After several vague promises to get in touch (mine, I shamefully admit), I finally had the chance to sit down with Stokey’s answer to Elvis and our very own Man in Black, Charlie Wilson – lead singer of the Brick Lane Boogie Boys.
Hello Charlie, The Boogie Boys are practically a Stokey institution and must be one of the areas best known bands. Tell us a little about them.
We’ve done well over 100 gigs in Stoke Newington in the last 10 years. But we’re not just a Stokey band – we play all over. We’ve appeared on the BBC Radio London Sessions five times as part of the Robert Elm show, which has spread us all around London. We do a lot of festivals in the summer too, both specialist and the mainstream ones. In fact we’ve done most of them.
100 local gigs! Do you have a favourite Stokey venue to play in?
No different places are better for different reasons. Some venues are good to play, because of the size or the shape. The White Hart for instance has a stage. Others because of the atmosphere, there were times at Ryan’s that the crowd were spilling out onto the street. Even today, whenever I’m there I’ll take a nostalgic walk around downstairs. So no, I don’t have a favourite. I like them all really.
Just in case there is anyone out there who hasn’t heard the band play, how would you describe The Boogie Boys sound to the uninitiated? Is it rockabilly?
Rockabilly is just one style and we play a bit of that plus bluegrass, boogie-woogie and ragtime as well. So I’d describe us as rock n roots music.
The Boogie Boys were playing a monthly residency at the Sovereign. What’s happened to that? Where can we see you play next?
We are taking a break from the Sovereign because we have been playing a lot of private gigs, but the residency will be starting up again next year. We are planning to do a Christmas gig but I can’t tell you any details about that yet.
Ok, but do let us know when it is confirmed. Moving away from the music for a moment, how did you end up in this part of the world?
I came to Stokey because my sister lived here. I’d been going out with a girl and it didn’t work out. That was in ‘96. I’ve been here ever since.
Everything is on your doorstep. And everyone is interested in the arts in some way – musicians, poets, artists. It is like a mini-Greenwich Village. It is a cool place, still bohemian. There are times when you think Stokey’s lost it. But it always comes back. It is unique. I don’t know where else I’d live in London… or England for that matter.
Talking of bohemian, you are one of Stokey’s more recognisable residents, how do you describe your personal style?
Rockabilly. Little Richard and Elvis are well known but rockabilly is more obscure and came just before rock and roll, it is more of a hillbilly, early Johnny Cash. I get most of my stuff from America. I don’t buy much vintage now – mainly because you can’t get rid of the smell. In the 70s and 80s it wasn’t too bad but its 60 years old now and a bit grotty.
Ugh… apart from the Boogie Boys, how else do you fill your time?
I’m in two other groups – Monroe’s Revenge which is a bluegrass band and my new one, the Chas Wilson Skiffle Group. The Chas played at the last Stokey Fringe and are about to start gigging anytime now.
Skiffle? Please enlighten me.
Everyone knows that rock n roll had its roots in blues music. But the British were doing it first. We had young white kids like Lonny Donegan singing old blues songs. Rocking them out. We were doing it first, before Elvis, before Bill Haley. Everyone has forgotten that.
All the big groups of the 60s – the Rolling Stones, the Beatles – at one time played in skiffle groups. That is why the British invasion of America happened. Because these guys were great, they had been playing skiffle for years.
You can see what I mean if you look up Chaswilson1 on Youtube.
You seem to have a very deep and eclectic knowledge of music. When did you first get into it?
I got into music when I was around 14. I wasn’t interested in school, a bit naughty really and I was put into the remedial class. We had the same two teachers for all our lessons and luckily, they were both guitarists in a country band and they offered lunchtime guitar lessons. I said yes and just got into it. I learnt a lot from them. It was all I did learn actually. I wasn’t interested in anything else.
So what sort of music were you into back then?
Bluegrass. It has always been bluegrass. I grew up in Princetown in the middle of Dartmoor, and there is a famous folk pub there called Plume of Feathers. Even though it is in a remote area, way out in the sticks, the pub is known all over the world. So twice a week we had world-class folk groups coming in. The first live music I heard was brilliantly performed. The standards were set from an early age. I knew that was what I wanted to do and it has just carried on from there really.
Having lived the rock n roll dream, fronting various bands and performing all over the country, do you have any stand out moments you’d like to share?
The Boogie Boys toured with the Comets – that was brilliant. It was THE experience. When I was a kid the Comets were everything to me. They were my mother’s favourite group and here we are getting offered to tour with them all these years later.
We were on tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Rock Around the Clock. It was mainly theatres but some of the gigs were the best we’ve done. It was great to be a part of it – we made a little bit of rock n roll history.
That must have been amazing to tour with your childhood hero’s, tell us more.
It was inspirational – unexplainable really, imagine someone who you idolised and always had respect for, ok Bill Haley had died a few years earlier. But the original band was still alive, and the Comets themselves, the youngest was 79 and the eldest 87, were brilliant. They were great on the tour bus, brilliant old characters. Old men still rocking.
And finally, do you have any words of wisdom for any budding musicians or artists out there?
I always knew this was what I wanted to do. And if you really want something, you find a way to make it happen. You have to.
Stereostokey will let you know about the Boogie Boys Christmas gig and upcoming Chas Wilson gigs as soon as we get more details. In the meantime, if there are any Boogie Boys fans suffering from withdrawal symptoms, they can get their fix from the Boys’ CD which is available via Myspace.