Steve Davis:
right on cue

As a snooker player he was formidable with a cue. Now he cues records up and his two worlds could not be more different

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As a teenager, former world champion snooker player Steve Davis spent most of his time practising in dark rooms. The hard work paid off. Throughout the 1980s he dominated the sport, winning the world championship six times, ranking world number one for seven consecutive seasons and pocketing more than £5.5 million in winnings over the course of his 38-year career.

Now, as he enters his sixth decade, Davis’s life has taken him in a new direction. Instead of travelling the world with his snooker cue, he has become a DJ – and a respected one at that.

He admits it seems strange. As a snooker player his devotion to practising his game to the exclusion of all else and his reputation for clean living – in contrast to many players of his time – earned him the nickname Steve “Interesting” Davis. So when people learn he’s swapped the snooker table for the turntable there’s an element of surprise.

“There’s a novelty aspect to it, although that quickly evaporates,” says Davis. “Once you’re in the room the novelty only lasts for a little bit of time. Then it’s got to be good enough or people just wander away.”

DJing might seem like an unusual career path for a retired snooker champion but for Davis it has been an easy transition. He has always been interested in music, seeking out records by electronic producers and alternative labels from around the globe.

“During my snooker career music was more of a hobby, and funnily enough I don’t think they mix at all,” he says. “Thinking of all the snooker players, I don’t think any of them are massive music heads, certainly not around the tour. Controlled sports such as snooker and golf don’t lend themselves to listening to music while you are trying to do them.

“I never listened to music when I trained, and I didn’t like to listen to music on the day I played because I didn’t need that mentality. You don’t want to be listening to a tune that’s got an earworm when you’re at the table.”

“It’s across the board. It’s a bit psychedelic and a bit weird but it’s all really danceable.”

In 1996, Davis started hosting a weekly radio show on Essex channel Phoenix FM, playing “weird and wonderful” music to the depths of suburbia. Then, at a gig in France, Davis recognised another British accent in the room and got talking to progressive rock musician Kavus Torabi. The pair swapped numbers and Davis invited Torabi to be a guest host on his show, where the pair have worked together ever since.

So what kind of music does a snooker champion-turned-DJ and his partner in crime play?

“It’s hard to pin down what we play to a genre,” says Davis. “We struggle a bit to get that over. It’s danceable but it’s not music you’d have heard. There’s some electronic stuff, some tech stuff and some prog stuff. It’s really across the board. It’s a bit psychedelic and a bit weird but it’s all danceable. We find that we appeal to people who are quite open-minded and we do very well at festivals where there are music fans rather than festival fans.”

Last year, one month before he retired from snooker, Davis and Torabi were asked to join the bill at the revered Bloc festival at Butlins Minehead alongside Thom Yorke, Four Tet and techno legends Jeff Mills and Carl Craig.

It was Davis’s first gig on the festival circuit and it sparked a wave of interest after it was filmed by the BBC. Soon after, Davis and Torabi were invited to play at Glastonbury and a string of live events around the country.

“We got a phone call from a couple of lads who ran Bloc weekend. They invited us to come and do the last one and we said we’re not really live DJs. They said it didn’t matter and that we could just play one of the smaller stages. Then all of a sudden we realised that it was great fun. The next thing we were at Glastonbury and all points north, south, east.

Steve Davis Big Issue North
Steve Davis championed world snooker six times. Now he champions weird and truly “interesting” music. Photo: Robin Anderson/Rex

“There was never a plan – it’s just been a really fun journey of turning up and hoping that people buy into what it is. The radio show is a bit strokey beardy because people are sitting at home listening. When we’re playing live we try and make sure there is more of a party atmosphere. We wallop in a few well-known ones and then we whack in things that people have never heard before.

“A good party song that we sometimes play is Captain Beefheart’s Tropical Hot Dog Night. It’s not a dance track as such but it’s really got a happy, party atmosphere. I wouldn’t know what song to play to get the dancefloor back – I wouldn’t have a clue.”

At Bloc 5,000 festival-goers were given a paper mask of Davis’s face when they checked in to their accommodation.

“I didn’t know anything about it but when we went on to do our set I looked out into a sea of me. Everybody had put the mask on. It was just the most unnerving and weird thing that ever happened. There were all these people dancing around and looking like me. It was frightening. Then they interviewed a few people and asked what they thought of the masks, and this bloke said: ‘Well, we’ve been running out of knives and forks and plates and things so we’ve been eating our dinner off the masks.’ At least they were put to good use!”

As festival season draws to a close, Davis and Torabi still have a few dates in their diary. This weekend they will play a set at Festival No6 in Portmeirion, followed by Bestival on the Isle of Wight.

“We’re really happy when people say: ‘We really like that one – what was it? We’ve never heard that one before, you broke Shazam.’ That’s the delight I’d never thought I’d be experiencing in a live environment. When someone comes up and says ‘I really need to know what that track is’, it’s a really good buzz.

“I don’t think the skills between DJing and playing snooker are the same really, because we’re not mixing anything. The artists are the skilful ones – we just appreciate their music. The only danger is that we can party along with everyone else and get more and more drunk. A snooker player has to practise every day in the build-up to an event and then practise on the day, but we just turn up with a bunch of records and say: ‘Let’s have a good time.’

“My interesting-stroke-boring tag precedes me, so this just doesn’t seem right. It seems like the old model broke and they slipped a new one in through the back door. This is the new, improved version. The only trouble is that I’m slightly living my life in reverse now. When I was in my teens I was spending my time in a dark room and practising for eight hours a day, and now I’m getting on it at the wrong end of my life. The recovery rate is frightening. I’m a bit of a Benjamin Button. The trouble is, I wake up in the morning saying: ‘What have I done now? Oh my god. What tent is this?’”

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