In the US, bowling alleys are depicted in film as a place for serious games and a beer, as per The Big Lebowski and King Pin.
Mostly, we associate ten-pin bowling with ‘glow in the dark’ events, arcade machines, bad burgers with bad chips and occasionally, a ‘cheesy’ live DJ.
I know from first hand experience that the thought process behind co-hosting live entertainment in a bowling alley can be difficult; especially when your co-host is a hundred times better than you.
Let me explain…
I met my one of my best friends, Stu at Megabowl, the name for the bowling alley at Sixfields in Northampton at the time.
I worked in the bar or on the lanes fetching drinks from the bar and Stu mostly worked in the Wimpy restaurant within.
My great mate from uni, Jethro, also worked there and kind of introduced Stu and I and we quickly established that we were both DJs.
This was post-summer, 1999 and I was, technically a DJ, who had played gigs, I just hadn’t learned to beat match or mix properly when the mobile disco equipment of choice became the CDJ decks.
Stu could mix, he was giving the Megabowl decks a work out one evening and he could even do that thing with the cross-fader to cut out the sound and bring it back again in a rhythmical fashion.
As I quit my Megabowl shifts at the end of 1999 to start my role as a Sales Consultant to Student Radio stations I was inflicted with an automatic three months ban from the Megabowl premises, as was the practice for anyone who left for security reasons.
I saw Stu intermittently as Jethro had somehow managed to make our shared residence an after-shift hangout for the Megabowl staff. No problem there, these were my ex-colleagues and in most cases, my social circle, still.
I was invited to join the latter part of a Megabowl night out at the start of the summer of 2000 and spent a great deal of time talking to Stu. We spoke more about DJing and he told me he wanted to get into radio presenting.
I regaled him with my time on Monsta! Radio which he seemed to enjoy and Stu was fascinated to know where I would have placed him in the roster had we had known each other six or seven months previously when I was Programme Controller.
‘Drive Time’ I said.
Stu invited me to come and ‘sit in’ on a Sunday night Megabowl session he had started to do. I arrived with my trusty old CD crate and played a couple of sets.
Stu would ask me about the things I learned working in radio, especially as I’d attended, by now, a few seminars presented by radio industry bods. What I learned from these seminars enabled me to eventually write a structure for the ‘Sunday Night Megabowl Show’ and slowly but surely, through watching Stu’s expert hands and listening to his own tips, I learned how to beat-match and mix songs.
After a good run of Sundays, we moved our now excelling, partnership to a pub in Kettering (Henry’s, if you’re familiar with that area) where we literally smashed it five nights a week. The frequency of our gigs enabled me to become more prolific behind the decks.
I decided to do the backpacker thing in Australia and left our partnership behind in September 2001.
Within two months, Stu had joined me in Australia. If ever you judge how much of a best friend you have, flying to the other side of the world to join you is a pretty good gauge.
Within three weeks of Stu landing, an unfortunate accident back in the UK saw him head back home, cutting short his stay and he was rewarded by being in the right place at the right time for an audition to joining the Northants 96 Black Thunder Crew.
By 2002, our DJ partnership was back at Sixfields, Northampton Megabowl, entertaining Students mostly on Tuesday nights, which suited me fine as Wednesday was my designated day off at my Estate Agency job.
Stu was picking up little bits of air time here and there, pretty much as the Outside Broadcast guy whilst manning the phones at Megabowl in the evenings.
We had this structure which worked:
· I’d play an extended Dance/House Set
· Stu would play an extended Dance/House Set
· I would take over the decks whilst Stu would flick the switch to ‘Go Glo’ as I played either ‘DoomsNight’ by Azzido da Bass or Rob D’s ‘Clubbed to Death’ (the really cool tune from The Matrix)
· Stu would do a round of ‘red pin’ games with lanes if a red pin appeared as the number one pin on a new go
· I would DJ underneath his commentary
· We’d sometimes swap
· We then did our feature game which was mostly voiced by me whilst Stu DJ’d under my voice. We’d get people to give us phone numbers and if we dialled one from the reception phone, they’d win whatever worthless prize was up for offer, mainly free bowling vouchers
· Stu then did an uninterrupted DJ set to showcase his talents
· We did some more games and then I usually DJ’d the last bit out with slightly left field music tracks, ending with ’Bye Bye Baby’ by G. Love & Special Sauce
Stu once went on a ski holiday which meant he would miss a Tuesday night. I approached the manager of the bowl, Les, and reassured him not to worry about Stu’s absence as I would still be there.
It was the majority of my strategy that made up the benchmarking our features, meaning I knew how the night ran, inside out.
I spoke 50 percent of the time on the mic and I DJ’d 50 percent of the time.
I was also paid the exact same amount as Stu to present these nights.
Les looked me in the eye startled and claimed, ‘But you’re just Stu’s sidekick!’
I did well to bite my tongue immediately before vocalising my performance CV to the ‘idiot’ before me.
‘OK’ Les said, becoming less the idiot, ‘let me know if you need anything.’
‘Sidekick..?’ I thought about it.
Sidekick like the comedy buffoon to the straight man?
The Robin to the Batman?
So in everyone’s head, they were witnessing The Stu Show featuring his sidekick?
I worked hard on my solo gig, using one of the more confident members of staff to roam with the mic whilst I played the best sets of my life whilst making sure every single feature remained intact.
On the inside, my bruised ego was crying tears of rejection and as I said goodbye to Les triumphantly and he endorsed my work for the night, I still had the word ‘sidekick,’ branded into my brain.
Maybe I was the sidekick.
Stu’s radio career began to blossom as he took over the Early Breakfast Show, eventually moving into the actual house of the popular Breakfast Show’s hosts Jagger & Woody.
They were quite popular hosts of the Northants 96 Breakfast show. Everyone in Northants seemed to know who they were. I found it quite trippy hanging out with them, they were down to earth yet larger than life characters from Manchester.
Through my job as a writer/sales consultant for a regional men’s magazine, I ended up writing a full length article on them as I was fed up of the same old ‘fun-sized, Northeners’ bull that I read repeatedly in Northants mags and newspapers. I guess I was afforded more access to them through Stu and had seen them in their natural habitat, out of their radio persona.
After arranging a photo shoot at (and selling advertising to) a ‘trendy’ menswear store, we went to the pub to conduct the interview.
‘Where’s your dictoaphone?’ They asked me.
‘If you say something interesting, I’ll remember it’ I fired back at them, whilst jotting down some very brief ‘reminder sentences’ on my pad.
After the article was published, they pulled me to one side at a Summer XS gig that Stu had backstage passes to after they’d been on stage. They told me it was the best thing they’d ever read about themselves.
After we apparently began to sit within Jagger & Woody’s circle of trust, Stu managed to get them to co-present one of our Megabowl nights with us. When we introduced them on our mics, everyone in the place looked at us in disbelief, and then they spoke… it was definitely Jagger & Woody alright.
Before that gig, Stu and I were all about, ‘raising our game’ and showing the Breakfast Show hosts what a real duo was like.
How wrong we were.
When one spoke, the other didn’t. When one finished speaking, the other one started. When one set up a punch line, the other knocked it out of the park and occasionally, they spoke so perfectly in unison, it was like they shared a brain, a very odd concept to witness if you consider how different they were to each other ‘in person.’ On their own they were great improvisers too and had the whole place in stitches.
I looked at Stu and said, ‘we need to raise our game.’ He looked at me a nodded.
The truth is, it was me that needed to raise my game. This became apparent when we started to record and listen back to our shows.
I was a big fan of Radio 1’s Comedy Dave (Vitty) at the time who was Chris Moyles’ counterpart on his Breakfast Show.
I began to become more mono-tone and dead pan in my mic delivery, thinking I was being hilarious.
What I’d actually done, is modelled myself on one of the most listened to sidekicks in the country and thus, was outwardly perceived as Stu’s sidekick. Despite the fact that Vitty appeared to have a huge role on Moyles’ team, it was only Moyles’ name on the show.
As Stu’s radio career became steadier, moving from Northants 96’s Early Breakfast slot to daytime, I was enjoying a great deal of ‘headliner’ activity with my DJ residency in Kettering. Saturday night’s would be capacity nights most of the time for me.
Once a month I’d invite Stu to come recreate the magic of our ‘duo’ which involved him, in the hours leading up to the night, casually mentioning on-air, that he’d be DJing with ‘my mate, Bazz, tonight.’
Queues would form at the door as people wanted to get a glimpse of ‘Stu from the radio.’ Ironically, they were getting ‘Stu and Bazz’ from our triumphant past life in Kettering, just in a bigger and better bar.
I instructed Stu on the ‘benchmarking’ I had in place at my DJ residency but I trusted his judgement to go off on a tandem, we would reel each other back in if we needed to change direction.
Playlist and mixing was pretty much equal in terms of quality, but when Stu grabbed the mic and spoke, it was like listening to a seasoned radio presenter, his bassy voice cutting through the hundreds of weekend party people in the building. I sounded like a typical, wedding DJ on the mic, by comparison.
I often think back to when we were both eager to do the radio thing. The virtual parallel journey we took for a number of years when it came to ‘performing’ and that one time, where I was the one with the radio background, telling Stu I would have scheduled him on Drive Time because that’s his persona.
I threw the question back at him once, curious to know where he saw me in the world of media.
‘Behind the scenes as the driving force’ he replied thoughtfully.
Today, I’m very much the ‘ideas man’ in my roles at work. I can sit behind a ‘product’ and make it engaging whilst keeping my anonymity. I still use benchmarking in my digital, mostly visual ‘broadcasting’ or ‘timeline posting’ on social network sites.
My youtube videos under my name barely get views.
Stu currently presents on a regional station, in the north of England.
Drive Time. No Less.
I for one, am very proud of his achievements, the times we worked together and a journey which, I guess started in a Bowling Alley at the turn of the millenium.
He’s still one of my best mates, too.