“The only issue is that I have to try and better each show every year. Anyone got McCartney’s number?” – Joe Carnall on his upcoming Christmas bash

Unfortunately, the big man was too busy to speak with us this month and kindly rejected our offer of a pork pie and pint of Kelham Best in exchange for a festive cover shoot. Bah, humbug indeed.

However, it’s not all bad news as we managed to persuade Joe Carnall (Good Cop Bad Cop, Milburn) to step into the famous red suit and chat about his annual Christmas shindig, which once again will feature a number of special guests and one or two surprises in the stocking.

It’s been a big year for you following the launch of your Good Cop Bad Cop project, with a debut album and subsequent tour to focus on. How do you reflect on 2019?
I’m really proud of 2019. I knew people would be excited about Matt [Helders] and I working together, but I didn’t know what would happen beyond that and how well the album would be received. There was so much to get my head around and figure out to make the shows happen; at times I was way out of my comfort zone. But that’s good for anybody – not just us creatives, darrrrling. It forces you to evolve.

Plenty to choose from but what have been the main highlights?
Getting through the first Good Cop Bad Cop gig at Glasgow, King Tut’s, was a huge moment. Finally, this thing that had only ever existed in my computer became real. There were a few lovely moments on that first tour actually. We played this amazing little theatre in London and towards the end of the set there was this bizarre moment of spontaneous clapping and cheering. We couldn’t start the next tune for the noise. I felt like Torvill and Dean having just performed the Bolero at the 1984 Olympics. Tramlines was great too. Reverend and the Makers played to a huge crowd on the Saturday and then I got to do my synth-pop thing to a packed tent on the Sunday. The most fun, however, was to be had in Dublin! As most bands will tell you, you never really know what to expect when you play a gig in a different country. The gig itself was great. People over there are just way more into the idea of having fun. There is zero pretence. After the gig, the venue morphed into one big karaoke bar and in Ireland EVERYONE wants to sing. The place stayed open until about 4am. It was a Sunday night.

“At times I was way out of my comfort zone. But that’s good for anybody – not just us creatives, darrrrling. It forces you to evolve.”

The Joe Carnall Jnr & Friends annual Christmas show has become quite the staple on the Sheffield festive calendar. Why do you think it’s become such a success?
I only ever intended it to be a one-off gig in the back of a pub. It’s unbelievable how it’s grown. I suppose it’s down to a number of factors. Firstly, everyone is in the mood to have a drink and a singsong. When you couple that with a few Milburn tunes, which are so nostalgic for people around here, then you’re onto something. My role is to bring people together and make a bit of a dipstick out of myself. Crucially, all the guests are genuinely my friends and I think the fun that we have comes across to punters.

Did you know from the reaction at the first gig that it could have legs?
With hindsight, possibly. But I just put it down to the fact that people had been starved of Milburn for so long they were just coming for a bit of a fix. However, after a few years it was clear that there was a genuine hunger for it. People were travelling from all over to make the show and it’s become the start of many people’s Christmas celebrations. The only issue is that I have to try and better each show every year. Anyone got McCartney’s number?

There have been a few special moments and guest appearances over the years. Any particular standouts?
I suppose the biggest moment was in 2015 when Milburn reunited for the first time. I tried to keep it a secret but there was a real buzz around the venue by the time of the encore. That was a long time coming and it seemed to make a lot of people very happy. There have been so many other moments, though. My daughter was born two days before the show in 2016 and I basically hadn’t had time to figure much out. Luckily, my mates are amazing and they managed to sort it. The show culminated in me dressing up as Prince and performing ‘Purple Rain’ with everyone on stage. One year I managed to convince Dave McCabe of Zutons fame to come over for the gig. We made a last minute band with my brother and our Nick [Arctic Monkeys] and played a Zutons tune. I’ve had loads of people up there with me. The Reverend and the Makers gang come every year and join in; Pete and Charlie McKee have been involved before; Tom Grennan was over last year and I’ve even drafted ex-footballer Ritchie Humphreys in on guitar! A personal favourite came last year when Rebecca Taylor (AKA Self Esteem) joined us to perform ‘Under Pressure’ by Queen and Bowie. What a tune. There are always a couple of Christmas songs thrown in too, for anyone wondering whether to come down.

“The only issue is that I have to try and better each show every year. Anyone got McCartney’s number?”

You usually like to keep details of the show under wraps in the build-up. Is there anything you can tease us with?
I get asked this every year but I genuinely don’t know who’s doing what until about three hours before the gig! It normally depends on who is home for Christmas and If anyone owes me any favours. With having the Good Cop Bad Cop record out it gives me some new stuff to play, so I’m looking forward to that. I’ve sent out a couple of texts to some mates here and there but it’s a lottery. Whoever shows up it’ll be a great night. It always is.

How’ve you settled into the festive season? Are you a Christmas jumper and whistling carols around the house sort of bloke, or do you keep it a bit more low-key?
Now that I’ve got kids, being low-key is not an option! Get the big tub of chocolates out, watch a million kids’ films and combat the afternoon meltdowns of my daughter by telling her that Santa is always watching. Which he is, obviously.

Right, the serious stuff. Buble or Bing?
Buble? Are you taking the piss? Bing and Bowie. Next question.

On that note, what are your favourite and least favourite Christmas songs? Explanations for each please.
‘Fairytale of New York’ is probably the ultimate, isn’t it? And ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham! is a certified banger but you knew that already. It only got to number two in the charts as well! There are plenty of the obvious ones, but I want to give a special mention to ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’ by Brenda Lee as it reminds me of Home Alone, which is obviously a massive Christmas film to anyone born in the 80s. Kevinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!

What about the bad’uns? 
If I can shift the goalposts a bit I’m putting ‘The Millennium Prayer’ by Cliff Richard firmly at the top of the dog shit pile. Nothing against Jesus, mind – he invented the whole festive period – but what a lazy and dull waste of four minutes. And he’s being greedy by having two first names.

Is Die Hard a Christmas film?
An ultimately heartwarming tale with moments of mild peril? Of course it is. I can see Jesus and Joseph sat watching that whilst Mary tuts under her breath and reads the Nazareth Weekly.

Do you have an elf on your shelf?
No, but I do have a rather small bass guitarist, Pat, that I sometimes leave on the mantelpiece overnight. He’s quite judgemental and is a bit of a snitch, so I suppose he does the same job.

Erm. Bread sauce with your Christmas dins: yes/no?
Eh? Bollocks. Absolutely not. Bread sauce is the uninvited guest to the party that brings a four-pack of warm Fosters. Pathetic. Don’t even think about putting that on my plate. I have a relative that shall remain unnamed that has mushy peas on his Christmas dinner. I kid you not. Mushy-fucking-peas. The 25th of December is not a day for fusion food or curve balls. Cranberry sauce? Now you’re talking.

“Buble? Are you taking the piss? Bing and Bowie. Next question.”

Music-wise, how are you looking to build on things in 2020?
I don’t exactly know. I’d like to do a few festivals and maybe pick up some support slots as I desperately need to play in front of new people. I’m in a fortunate position as I have both GCBC and Milburn to work on. Bizarrely, everyone thinks Milburn are finished again even though we said were just having a bit of time off. With that in mind, I’ll probably do something totally different and write a musical! I’m a bit of an idiot like that. Never satisfied.

Joe Carnall Jnr and Friends IX comes to the O2 Academy on December 23rd. Tickets and more info available here

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