Charlie Simpson: ‘We started with an uphill climb and had a lot to prove’

Charlie Simpson
Charlie Simpson
Richard Digance

A close encounter puts Richard’s career back on the musical path

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Charlie Simpson has been in the public eye almost half his life. He spoke with Chris Broom about life since finding fame in Busted, his band Fightstar and going solo.

While his erstwhile Busted bandmates are back filling arenas as part of the supergroup McBusted, Charlie Simpson has no regrets about not being with them.

Charlie Simpson at The Pyramids Centre in 2012. Picture: Martin Cox

Charlie Simpson at The Pyramids Centre in 2012. Picture: Martin Cox

Since leaving the boyband-with-guitars at the height of their popularity at the end of 2004 to focus on his new rock band Fightstar, Simpson has never looked back. At the time there was some acrimony with his bandmates, Matt Willis and James Bourne, but time has proved to be the great healer.

As Charlie told The Guide: ‘McBusted was something they told me about, but I think from the outset they knew that I wasn’t going to be involved.

‘I was happy to let them get on with it. I’ve just started talking to them a lot more recently and it’s been nice to rekindle that relationship.

‘There was a long time where we didn’t talk – we didn’t have any contact at all for about seven years.

‘I think at that time when I started with Fightstar I wanted to get away from it all, but now I can look back with fond memories and everyone’s in a great place.

‘All that seems just a blur now, it was a long time ago. It takes time to give you distance and find clarity, and it’s all good now, man.’

With his background in Busted, Fightstar initially struggled for acceptance from rock fans and critics alike.

‘Absolutely,’ says Charlie now. ‘That’s part of the triumph and feeling proud of what we’ve done.

‘We started with an uphill climb and had a lot to prove.

‘We saw a huge shift in opinion in that first year. All we were doing was asking people to listen to the music with an unbiased ear and no scepticism.

‘People had a lot of preconceptions and once they got rid of those, I think people suddenly went: “Hang on, I really like this”.

‘That was personified the first time we did Reading Festival and we had a hard time with the crowd. We came back the next year and played the mainstage and it was one of the best shows we’ve ever done. It was in those 12 months that everything changed.’

Following three albums with Fightstar, the band was put on hold in 2010 until recently (more on that later), to allow Charlie to pursue a solo career. His second solo album, Long Road Home, was released last summer to positive reviews and cracked the top 10 of the album charts.

And next weekend he will be joining metal and hard-rock stars including Mallory Knox, iNMe, The Blackout and dozens more as part of the Takedown Festival in Southampton.

‘It’s going to be cool, because that’s me playing my solo stuff in quite a rock environment, but I’m looking forward to playing it a lot, there’s some great bands on the bill. I know The Blackout very well because we’ve toured together. Mallory Knox, I haven’t seen them yet but I’ve heard good things about them, so I’m looking forward to seeing them as well.’

Long Road Home, which was recorded with super-producer Steve Osbourne at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios, draws on influences from the lighter end of the musical spectrum though.

‘I wanted this album to have a lot more of a live feel to it, and I was listening to a lot of ’70s Laurel Canyon records. They were the soundtrack to my childhood.

‘Before I got into rock music, I listened to my dad’s records, and he was really into Jackson Browne and people like that.

‘That sort of ’70s sound was always playing in the car when we were driving around, and I latched on to it.

‘I was subjected to that from a young age, so when I started doing my solo stuff it was a natural progression to start drawing on those influences.

‘I think the reason a lot of those records sound the way they do is because the people were playing in the room together. So much of recording now is done in stages – you’ll do the drums, then the bass, then whatever, so I wanted to get back to that more old school way of recording, and we had a great time doing that.’

However, the album had a troubled birth, with Simpson suffering from writer’s block.

‘I hadn’t had a break between records for like seven years,’ he explains. ‘I just needed a bit of time away. I was coming up with stuff I wasn’t particularly liking. I said to my manager that I’m going to take a break, but it was timed well because I was going over to do the Warped Tour in America for the summer, which was an awesome experience and it reignited my creativity.

‘A lot of the best stuff on the record was written straight after that period.’

And the album’s tour has been going very well – he sold out the 3,000 capacity Roundhouse in London last October, his largest solo show to date – shortly before playing what was going to be a one-off show to mark Fightstar’s 10th anniversary.

‘The Roundhouse show was one of the best shows I’ve ever done. It was weird because I did that show and then a month later I did the Fightstar anniversary show at The Forum, and they’re probably two of my best,’ he pauses before changing his mind: ‘Actually, I’m going to say they are the two best gigs I’ve done. It was a great month.’

As a result of the success of The Forum show, Fightstar booked a short tour, which finishes tonight.

‘We didn’t plan to do any more shows, but we put this Forum show on sale and it sold out in like 10 minutes.

‘We were so amazed by the reaction and there were a lot of people who were upset that we were only doing one show in London that we just decided to extend it. We’ll see how it goes from here.’

Charlie on...

...turning 30 this year

I’ve been in the industry 14 years and I’m still only 29 which is crazy, but I’ve just got married, and we’re expecting our first baby this year. It feels like I’m settled now.

...touring with his brother Will’s band, More Dangerous Animal

The last time we toured together was back in 2008. It’s great having my bro on the road, and the stuff his band are writing is really great.

...favourite venues

The Roundhouse, Brixton Academy, The Forum, they’re the places I went to watch gigs when I was growing up. I do love playing festivals and huge shows, but those are the places I dreamed about playing when I was growing up.

Where & when...

Takedown Festival takes place around Southampton University campus on Saturday, March 7. Tickets cost £40, or £44 including the Uprawr aftershow. Go to takedownfestival.co.uk