Ben Castle interview: ‘I’d love to have one more chat with dad’

19 Nov 2014 @ 9.13 pm
| News

Before playing in a concert at York Minster, Ben Castle talks to Chris Titley about his father Roy, meeting Stevie Wonder and playing for royalty

ben-castle-main
York Minster will be ‘the perfect acoustic’ says Ben Castle
For people of a certain age, Roy Castle was part of our childhood. With his silly jokes and musical entreaty that “if you want to be the best, if you want to beat the rest, dedication’s what you need”, the host of Record Breakers pretty much became our telly dad.

Which must be odd for Ben Castle. Because Roy was his real dad.

Shivoham

  York Minster

  Sat Nov 22 @ 7.30pm

  £15 adults, £12 conc

  More on the Minster website

Was he the same off screen as on? “He was either exactly the same – or asleep,” said Ben. “He would always give absolutely everything in a performance.

“He was so much fun as a dad, and whenever I had friends round he was always wanting to entertain. I think that was built into him, the want to entertain.

“He was great fun but then he would fall asleep. Until I tried to change the channels – then he’d wake up, annoyingly.”

All Ben’s friends knew who Roy was, of course, and “he would get mobbed when he brought me to school or picked me up,” said Ben, who is very proud of what his dad achieved.

“But it didn’t necessarily mean I’d watch the programme. I remember being in his dressing room when he was in Singing In The Rain at the Palladium.

TJ Hooker was about to be on telly, and I remember saying, ‘This is my favourite programme’ – and I remember thinking, ‘oh no, I should have said second favourite!’ I couldn’t backtrack.”

As an accomplished singer and trumpeter – among many other instruments – Roy passed on his love of music to Ben and his other children.

“We had a bit of a family band situation. I’ve got a brother and two sisters and we all played different instruments.

“So we were able to do a few jam sessions. Sometimes we had horn sections with our local band which was always great fun, with dad and my sister on trumpet, my brother on trombone and me on sax.”

Those years playing with his family as a 12 and 13-year-old stood Ben in good stead when he became a professional musician, working with everyone from rock gods to jazz legends as a session musician.

‘Stunning musical experience’

He will play in a very different band at the Minster on Saturday (November 22). He joins electro, bass and underground composer Shri Sriram to perform his music and light show Shivoham, alongside the singer Supriya Nagarajan.

The concert is put on by Indian arts organisation Manasamitra. Described as a “stunning and unique musical experience inspired by the Indian god Shiva combining South Asian Carnatic vocals with contemporary electronica” the concert is part of the Minster’s National Interfaith Week.

Ben was invited to take part by Shri after working with him on another project as an arranger. “I absolutely love Indian music, but I would be arrogant enough to say that I could ever play it.

“But I’m intrigued to work out how I could interact with people who are masters of it.

“There are so many rules regarding scales and patterns that you play that I’d need my whole lifetime to dedicate to it, not just three days’ rehearsal.

“There is a lot of improvisation and obviously jazz is largely improvised. What I’m excited about is we’ll all have quite different approaches to that. It should be interesting.”

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Shivoham at York Minster. Photograph: Duncan Lomax
He plays both sax and clarinet and is toying with the idea of also introducing the bass clarinet on Saturday.

“I think it will sound great in the acoustic there.

“I haven’t played in York Minster before but I’ve played in lots of lovely halls, churches and cathedrals. Each venue has its own challenges and rewards from the different acoustics.

“When I turn up with a rockier band to play in a church it can be an absolute nightmare because the sound is so live. You can still hear it going on in the morning!

“For this I think it will be the absolutely perfect acoustic.”

Although born and brought up in the south of England, Ben feels a kinship to Yorkshire as his dad was from Holmfirth.

“I’m a Yorkshireman at heart. But shamefully I say my name is ‘Carstle’ rather than ‘Casstle’. My relatives disown me when they hear me introduce myself.”

From Radiohead to Andy Williams

One of Ben’s most memorable musical moments was playing at the concert for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee held outside Buckingham Palace in the Mall. He played alongside people like Annie Lennox and Grace Jones.

“The Jubilee Concert was a highlight for me,” he said. “I put all the brass musicians together for the house band, so we got to play with some great people. And we nearly got to play with Stevie Wonder.

“Stevie and I were standing two feet away from Kate and Wills and I had a little chat with him. That was a huge highlight for me.

“When I met him I said we were hoping to have the chance to play with him and he said, ‘Oh man, any time I’m playing again, you just come up and play!’ So I asked if he had his diary with him…”

Another highlight was playing with Radiohead. “I’ve always been a massive fan of theirs.

“And for my mum’s sake, getting to play that riff from Can’t Take My Eyes Off You with Andy Williams, that was a good moment.”

Ben has now got his own band, The Tombola Theory, which plays pop music influenced heavily by 1930s trad jazz.

“It’s everything the kids are crying out for,” jokes Ben.

For the first time he is singing as well as playing on the records. His dad always considered himself first and foremost a singer, and remains a musical inspiration.

Roy Castle died of lung cancer in 1994 two days after his 62nd birthday. “When he got ill, because everyone was writing such nice stories about him, some of the press were going round trying to get dirt from all the local shops – but they couldn’t find any.”

I had to ask: did he ever advise Ben that “dedication’s all you need”?

“The main bit of advice he gave me, which was interesting for him, was to find one thing and stick to it,” says Ben.

“He felt he did so many different things, nobody really knew what he was. He mainly considered himself a singer. I don’t think anyone would necessarily have realised that.

“He started off on the comedy circuit with Jimmy James. Either he thought that being kind of good at lots of things watered down what he was doing, or he noticed that these days people need to know what you are.

“I’d love to just have one conversation with him at some stage, because there’s loads of things I want to ask him.”

One of the reasons Ben chose such a distinctive style for his new band was to give it a strong identity. “I am heeding his advice gradually,” he said.