I think I can safely say that this past Christmas and New Year has been the busiest and most productive in my entire working life.
To be fair, I’m used to grafting over the festive period whilst others are sinking into the sofa debating which Quality Street are which and how many variations on a theme you can get out of the remains of the turkey.
Even in my pre-radio days at the guitar shop in Brum, you were back on the horse the day after Boxing Day typically, and only rarely did your usual midweek day off line up with the Bank Holidays to give you what at least felt like an extended break. Bah and, indeed, humbug.
Of course, these days I’m best known for my talkSPORT work, and Christmas is a time when I’m often asked to provide cover for those regular presenters who book time off. 2012 into 2013 was to be no exception with a couple of Drivetime shifts here and there, a Sunday afternoon stint and the New Years Eve into New Years Day show along with trips to Charlton & Palace to cover games.
That was, at least, the original schedule. However my colleague and good friend Adrian Durham was taken ill just after his Boxing Day shift with a virus and then with laryngitis that’s effectively seen him off air for over a fortnight – when your voice is your pay packet such as in broadcasting, throat illnesses are utterly devastating, and hopefully Adrian is nearing a comeback as I type this.
But in his absence, schedules and shows have to be altered and one has to be versatile and malleable to help things going smoothly on air, and that included me covering not only more of Adrian’s Drivetime shifts, but also the intensity of the Matchday Live ‘around the grounds’ format that Adrian himself devised a decade ago with the talkSPORT’s late great producer Jim Brown.
The format is fast paced and not for the unprepared…someone in the office told me that Alan Brazil was asked to cover for Adrian on the show some years back and had what Ray Parlour would describe as a ‘Weston Super’ trying to keep up with the goal flashes from throughout the divisions and crossing to relevant reporters at the right times. I didn’t hear it that day, but I can imagine it in my head!
I’ve covered the Matchday Live shift in the past on International Weekends, where the ‘around the grounds’ stuff is limited to a handful of League 1 & League 2 fixtures – but the full on MDL shift is different gravy when the Premier League & Championship kick in. The added ingredient to that mix these days is that Adrian has been hosting the show not at talkSPORT towers with a bank of monitors in front of him and computers at his fingertips, but rather on site at a Premier League 3pm kick off.
You might think that means the only difference to the host is the drop in temperature at this time of year. Not so – in football stadia press boxes, you are utterly at the mercy of the consistency and quality of the Wi-Fi connection you’re presented with. And don’t labour under the misconception that the bigger the club, the better the wireless signal.
My first Matchday Live cover shift for Adrian was on the Sat 29th December up at Old Trafford to take in Manchester United’s game with West Brom and link to all our other reporters at games up and down a rain-soaked UK. I’d covered Adrian’s Drivetime shifts from London the previous 2 days, so it meant an early morning train from Kings Cross to Manchester – public transport was spot on and allowed me precious time heading North to swot up on form tables, leading scorers and important stories from all 4 English divisions and SPL. It’s over-preparation, but one little nugget of information can come in so handy at the appropriate moment and can feel totally worth the work put it to unearth it.
And storing such information in the cranium became extra important once in the press box at Old Trafford where it swiftly became apparent that the wireless system installed was up there with the chocolate fireguards of this world in terms of its effectiveness. And there was a 2nd problem…the incessant rain on the playing surface overnight had formed huge pools of water on the tarpaulins the ground staff had placed down the centre strip of the pitch. An inspection was called for 1pm and the rain was showing no signs of letting off whatsoever. Dom McGuinness, our reporter alongside me was in 2 minds as to whether we’d get a game on, never mind get the Wi-Fi on.
And I was missing out on the press room grub – but that’s a minor quibble :o)
Anyway, the heavily sodden turf passed muster and the game was officially on – one problem solved. Now for the technology issues. My smartphone seemed to at least have signal, so it was decided that goal updates from games we weren’t covering would be emailed to me through my handset. This is where the production lads (known as “Team Saturday”) came up trumps for me. As a radio station, we do not have the same manpower and resources as the BBC do on matchdays, but the diligence and damn hard work our lads put in means that, to me at least, we offer a fantastic service to our listeners.
