio station and I said, “Who are they waiting for?” And they said, “You.” I went, “What?”
Nick B Did you get to the top 10, then?
Charlie Dore: Yeah, I got to number six or something.
Nick B Wow.
Charlie Dore: Yeah, it’s bizarre. Anyway, but later on it got to number one in Italy… Israel. Only countries beginning with I, I’m waiting for Iceland still. But yeah, they got in touch and said, “You’re number one,” and my manager at the time said, “Oh well.” We went into overdrive, He said, “Maybe she should come out and promote it. Shall we?” And they said, “No, I wouldn’t bother, it’s only a small country. It’s sold as many as it’s ever going to sell.” And that was it. Bizarre.
Danny Schogger and Guy Pratt, who’s a bass player. Wonderful bass player. They were working with Jimmy Nail, and they needed some help with a lyric. And possibly a melody, that was up for grabs as well. And they were working on this track, and they came to me and said, “Can you think of anything for this?” And so that’s what the result was, and the initial idea was, I thought it’d be better to speak it than sing it, because the verses are just a bed of… a simple chord structure, and a tune didn’t immediately spring to mind. So I thought, I wonder if I could get Jimmy to speak it, and he was up for that idea. And yeah, and it was even unusual at that point, because its instrumentation was weird for the time. I mean, there’s a trombone solo, for God’s sake, which is okay, and also the tune is played by the bass. Guy Pratt plays the tune … which is unusual.
One thing that has been a blessing and a curse has been writing for people who are better known than me means that obviously those names are sexier to mention in anything written about me, or spoken about me. And so when you say Jimmy Nail, Celine Dion, Lisa Stansfield, Sheena Easton, people naturally enough will go, “Yeah, we know them, but what’s she like? What does she do?” And the answer is, none of the above. When I do something myself, my stuff is nothing like any of that, musically speaking. I mean obviously, it’s sometimes the same voice curating the lyric, if you see what I mean, because it’s me. But I’m not like any of those people at all. Absolutely the reverse. I mean, I couldn’t be less like Celine Dion and even less like Jimmy Nail, but it’s just that they will get mentioned in a, “What have you done then, why are you here?”
I’ve written songs for… in the case of actually, I’ve been heading for someone else. I mean, when I wrote “Rain Tax It’s Inevitable” with Terry Britten, we actually wrote that for Brandy and Monica who were an R&b duo in the ’90s, early ’90s. And that’s where we were pointing it, for them. And then it got done by Celine Dion.
Nick B What changed for you then, really?
Charlie Dore: I got a deal. I got a deal-
Nick B How did that come about, your deal with Island?
Charlie Dore: Well I think that the system was the same as it probably still is in some respects. There was a bit of a buzz. We were often supporting a band called Meal Ticket, who were big on the circuit at that point. And just word got out, and then some people from Island Records came along, and-
Nick B Was it Chris Blackwell involved? Was it Chris Blackwell?
Charlie Dore: Yeah, yeah.
Nick B Because he was the guiding light, or the force behind Island.
Charlie Dore: He was, very much so. What Chris wanted happened. He didn’t have to go to a board of people, he was a board. He ran it. And his A&R guy said he’d been to see me, and I mean, we had demos and things by then. And that stuff was ran past him, and he said yeah.
Nick B Had you actually recorded as a demo, “Pilot of the Airwaves” at this point?
Charlie Dore: Yes, we had. We’d got several versions of it, actually. Several versions. And “Fear of Flying”. And yeah, several. There were quite a lot of demos going down at that point.
Nick B So who decided to release that as a single? Was that Chris, or you, or a combination?
Charlie Dore: It was Island. How those decisions were made, I think the A&R department would put their heads together and discuss it, and then it would be run past Chris, certainly in those days. However, then what happened was, Island did a deal with Warner Bros, so Warner Bros became the next level of decisions for the rest of the world, certainly. And that’s where it all went a bit wonky for C. Dore.
Nick B Ah. The thing is, I noted, one of things I noted was it got to about number 11 in the US charts, and only number 66 I think it was in the UK charts. Did they not promote it at all in the UK?
Charlie Dore: Well they did actually. It was never off the radio. That’s why people had the impression it was a much bigger hit than it actually was chart-wise. But it took off more in the States, but they wouldn’t pay for me to go out there. That’s what Warner said, “Yeah, well let’s see how it goes, and maybe the next single.” That’s apparently what happened. So, and the record that went up the charts neck and neck with me was Christopher Cross. “Ride Like the Wind”, and he was signed to Warners, so he was a direct signing, not an Island signing, and he was American. And I watched that song, we went up the charts together and he went … and he got to number one, and I stayed at number 11.
Nick B Politics, eh? A bit.
Charlie Dore: Well, at least I know, at least I know that that song got there. No money changed hands. I know that song got there on whatever merits it happened to have at the time. Whatever bells it rang.
