After witnessing 9 adults – fully kitted out in white flared costumes and cartoonishly sized afro wigs – kick off the festival by gyrating around the stage, playing everybody’s favourite funk/disco classics, it was safe to say partner-in-crime Issy and I were a little uncertain about what to expect as we went backstage to chat with the band. After the surprise of seeing the guitarist and singer out of costume subsided, we caught up with ‘Simonella Funkenfurter’ and ‘Flash Jackson’ of Unkle Funk and the Boogie Wonderband to talk funk, festivals and finding Jesus.
How did Unkle Funk and The Boogie Wonderband come to be?
Simonella Funkenfurter: Well it started out 25 years ago, back then we were playing originals and touting for record labels and things.
Flash Jackson: Didn’t it happen cause the bassist and me saw a poster for a band called ‘Strangely Brown’ featuring ‘someone with their head stuck up their own arse’, I think that’s how it started Simon. We saw the band name ‘Strangely Brown’ and thought that it was the kind of thing we wanted to be associated with so went to the show. Simon was the drummer but we actually thought he was a better singer than their singer. So we kind of rather desperately asked him to be in our band at a party, and he was flattered cause no one had ever said he could sing before.
SF: But then after trying for a few years doing our own thing, we decided it wasn’t working, but we were all good musicians and we wanted to stick together. So we thought ‘right, let’s sell our souls to the devil, put stupid outfits on and do the corporate thing’ and have been doing that ever since. So we’re often out doing corporate shows, parties, weddings and stuff like that, but we also do festivals cause everyone’s always up for a bit of fun at a festival. We did Glastonbury this year and headlined a stage three nights consecutively.
What would you guys be doing if it wasn’t music?
FJ: Swinging from a tree probably.
SF: Music. I mean everyone in the band, if they’re not doing the band full time, they work in music in some area, either playing with other people or teaching or our drummer runs a sound system. So, if we weren’t doing this it would be something connected to music.
How do you get into the personas?
FJ: It’s actually really easy
SF: I was going to do this interview in costume, and you would’ve had a completely different interview with me. It’s an alter ego, cause you’re hiding behind a façade then.
FJ: You can become a cartoon character, it’s a suit of armour. One of the things we like about it, is that because it’s a cartoon version of the 70s we’re doing, clichés are allowed. We all want to throw shapes and be stupid on stage, and now we can.
What is it that drew you to funk?
SF: When we decided to do the corporate thing, there was only one real genre to choose. Because everybody loves disco music, so any party we turn up to, the floor fills up, and you have them in the palm of your hand for 2 hours.
FJ: We don’t get sick of it at all, and we’ve been doing this for how many years?
SF: I believe it’s a million. We play gigs every week of the year and it’s always a lot of fun. I mean we show up to someone’s party, get drunk of their booze, eat their food, make all their guests laugh and dance, and then skid back off into disco land (which is apparently somewhere in Essex).
You must have played tons of gigs, what is your favourite gigging memory?
SF: Glastonbury was hard to beat, I mean we were on a stage there that started out every night and the curtains would open and there wouldn’t be anyone there. The curtains open and there would be 5 people in front of us, and by the end there’s 5,000 and that was every night!
FJ: There was a great moment where Simon met Jesus at Glastonbury. Jesus was doing his thing wandering around, and Simon was dressed as Simonella Funk just walking about. And Jesus came up to Simon and said ‘Hey, you look great!’ to which Simon replied ‘Thanks Jesus, you look great too!’.
What about your worst gig?
SF: There was an old people’s party once in Cambridge. The granddaughter asked us to do it because she really liked us, and when we got there it turned out it was like a 50th wedding anniversary and all the guests were in the 70s and 80s. And when we came back on for our second set, we overheard an old lady just go ‘ohhhhh no’.
What’s next for the Boogie Wonderband?
SF: I dunno, gig a week? We’re doing a few festivals coming up, a few dates around the country in various theatres around the country. The usual: Weddings, funerals and theatres.