"When we started doing Tailenders," says Felix White, "I was genuinely under the impression that this was going to be a cricket podcast. Then when we started doing it, the bits that I assumed were not in the show were the show."
Tailenders, the loosely cricket-based podcast led by Radio 1 breakfast show host Greg James, former Maccabees guitarist White and very possibly England's greatest ever cricketer, Jimmy Anderson, clocked up its hundredth episode this summer, along with a gold British Podcast Award for 'best live episode'. The milestones have taken them by surprise more than anyone.
"You can never plan for these sorts of things," says James. "I think if you ask Jimmy the same question about bowling for England, he’d be like, 'Well, you’d hope you’d still be bowling 17 years later, but you can’t plan for that, can you, really?'"
"I work hard at that though," says Anderson. "I don’t think I really work hard at this."
The Test bowler's assessment of why Tailenders works, and why it's grown a fervent and devoted listenership, is simple.
"It’s quite org-" He stops himself. "Not organic, that’s wank. But we get on well. That comes across."
As @felixwhite would say, absolute scenes. Thank you to everyone for being part the @HackneyEmpire shows yesterday. #Tailenders is as much yours as it is ours. We love it so much. Cheers! #tailendersoftheworlduniteandtakeover— Greg James (@gregjames) October 14, 2019
The podcast celebrates its third birthday in November. James, White and Anderson initially bonded over music, cricket, Alan Partridge and The Office, swapping Reading festival tickets for seats at Lord's.
They soon added Matt Horan, a Bristolian salesman for Rollasole shoes (from the website: "Womens' roll up flat shoes that fit neatly in your bag. Let the good times roll!") who knew nothing about cricket but rang in to tell them he was Indian great Sachin Tendulkar's long-lost nephew. (That, incredibly, turned out to be true.) Now known as Mattchin Tendulkar, he contributes regular quizzes based on laboured puns.
"During the week you think, ‘Oh yeah, this’ll go,’ and then all of a sudden you’ve got [former England captain] Michael Vaughan staring down a Zoom call and you’ve got to sing 'Vaughan! Huh! What is he good for?' at him," he says.
We join the team on Zoom while they're recording the closing 'go well' segment, a series of very wholesome shout-outs ("It’s Becky’s birthday on the ninth! George is 16 on the tenth and has just taken his first wicket!"). Everyone’s feeling good. Horan's latest game – Sixer, a trivia-based mash-up of Pass the Bomb and Nick Knowles’ Who Dares Wins – has proved a hit. Behind James there's a life-size cut-out of Partridge and behind White a rack of very nice guitars, while Anderson appears to be lying down and Horan looms very, very close to his laptop camera. Producer Mark 'Sharky' Sharman hovers too.
"Every radio show needs an invisible force as the overlord of it, and I feel like Sharky’s one of the funniest ones you could imagine," says James.
If their own century were one from cricketing history, they reckon it'd be Mark Butcher's 173 not out against Australia in 2001.
"Against the odds, nobody thought he’d be able to pull it off, frantic, frenetic, and sort of worked by accident," James says.
Anderson agrees: "A bit of a fluke."
Jimmy, what does Felix bring to the show that no-one else could?
Jimmy Anderson: His fucking guitar.
Felix White: That’s started really nicely.
JA: I think Felix brings a quality to the cricket chat that no-one else on the podcast does. His love, and the way he talks about cricket, you can tell he loves it. He has a beautiful way of putting things.
Felix, what does Greg bring?
FW: Greg has actually taught all of us what is so great about the job that he does and sort of understanding what the buzz is, and the buzz of inclusion and being yourself, actually. So much of being a musician, and I imagine being a cricketer as well, you’re getting asked questions and you feel like there’s a correct answer out there that you should be giving. But then you realise that you can just be relaxed and just be who you are, that’s a really beautiful thing to learn about radio and broadcasting.
Greg, what does Mattchin bring?
Greg James: I guess Mattchin typifies everything we wanted this podcast to be like. We wanted to bring people into the game, and he’s the sort of person that we can impress our passion of the game onto, and say, "This is why we love it". And to see him now go off and actually follow the game: job done, if that’s replicated, and there’s some mini-Mattchins running around. Not like that. But also we love his spontaneity and how silly he is. We’re all on the same wavelength.
Mattchin, what does Jimmy bring?
FW: Been looking forward to this one.
Matt Horan: It’s interesting for me because I didn’t really know Jimmy, a famous cricketer, before. I know Jimmy as a friend first before I knew he was a cricketer. It’s wild when we go out and I see him getting mobbed by cricket fans because I’m like, "Oh that’s just our Jimmy". Obviously he knows a thing or two about cricket, he brings all the cricket fans, but I’d say it’s more interesting getting to know Jimmy the real man, not the superstar. That’s what listeners tune in for, to destigmatise this sporting icon who’s actually a normal bloke. When we go out, we don’t really talk about cricket. He chats to me more about Rollasole.
