Kate Nesta reports on the changing musical world of singer/songwriter CHARLIE SIMPSON
There aren't many artists who have reinvented themselves as successfully as Charlie Simpson. During his 12 year career, he has evolved from boy band pop star to acoustic singer/songwriter with a hardcore sojourn in the middle. His Christian faith has been a driving force in his life for a while now. During his appearance at the 2012 Greenbelt festival he spoke to BBC broadcaster Terry Walsh about how Christian themes are present on some tracks of his critically acclaimed solo album, 'Young Pilgrim'. "It depends from song to song but there are definitely religious roots to some of the songs on my solo album, one in particular called 'Need A Friend Tonight' which is about searching for that faith and about the journey you go on and the things you find out along the way."
Charlie wrote in Alpha News that he goes to church whenever he can. "I pray often in times of need. But I don't want only to be asking for help when I need it and not to have a relationship with God in everyday life. . . I very much believe it is about faith and a relationship with Jesus and God. I think that's the fundamental point of Christianity. I call myself a Christian. I believe in Jesus, I believe in what Jesus did and in the absolution of sins. I believe that he put himself on the cross to take away human sin, in order to give people the opportunity to get to God through him."
Charlie was born in Woodbridge, Suffolk in 1985. He was raised in a musical household with a musical background and first picked up a guitar at the age of six after his parents bought him a nylon-string Spanish model. Charlie wrote in Alpha News in 2008, "The music in my family stems from my mother's side. In the mid-18th century there was a man called William Sterndale Bennet, who was quite a well-known figure. He composed a few piano concertos which you can buy today. He was head of the Royal College Of Music. He is an ancestor of my mum's." His older brothers, Ed and Will, were also members of British indie bands Brigade and Union Sound Set. "I enjoyed any aspect of singing - including singing in morning chapel - but my main thing was very much my bands." He told the BBC at Greenbelt festival, "My dad and my brother are hugely devoted Christians. My brother actually teaches theology in a school in London. . . I took a great interest in it."
From the age of 12 he'd been in a variety of bands with his friends but at the tender age of 16 he shot to fame after responding to an advert in NME magazine. "It said, 'singer and guitarist wanted for band.' So I thought, 'OK, I'll give it a go'. I turned up to the audition in Covent Garden with my guitar and queued. I sang 'Runaway Train' by Soul Asylum. They said, 'Yeah, we really like you'. I thought, 'I can do either this or stay in school. . .I know what I'd rather do'."
In their short but incredible career, Charlie Simpson along with bandmates Matt Willis and James Bourne had four number-one hit singles, "You Said No" and "Crashed The Wedding" in 2003 and "Who's David?" and "3AM" in 2004. They released two albums, 'Busted' and 'A Present For Everyone', and a live album 'A Ticket For Everyone'. Recalled Charlie, "It pretty much went crazy from the start. Our first single went to number three. Two singles later we had our first number one." Busted won Best Pop Act and Best Breakthrough Act at the 2004 Brit Awards, sold over three million records and enjoyed sell-out tours including 11 nights in London's Wembley Arena. Despite how incredible things seemed for Busted on the surface, Charlie was growing increasingly discontent with fame and the pop star lifestyle. He wrote in Alpha, "I think with hindsight, fame was the worst part of it for me. It's a very strange thing to have to deal with at such a young age. . . What was saddening me was the fact that I didn't feel like I was being recognised for what I wanted to be recognised for. . . It wasn't the legacy that I wanted to leave. The night we signed the deal I remember thinking, 'I'm not sure I'm doing the right thing here'. . . I was always to-ing and fro-ing in my head about whether I was doing the right thing or not." After two years with the superstar group, Charlie shocked the music industry by forming a band light years away from the catchy pop rock of Busted. Fightstar were a no-holds-barred hardcore band. He lived a double-life for a year performing with Fightstar at night while upholding commitments to Busted in the day.
