Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Charlie Simpson

In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz an artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: the Busted member, Fightstar frontman and solo star takes the test

1
What age would Miss McKenzie, the teacher who’s the subject of Busted’s debut single ‘What I Go to School For’, be now?

53?”

CORRECT. The song was released in 2002 and, according to its lyrics, she’s 33.

“It’s weird now I’m singing a song about a school teacher when I’m in my thirties [Laughs]. Back then, I had some issues with the production of ‘What I Go to School For’ and butted heads with the record company quite a bit over the way I thought songs should sound – much to my manager’s despair! But looking back, it’s a great song and a real crowd-pleaser. Even people who maybe wouldn’t have liked those Busted songs back then tell me that they’re classics. Jordan [Fish, keyboardist] from Bring Me the Horizon and Eddy [Thrower], our drummer who used to be in Lower Than Atlantis, say to me: ‘Those Busted songs are fucking bangers man!’”

What do you think Miss McKenzie would be doing now?

“She’d probably be headmistress now, surely?”

Would she be out of jail after serving her sentence for abuse of a position of trust?

“Well, maybe! [Laughs] Funny thing is, I saw some political commentator* tweet about whether that Busted song is inappropriate to listen to. I thought: for fuck’s sake! Are we really there in 2022 where we’re trying to cancel ‘What I Go to School For’?! [Laughs] We still see the woman who played Miss McKenzie in the video from time to time and she hasn’t aged at all.”

*The Guardian’s Owen Jones in an amusing Twitter back-and-forth with Charlie.

2
Who did you present an award to/collect an award for at the 2017 NME Awards?

“Ooh, I remember being backstage because I was stood next to Sadiq Khan. Ugh, I have complete brain fog.”

WRONG. Metallica, who won Best International Band.

“It was a fun night! We met Metallica when they invited us to an after-party, and they’re awesome people. They’re one of those bands that were part of my formative years, and [his metal band] Fightstar covered their song ‘Leper Messiah’. When we met them, they told us they liked our version.”

It’s not your only experience of the NME Awards, as in 2005 Busted won the hallowed reader-voted Worst Band accolade. Mea culpa! 

“I remember that well! [Laughs] It took a while for NME readers to come around, but I understood why people thought the way we did. Pop at that time was so manufactured, and one of my gripes was people didn’t think we wrote our own songs or played our instruments. It was a battle we had to fight.”

3
Which actor once attended a Busted gig as a teenager with a sign reading: ‘Check out our Busteds…Charlie, you can flux my capacitor”?

“Oh my God!  Wait…I know who that is! Is it the girl from Bridgerton?”

CORRECT. Nicola Coughlan, who plays Penelope Featherington in Netflix’s Bridgerton and Clare Devlin in Derry Girls, revealed on Rhod Gilbert’s Growing Pains that she went to the gig with the banner and enthused in her teenage diary afterwards: ‘Busted… Waa! Oh my God Charlie! Fucking hell, he is such a ride. He’s probs the best-looking guy ever, he’s such a lash… So close to tears and so excited I nearly weed myself.”

“I saw her say that on a chat show and I tweeted her about it, but I didn’t realise that’s what the banner said. Hilarious! We’ve had a few actors from that generation come to our shows, like Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones, which is cool.”

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4
Which pop star claimed that Fightstar’s 2006 debut album ‘Grand Unification’ was the soundtrack to his summer when he was 16?

Ed Sheeran.”

CORRECT.

“The first time I met him was at an award ceremony and he told me he listened to that record all summer and that’s great because 16 is an age that shapes you with music. His dad also told me that Ed came to see Fightstar play UEA in Norwich and afterwards said to him: ‘I hope one day I’ll be able to do that’. So that’s awesome.”

5
What was Busted pseudonym when you performed at 2019’s Slam Dunk festival?

“Y3K.”

CORRECT. The name refers to Busted’s 2003 hit ‘Year 3000’.

“I thought it would be pretty obvious but a lot of people didn’t realise, so it was quite well-coded. That was one of the best shows we ever did man! It shows how times have changed because Busted would have never played Slam Dunk 20 years ago. The crowd went nuts! You couldn’t get in the tent. It was the same when we played Glastonbury in 2017. They had to shut the area off because there were too many people coming in. I was still at the Shangri-La partying at 5am, and it was one of the craziest weekends I’ve had in a long time.”

6
What number did Busted’s Germany-only single ‘Hurra, hurra, die Schule brennt’ chart at in Deutschland?

“I don’t know, but that’s a something where you look back and question the decisions being made at that point! [Laughs] To do a song in German was very odd. I’m going to say 30?”

FALSCH. It peaked at 19. The title translates as ‘Hooray, Hooray, the School Is Burning’ – and it’s a cover of a 1980 track by German post-punkers Extrabreit.

“Not bad! We had a great audience in Germany, but the record company said we should do a cover of a German song and I was like: [Cringing] ‘Really?!’ I still look back and question that song, but it’s good to have some reflection.”

7
Which EastEnders legend did you once dress up as on BBC1’s children’s TV program The Saturday Show in a 2001 spoof of the soap?

“My God! I dressed up as a character from EastEnders. I don’t remember that at all!”

WRONG. You cosplayed Walford veteran Dot Cotton (immortalised by the late June Brown) – while bandmates Matt Willis donned a blonde frightwig as Pauline Fowler and James Bourne was Pat Butcher.

“Nice! We used to do some weird stuff, but I don’t remember doing that. We were residents on those Saturday morning TV shows for a while and they’d get us doing all these weird games like dressing up in sumo suits and having fights. I’d left school at age 16, then gone straight into getting up at 4am every Saturday being my new norm.”

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8
In 2005, which ’80 pop star covered Busted’s ‘Crashed the Wedding’ on the ITV1 show Hit MeBabyOne More Time’?

“An ‘80s pop star covered ‘Crashed the Wedding’? I didn’t even know that happened! Was it Chesney Hawkes?”

WRONG. It was Nick Heyward from Brit-funkers Haircut One Hundred, known for the songs ‘Love Plus One’, ‘Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)’ and ‘Fantastic Day’.

“I need to check that out on YouTube. I had no idea that existed.”

‘Crashed the Wedding’ kept Britney Spears and Madonna’s collaboration ‘Me Against the Music’ off the Number One spot upon its release in 2003…

“Did it?! I remember our first three singles [‘What I Go to School For’, ‘Year 3000’ and ‘You Said No’] went 3,2,1, but annoyingly we never had a Number One album. Three of our albums went in at Number Two. We thought we were guaranteed a Number One with our second, [2003’s] ‘A Present for Everyone’, but it was kept off the top spot when Michael Jackson released a greatest hits at short notice. I remember being at a party with Britney once – and because we actually wrote a song about her [2002’s ‘Britney’] – we didn’t know whether we should go and say hello or not. I was pretty infatuated with her.

“But that whole period was nuts! I have a photo in our loo or me meeting the Queen at the Royal Variety performance and every time I look at it, I think: ‘What a crazy time!’”

9
Complete the following lyrics: ‘I remember when we would stay out every summer…’?

’Listening to Hotel California’. From my recent single ‘All The Best’.  Whoop whoop! That’s easy to remember because I only wrote it around four months ago!”

CORRECT. It’s the opening track of your new solo album ‘Hope Is A Drug’. Tell us about it…

“I started writing it in 2019 and wanted to do a record that was more stripped-back and showed my more vulnerable side. When lockdown happened, I ended up building a recording studio in my house and co-producing the record myself, so it was a learning curve. This record is delving into a lot of past relationships that happened. I’m happily married now with two kids, but I never used to write about my feelings or relationships. Lyrically in Fightstar, I’d be looking out in the world, whereas this time, I wanted to turn it in and be more personal. It’s the most self-reflective record I’ve done.”

You went from boyband pop-punk in Busted to post-hardcore band Fightstar to solo indie-folk and now you’re on a self-reflective tip. Any other genres you fancy turning your hand to that might surprise people?

“My trap-rap album is coming next! Not really, but I don’t like making the same record twice.”

10
Which series three The Masked Singer character was panellist Davina McCall convinced was you this year?

“Was it the one that turned out to be Mark [Feehily] from Westlife?”

CORRECT. He was dressed as the character Robobunny.

“A lot of my friends were texting me about that, thinking it was me. Davina was really sweet about my stuff and  Robobunny was very good apparently, so it’s a compliment.”

Have you been asked to do The Masked Singer?

“I get asked to do all that stuff, like Strictly Come Dancing – but I’m a terrible dancer, which would rule that out. Not to say I wouldn’t do something like that in the future, but those shows don’t fit with me at the moment.”

Apart from your album and tour, what else do you have coming up?

“During lockdown, I started a Patreon page, and I’m curating my own festival for September, where my most hardcore fans can come down and we’ll have a barbeque, watch other artists play, and write a song together.”

Any chance of a collab with Busted banger-loving Bring Me the Horizon?

“So I spoke to Jordan [Fish] two weeks ago because we want to do a project together. We became buddies after doing Warped tour together years ago. So we’re trying to think of something we can do together, and I’m trying to think of something I can get him on. Which would be awesome!”

How about an updated version of ‘What I Go to School For’ featuring you and him?

[Laughs] Can you imagine?! We’d only be missing Ed Sheeran!”

The verdict: 6/10

“You chucked some obscure curveballs at me!”

 – Charlie Simpson’s new album, ‘Hope Is A Drug’ is released April 22

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