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Charlie Dore - Interview

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 10 / 4 / 2016

Charlie Dore - Interview


Nick Dent-Robinson speaks to critically acclaimed singer and actress Charlie Dore about her new album, 'Milk Roulette'

Multi-award-winning singer-songwriter Charlie Dore is one of the very few contemporary writers whose songs have been successful across such a range of genres. Her own worldwide hit 'Pilot of the Airwaves' remains a staple of US and UK playlists and her work has been recorded by Tina Turner, Celine Dion, Paul Carrack, Jimmy Nail, Joe Brown and even George Harrison. She has written music for television and film, too. Yet Charlie's contemporary songs are more eclectic and personal, reflecting her love of acoustic, folk-style music – and these have also won her a series of recent awards. Some of Charlie Dore's music fans aren't aware that she is also an accomplished, repertory-trained actor with many stage, radio and TV credits who played a leading role alongside Jonathan Pryce and Tim Curry in Richard Eyre's award-winning 1983 film, 'The Ploughman's Lunch'. Charlie has worked in comedy, too, including with Eric Idle, Robin Williams, Mark Lamarr, Harry Hill and Jo Brand. But music remains Charlie Dore's first love and, when we meet at her Berkshire studio, we discuss her latest album, 'Milk Roulette' and her current tour – which included an evening at Abingdon's attractive Unicorn Theatre. Her performances, some solo, see Charlie spotlighting her favourite songs and playing guitar, ukulele, piano, harp and harmonium. She relates dark and funny tales between the music, demonstrating a quick and relaxed rapport with her audience as only someone so skilled in acting and comedy improvisation can. “I do really enjoy touring and live performance and always have,” Charlie began. “And this latest ('Milk Roulette') album is more anecdotal, more personal, than others - though many of my past songs did have a personal footprint in them, even if it was slightly disguised. Of course songs written specifically for other people had to be designed to sound like them rather than me.” Examples are 'Ain't No Doubt' for Jimmy Nail (which gave him a UK number one and featured supporting vocals from the stunning Sylvia Mason-James, plus a great trombone solo and Guy Pratt on thunderous bass) or 'Refuse to Dance' (recorded by both Celine Dion and Michael Jackson as well as by Charlie herself with Alan Rickman, the latter version being the choice of many connoisseurs). “Somehow with 'Milk Roulette', I've allowed more personal aspects to raise their heads in the songs,” Charlie continued. “I've been out there entertaining for a few decades now so I decided I needn't damp down these personal things so much." “The title track 'Milk Roulette' is actually about my dad, Clinton Dore, being a widower for many years. He was personally stylish and neat but he lived in a degree of chaos. His kitchen was always a wreck - you have probably spotted that gene came down to me! - and his women friends would often tidy up for him. His fridge was particularly interesting, full of all kinds of things, not always fresh. There would be several opened bottles of milk, all of different dates and stages. And instead of sniffing to see which milk was fresh, my dad would test each bottle by swigging from it, playing "milk roulette", we called it, which I thought was a great metaphor for how he was in his life--not relying on first appearances, always experimenting, always optimistic but frequently disappointed as optimists so often are! My mum had died when I was 15 and, as a young widower, applying this same approach with women got my dad into a lot of trouble, though right into his late seventies he was still looking, trying, testing, always seeking the perfect woman, ever the optimist." “There's another song on the album, 'Looking Like My Mother, Acting Like My Dad' where I'd had the title for years but suddenly decided I'd use it for me. As often happens, that song just came to me when I was doing something else. If I try to focus on getting an idea for a song it often doesn't come, but then you relax and concentrate elsewhere and ideas just arrive in your head. It's very strange, perverse. So, I was reading a magazine article that said falling in love is never gradual, it is actually an on-off process, dictated by pheromones. We are biochemically programmed to fall for somebody - or not, which gave me the line, “Love isn't analogue, it's digital, it's either going to be on or it's off” and that gave me the start of the song, really. From that I developed a kind of theme for the album, too. It unlocked a stream of ideas.” 