Charlie Simpson

20th April 2012 at 01:00
The musician had a School of Rock experience that set him on the road to stardom

My music teachers had the biggest impact on me. My junior school, Brandeston Hall, very much concentrated on classical music. There wasn't really any avenue for more popular-culture music - you couldn't play rock. Then Mr Rogers came along, and he wanted to shake up the whole music scene.

I was about 11 and had taken a shine to guitar music, Metallica and a little bit of that Britrock thing that was kicking off - Bush had just come out. Me and my mates wanted to start a band, but there was just no equipment. Mr Rogers got the school to buy a decent bass amp and a couple of electric guitars, and got us a band room.

I spent all my time in there - every single break time, lunchtime. Then we'd do a little show every week or so. We'd started to write our own songs and I remember him coming up with really inventive little things, teaching us the craft of songwriting - there was no one else like that in the school.

Mr Rogers had a beard, wore a trilby and must have been in his 40s; I think he'd taught Jay Kay from Jamiroquai. All the other teachers were much, much older, and more snooty. They wanted me to learn the violin.

Every summer there was a thing where all the parents, pupils and teachers would get together, a band would play 1960s covers, everyone would dance, and it'd be really good fun. Mr Rogers said, "Look, I'm going to speak to the school and try and get you guys first on." For us that was the most incredible thing. We were like, "Holy shit! Our first gig - in front of the whole school!" I'd just turned 12, and I've still got the video recording.

I wouldn't say he was into the same music as us - we were playing Offspring covers and I think he was into more funky stuff. But he was a really good bass player and would jam with us. That was the type of guy he was: he wanted to adapt to whatever you wanted to do.

When I moved to Uppingham, I came across two very similar teachers. The school was very focused on classical music and quite well known for it; some people thought rock music was disruptive to other pupils. I started pushing for a place to play. These two teachers, Alex Tester and Alexis French, were into more contemporary music, and they pushed so hard we actually got a recording studio. That was unheard of for people our age. It was a bit School of Rock. I loved it - they had that mindset of wanting to do something a bit different. When I watched the film with Jack Black I thought, "I've been there before, man!"

I loved school. I was never really into academics. I enjoyed the social element, but never really the work. I'm so grateful to my music teachers. They saw my drive and how much I wanted to do music, and fed off that. It was almost like I was friends with them, although I wouldn't have called them by their first names - that would have felt a bit disrespectful. If music had been taken away from me and I'd been told you've got to work harder at your academics, I may not have built up music as a career. I might have drifted.

I lost contact with Mr Rogers. Mr Tester came to a gig in Scotland a few months ago, and loved it. Alexis French invited me back to Uppingham to judge a battle of the bands. They've built a recording studio. I think it cost pound;1.2 million. Now contemporary music is as much a focus at the school as classical music, which was wonderful to see. They're teaching sound engineering as a course, and I'm like, "What the fuck, man, that's what I wanted to do!"

Charlie Simpson was talking to Henry Hepburn

Personal profile

Born: Suffolk, 1985

Education: Brandeston Hall Prep School, Uppingham School


Joined boy band Busted in 2001 after answering an advert in NME and won two Brit awards; left Busted to form hard rock band Fightstar in 2005, receiving nominations for Best British Newcomer and Best British Band in the Kerrang! Awards; released debut solo album in 2011, the acoustic Young Pilgrim.

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