Prior to The Beat taking to the stage at the Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre on Friday 3rd October, musicmuso caught up with the one and only Ranking Roger in their tour bus whilst the other members of the band were sound checking, it was a nice quiet spot, we sat down and chatted about working with his son, CRAZY energy levels and new material, here's how it went down....
So what’s it like working with your son, Murphy aka Ranking Jr?
Well he’s been with me since he was 15 and he’s now 30….well 31 actually, it’s amazing it’s really good we get on, it’s almost like he’s not my son. I remember from around the age of 18 he used to go out when drum and base started and I used to go out with him just to find out what this drum and base stuff was all about like. And his mate’s used to go ‘who’s your mate Murph?’ And he’d go ‘it’s my dad’ and they’d all start hiding the spliffs and he’d say ‘you’re alright mate, you’re cool’. I was like the cool old man.
From when he was about 3 years old I remember shouting at him for doing something wrong and he just looked at me, with this big giant towering over him, and burst into tears. I thought no, that’s definitely not the way, and I got down to his level and explained to him exactly what I was trying to tell him and what he’d done wrong and we’ve had an understanding from that day. So it’s many things, it’s not just one thing, there’s a lot of things to it, it’s more like we’re mates even now. He lives at home with me and it’s me and him, living in one house. We never argue. Well I say we never argue, maybe once every two years, the kettle might boil and then everything’s brilliant again. It’s healthy to have those situations, you get to air stuff.
As a mum of three sons, when I saw you both up on stage together I found it moving. You’re so in sync with each other.
We don’t plan our moves or anything.
But it’s really amazing because you don’t get that very often. So when did it come about Murphy actually coming along and singing with you in the Beat?
Well we done the Royal Festival Hall, 19-something, long time ago, I can’t say….maybe it was 2000 or something, and we tried to get most of The Beat together; we got half The Beat together, sold out the Hall in London, and that was his first appearance with The Beat if you like. He came on and did 3 numbers at the end. And then we started doing gigs as The Beat and he’s been there ever since, representing the new generation.
Do you think if we were to ask him, he’d say the same, that it’s as easy working with you as you think it is working with him?
I think he would yeah, because it’s a very open relationship, always has been. He’s always been able to talk to me about anything, if he’s had a problem, come and tell me first. I’d rather him do that.
So where do you get your energy from? All that stuff you do on stage again and again….
The energy is about going out there and trying your hardest and then the other half of it comes from the audience who actually push us to the limit sometimes, when you see a sombre audience just tapping their toes but when you see them getting excited and clapping their hands and smiling, it makes you try even harder. Every gig we do, all I know is, at the end of the gig, I can look at the audience, and I can guarantee that 90% of the audience are smiling, to me that is my job done. It’s not easy to do that and the only way I know how to do it is through music. I’m not a comedian. But obviously we sing some real heavy serious lyrics, but the music, there’s something about it that makes people think it’s their party as well as ours….and it is…. we invite them to sing and everything you know? Come to enjoy yourself and have a workout while you’re doing it.
And you definitely bring the energy and entertainment; do you ever have an audience that’s a bit flat?
Oh yeah and it is difficult to play but then you have to go and be strong. And then by the end of it, say for instance we opened for someone like AC/DC years ago, The Special Beat, me and Neville Stapleton opened up for them, and they were really nice to us. I was like ‘heavy metal and ska don’t work’ but their audience…. we went on stage and we were going mad…. and there was hardly any response, but by the end of the set, everyone was cheering so we brought that vibe, we were really friendly to them and got them involved. ‘Come on, clap, don’t be shy’ and all that business. And they understood and they did it, so it was a good warm up. But yeah you do sometimes and what you do in those situations is go on the same way, because that’s what you’re about.
Emotionally, do you get a bit hurt by it, or, have you been doing it long enough that is doesn’t affect you?
Yes, because every single gig which I’ve ever done, if I haven’t had them at the beginning, I have them at the end, it’s a lot more satisfactory, for me that’s usually the thing with The Beat. When we’re playing to new audiences, we go mad on stage, they don’t know what to do. Like when we first played Holland, or when we first played Italy or something, but after they’ve seen us 3 or 4 times, you can guarantee they’re gonna be bopping from the first….so it’s for people to understand what’s it’s all about. And it is about having a good dance and a good sing along. And not many bands can do what we do.
Are you going to produce any new material?
When might we see a new album?
