Between 2005-2010 ‘Challenge Kemp’ was a regular feature of SPIN cricket magazine. Where – for some reason, always dressed as Sherlock Holmes – I would report on various challenges set for me in the cricket world.
This article was from the March 2007 issue.
Ever since I started this column I’ve had a problem with the attendant fame. There hasn’t been any. But what better way to get started than with a song for England in the World Cup? There’s always a stream of hopeless records released whenever the English football team play in a major tournament. But why is there never a hopeless song for their cricketing counterparts?
I get to work with SPIN’s in-house pop guru the Third Umpire and knock up a suitably Caribbean-flavoured tune for our World Cup ‘hit’. It’s an upbeat ska number, with downbeat Kemp lyrics about a) England not being that good at ODIs and b) we, the fans, remaining ever-hopeful.
‘Nothing’s Going to Stop us in the World Cup (Possibly)’ recalls the Piranhas (ask your mum) and the Bay City Rollers (ask your nan). We think, anyway. “England, oh England: your record at the shortest form of the game is not the best,” I croon dolefully. “Has coach Fletcher found his masterplan?,” I ponder aloud, in song. Could catchy lo-fi cricket-themed scepticism be this year’s pop ‘thing’?
We put the song on Spincricket.com. People write in and say it’s not as bad as they thought. But what of the experts? What do they think makes a decent team song? Mike Connaris wrote the Chelsea’s 1997 FA Cup song, Blue Day. Sung by Suggs, it reached No 22 in the charts and the team still run out to it at Stamford Bridge. A success, then. “I think Blue Day meant a lot to people because I wrote it as a huge fan of Chelsea football club. People could associate with the lyrics,” says Mike. “I’d written it in a kind of retro style as it was 25 years or so since we’d last had real success. I was later approached by Newcastle to do a song – but it wouldn’t have worked ’cos it wouldn’t have come from the heart.”
Well, I’ve certainly sat through a lot of ODI woe. My song is from the heart. But how do I reach the fans? “I sent Blue Day off to three record companies: two came back to me within the hour! I was in the studio with Suggs on Tuesday, I mixed it on the Sunday and it was in the charts by the following Monday.” Two weeks and Kemp could be in the Top Ten, then! I start to hatch plans.
Leaving my song with Mike, I turn to those with the means to cut the disc. Cherry Red records have cornered the market in CDs of club-specific football compilations; they even released a CD of cricket-related songs. “Cricket fans like their music, definitely,” their man Adam Velasco tells me. “They’re not tweedy blokes who just listen to gramophones. But the retailers were only interested after the Ashes and our album didn’t do as well as it could have.
“What would make a cricket song fly? Well, you need England to be doing well for starters. And then you have to have the right timing. There have been a couple of England World Cup songs for previous tournaments, but they’ve both been released after England were knocked out of the competition. Hopeless.”
So would Cherry Red not get involved in another cricket project? “Oh no,” says Adam. “We’re big cricket fans here. If the right thing came along, it would be a labour of love.” But what about the media? I’ll need the radio and press to get behind me. I send a copy of my song to Radio 1’s Colin Murray and get in touch with publishing guru David Hepworth, whose cv includes Smash Hits, Q, Heat and Word magazine.
“The natural state of the football fan is disappointment,” he tells me. “We sing because we’re not winning. The reason that 99 per cent of sporting songs don’t work is that they ooze blind optimism when what the fans feel is the direct opposite. That’s why Three Lions is so good. It’s about not winning, it’s about just hoping against hope that it might. It’s genuinely passionate and quite moving.”
Well no-one’s ever accused Kemp of optimism. I’m on to a winner! Then my panel of experts start reporting back. “A very good attempt!” lies Mike, before adding. “Well, obviously the production and vocals need a little work. And I think the lyrics need to be a bit more optimistic…” So now I need more optimism.
“It was catchy and quite humorous. Though I think you might need a new vocalist,” deadpans Cherry Red’s Adam.
Hepworth gives it to me straight. “I think you should go back to the drawing board: build upon your idea of, ‘Stranger things have happened than England winning the World Cup’. What you need is a song that summons the bleak beauty of cricket…”
He recommends Roy Harper’s ‘When An Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease’ to me in the strongest terms. Radio 1 don’t even bother to call back. Another Kemp dream is filed under ‘on-hold’.