'I’ve always liked a bit of singing': Ex-footballer Chris Kamara on his new Christmas album
When God was creating enthusiasm, he tipped Chris Kamara a double dose.
Actually, he didn’t. He opened the keys to the enthusiasm lab, where angels dressed as scientists were busily conducting experiments, and he shoved Kamara inside. And then, rather than feeding his bread and water – or is it fishes and wine – he mainlined pure, liquid enthusiasm straight into Kamara’s veins.
The former professional footballer-turned-football analyst has for many years been one of the reasons to watch Sky Sports. Constantly bantering with Jeff and the boys, he livens up commentary and turns it into entertainment. Irascible and witty, left field and frequently daft, he has made such eloquent contributions to the national debate as this:
“Barnsley have started off the way they mean to begin.”
“Well done to the lady lineswoman.”
“Statistics are there to be broken.”
“For Burnley to win they are going to have to score.”
“Nicky Shorey is the provider but Shane Long has made this all on his own.”
Thank you, Chris Kamara. Oh, there are a few few more.
“Alex McLeish has just had his hands in his head.”
“Tense and nervous are not the words, though they are the words.”
And then there’s our personal, Weekend favourite:
“Manchester City are defending like beavers.”
Yes, you read that right. The Premier League’s most expensive defence, who have for two consecutive seasons been crowned champions, were defending like large, primarily nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodents. Thank you, Mr Kamara. If only Shakespeare had had your way with words.
To be fair, the beaver thing probably wasn’t far off. Renowned dam builders who protect against predators, we think Kamara is touched with genius rather than being simply touched.
And so it follows that while the idea of a Chris Kamara Christmas album may just be the most foolish and pointless idea ever – worse than the Chinese idea to kill millions of sparrows to keep food for themselves, which unleashed a literal plague of locusts that destroyed crops and led to the death of 30 million people from malnourishment – or, it might be a work of genius. We like Kamara, so we think it’s the latter.
And when he ramps himself up to talk about it today, he is enthusiasm itself; a full-on, 124 volt, super-power-charged forcefield that can barely control its energy.
“Well, I’ve always liked a bit of singing,” says the man who put the beaver into Manchester City’s defence. “So to sing with a 22-piece big band and a conductor, it blows your mind away. It’s all your Christmases coming into one. It’s like a dream. Even if people don’t like my singing, they can listen to the music. It’s incredible.”
Ah yes, classic Kamara….. he did say: “Even if people don’t like my singing…..”
Although, in truth, we don’t imagine they will. Kamara has vocals that would shame an X Factor contestant and has form for public displays. He was on All Together Now, the reality show presented by Rob Beckett and Geri Halliwell finishing behind the perfectly formed Gemma Collins. And, let’s face it, no one would have a chance against The Only Way Is Essex and Celebrity Big Brother star, who’d belted out Shirley Bassey’s Hey Big Spender.
Kamara remembers the experience with affection: “There was’s a 100-strong panel and they stand up and if they liked the song. So I wanted to sing Brown Eyed Girl because it’s a sing-along and people can join in. I thought that would go down well. So my agent called me and asked me to sing a ballad because they didn’t want a sing-along. I said ‘No danger, I won’t’. But the agent asked if I really wanted to win it and I was persuaded.”
At this point, we ought to point out, I suppose, that the bit that says ‘the agent asked if I really wanted to win it’ is more classic Kamara because, of course, he followed that advice but was eliminated before the sing-off. Anyway, we digress. Sorry. Carry on, Chris.
“So I decided to sing one from my hero, Elton John, and my favourite song is Your Song. So they agreed I could do that. So I did the Elton John song and ended up in third. Ian Beale’s wife, a Scottish lady, is a really good singer.” We feel we ought to intervene – Ian Beale’s wife is actually Laurie Brett, the Scottish actress, best known for her role as Jane Beale in EastEnders. Sorry. Carry on.
“Ian Beale’s wife came on and she won it with Simply The Best, so I got knocked out. But it was alright. I didn’t think any more about it. Then in January, my agent got an email from Adam Greenup from Silva Screen Records. He’d watched the show, he liked what he saw and he wanted to know if I would be interested in singing with a big band and doing a Christmas album. I said it was a wind-up. I thought we’d go to Silva Screen Records and Ant and Dec would jump out on me to film it for Saturday Night Takeaway.”
Chris overrode his cynicism and took the meeting. He went to Silva Screen where he was asked to sing. “They loved it,” he adds. “They decided I was an even better singer than they thought.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. He was booked into the Angel Studios, in London, to record his debut album. That was back in April and now it’s time to unleash the beast: Here’s To Christmas.
The presenter, known to many as being the voice of Sky Sports Saturday afternoons, lends his expressive croon to the sounds of brass, strings and swing on Christmas standards including Winter Wonderland, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas and Santa Baby.
‘Unbelievable Jeff’? Maybe not! A love of big band music has always been in Kammy’s blood, and he was well-known amongst his teammates from his days as a football player as having a remarkably soulful voice.
