Charlotte “Charlie One” Fairman: People went, English singer? Right – into the studio!

Charlotte Fairman, Ohm Square, photo: Jiří Vaculík / FB official of Ohm Square

Charlotte Fairman – nicknamed Charlie One – is an English vocalist who has been living here in Prague for the last two decades. The singer moved to the city after appearing on Petal, a classic UK house track by mid-1990s dance outfit Wubble-U. But here she is best known as the front-woman of Ohm Square, who have been a fixture on the local dance scene for many years. When Charlie came into our studios recently, I asked what had first brought her to the city she now calls home.

Charlotte Fairman,  Ohm Square,  photo: Jiří Vaculík /  FB official of Ohm Square
“I suppose music would have to be the answer. Wubble-U – you know the band? I used to work with them in London.

“Jan Muchow from Ecstasy of St. Theresa was on the same label as them [Go! Discs] and he came over to do a session with them once and he said, I would like to get some vocals – what about the girl who sings Petal? And that was me.

“We made a couple of really nice tracks but the label itself didn’t want to put those tracks out, because I had a very English-sounding vocal and they obviously wanted to market them as an East European band.

“Those songs never came out actually. But of course a friendship formed between Honza and me. He said I should come to visit him. I did. And the rest is history, really.

Ecstasy of St. Theresa,  Web official of the group
“I met a lot of people here in Prague straight away and started to sing straight away. People went, English singer? Right – into the studio!

“I formed a lot of relationships, musical and personal, and started to travel back and forward a lot, from Prague to London, or London to Prague.

“We did a couple of gigs with Wubble-U and then Ohm Square were formed. Jan 2, Jan Čechtický, phoned me up one day and said, Do you want to sing a couple of songs?

“So I jumped on a plane and it all just fell into place. Like that.”

You mentioned Petal by Wubble-U from 1994, which was a big, big single here. It was used in the film Šeptej, or Whisper, and it was just everywhere here in the mid-1990s. Did the fact that you had done that song make people instantly want to know you? Or did it make you instantly popular? It really was a gigantic song here.

“It was. It was. Definitely the point that I was a singer and that I was from England – that’s how I kind of got on so well here with my career.

“I’ve often wondered what I would have done in London. It’s that Sliding Doors thing. One on hand I may have been running around in the rat-race and just doing music as a hobby. Or I could have made it big-time, who knows?

Jan P. Muchow | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International
“But I think there was an attraction because I was ‘a British singer’ living here in Prague. It was something a bit different for people.

“But I guess, yeah, Wubble-U and the song Petal gave me some kind of other status – it must have done.

“Although saying that, over the years I’ve met many people who I know, who I’ve known for a long time and then we have a conversation and they’ve gone, What?! Petal?! That’s you?!

“It’s happened again and again and again, so there’s obviously a lot of people out there who don’t really know it’s me.

“I mean, in the video I’m dressed as a little creature, sitting on a toadstool [laughs].”

How do you look back on the song in particular now? Many people love it. For me, it takes me right back to that time and it’s my favourite song from that time.

“Really? It is an anthem. There was a long time that I couldn’t really hear it. I got kind of embarrassed if it came on and people started jumping around – Oh no, not that song again!

Josef Sedloň,  photo: Tomáš Vodňanský
“But it came full circle. I remember a particular time I went to see Róisín Murphy at Veletržní Palace and [DJ] Josef Sedloň or somebody played it during his set.

“I went, Wheeee! and was bouncing through the crowd with you could see people’s faces kind of smiling around me… Yes, it’s an anthem.

“It’s a sad story really with Wubble-U, because they went through two record labels who were just rubbish and never put any of their stuff out, or not very much of it – definitely not the full album.

“But apparently there was a big buzz about that song all over the world, coming back to Go! Discs, or No! Discs as we later named them as they didn’t release anything.

“People were buzzing, buzzing, buzzing about it. That was just when it was on a promo record. So if it had been released at the time I think it could possibly have been a hit around the rest of the world.

“But it didn’t really get its chance. By the time it came out it was a few years later. And the album never came out – Wubble-U actually released it over here, only. So you can’t buy it anywhere else – only in the Czech Republic, their number one fan base.

“I wasn’t sure after that how well that song was known worldwide. But since then I’m still getting stories occasionally from people saying, I remember hearing that in this country and that country.

“So it got out there somehow. But if only it had got the backing that it deserved it could have been huge.”

The 1990s in Prague is kind of mythologised now but it really was a wild time. What are your strongest memories of that era?

“Nothing! [Laughs] I can’t remember anything because I was having such a good time, and so often.

“Just so much fun. Great parties. Great music. I was doing a lot of singing with DJs then.

DJ Tráva,  photo Archive of Czech Radio
“I think the first gig I ever did improvising like an MC, but a singing MC, was with Tráva, DJ Tráva. He actually asked me if I wanted to do it – at the Roxy. We had a great gig and we loved it.

“From then it kind of snowballed and I did a lot of gigs with him and with DJ Lucas, Lucas Hulan. We played some great sets. Anything from house music – a lot of house music – to drum’n’bass to ambient, downtempo, with lots of different people.

“Just the fun of it all really. Just the fun of all the parties. It was a mysterious time, wasn’t it? There seemed to be places when I first came to Prague where there’d be little doors and you just had to knock on and they’d open and let you in.

“It’s not like that any more is it? But just so much fun – I don’t remember much more [laughs].”

We haven’t met so many times but you seem to be quite a feisty person. Did you ever get in trouble…

“It’s the red hair!”

Did you ever get in trouble here in the 1990s, just because of your attitude, that you were relatively up front with people and that kind of thing?

“People have taken me the wrong way sometimes, a little bit. Maybe not so much being offended but perhaps the other way – thinking I was in love with them or whatever [laughs].