Nick B What do you see, you’re still writing original music, and a fantastic album, Dark Matter which you released in 2017, and are no doubt working on your next album, which will take whatever time it takes. And I totally understand all that.
Charlie Dore: It’ll take until, we’ve got the launch planned for June 2020, so-
Nick B Oh.
Charlie Dore: -it has to be finished by then, so there’s nothing like a deadline, is there, to get a procrastinator off her ass.
Where do you see your future lying? I mean, one of the things I was really Nick B touched by was your comment about live music when you played Mrs. Yarrington’s, and you obviously have a deep passion for live music. Is that much more important to you than, let’s say, writing a hit single or something like this?
Charlie Dore: Yes, yes it is, because I enjoy the interaction with an audience. That’s fundamental, I think. And obviously, if you write a song that gets played on the radio and has lots of hits on YouTube or whatever, more people are going to come to your gigs, which is great. So it’s a sort of circle, but that can’t be the initial thrust behind it, it has to be that it’s a song that I stand by. Because if it’s a song that I… I mean I stopped, for myself anyway, writing those kind of songs where I’m thinking, “Will this get on the playlist?” As soon as I stopped doing that it was an enormous freedom happened. Even on the Things Change album in 1995 or ‘6, whichever year that came out. I was still slightly had an ear to, “Oh, what will be on the playlist?” And so while some songs did escape that process on that album, some of them to me still sound like I’m trying to please.
Nick B Do you have one song that for you says it all, or that you like the most after all this time, or does it keep changing?
Charlie Dore: I think your newest baby is often your favorite. Yeah, there are songs, plural, that are more special to me, I suppose. I was pleased with “Breakfast of Neutrinos” on the Dark Matter album, because somehow, although it started from an angle writing about something I found interesting and curious, which is the history of the neutrino, and this is from somebody who had zero science education. It just sounded fascinating and funny to me. But that it also contained a personal aspect to it, which is basically about a relationship where somebody, through no fault of their own, touches you very deeply, and then moves on. And it’s not their fault, probably, that they had that effect on you, that that happened. And that that is a direct parallel with a neutrino, that it just passes through, leaving a wake of some sort of destruction behind it. And I thought that was interesting, so I was pleased that that seemed to work, and a little like my mother acting like my dad.
I mean, if I’m talking about songs that I could go, “That’s what I do,” and I know it’s not for everybody. It’s so personal. I don’t like kale, that’s just a personal thing.
Nick B I agree with you.
Charlie Dore: It’s horrible, isn’t it?
Nick B Yeah.
Charlie Dore: Bitter.
Nick B Disgusting.
Charlie Dore: But this doesn’t mean kale’s horrible, and people feel the same about music. Your status quo is my Louden Wainwright.
Nick B Yeah. On that note, perhaps we should have a little bit of music.
Charlie Dore: Okay. Yeah, the ukulele, funny little beast. It can bite you, because it’s… and I go on about this in gigs, but it really is, it’s one of those things because you’re playing a lot of technically speaking, when you play this bottom note, and then you play this note, you’ve got a comparison to make. And so you can hear if one of them’s out of tune. And that’s something you can’t hear if you’re not doubling the note. And so the ukulele can basically screw you up by pointing out where you’re not entirely in tune. And they’re very sensitive to temperature change. That’s my excuse anyway.
But yeah, so I do like it though, and I like this little tenor, because it’s mellow, and I like that. It’s got a kind of simplicity to it, and if it works on the ukulele, as they say, hopefully it’ll work in a bigger arena, so to speak, musically. And when I wrote “A Dog Out Looking for His Day”, I had originally intended that to be written on the piano. In fact, I started out some chords on the piano for it, and it was going to be a very… it was going to be almost the film of a dog going out looking for his day. But I’d only started the very beginning or something on the piano for that, and then I was playing the ukulele, just mucking around, and I don’t know. It shuffled over to the ukulele, and I had no intention of it being this song, because it’s so not what I had in mind musically.
And that wasn’t what I intended at all. A fabulous player isn’t necessarily a fabulous songwriter. You know what I mean? Especially if your me, and you’re quite a basic player. Certainly this used to happen in the past, I would get very, very impressed by the fabulous playing, go, “Yes, gosh. Yes, let’s use that.” And actually sometimes it gets in the way. I mean, I would always get a better player than me to play certain bits on my albums. Always, you know what I mean? I want it to be good, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that fabulous playing makes a fabulous song.
Nick B Charlie, thank you very much for letting me invade your peace and relative sanity on this day.
Charlie Dore: Peace. [crosstalk 00:42:04] you’re an electrician.
Nick B Well okay, relative sanity. And I’m very appreciative of all that, and I’m a big fan now, so just keep it going, whatever you’re doing, it works for me.
Charlie Dore: Well thank you, thank you for thinking about me.
Nick B And of course we should mention to people that they can find you, and your website address is?
Charlie Dore: Charliedore.com.
Nick B How easy is that? www.Charliedore.com. And I can certainly recommend the music. So check her out, ladies and gentlemen.