'Milk Roulette' was produced in her own studio by Charlie with her long-time collaborator, the actor, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Julian Littman - lead guitarist with Steeleye Span. Dudley Phillips and Gareth Huw-Davies alternate on bass while talented folk singers O'Hooley and Tidow contribute fine vocals to 'Three A Penny'. This track is Charlie's personal protest about the current culture of downloading songs for next to nothing and the consequent demise of the music business as we used to know it. The album ends with Charlie playing a hauntingly beautiful instrumental piece on the piano. 'Cradle Song' was written by Charlie's mother, Betty Rouse, at just six years old. The transcription of it by Charlie's grandmother, Dora Rouse, was rediscovered nearly 80 years later in a book of childrens' piano exercises. “I did change a couple of chords at the end and I hope she'd approve,” said Charlie. “Plus I have also added a few words from an old recording of my dad reading some of his poems. I thought I would try to reunite the two of them on record for posterity.” As some music writers have observed, 'Milk Roulette' is achingly sad and painfully poignant in parts, but it is also witty, brave, melodically stunning and surprisingly uplifting - a beautiful combination with the finest musicianship throughout. In many ways, this truly is the album of Charlie Dore's life! “Yes, it is an album I feel happy with,” Charlie agreed. “And it is great performing songs from it on tour. I like some of the smaller venues we play like the Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon, the Village Pump Folk Club in Trowbridge, Cuffern Manor in West Pembrokeshire or Wiveliscombe Village in Somerset where the postmaster is the promoter! They are great fun. We may also be heading to Holland and Germany plus possibly Scandinavia in the future, too. Touring is a nice contrast from recording and song-writing. Lately I have been writing with three very interesting and different female songwriters. One is Chris While who performs on the folk circuit with Julie Matthews. They are Radio 2 Folk Award winners. Chris is a fantastic singer who is comfortable singing folk but can sing in contemporary, blues or jazz styles, too. My old friend Barbara Dickson introduced us. Chris will be using three of our songs on the new album with Julie." “I've also been writing with Hattie Webb from The Webb Sisters, who have made several albums as a duo. They spent years on tour with Leonard Cohen and Hattie, who plays the harp, is finally doing a solo album. I've also been working with Lisbee Stainton, a wonderful young singer who is on her fifth album. She plays eight-string guitar. It has been such a pleasure working with these three people who can all sing so well and are very musical - because that doesn't always happen with everyone I've written with." “I would like to do more music for TV or film - though it’s very competitive. I also enjoy mentoring aspiring songwriters for The Songwriting Academy. I run the occasional workshop plus some one-to-one sessions, including some via Skype. There are a lot of young hopefuls who want to be the next thing - and some do have real flair. But there are also a lot of really professional, accomplished musicians who have never previously looked at their songwriting in an objective, mechanical way. We learn from each other. I know I have learned a lot by teaching, as you always do, and I enjoy it very much and many of the people are a pleasure to spend time with." “As time goes by, you do appreciate people more, I think. I was reflecting recently on Robin Williams, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan and David Bowie - all people I was lucky enough to have met and very sad losses. I recall once being at a weekend party at a very grand house near Stratford-on-Avon and David Bowie and his then partner Coco Schwab were there. After Sunday lunch I ended up in the kitchen with David, washing dishes together. The owner of the big house knew nothing about Bowie and asked him, “I'm told you do something in the music business” - which David thought was very amusing. The world is a poorer place without his creative spark in it.”

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Charlie Dore - Interview

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Interview (2012)
Charlie Dore - Interview
Nick Dent-Robinson watched singer-songwriter Charlie Dore perform at a gig at Newbury in Berkshire, and talks to her about long and award-winning musical and acting career


Profile (2019)
Charlie Dore - Profile
Nick Dent-Robinson profiles the career of singer-songwriter and actress Charlie Dore, who is currently playing a small venue tour of the United Kingdom.



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