“Because I was so friendly and that’s my way. Hopefully I’ve grown up a little bit, or calmed down a little bit I guess, over the years.

“But I hope that my spirit is still there somehow. Because not everybody’s like that and I just am.”

Tell us about Ohm Square. I think I went to one of your first gigs at the Míčovna, the Ball Games Hall, at Prague Castle.

“Yes, up at the Castle. Amazing gig to get, looking back and thinking about it. And amazing that so many people came along there.

“We were worried because we knew it was a non-smoking, non-drinking place and we thought, Bloody hell, none of our fans are going to show up.

“But slowly people started to dribble in and it ended up with a full house and it was a good gig.

Jan Čechtický,  photo: ČT
“We’ve been going since then. We were four. We were three. And now we’re two. So I’m finally just trying to get rid of him [Jan Čechtický] and make it all about me! No – that was a joke.

“But I think it’s definitely working the best… I mean, we’ve had great times with the other guys over the years of course, but to be so long in a band together is like having a relationship – so it wasn’t always easy.

“With the two of us now it’s a good dynamic and it’s quite easy to get things done and to work together.”

I’ve known a few foreigners who’ve been in Czech bands and toured around the country. I often think it must be a fantastic way to get to know the Czech Republic in a way that nobody else would. What kind of experiences have you had of playing outside Prague?

“All sorts. You know what – I just wish now that I’d kept a diary. I’ve gone back to places and had that feeling, Wait a minute – déjà vu. I’ve been here, with some other set of people.

“I’ve had a lot of good experiences with all sorts of people. Playing with DJs, playing with Ohm Square and Not Photogenic, which was a band I played with for a while. And always meeting fantastic people along the way.

“We played a beautiful gig years ago with Ohm Square in Telč. That was amazing. It was really in the early days.

“It was outside and seated. Lots of families sitting down and we’re playing our then quite heavy drum’n’bass music.

“There was no reaction along the way. Nobody clapped or anything. We just played one song and then another.

“And then we finished and everyone stood up and applauded! It seemed they loved it. It was just such a cute kind of gig.”

I think many of us who’ve been in Prague over the years have found that sometimes quite strange doors will open. I know for example you were in the movie Dark Blue World. How was that?

“Right time, right place. I just wandered into Myrnyx Tyrnyx. Did you know Myrnyx Tyrnyx?”

The second-hand clothes shop?

“Exactly. It’s just the [casting] agency now but then they had the shop. And [owner] Maya said, They’re doing casting – they need Brits. She slapped some lipstick on me and shoved me out the door!

“That was it – I got the part [laughs]. It was really good fun actually and I met a couple of friends during the film who I’m still friends with now.

“And I enjoyed doing it very much. It was wonderful to have ended up in such a huge movie, actually.”

How do you find Prague today compared to when you first came here?

“I guess it’s got easier over the years. Because it was quite a struggle when I first came here, just to try and get work.

“I was just singing then but now I’ve established myself more here. I do a lot of voiceovers. So I guess it’s kind of easier, in a way.”

Do you ever think Prague has lost its edge?

“No, not lost its edge – it’s still a cool city, I think. It’s changed a lot but I guess we have as well, right? [Laughs].

“We were talking earlier about the nineties and the noughties even – with that bit of mystery and the party scene and everything.

“But like I say, I’m 43 – oops, I shouldn’t say that on the air. Yes, I’m 43 now, so I’ve calmed down a bit. I like staying in and putting my slippers on. But still loving it – still loving it.”

You mentioned that Ohm Square have now kind of shrunk down to a two-piece. What are you up to these days as a band?

“We released an album two years ago. Almost at the same time as I released my first child [laughs]. Both at the same time, so that was a bit hectic.

“We did that and it’s called A Curious Place Between Souls and Atoms. It’s done quite well I think.

“We’ve played a few gigs around and now we have another gig coming up, an interesting one.

“It’s on March 19 in La Fabrica in Holešovice and it’s part of a motion design festival called Muouvo.

“That’s going to be a good night. And a good day at the festival, by all accounts.”

You were also telling me that you’re preparing to do a solo album.

“Indeed, yes. It’s all preparation at the moment, though I’ve been preparing for this all my bloody life, probably [laughs].

“It’s preparation work at the moment. Things like getting a million recordings off my phones.”

Do you record demos on your phone?

“No, just ideas, ideas. And then I sometimes lose my phone – that’s happened with three or four phones full up with ideas. Mortifying. But never mind – we won’t focus on that.

“I’ve got quite a lot of other stuff over the years, from other phones. So getting it all together and finding themes… a lot of the time I’ll find an idea and then when I listen back to it I get another idea.

“So I’ve got all of these different recordings for one song. Many things like that come literally from my voice – generated from my soul and my feelings and my voice.

“But then I’ve also got a load of stuff just on Logic on my computer at home, that I’ve been plinking plonking.

“I wish I had kept up the piano lessons and the flute lessons and everything else when I was a kid, but I didn’t. I definitely have a musical ear but I can’t sit down and just play the piano. I wish I could.

“It’s interesting actually, when I’ve tried to create music that way, it’s quite dark.

“I’m going to be working with Jan 2 [Čechtický] again, from Ohm Square. I kept thinking, How am I going to do this? Am I going to work with all different producers?

“But I realised, he’s the guy that I know best here, I trust him and I love what he does. And I think I know him well enough that I can boss him around and say, This is my album now [laughs].

“He’s happy doing that. He says, OK, tell me what you want and let’s figure it out. So that’s very exciting.

“It’s hard fitting it in between being Supermum and everything, working. But I’ve got to get it done. So hopefully by the end of this year we’ll have something to show – to play.”