Charlie Starmer-Smith had huge success with his debut single ‘Spotlight’ and it’s a single with a huge story. It’s a song which is deeply personal as it deals with Alzheimer’s disease, which is sadly something very close to his heart as his Father is suffering from it.
He wants his music to help and with honest and raw lyrics and part of the proceeds going to the Alzheimer’s Society, he really is a musician with a mission beyond getting streams. Raising awareness and cash for this important charity sets this artist apart and I was honoured to chat with him about his music.
Charlie’s background is full of tragedy, having lost his Sister to a rare blood condition when she was 16, his Brother to a non-Hodgkin lymphoma at 19 and his Mum to Bowel Cancer. With his Dad suffering from dementia, this is a person who needs his music as much as we need to listen to it and help. I truly hope that after reading what he has to say, the first thing you do is download his music and share his story because money and awareness really will help the fight against a disease that affects so many of the people we care about.
EP: Charlie, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Your debut single ‘Spotlight’ was an incredibly moving piece of work and from the lyrics is obviously deeply personal and honest. Do you think music is a cathartic exercise for you in that it allows you to put into words things that might be too personal to say in day to day life? Your life has sadly been beset by tragedy and there must be times that the only way to deal with that is to put it into a song which will help others going through loss deal with their pain as well as maybe give you some personal release.
C: All my life, I have been someone who has struggled to convey their emotions. I lost my brother and sister when I was younger, my Mum last year and my Dad is suffering with dementia. My coping mechanism has always been to bottle things up, stay busy and try not to dwell on it all. These songs were something very private – I wrote them during lockdown for no one else but myself, so the words and meaning are very raw, very real and very personal. Writing, singing and performing ‘Spotlight’, in particular, has been an amazing release for me – it has helped me unpack some of that sadness, anger and pain I’ve felt and I hope the message is something that resonates with others who have suffered loss in their lives.
EP: Your father is a sporting legend, the iconic England Rugby star and commentator Nigel Starmer–Smith. Sadly, he is suffering from dementia and I know that raising awareness and funds for the Alzheimer’s Society is a cause very close to your heart. I know that you are donating a share of your musical profits to the cause, how can music fans donate to this important charity?
C: It’s such an important cause – nearly a million people suffer with dementia across the UK and The Alzheimer’s Society is doing such great work in supporting them and their families, as well as investigating the causes of this cruel, cruel disease. Coming from a sporting family it is their work to investigate the links between contact sports and dementia, through their Sport United Against Dementia campaign, which has particularly hit home and I’ve had amazing support from across the sporting world. You can contribute by downloading either ‘Spotlight’ – or my new single ‘Tonight’ – or by following the donation link on Spotify.
EP: There is quite a lot of research into how music seems to be able to find its way through the fog of dementia. If it’s not too personal a question, and please do feel free not to answer, have you found that your Father finds music helpful?
C: Music is one of the few things that gets through to him. Dad’s dementia is now very advanced but he always reacts to music and even still hums along, despite having lost the ability to speak a long time ago. Music is such a powerful thing and touches people in a way nothing else can. During the worst of lockdown when you couldn’t go inside his care home and could only see him through a glass window, I used to take my guitar and play some songs to him which would always grab his attention, sometimes even a smile, and hopefully gave him a bit of light during a very dark time.
EP: I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the song ‘Remembering’ by Ashley Campbell. It’s a beautiful song about her relationship with her father Glen who also suffered from dementia before he passed away. Have you ever had the chance to hear that; I think it would be a poignant song for you to hear.
C: I have listened to it. A friend recommended it to me and the lyrics really resonated with me. She talks about remembering things for her father which is a lovely sentiment. For the truth is no one knows what dementia sufferers know, understand, what they can hear, what they can feel. We can just let them know we are there and we care, talk to them and make their situation the best it can be
EP: Your big break happened when you sent your music into a Radio 5Live competition. It would be great if you could tell us that story please Charlie?
C: I’d never seriously sung before but it was my mum, who had moved in during lockdown as she was undergoing chemotherapy (she had terminal bowel cancer), that persuaded me to send a song into BBC 5LIve who were doing a lockdown music feature. I was reluctant as I was new to all this, the songs were very personal and music had never been more than just a hobby. But she persisted and persisted and eventually (through gritted teeth) I sent in a song I’d written about my dad’s battle with dementia and the need to shine a light on this disease. It was called ‘Spotlight’. I had zero expectations.
To my surprise they played the song and invited me on the show. Even more surreal was that a top music producer was listening and liked it and got in touch. Once I’d established that this was not one of my mates winding me up, I went up to Abbey Road Studios to meet him and it would be here that I would go on to record my debut album.
Sadly, my Mum by this point had been moved to a hospice but I did manage to play her a rough cut of the album before she died, which was very emotional for all of us and I know it gave her some comfort in those final hours.
Even more surreal, was that subsequently I was invited to play to 70,000 at Twickenham (some first gig!) before joining Ronan Keating on his UK & Ireland tour. It has been a mad journey and I owe it all to my amazing Mum.
EP: You have a new song out now called ‘Tonight’, what’s the inspiration for this song?
C: It is a song that is about a conversation with someone who needs help, who is doubting themselves or facing hurdles they don’t feel they can overcome. It talks of the need to just get through the next thing, the next day, the next hour – reminding them that the night is darkest before dawn. I feel it is something that everyone can resonate with in these times.
EP: It must have been exciting recording your debut album ‘Silver Lining’ at the iconic Abbey Road Studio. How on earth did that come about and what was it like recording in the same studio as The Beatles and so many other iconic artists?
C: As I mentioned above, I could not believe that I had the opportunity to record at Abbey Road, let alone in Studio 3 where so many amazing musicians have played including Pink Floyd who recorded their seminal album there. The places oozes with music history. I remember arriving and having to take a few deep breaths in the corridor before I went in. It was an incredible experience and has left me wanting more!
EP: You’re touring with Ronan Keating and also you are going to play the very last Cornbury Festival; do you still have to pinch yourself that things have happened so quickly for you and how excited are you by the prospect of the tour?
C: I have just finished touring with Ronan Keating, playing 8 cities across the UK and Ireland – from Dublin to Glasgow, Belfast to Bristol – it’s been an amazing experience. I have learnt so much from watching someone who has been at the top of his game for 25 years and to get to play in those theatres and arenas and share my songs, has been such an honour.
I remember walking out at the first one in Bristol and it felt so surreal – a year ago I was writing my own songs in my bedroom for no one to hear but me – now I was playing them to thousands of people.
I’m playing at Cornbury Festival next on July 9 – on the same bill as Bryan Adams, Mika, The Waterboys – which will be awesome. The fact that it is the last ever one makes it extra special.
I’ve named my forthcoming album ‘Silver Linings’ – because even in the darkest times there can be positive things that emerge. The music is something my Mum has left me and so I’m grateful for that.
EP: It’s been an absolute pleasure to get to ask you a few questions. Thank you for the music and for all the wonderful charitable work you are doing. I’ll look forward to seeing you at Cornbury in a few weeks.