Richie Prynne, the CC Smugglers’ charismatic frontman, speaks to Alexandra Petropoulos about how they found fame through busking
Carpe diem! #YOLO! No matter how you prefer to say it, the philosophy remains the same – take life by the balls and seize every opportunity that passes your way. And no band embraces this attitude quite like the old-time sextet of Bedfordshire boys, the CC Smugglers.
“When you see an opportunity, just go for it. We’ve always been like that. We’ve had so much success from that,” the Smugglers’ lead singer Richie Prynne tells me. He and his band of merry men – Ryan Thomas (guitar and banjo), Sam Barret (guitar and fiddle), Dan Edwards (double bass), Flow Toulman (drums, percussion and mandolin) and Dave Marks (piano, accordion and trumpet) – perform what they call ‘new roots’ music, which playfully blends old-time Americana, rag-time, honky-tonk, bluegrass, vaudeville and rock’n’roll. They started modestly as a busking band, but not just your standard run-of-the-mill buskers – guerrilla buskers. They hijack queues of people waiting to see their favourite bands or commandeer underground trains and escalators.
“That’s what we built the brand on. But it’s also where everything has come from. When we first started out, we would go to gigs of people we liked and stand in the queue and play,” Prynne admits and it’s not an empty statement. Early last year they followed one of their favourite bands, Old Crow Medicine Show, around the UK and stood outside each show performing for gig-goers. “That was the pinnacle of our guerrilla busking. That’s when it went from something we just did to get extra fans to being what our whole brand was based on.” After three nights of busking, Old Crow Medicine Show asked the CC Smugglers to join them on stage for their encore. “I have listened to that band since I was about 19-20 years old. They’re heroes of mine, so to stand up and do that was the best thing I’ve ever done,” Prynne remembers.
They’ve had many of these once in a lifetime experiences – from jamming with Seasick Steve to rocking with Jarvis Cocker – these guys always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Earlier this summer they busked in the foyer of the BBC, and who comes along but Jon Snow, on his way to interview Jeremy Paxman. Prynne recalls how “he just saw us, made a beeline for us and started rapping,” freestyling about Paxman leaving Newsnight – ‘O Paxo, please don’t go!’
Everywhere they play, the CC Smugglers come away with more fans than when they started. So what is it about their carefree brand of new roots music that makes them so irresistibly fun? Besides the infectious joy they exude while playing, their understanding of the music is so deep as to sound effortlessly natural, and then, of course, there’s Prynne, the showman. With ease he’s able to get any audience dancing, singing, and loving the show. “I’ve always been naturally good at getting people to look at me and being entertaining. It’s all about getting people to watch you. It’s the same when you’re busking. You have a couple of seconds to pull their attention and get them to stop walking. And then you only have a minute or two to make them put money in your case.”