Steve Davis exclusive interview: A DJ set on stage, the nerves are a match for playing at the Crucible

 ( )
( )

In one room a female performer is rapping in Spanish as a support band jams behind her, and students gyrate wildly on the dance floor.

In another, someone more synonymous with the green baize than the red haze of the laser show that lights up his head is hunched over a modular synthesizer pumping out electronic music.

Musically, it is a far cry from the 1986 Chas and Dave hit Snooker Loopy on which Steve Davis was one of its star performers. Welcome to Bleep Klub, a collective techno jamming session on a Monday night of the week of the World Snooker Championship.

“If anyone told me my musical career would go further than Snooker Loopy, I’d have laughed,” says Davis, talking beforehand in a real ale pub serving oriental food in a bohemian part of Bristol where he relocated from Essex in part because of the city’s music scene. “I’ve had two hobbies — snooker and music — and both have exploded.”

People say I’ve lost it being a DJ but thank f*** I don’t have to go through that agony of the first round

Steve Davis

This is a world detached from the Essex snooker halls where he toiled tirelessly to become the dominant force of his sport, winning six world titles in an era when the sport took off stratospherically. The most notable of which was a loss against Dennis Taylor on a final black in 1985, remarkably Davis’s favourite ever Crucible final despite being on the receiving end as some 18.5million Britons tuned in to watch the nailbiter.

Davis has long disproved the ‘Interesting’ tag sarcastically handed to him by Spitting Image — he still has his puppet — and he is superb company covering every topical imaginable from his current streaming series of choice, Seth MacFarlane’s Orville, to the rising train fares, and everything in between.

He is a genuinely successful musical artist, having performed more than 100 gigs with his band The Utopia Strong, with whom he has released a handful of albums, as well as DJing at Glastonbury and supporting his favourite band growing up, the prog rock group Magma. This month, he even launched his own record label, Rack Records, a nod to both his snooker career and the eurorack synthesizer.

“I have minimal imposter syndrome,” he says of his second career because he never had a traditional musical background of any sort before realising he could make music without it. It started with a community radio show in Brentwood towards the end of his snooker career — “the graveyard shift”, as he puts it — and being asked to DJ at a tap room in Bethnal Green.

From there, he was invited along with his DJ partner in crime, Kavus Torabi, to perform as techno DJs at a festival. “We weren’t really techno DJs, we played across the board but overnight we became techno DJs,” he says. The BBC filmed a segment showed around the World Championship. “Then the phone started ringing. That’s how it all started… by accident.”

There are parallels between the music and the snooker. Both require practice but both need improvisation in the moment. Plus, there are the crippling nerves. Arriving at the Crucible for Saturday’s first round, he knows how all the players will feel and, as he puts it, “I’ll be thinking thank f*** I don’t have to go through that!”

People say ‘I used to watch you when I was a kid’ and I think, ‘f***ing hell, how old am I?!’

Steve Davis

What’s worse, the nerves at the Crucible or on stage in front of thousands? “The nerves are a match for the Crucible. When you get to 100 per cent crapping yourself, you can’t get any worse than that!” But in both instances the nerves dissipate. “It’s the build-up that’s agony, once you get going you’re in your element in both,” he adds.

“With the music, I think a lot of people think I’ve lost the plot. But I feel lucky to have two hobbies that got a bit stupid.”

Davis still loves snooker and will relish the next few weeks in Sheffield. But he barely ever picks up a cue. His thinking is what is the point and, on the rare occasions he does, he is delighted if he makes a 50 break. “I don’t have a table at home, it seems pointless,” he said.

“I’m not sure what I’d be doing it for. People say that’s sad, can’t you just play for fun but, well, it’s hard to play for fun when you played at that level because it’s not like I’m going to discover anything new. But I still love the game.”

 (Bob Thomas Sports Photography vi)
(Bob Thomas Sports Photography vi)

Having only retired in 2016, he argues he played on too long but did it for his father, Bill, who was his coach and partner in crime throughout his career. “When he passed away, the reason for playing evaporated,” he said. “I was able to say, ‘that’s it, he’s passed away, that’s the end of the team’. But I feel like I did my career the right way so I don’t have to go near a snooker table now.”

He talks of his heyday as a mad time. His sanctuary was his local snooker hall, outside it he felt like a rockstar and enjoyed the craziness of it all. He recalls being taken to a local care home to meet his oldest fan, a 104-year-old lady, who took a shine to him with the immortal words, “if I was only 20 years younger!” He also jokes there was a time where he felt like most of his fans “didn’t have their own teeth!”

Now the sensation is different. There is the occasional double take within musical circles. “People say I used to watch you when I was a kid and I think, ‘f***ing hell, how old am I?!’”

This summer, he turns 67 and looks far younger. Clearly, electronic music has been good to him and he loves its collaborative nature, what he calls a journey into the unknown. My own night out with Steve Davis has been just that.