05 May, 2015

More Radio Chess, Steve Davis and Magma

Hey, don't be turned off my the post subject, chess has little enough media coverage as it is, so any blip on the radar is good  !

The format in this series is a continuation of previous ones , where someone is interviewed over a game of chess about both chess, and their own 'sphere of knowledge/interest/fame', with GM Daniel King giving a rather banal commentary.

This time around there is a distinct chess presence as Garry Kasparov is one of those interviewed, but the series starts with Steve Davis.

Who's he ? asks a large number of readers ?

If you are a snooker fan you will know the name instantly, as he was World Champion in the 1980s, dominating the game for a number of years. His final in 1985 had an amazing 18 million viewers for the last game of the match ( a so-called 'black ball' game as the entire final eventually rested on the last ball of the the last frame). 

Davis lost it to Dennis Taylor, but sealed his place in sporting history.

Chess-wise, he was also a dedicated amateur ( best in his school, apparently ) , although by his own admission not a great player. 

He co-authored a couple of chess books in the 1980s with English GM David Norwood, both firmly aimed at the amateur.

I recall, in a review of one of these books, Davis remembering that he and his father played the same opening moves against each other for years, simply because they were told that 'these were the best'  ( it was probably an Italian or Spanish Game or something similar ). He then goes on to explain how writing the book with David Norwood helped him to enjoy chess more, simply by varying what his opening moves were to reach different middlegame positions, and understanding a bit more about how chess worked : a great lesson for any amateur.

During this interview, his comparison of snooker with chess is interesting. In his opinion both include strategy and tactics, but in snooker the strategy ( thinking x shots ahead ) is not really comparable to chess, since snooker is more concerned with these shots putting the cue ball approximately in the right area, whereas chess is linked to exact squares. A fair point, I think, but open for discussion.

(NB Moves for all games here

However, although I'm a minor snooker fan ( via my Dad, TV's "Pot Black" and playing pub pool ), my debt to Steve Davis was sparked by the fact that he was also a massive fan of a group called 'Magma'.

In my opinion, Magma are probably the best rock group to come out of France, although 'rock' isn't really the best description, more like jazz-rock-opera-progressive-etc.. a real mish-mash of influences producing an awesome concert experience, at least the few times I have seen them.

Davis gained my thanks by using his snooker earnings to bankroll a Magma tour in the UK in the late 80s ( probably 1989 ), although tour is a misnomer since it was a residence in a small theatre ( the Bloomsbury ) in London. Luckily for me, I was in easy travelling distance !

I went twice with my mate Will who along with his brother are the only other Magma fans I know to this day ! No idea why Will's brother likes them, but Will did because he, like the Magma leader Christian Vander, is essentially a jazz drummer, and he idolised the guy ! 

At this point Magma were changing from the 70s jazz-rock-opera-fusion to be more jazz-focused, but they played both styles to keep the crowd happy. 

A highlight was the awesome Mekanïk Destruktiw Kommandöh ( did I mention they don't sing in French, rather an invented Germanic-styled language :) when the singer appeared in what can only be described as an 'ant-like' costume , rising from a pyramid-type structure , accompanied by the awesome rhythms of Vander's drumming and the oppressive accompanying chords on keyboards, guitar and bass, intoning the introductory words like some sort of sermon on the eve of the Apocalypse !

Yes, I remember it well, and in detail. 

I became a fan in that concert and have remained so since.

Just to finish this slightly rambling and vaguely chess-related post, I'd add that Davis was known as Steve 'Interesting' Davis at the time ( via a Spitting Image puppet !) , since he was less than sparkling in his public persona and highly-focused ( obsessed ? ) on his game.

The fact that he brought Magma to the UK for the first time in a decade or so, put him firmly in my pantheon of greats, and for me, he lost forever the dullness of the "interesting" moniker : you can hear in this interview what a character he has become !

His obsession with the group was revealed in an interview in 2004. Seems as with all obsessions, he suffered a bit for it, but I'd hope he has no regrets ! 

These days he plays a little snooker, but mainly commentates on it and never in a dull way !

( Small footnote, afore-mentioned  Will was the drummer in a group called 'Red' from the mid-70s. They played in a progressive jazz-rock-fusion style influenced by King Crimson, among others.  I heard their record and liked it a lot, but I doubt if its around anywhere these days. In his short professional career he also played sessions with, and supported, various minor musical legends [ anyone remember Wild Willy Barratt and John Otway ?! or the legendary Screaming Lord Sutch ] He still plays jazz when he can and I raise my hat to him for keeping it going ! I'll buy the first round when I see you next, Will  :)