Charlotte Church: Unchained (Metro, 29th Mar 2017)
‘WE’VE had a couple of mosh pits spring up, which has been just wonderful,’ says Charlotte Church, grabbing half an hour with Metro between hectic rehearsals for her Late Night Pop Dungeon tour. ‘I’ve only ever been in a few mosh pits myself and I never, ever thought I’d have the ability to create one!’
If you can’t quite square the words ‘late night’, ‘mosh pit’ and ‘dungeon’ with the sugar-almond cute image of Voice Of An Angel child superstar Church, it’s time to hop in your mental Tardis and catch up several life phases.
Morphing from a Cheeky Vimto loving teen pop star to an authentically alternative maker of esoteric EPs recorded in her garage, the 31-year-old mum-of-two (with rugby player ex, Gavin Henson) has increasingly proved herself one of the feistiest, funniest names in music.
Moreover, her glitter’n’gin-fuelled Late Night Pop Dungeon, a raucous and unpredictable live mash-up that can find Church and her band covering anything from R Kelly to Nine Inch Nails, has in recent years become a cult hit. Now the gang are just about to head out on their first full UK tour.
‘We never do two sets exactly the same,’ she says cheerfully. ‘We’re always switching things about. It is a lot of work but I also get bored so easily, which is why we just keep it super fresh. Then everyone is on their toes musically, you know? Which just adds to that slight edge. People are snogging and maybe getting slightly naked but that’s totally fine. It’s always really upbeat.’
It sounds like things are as much fun for those on stage as for the crowd. ‘I’m really enjoying a bit of port and brandy,’ says Church. ‘Basically you gargle with it, so it sort of clears the vocal cords. I mean, I’m not sure an opera singer would go for it. And there’s always prosecco, of course…’
ut it’s not just with her on-stage dungeon mistress shenanigans that Church, now in a long-term relationship with singer-songwriter Jonathan Powell, has become increasingly bold. She’s almost as famous now for her political activism (or ‘prosecco socialism’, as she wryly calls it), and is as likely to be spotted on an anti-austerity march in her beloved home city, Cardiff, or swatting away misogynistic trolls on Twitter.
‘I’m a very hopeful individual,’ she says, ‘but for the moment I can’t see the wood for the trees. I haven’t really spoken publicly about a lot of things. There’s stuff that I do on a local level, whether that’s tackling homelessness or working with refugees, but at the moment it’s a mess, and I don’t want to add to the mess. As my Grampy would say, “We’ve just got to let the world turn a minute.” Because with the Brexit stuff, it’s just impossible to guess who’s going to be affected worse. As soon as that information comes to light, I’ll probably be fighting somewhere.’
She’s sung for everyone from the Pope to Bill Clinton but Church is refreshingly, gorgeously normal. And not in the contrived ‘no-make-up selfie’ kind of a way.
‘Like most other people, really,’ she says, when I ask how she unwinds. ‘I go out and I get really p***ed, and then I go home and regret it! But no, we go to gigs and to the theatre, and try to do holistic things sometimes too. Going for big walks, camping, things like that.’
And while the aim is to make Pop Dungeon ‘the world’s best f***ing covers band,’ there’s an album of original solo material out next year. ‘No more pop for me,’ says Church. ‘It will definitely be esoteric, weird and wonderful. That’s where I live in most areas of my life now.’
We wouldn’t have her any other way.
Dare you enter the dungeon? All you need to know…
Stewart Lee triggered things off last year
‘When Stewart Lee was curating the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, he asked me if I wanted to do something. I was like, well, that sounds great, and nobody ever asks me to do cool s***, so let’s go.’
It’s like a wild covers band crossed with a DJ set
‘I thought, let’s do it a bit like a live version of 2manydjs where we just cut and paste things together. Like a mixtape or a DJ set but with a live band and five backing singers (one above) and all the fun in the world.’
Nothing is off musical limits
‘We’ve tried all sorts of mad s***. So we’ll do En Vogue’s Don’t Let Go but go into the instrumental of King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man — not two things you’d generally jam together but it works a treat.’
Musical Youth: Charlotte tells us how to give to your kids a musical education
‘My little girl Ruby (nine) is completely chart mad but I let her get on with it. We’re going to see Bruno Mars on tour this year and he’s epically wonderful. And then my little boy Dexter (eight) is really interesting, his musical tastes are really varied and it’s all just come really naturally to him. We’re listening to music all the time and sometimes it’s Robert Wyatt, sometimes it’s a mad Italian psych band, and he’ll say, “I love that song, can you write that one down for me?”’