In 2005 Charlie announced his departure from Busted to fully pursue his career with Fightstar. By that time the lineup comprised Charlie as lead vocalist, guitarist and keyboard player, guitarist and vocalist Alex Westaway, bassist Dan Haigh and drummer Omar Abidi. He told Kerrang in 2009 that Busted "was a fun thing to be doing, and I got on well with everyone I was doing it with, but on the other side, the music just wasn't fulfilling me in any way. I have good memories of the time, because we were travelling the world and doing some amazing things, but then as far as self-fulfilment goes, Fightstar was all I wanted to do." Initially the band faced a lot of scepticism due to Charlie's background. "It had never really been done before where someone changes from one genre to a totally different one. So from that point of view it was very hard and quite daunting. Rock fans tend to want to rebel against what goes on in mainstream culture and music - as I did when I was younger whilst growing up on rock music, so I knew that me doing Fightstar was not going to be an easy ride," he wrote in Alpha.
Fightstar prevailed. Allmusic wrote, "Despite his pop background, he managed to win over rock sceptics and an entirely new fan base thanks to their authentic, credible sound." Their 2005 debut EP 'They Liked You Better When You Were Dead' was a critical success and Fightstar subsequently released four albums, 'Grand Unification' in 2006, 'One Day Son, This Will All Be Yours' in 2007, a b-sides album 'Alternate Endings' and 'Be Human' in 2008. Their debut album, 'Grand Unification', was a great success. Kerrang! said it was "one of the best British rock albums of the past decade." The Fly called it "one of the 21st Century's ultimate rock debuts." When asked by Caris magazine if his faith had influenced his latest project Charlie said, "On a few of the songs on ['Grand Unification'] there are a few references. It is subconsciously there in what I'm trying to say. The album has much more relationship-based stuff, but there are moments when I talk about it." Charlie wrote in Alpha News, "I think what made Fightstar appeal to people in the beginning was the fact that it was so honest and it's hard to pick holes in something that is built upon honesty." At the beginning of 2010, Fightstar decided to take a break. Charlie told Acoustic Magazine, "Fightstar had just toured the world and made four records so we were all tired and ready for a break."
After Fightstar announced their hiatus, Charlie began to work on a solo project but to everyone's amazement the singer/songwriter underwent another giant stylistic leap. Charlie released the solo EP 'When We Were Lions' in 2010. The EP was produced by Danton Supple who has worked with the likes of Coldplay and The Cure. Sputnik Music said the EP was "excellent" and it "leaves the listener wanting more." A year later his debut solo album 'Young Pilgrim' was issued and went straight to number six in the UK album chart. Acoustic Magazine reported that the album was "gathering critical acclaim on a wholly separate note to anything that he's ever done before." BritEvents wrote, "Simpson really took the helm with his first solo album, having written the songs himself and playing 90% of the instruments on the album recording, it really is a work of genius." At the time of its release Charlie said, "I'm very proud of 'Young Pilgrim'. I like having a sense of ownership of my own records. I see Fightstar and my solo stuff as two completely separate sides of me, musically. I've arrived in a place where I'm very content and happy. I'm very lucky that I get to do what I do each day - there're a lot of people I know who don't get to do this, so it's very humbling that I get to do this for a living."
Charlie's second album is due to be released later this year. He told Acoustic Music, "Lyrically, all the songs I write have elements of melancholy but also always have some sort of uplifting nature to them. . . The second record is going to be similar to that, melancholic, uplifting and retrospective themes will carry through all the songs that I write but musically it will definitely be a progression from 'Young Pilgrim'."
In several interviews Charlie has described his solo career as an acoustic singer/songwriter as what he's always wanted to do. Talking about his attitude to music he told Caris magazine, "What's important to me is playing for people who enjoy music. Busted was a great experience, and there were some amazing achievements. But success will buy you no happiness when you're not content with what you're doing. I could have made £10 or £20 million, but what I was set to gain by staying in the band meant nothing to me. . . I'm not into fame. I didn't like walking down the street and being recognised. If someone's genuinely into music and polite, I've got all the time in the world. There's so much falseness in the music and entertainment industries, where people just want to talk to you because you're so and so. Being part of Busted and earning all that money really meant nothing to me in the end, because all that was going to make me happy fundamentally was being content with what I was doing. I wanted to wake up in the morning and actually love what I was doing."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.