There’s been a couple of Ranking Roger albums out, the latest one’s called ‘Pop off the Head Top’ which sounds silly but obviously the idea of it is like pop music which has been written off the top of the head kind of thing. But that’s really interesting, because that’s got quite a few remixes and it’s got ‘Rock the Casbar’. But as far as The Beat, we will be playing some tonight, and we will bring some out next year so obviously we’re planning to go in January and record some new stuff.
So will this be the first record that Murphy’s been on with you?
It will be yeah as far as The Beat’s concerned but we’ve done a couple like my new solo album ‘On the Road’, it’s one that me and Murphy do in combination kind of thing. Also we’re bring out ‘Rock the Casbar’ and giving it to Strummer Camp and they’re gonna do with it what they will to raise all that money for Stummer Camp. And I think that’s a great idea. So that will be coming out before the end of the year, so there’s a few things up and coming, there’s things in the pipeline and you know, people like you will help get that news out there.
What’s the thing that drives you most to keep going? Some bands have massive success and we don’t hear from them again. But thankfully we’re still hearing from you. What motivates you?
Well it’s all I’ve ever done. How’s about that? Number one is the creation of music, I’ve always enjoyed creating music, but more and foremost I’ve always enjoyed entertaining. And so I’ve been entertaining all my life…I don’t know how I do it. I know why I do it: because I love it. But obviously I don’t know how I can get, you know, sometimes 20,000 people cheering and moving. To me it’s still a myth and I’m so thankful for it. I’m never big headed or boastful about it. You lose that gift so long as you start going those ways. I’m a true believer of that so I’ve always remained grounded and always had time for people. As long as you’re friendly towards me, I’ll open my door.
At this point the van door opens and Ranking Roger is called away for his soundcheck. After watching the sound check, we manage to grab a few minutes with Ranking Jr/Murphy when he pops outside for a cigarette.
Murphy - You don’t mind me smoking this cigarette do you?
MM - Absolutely not, no
MM - Well actually yes, (fake coughing) I do mind – kidding!
Laughter all round…..
What’s it like working with your Dad? We want to see if your response is similar to what he said!
Do you know what, I’ve kind of got used to it now over the years. It’s actually a really good thing. I don’t know many people who get to experience their music with their dad so I feel highly blessed to be able to have that relationship with him, not just on stage, but we’re kind of like best mates as well so we sort of keep the relationship going the same kind of way in the music as well. We’ve got a good relationship. It’s good. Happy to be doing it. I wouldn’t still be here if I didn’t like it so. I definitely very blessed with my dad, definitely, he never made me do something, he said that he’d always push me at what I want to do. Seeing him at 17 on TOTP and on stage, it really gave me the drive to think, well I could do that as well you know.
That is lovely. So when did you first start performing with the Beat? Your dad was saying you did some solo work, you were going out doing things and he’d go along…
That’s right. When I was about 17, I’ll start from when I left school, a guy called Fuzz Townsend (used to be the drummer with PWEI, The Wonderstuff and tour with The Beat) basically I used to be in a band with him and I wrote a lot of music with him as well … so when I was 15 I sort of didn’t go to college, I went straight into that coz it’s what I wanted to do. Apart from doing that, when I got to about 17, a lot of the clubs were drum and base, and I was MCing over the mike with DJ’s and stuff like that, and that’s when my dad used to come and egg me on and stuff. Then when I was about 19 he reformed The Beat again, and that’s when it sort of took off together and it was sort of a father and son thing, that’s when it was starting, from there, in the music and live, performing on stage.
So it was pretty much that as soon as your dad was thinking of bringing The Beat back that he asked you?
Well basically what happened was, in 2003, when I was 18-19, they did a one off gig as The Beat with Saxa and Dave Wakeling and everybody at the Albert Hall at London, and I came up and did a bit of MC'ing on ‘Mirror in the Bathroom’, which, you know, cos it was the same sort of tempo, so I thought yeah I’ll do that for M in the B, so I ended up doing that, and then, when they officially became The Beat again, it’s sort of like I used to come up for a couple of numbers and do a bit of MCing, after about 4 or 5 gigs I was in, and I had to learn all the songs, so it came about ….
So it came about organically.
Yeah, definitely, but I knew that at the same time, as well as me helping them, it was helping me as well coz it was getting me out there having the experience of being on stage and performing in front of people on a regular basis, which gave me the confidence to write more. And that’s all I’ve been doing ever since.
You’ve done some worked and writing with the Ordinary Boys?
Yeah, when I was 21.
So for you which do you enjoy more, is it the writing or the performing?