And so we awaited kick off…and goals promptly started flying in all over the place in our featured PL and FLC matches!! That meant the accepted running order of which grounds to cross to in turn was thrown right out of the window and you have to go ‘off piste’ as it were until things settle down a bit. It’s great radio when it works but it fries the brain good and proper!
Before you know it the 90 minutes are up around the country, the emails have all sneaked through to the mobile, you’ve hopefully missed nothing and your job is done. First job was to head to the loo after 5 and a quarter hours in the same seat! As I ambled back into the press room from the lavatory, a few remaining desserts were left unclaimed on a table in front of me – raspberry fools by the look of it. They didn’t stand a chance…
I’ve since done 3 more MDL shifts whilst Adrian continues his recovery – at White Hart Lane, Selhurst Park and Villa Park, all with varying degrees of wireless connectivity and outside temperature. Villa Park in particular yesterday was proper taters. I got 2 sets of thermal underwear as a Xmas present 2 years ago – not sexy but vital – and I could have worn both sets and still not fought off the chill that flowed through me from 2 hours into the show…still Michael Gray sounded colder at Goodison Park than me so…
Along with my various extra talkSPORT commitments into the New Year (and I’m not done yet – off to cover Mon/Tues Drivetime as I type this on a Sunday evening) I had another important date to keep last week – namely a visit to Fluid Studios in Hammersmith to oversee the mastering of my soon-to-be-released debut album ‘Prove You Wrong’.
It’s the culmination of about a year of sporadic recording sessions which I fit in and around my work schedule. Rarely have I felt as excited as I did during this mastering session – essentially a process to take the finished recorded track and accentuate tonal aspects within a particular song whilst still keeping a sense of tonal continuity between every track. It’s a fascinating process watching it unfold, as Tim Debney the engineer twiddled skilfully with all manner of valve equalisers and spectrum analysers to bring the sound up to its optimum.
Alex Cooper, my trusty producer from Arkham Studios, came with me to oversee the whole thing – it’s funny how tired you get just sitting in a room listening to tracks over and over. Luckily a steady supply of tea and Tangfastics kept caffeine and blood sugar levels on the up for the duration of the day, and after 10 hours of twiddling, I held a CD in my hand of what, effectively, is my life’s work.
I cannot tell you how proud I am of this album – how satisfying it is to complete something you questioned to yourself whether it was possible. I now understand that I am going to have to spend the next few weeks in a far more egotistical mind-set than I am used to.
Let me explain. I’m in possession of a good healthy ego, which we all should have if we have abilities or situations we create and maintain that are up there to be proud of. But, in order to promote this album to the extent that it deserves, I am going to have to abandon any notions of being timid or apologetic over just how great I think this album is. In essence, if I don’t believe in it and in myself as an artist, who will?
I would hope that most if not all musicians I’ve worked with would accept that I’m not a raging big head with regard only for my apparent brilliance and that nothing else around me matters but how I’m looking and sounding – that’s Peter Criss’ department, judging by his autobiography. It’s just that as release date of ‘Prove You Wrong’ approaches (mid-March hopefully), I will have to accept that I’ve done what most folk couldn’t and record an album 95% on my own…and anyway, a raging egotist wouldn’t have let any guest musicians anywhere near the studio if they felt they could do everything themselves, right?
Or maybe I’m protesting too much already - haha!
Anyway, things are coming together remarkably well. Album mastered, artwork and design well down the line to completion, video shoot to be organised, launch parties in London & Birmingham scheduled in and around release date and the potential for more live work to promote things still further.
So be prepared – if you follow me on Twitter, or have befriended me on Facebook – for a right old plethora of plugs and announcements for the impending release of ‘Prove You Wrong’ including links to iTunes and Amazon sites as well as the album’s own microsite with 30-second samples of each tune for you to check out as and when they’re ready to go.
Hope you like it. Because I do - a lot.