Here’s to Christmas was produced by Rick Clark (who has previously worked with, amongst many others, Hans Zimmer on BBC’s Emmy Award Nominated “Planet Earth II” & “Blue Planet II”), with vocal production by Larry Hibbitt and Richard Scott.
On his love of music and his debut album, Kammy said: “I know it might be surprising to some, but anyone who knows me – especially those who shared a changing room with me in my playing days who first told me I could sing – will tell you what a big fan I am of big band music. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d get to record a full album, though. Here’s to Christmas is something I’m really proud of and I think it stands up as something fun, but something that doesn’t sound half bad too – an album to get everyone into the swing of Christmas.”
Kammy has no immediate plans to release a second album, to tour the UK’s concert halls or to further progress in his new career. Which is pretty much what Anton Du Beke said before releasing his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 2017 album, From The Top. It came out. Anton went back to dancing.
Chris says: “I’ll see how it goes. If there’s enough demand, we could do a tour. The thing is you are never 100% certain, it’s all about people’s tastes. You have to keep your feet on the ground. If it goes well, we’ve got so many things lined up. If not, we’ll rip up the sheets of paper and put them in the bin – I’ll go back to being a normal guy.
“It’s just amazing, I didn’t realise until after the first recording that it’s nearly every recording artist’s dream to play with a big band and sing over it. It’s just something else. It’s been more than a dream come true. And then to have a song written especially for me. Are you sure? You don’t want to give it to someone else.
“My wife tells me all the time, every time I do stuff: ‘Oh no, what are you up to?’ She’s really cautious about things. But my two sons tell me to go for it.”
That Kamara should release a Christmas album is loveably characteristic of him. “Life’s about living and enjoyment. If you actually think about things and overthink them you end up not doing things. When these things come along, I just ask myself whether it’s something I’d love to do. And even if it’s not great, it makes me feel good about it. The people that I’ve played it to absolutely love it. And so I know a lot of people are going to like it.”
What do the Sky presenters think?
“I’ve been sworn to secrecy so I haven’t played it to Jeff and the boys. Even mates who you trust, they might post it on socials and then the cat’s out the bag. The record company have spent so much money, the band was expensive to get together, so when they do that you have to be really careful. My wife always keeps my feet on the ground.”
Kamara is one of TV’s naturals. Having made his name as a tough-tackling midfielder after leaving the Royal Navy at the age of 16 to signed for Portsmouth, he carved out a decent career. Kamara spent three years at the club before being sold on to Swindon Town for £14,000. He returned to Portsmouth in 1981 for a £50,000 fee, but was traded to Brentford in October 1981. He spent four years with the Bees before leaving the club after picking up a runners-up medal in the Football League Trophy in 1985. At the end of his career, after an unremarkable foray into management, he became a broadcaster with Sky Sports and has since appeared as a presenter on numerous other television programmes.
“I love live TV because I can be myself. Hopefully that comes over well. I don’t take myself too seriously. I don’t get upset if I’m not winning Catchphrase.” Eh? Oh, it doesn’t matter. Carry on, Mr K.
“I don’t beat myself up. I just go on to enjoy it and people don’t want to see a grumpy face from me. I still pinch myself to think how this has happened. But I’ve not changed. I get the train to London and jump on the tube to Sky. I don’t do the fancy cars. I’m approachable, I’m a people person.”
Kamara is having fun. And who can blame him. Most of us would take the gig at Sky, sign the recording contract, be thrilled to put a smile onto the faces of TV crowds, given half the chance. His Christmas album won’t change the world, but it’s a bit of fun as December 25 approaches and there’s all too little of that in the world. So good on him.
But while that project is probably not the most serious of the festive season, Kamara talks with real insight when we turn the conversation to more pressing matters: football and the continued problem of racism. We speak after a series of incidents: England’s match in Bulgaria and after Haringey players walked off after racism from crowds in an FA Cup tie against Yeovil. There’s nothing remotely funny about it and he talks articulately with passion, energy and insight.
“I am not one of these that wants the players walking off the pitch, at no cost. Get the racists out the ground, that’s the answer. Lots of black people think walking off is the only way to make a statement. But you get copycats then. This isn’t football’s problem, it’s society’s problem. With Haringey versus Yeovil, the Haringey manager came on the radio and said 99.9% of Yeovil fans were brilliant. So there’s 0.1% causing the problem. So get them out the ground as soon as they air their racist views. Then let the players carry on and play football.
“As someone who went through it throughout parts of my early career, in late 1970s and early 1980s and little bits here and there in the 1990s, but not much, I know all about it. Life has changed. The national front used to be in the ground, even at Portsmouth, they would boo me onto the pitch, not boo me off it. All that Alf Garnett stuff and Love Thy Neighbour was rife. The n-word was used frequently. We’ve come a long way from there.
“Now, what we’re getting is social media being used as a platform for these racist views. We need to sort racism in society out. There are 100,000 hate crimes a year in this country – it’s a scandal, how is that allowed to happen? The work from Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card, who are self-funding, need to be helped. But we need to do more.”
Personable and funny, passionate and warm, empathetic and with a half-decent set of pipes: Christmas is coming and Kammy’s gone a bit Elf-vis Presley. Ho ho flippin ho.