Steve Davis: Snooker’s Mr Boring is now DJ Thundermuscle!
Six-times world snooker champion, Steve Davis, has reinvented himself as a DJ
It’s nearly three o’clock in the morning at the Bollywood stage at the Bestival music festival on the Lulworth Castle estate in Dorset.
The crowd dancing to an eclectic mix of psychedelic and electronic tracks are not only having a great time but are witnesses to probably the strangest and most unlikely transformation of a sporting icon of all time.
For the hipster standing in front of them spinning the discs is no ordinary DJ but the six-times world snooker champion, Steve Davis. Yes, that’s right, Steve “Interesting” Davis.
Lampooned, perhaps rather cruelly, by the 1980s satirical TV puppet show Spitting Image for being the boring goody-two shoes of a sport that attracted some wild, devil-may-care characters, Davis has re-invented himself as the nocturnal DJ Thundermuscle.
What’s more, he’s loving every minute of it.
He and his co-DJ Kavus Torabi, an experimental musician who has played in several acclaimed bands, are now much in demand at the UK’s top festivals.
“It gives me as great a buzz as snooker did,” Davis tells me as we meet up for a coffee the following morning.
“There are challenges. The sort of music we play, the vast percentage of people will never have heard of it before. So for people to dance to something they never heard, it’s got to be good. We identify records we think they’re going to enjoy.”
So how did this extraordinary change of career come about? “It was by luck really. Kavus and I do a radio show in Brentwood, called the Interesting Alternative Show. Two guys who run a wonderful electronic music festival in Minehead called the Bloc Weekender asked if we’d like to come down and play a live set. We did it and we had such a great laugh.
“People were coming up to us and said they thought it was refreshingly different. Fortunately the BBC came down and did a little documentary on it which they ran during the world snooker championship two years ago. And then the phone started ringing and all of a sudden Glastonbury rang!”
Davis headed down to Somerset in June last year for the UK’s biggest music festival but had a shock when he first arrived.
Steve Davis was so dull as a player that he was nicknamed ‘Interesting’
“We got there about an hour before we were due to go on and the tent was empty,” he recalls.
“We thought, ‘Oh no, let’s hope somebody turns up’. We went off and came back and the tent was rammed. It was a 500-capacity tent and twice as many people were trying to get in. We went on stage and it was the biggest buzz you ever had. It was fantastic.”
At first, Davis found DJ-ing to be a nerve-racking experience.
“I was very self-conscious. Although I’ve played snooker in front of millions, this was a different kind of nerves. I was like a frightened rabbit in the headlights. At Bloc it took me a good half hour before I could even look at anybody. Then when I did look I saw a sea of Steve Davises. The organisers had given everybody a mask to put on. It was just mad.”
Although Davis and his partner have established themselves on the circuit as accomplished disc spinners, it’s still a surprise for some festival-goers when they see who’s behind the turntable. “People look up and say, ‘What are you doing here? Aren’t you that snooker guy from the TV?’.”
He readily admits that he’s living his life backwards, like the film character Benjamin Button. In his teenage years, when his friends were out dancing at nightclubs, he was devoting himself to snooker. Now when his contemporaries are getting early nights, he’s partying the night away at the age of 60.
“When I was 16 or 17 I was practising six or seven hours a day. If anyone had told me two years ago I’d be doing this… it’s just amazing.”
Davis laughs off my suggestion that he might soon be playing in Las Vegas alongside Calvin Harris
Davis says that sharing his love of obscure and unusual music with appreciative audiences replaces the thrill he once got from playing snooker at the highest level.
“I think a lot of sports people, once they retire, struggle a bit because nothing will seem the same from the adrenalin rush they get from sport. But I’ve got to say this is the same.”
The next step is to prove to himself that his act can transcend his celebrity.
“Initially it’s not been hard to sell it to some promoters because of the novelty factor. But it’s not a novelty. Now that we’ve got a certain reputation, the next phase would be to prove we can do it in a country where it could stand on its merits.”
He laughs off my suggestion that he might soon be playing in Las Vegas alongside the world’s highest paid DJ Calvin Harris. Friendly and humorous, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Davis’s new vocation is more in tune with his true character than a sports star who had to keep his emotions in check.
“In a way it’s more rewarding than playing for yourself,” he says. “It’s about a feeling of goodwill. When you went out to play snooker your aim was to win, not to entertain.
“As a DJ your job is to entertain the crowd. All the time that people are prepared to have a dance, we’re prepared to do it.”
Davis finally retired from the game in 2016 but says he doesn’t miss the old days
Although I’ve played snooker in front of millions, this was a different kind of nerves
What, I wonder, do his old snooker mates think of his reincarnation as DJ Thundermuscle? “None of them have been to see it yet so they might think we’re doing weddings and bar mitzvahs. They’re probably going, ‘What on earth! He’s the most unlikely snooker player of any of us, the one with a boring image, and is suddenly doing something which sounds like fun’.”
Davis totally dominated his sport in the 1980s but is not one to dwell on past glories.
“You only ever do things for the moment. To watch back old footage of myself, no, I’d much rather watch a film.”
When I ask him which of his world fi nals he remembers the most, he replies without hesitation: “The one I lost.” He is referring to his epic 1985 encounter with Dennis Taylor, the final frame of which was watched by a record 18.5 million people. Taylor finally won 18-17 by potting the last black at 12.20am.
“For me looking back, even if I lost it, it certainly didn’t mess up my career. So many people have told me where they were at the time. Some say they have great memories of watching it with their grand parents who have now departed. What a wonderful honour, to have been a part of that.”
In fact, losing what many believe to have been the greatest snooker match of all time did much to boost Davis’s popularity.
One gets the distinct impression that Davis wants to be remembered for what he does now
Prior to that he was regarded by many as “the Romford Robot”, a rather clinical winning machine. But the gracious way he took defeat showed him in a new light.
Three years later, he became the first – and to date only – snooker player to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. He finally retired from the game in 2016 but says he doesn’t miss the old days. “I carried on longer than I should have done. I did it in a way perhaps to keep my father’s interest. We’d always done it together but when he passed away last year it seemed a natural time to stop.”
Davis’s “boring” image also took a bit of a battering in 1995 when a newspaper published kiss-and-tell revelations from a 19-year-old lover who claimed they had sex seven times in one night. He separated from his wife Judy, a former air stewardess on Concorde with whom he had two sons, in 2005.
When I ask him about his private life today he replies: “I haven’t got one. I’m just enjoying my retirement. I couldn’t believe I was 60 last month. The worry is, should you be DJ-ing if you’re on the brink of a heating allowance? I don’t know.”
One gets the distinct impression that Davis wants to be remembered as much for what he does now as for what he achieved as the world’s best snooker player.
“It’s like going fi shing and thinking, ‘We’re not going to get many but we may get a couple of bites’. We might get a kid who grows up and says, ‘The moment my musical life changed was when I went to that festival and saw them two old blokes on stage and they played the music I now love and I’ve got them to thank.’ That would be the ultimate reward.”
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