Interview: Fun Lovin Criminals

Emma LeeAfter a musical hiatus the Fun Lovin Criminals are back with their sixth studio album, Classic Fantastic, and will be getting the party started at the UEA next week. Huey Morgan works his charm on EMMA LEE.

Emma Lee

After a musical hiatus the Fun Lovin Criminals are back with their sixth studio album, Classic Fantastic, and will be getting the party started at the UEA next week. The band's frontman - the ultimate smoothie Huey Morgan - works his charm on EMMA LEE.

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It's like speaking to a cross between the Fonz and Joey from Friends.

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Greeting me with a 'ehhh, how you doin'?' in that unmistakeable New York drawl, I'm putty in Huey Morgan's hands.

Then the Fun Lovin Criminals frontman shatters the illusion slightly when I ask him what he's up to (apart from being on the phone to me, of course) and he tells me he's busy 'folding'. Folding? Ah, it transpires that Huey's packing his suitcase for a birthday mini-break to the star-studded Italian island of Capri.

'It's a lovely place,' he says.

A few days to kick back and relax is probably what Huey needs, because things are going to get pretty busy in the next couple of weeks.

FLC have a new album, the not-at-all modestly monikered Classic Fantastic (everything they do is tongue in cheek), out and they're hitting the road to promote it, with the party arriving at the UEA, Norwich, on September 15.

Like the Scissor Sisters, Killers and Kings of Leon, Fun Lovin Criminals were one of those bands that Britain took to their hearts first and then the rest of the world caught up.

The band was formed in 1993 by nightclub-working colleagues Huey and Fast. They arrived on the UK music scene in 1996 with their album Come Find Yourself, which featured the Pulp Fiction-sampling Scooby Snacks.

Their super cool 'cinematic hobo hip-hop rock n roll blues-jazz-soul' sound was a million miles away from the guys and guitars Britpop blueprint which was dominating the charts at the time.

The hit albums kept coming and in 2003, they recruited Frank 'Uncle Frank' Benbini as their drummer. But while Huey has dabbled in TV and radio presenting (his show on BBC 6Music is officially award-winning), it's been all quiet on the musical front for a couple of years.

Why the silence? 'It was kind of a forced break. We had legal problems with our old manager and we had to keep our heads down,' says Huey. 'When you're writing music you have to have a clear head and we wanted to get that behind us.'

Classic Fantastic is their sixth studio album and, after the hiatus, they have more plans in the pipeline. 'We've recorded a live record and we're putting three new songs out with it. A lot of our fans say we sound different live to what we do on our records, so it's something we've always wanted do.'

During FLC's musical interlude, Huey's been up to all sorts of other things, including acting in films, writing novels, appearing on The Underdog Show with his dog, Sugar, then co-presenting Pet Nation, with Liza Tarbuck,, gardening, which doesn't quite fit in with the rock'n'roll image.

'I like making it pretty for my wife [he lives with British wife Rebecca in London],' he says. 'I like getting in touch with nature, pruning roses. It gives you a sense of accomplishment.'

So how did his career become so diverse?

'It's more the opportunity than anything else. I don't like being bored. A friend of mine is a movie director and I said I would give it a shot, so I gave it a shot. Friends at the BBC said did I want to do a radio show playing the music that inspired me to be a musician,' he says.

His 6 Music Sunday afternoon show is now a fixture on the schedule and has allowed him to interview some of his music heroes, including Mick Jagger, who apparently personally chose to appear on the show.

Huey was involved in the campaign to keep the station on air after its future was threatened. '6 Music is so important and I had no doubt that it would still be around,' he said. 'There's so much talent at the station and people who know their music. Mick agreed and if he says it, it must be true.'

But Huey is now looking forward to getting back on the road. The band always get a warm reception in Norwich, and Huey likes to think of their shows as a party where they're providing the entertainment.

'We've always had that kind of ethos. It will be a lot of fun,' he promises. 'If you can't do it live, don't do it. We like getting out there and playing.

'We like playing smaller places - it's more fun to be able to look people in the eye and have an emotional interaction. Next summer we'll probably play the big festivals and get down and dirty.

'Norwich is one of those places we like to go to. People seem to appreciate the effort. Bands should be going and playing for people rather than having people listen. Sometimes bands think that they're the biggest part of the equation. But it's about the people,' he says.

There's no sign of the love affair between the UK and FLC fizzling out.

'I think the UK likes us. Irony isn't as appreciated in the US,' Huey says. 'We took your women first then found your best drummer and made him a Fun Lovin Criminal. We're your cousins from America.'

t Fun Lovin Criminals play the UEA on September 15.

t Classic Fantastic is out now.

t Further listening: