Chris Kamara: the tough tackling midfielder turned motormouth match reporter has a new string to his bow, as a chart-busting big band crooner. In a mid-career pivot only marginally less unlikely than Michael Bublé turning out for Shrewsbury Town against Preston North End on a wet Wednesday night or Harry Connick Jr taking over as co-host on Soccer AM on Sky One, ‘Kammy’ as he’s known to football fans has released a Christmas LP.
And here’s the real shocker – it’s a belter. And Kamara could just be heading for the top corner of the pop charts. Unbelievable, Jeff, as the man himself might say.
After running the rule over Kamara’s debut LP, ‘Here’s To Christmas’, which features nine classic cover versions and a brand-new festive tune as the title track, we caught up with the man himself…
The Big Issue: So Chris, you were born on December 25 – were you literally named after Christmas?
Chris Kamara: Yes! My brother was born on St George’s Day, so he was called George – he’s not with us anymore. And I was born on Christmas Day so the obvious thing for my mum and dad was to call me Chris.
Did that mean Christmas Day was extra special growing up?
I wouldn’t say it has been that special all my life. We didn’t have a lot of money when I was a growing up, so to get one present was a bonus, never mind one for Christmas and another for my birthday. Then from the age of 16 I played football on Boxing Day. So Christmas Day was never a celebration for me. I was always a little bit down in the mouth. When my kids came along, we celebrated Christmas Day for them and since I quit playing I have made up for it.
How was it singing with the big-band orchestra for the first time?
I never get nervous. Since I left football management I’ve treated everything as a bonus. But when I’m stood in front of the orchestra with a conductor I am as nervous as I’ve ever been in my life. It was worse than my debut match. I kept missing my cue because I was just listening to them and they sounded incredible.
How did you get along with the musicians?
I had this misconception that all the people playing these instruments were upper class and that they would look at me and think, what is he doing stood in front of us? It couldn’t have been further from the truth. They were already rehearsing when I got there, so the first time I got to say hello was when I was stood in front of them ready to sing on the first day. It wasn’t until we had a break that some of them came over and said we’re Arsenal fans or Liverpool fans, and I realised they’re exactly the same as me and you, and fantastic at their jobs.
You are between Mariah Carey and Robbie Williams in the Christmas number one betting…
Well, it depends which bookies you go to! At some I was the favourite. I’m in absolutely amazing company but do I feel embarrassed? No, because the end product we’ve arrived at is something special. So we’re optimistic. The last time a Christmas song by a solo artist was number one was 31 years ago – Cliff Richard’s Mistletoe and Wine [Cliff did reach the festive summit again with another seasonal offering, Saviour’s Day, in 1990]. So wouldn’t it be nice to have a proper Christmas song do it? And Here’s To Christmas is a proper Christmas song.
Who were the other singers in your playing days?
Vinnie Jones was funny. He was with me at Leeds and was always singing Woolly Bully and that type of stuff. He was a big Madness fan as well. You could tell he was ready to move into the movies. And he did bring out a couple of singles. But we didn’t really play music in the dressing room. Now the sounds they play in Premier League dressing rooms are crazy. But I missed out on all that.
What music do you listen to?
My wife thinks I’m weird but Elton John is my number one. And Queen, Take That, Dionne Warwick, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow and before I liked Elton John there was Gilbert O’Sullivan. I love the piano. Anyone who can sit at the piano and entertain people I like, and Gary Barlow is the up to date one who can do that. I can’t play the piano. That’s my one regret.
How excited are you to feature an original song as title track?
When they said we should do one original song with the nine covers, I thought it wouldn’t be up to standard. But Richard Scott does a lot of writing for Robbie Williams and wrote it especially for me. It sounds like a song that you’ve heard before – it’s got every Christmas cliché you could ever wish for in it. It fits in so well with the classic Christmas songs. On Christmas Day we put MTV on and they go through the full repertoire of Christmas songs. It’s a wonderful day. This year, to listen to those wonderful songs and be in among them? That’s the stuff of dreams.
Have you played it to Jeff Stelling and your punditry pals?
I had to keep it under wraps but I played it to them on Friday. They were gobsmacked. To watch them as they listened to it was fantastic.
What next for your career in music?
As much as much as all the people who’ve listened to it at this moment in time think it’s fantastic, it still might not work. And if it doesn’t, at least I can say I made an album with a 22-piece big band orchestra. But if it does really well… we’re provisionally booked for the Royal Albert Hall in November 2020 and we’ll do a tour. I’ve already fulfilled all my ambitions, though. The only thing left would be to sing with my hero Elton John.
Chris Kamara’s album Here’s to Christmas is out now on So What