I really should be asleep rather than typing this, I’m so tired – but I have to put my thoughts onto hard drive as it were.
I have a hell of a lot to be grateful for in my life. First, I’m healthy…actually a little healthier over the last month or so, since I realised I was nearly 13 stone and needed to do more than trim the puppy fat (that’s not a euphemism).
Secondly, I have this brilliant job in broadcasting, what with my talkSPORT commitments along with UEFA.com commentaries, voiceover stuff and all that’s gone before it since BRMB radio took a chance – and it was a huge chance – on giving a long-haired unknown ex-guitar salesman a daily Drivetime show to over 1 million listeners.
Now, one thing that comes with a job in broadcasting is the knowledge that making plans outside of your job is often a futile exercise, particularly in the topsy-turvy world of football journalism, where (for example) you suddenly find yourself on a day off driving hurriedly to Chester Races on the off chance that you’re going to bump into an outgoing manager who’s won 38 trophies in 26 years.
(I didn’t, in case you wondered…)
Such commitments are incredibly important to make in sports broadcasting. One has to be ready for anything – not forgetting that one also has to possess the ability, personality and talent to go with that readiness!
And it was due to my commitment to being a better broadcaster that I left the KISS tribute band Dressed To Kill at the end of 2010. My regular ‘Football First’ programme, which I took over some 6 years ago now (blimey) was moved to a Saturday evening slot from its previous Sunday afternoon as part of the changes talkSPORT undertook when we secured the rights to live Saturday teatime Premier League commentaries.
Now, most bands play Saturday nights – it’s a given, really. Best night of the week to go and have a skin full…plus the best ‘earning’ night for acts and agents. And so, as DTK relied on those Saturday nights that came along once every 4-6 weeks for them, I knew I had to hang up the catsuit and ‘retire’.
I did say in a previous blog that I’d wash the wig and the costume just in case…and wouldn’t you know it, it was a good job.
My replacement in DTK, the supremely talented Matt Blakout, has helped Dressed To Kill to greater and greater heights as they enter their 23rd successive year together (almost as long as the real KISS!) but this past weekend, the band had gigs booked in Bilston and Norwich to which he couldn’t commit. I was asked to return for a weekend, so I checked with bosses, got my first Saturday off in, well, 2 and a half years…and dug out the stupidly massive drum kit and the greasepaint sticks.
Naturally I was looking forward to it – I’m a KISS nutcase after all – and I was expecting to enjoy myself…but couldn’t have dared enjoy it as much as I did in the end!
Being in any tribute band that takes the ‘art’ seriously is bloody hard work. But a KISS tribute band takes it way beyond the next level. Think about it for a moment. Once you’ve all convened at the band’s lockout, you load up the gear, drive to the venue, unload, set up and soundcheck. Most bands then have a 3 hour wait until showtime, where they can just relax and maybe get changed 10 mins before the allotted time to hit the stage.
Not for a band like Dressed To Kill. Soundcheck is promptly followed by a dash to the dressing room to apply liberal amounts of Clown White (and other colours) in 4 of the most instantly recognisable – and trademarked – designs in music history, then put on elaborate costumes that require more time than to simply change a T-shirt.
Even once the show is done, there comes the band’s longstanding tradition of meeting punters straight after the show for photos and a friendly chat, then the rigmarole of removing the make-up and costumes and breaking down the equipment, loading it back into the van and driving to the next venue through the night, stopping somewhere en route to catch a few hours of sleep and dream of a carvery the next morning!
Glamourous? Not really. Tiring? Absolutely. Fun? 100% yes.
Being back in Bilston was a particularly happy coincidence for me as it was the venue for my initial swansong as a full time member of DTK after 5 years on the drums with them. It’s a superb venue that innately understands the need to attract customers not just with an unending succession of tribute bands as many places do, but also bringing in a quality roster of original artists from right across the genres. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but Mike Hamblett and his team do it better than anyone else in the business.
And that includes Shaun and the team who do the sound for bands like us. It makes such a busy schedule a darn sight easier for us when the sound is as good as it was in both Bilston and Norwich, but especially Bilston.
I shan’t bore you with the specifics of the set list on either night or anything like that. Suffice to say that my face still aches as I type 24 hours on from the Norwich gig thanks to my constant desire to smile. The Cheshire Cat(man) if you will. Everyone contributed to those smiles – friends who travelled from far and wide to see and support us, but mostly my old bandmates whose company is never less than riotously entertaining. The van rivals the talkSPORT Programming office for the levels of piss-taking and insults that get thrown your way…and that is a positive, trust me!
And why not allow oneself to smile? Life hasn’t been that brilliant for me lately, but sometimes it takes a day like, say, being at Wembley to see Blues win the League Cup and then host a joyous phone in afterwards on talkSPORT, or a night like Friday with DTK where everything onstage and off seems to flow so naturally and sweetly as it did, to remind you how life affirming some things you participate in can be.
“Freeze this moment a little bit longer, make each sensation a little bit stronger” sang Geddy Lee in Rush’s song ‘Time Stand Still’ That about sums nights like the ones I mentioned just now.
I may don the old DTK catsuit again in future, you never know – the fact that I’m smiling at the mere thought of that says it all. It’s the same smile I have knowing I’m back on the air soon indulging my other love of radio.
I’m a very lucky man in that respect, that’s for sure. But you have to work damn hard to be lucky, and even harder to stay lucky.