Okay I do all of it. Basically at home I’ve got my own studio. I write all my own music. I write all my own lyrics. I have been doing that since I was about 8 years old. But I’ve only really started using the computer programmes Logic and QBase and stuff like that to write the music that you hear on the radio or whatever since I was 15. But I’ve been writing songs on the piano since I was about 8. So I do all of it but performing is a massive part of my life. It’s given me a lot more confidence to write more as well you know. It’s important for me to keep active and to perform all the time because if you have about 6 months to a year out I think you lose a lot of your confidence and getting back up there is a bit shaky. Whereas you always feel nervous before a gig, but when you’re doing them constantly you’re on top of your game if you know what I mean. It’s also important to keep writing new songs as well, which we’ve done….
When you write songs, are you doing it more for yourself, or do you think sometimes have another artist in mind?
About 50/50. They may be songs about my relationship, or a previous relationship, or something that may have happened in my life that year. I write half of it to do with the experience I’ve been through, and at the same time I sort of try and do, give something, to the fans of what they want as well you know. You can’t take it too seriously. You’ve gotta try and give what they want as well. It’s mix n match. Try n give ‘em a bit of both.
Have you got any particular artist that you’d like to work with?
Well a few actually. One of my main people is somebody like Dizzy Rascal, because he had a massive influence on my teenage life. He’s one of my influences. Sean Born he’s like a dance artist, someone that I grew up with as well. He was a massive inspiration on me, I’d love to work with another sort of like someone like the Arctic Monkeys coz I’m pretty urban with my style. I can sing but I also do a lot of MCing, so I’d like to do something like that, an entirely different genre of music and me coming in and doing, you know like sort of what I did with the Ordinary Boys, Ska-y, something new for me, because I enjoyed it, the whole vibe about the song, this is what attracted me to it, I thought this is something that I really like and I think I can do it. I’ll just do it.
Is it easy to make connections being based in Birmingham?
It is when you’re in the right place at the right time. If you’d asked me that question about 5 or 10 years ago I’d have said no, but now I think it’s branching out a lot more up into the Midlands. And I think you have got connections. You can get connections everywhere. But, I think this is another reason why it’s important to do live gigs. When you do a gig you never know whose going to turn up. You don’t know whose in the audience. It’s important to do new material, coz you may get spotted. From me doing gigs, I’ve taken numbers and links and stuff like that through people I’ve met through gigs, so I could have been on the other side of the world or, this is why it’s important to do live gigs but I think in Birmingham, there’s a lot more going on now, there’s a lot more going on. But I still think London’s the main place to be. I think you end up going down there eventually.
What was it like growing up seeing your dad perform, did you imagine one day you’d be up on stage doing those songs with him?
Massive inspiration. From the time I can remember. He’s always been active doing his thing.
He’s definitely a hard-working man. So it’s from the time I was 7 or 8 I knew what I wanted to do, do my own thing, but also do what he was doing too, so it was more to take on some of the things he’s said to me, and that’s what I did, and ended up doing it anyway. And it’s great yeah, a massive inspiration.
You mentioned playing piano from the age of 8, did you have any lessons or formal training?
When I was 8 he bought me my first Casio keyboard right, and that’s where I did my first tune.
He got me in the studio then doing songs. No lessons. I did have the original keyboard player for The Beat, Blackhead Dave, he used to come down and he showed me and from that I learned to get over the fear of it and just go with it. Luckily I’ve got the talent to do that.
What’s your favourite song at the moment? Who are you listening to?
My favourite song is called ‘My Head is a Jungle’ it’s a dance song and yeah I think it is. It’s been on Radio One. Google it. (We since looked it up and it is by Wanklemut featuring Emma Louise)
Why haven’t you got a wikipedia page?
I’m not sure. I have got fb: murphy/rankin junior. twitter is @rankinjunior.
Have you got a big female fan club? Will you be taking your top off later?
People say this but it depends on how hot it gets in the gig. I remember previously here it gets really hot. Also as well one of the main reasons is to promote The Beat t-shirt. First one’s free. My dad used to do it but doesn’t anymore cos he’s got his sweat-proof tops on now that collect the sweat so he doesn’t.
With that he had to quickly get changed as they were due on stage in ten minutes!
We'd like to thank Ranking Roger and Murphy (aka Ranking Jr) for sparing the time before and after their soundcheck to chat to us and we wish them every success in the future and look forward to hearing the new material in early 2015....
For all of the pictures from the interview and gig, check out the GALLERY
Interviewers Molly-Mole and Hayley Bird.
Photography by Bruce Benson www.241Photography.co.uk