GJ: Get the plug in.
Jimmy, has doing the podcast changed your perspective on your sport?
JA: Maybe it has, a little bit. It’s different when I’m playing because obviously you do have a different perception of the game to what these guys have, but we can watch the same game and they’ll describe it in a way I wouldn’t necessarily think about as a player, so it grows my enjoyment as a fan. I’m just thinking from a really analytical viewpoint: this is what I’d do if I was playing, this is what you should do. Whereas these guys are on the outside looking in, and that’s rubbed off and had a good effect on me. It’s certainly made me enjoy it more when I’m not playing.
Do any of your teammates listen?
JA: I don’t think Stuart [Broad]’s a big fan.
GJ: But that’s OK, it goes over some people’s heads.
JA: I think a few do – I know Jos [Buttler] dips in and out, his sister’s a big listener. They all know about it, and definitely some of the management enjoy it, but it’s certainly something I wouldn’t force on my teammates. I’d worry about what I’d said about them on the pod.
GJ: I wonder how many of them do but just wouldn’t tell you because it’s kind of awkward to say, "I listen to your podcast, Jimmy," as you’re lacing up your boots.
JA: Some of them have come up and asked, "What’s Greg like?" or "What’s Felix like?" or "Is it genuine that Mattchin didn’t know anything about cricket?" They thought he was manufactured. So they ask questions about it that make me think they listen.
FW: I’ve had a lot of people ask me if Mattchin’s made up.
GJ: It’s weird trying to get that across to people without sounding like you’re desperately trying to convince them. Obviously he is real, but it sounds like we’re protesting too much. We’d be geniuses to invent and write a script for him. One of the things I’ve said to people is if we did invent someone – no offence – we wouldn’t invent that.
FW: It’s a very valid point you make.
MH: Good point.
So, the Tailenders Quiz was an even bigger shambles than we ever thought possible. Instagram thought Jimmy was hacked and closed his account and we only managed 8 questions in 90 mins. Oh and Mattchin couldn’t work out that selfie mirrors words...🤦🏻♂️ pic.twitter.com/x29pYK8RKG— Greg James (@gregjames) April 11, 2020
You won the British Podcast Award for best live show. Felix, how did it compare to the Maccabees at Alexandra Palace?
FW: Ahhh… it’s definitely different.
MH: I was at both.
FW: Really? Which one was better?
MH: Both great.
FW: I tell you one thing – in the Maccabees we never learned anyone else’s songs the whole way through, so Mattchin bringing in quizzes and songs has actually forced me to learn standards that I’ve never really done.
MH: You’re welcome.
GJ: So I guess a quote you could use is: "Mattchin made me a better musician". Repeat after me: Mattchin made me a better guitarist.
FW: In many ways, Mattchin Tendulkar made me a better guitarist.
GJ: Print that.
FW: The live shows are so different. When you’re in a band and playing gigs, it’s quite serious. In the Maccabees, we cared a lot about it. We were forensic. Doing the Tailenders live shows is such a switch in mindset: the worse it goes, the better it is.
What makes the Tailenders community unique?
MH: You’ve got Jimmy’s point of view, which is the ultimate cricketing professional, and it bleeds down into the listeners, and I’ve learned a lot about the club and village cricket community. It marries the two together: you’ve got Jimmy there, England great, and you’ve got people coming in with their stories of general cricketing sadness or gladness. It merges the worlds together, so if you’re watching or playing at any level, you’re all mixing.
JA: Our Christmas single came out not long ago, featuring a Bristolian shoe salesman talking for a good three and a half minutes about his experience of cricket. To have someone from that community go to his local record store to get a signed copy from said Bristolian shoe salesman – it’s weird, but sweet.
GJ: I really like that it’s not lad bantz. I really like that it’s quite silly when it’s funny, and we can cover really serious, sad stories on it and it doesn’t feel like it’s jarring. Hopefully, I feel like everyone feels they can be honest either when they’re on it or when they’re emailing in. And if someone wants to be silly and dress up as a biro and come to the live shows, that’s equally as great as them telling us about a relative they lost but how cricket dragged them back into life. The extraordinary thing that I’ve felt while doing it is that it’s tapped into kindness, really. With kindness you get really stupid silly moments, but really it’s lots of different things. It celebrates all the colours of life.
MH: It’s reflective of when I’ve been to the cricket. It’s not like a football crowd; when you go to the cricket, it’s a lot more laidback, it’s kinder, there’s not that aggression.
FW: Sometimes I think that’s the thing that’s difficult with cricket actually. If you don’t know anyone and you want to play cricket, and you go to a club, you have to spend all day with people you don’t know, playing something that’s quite terrifying and can be quite isolating. At that level you can need a bit of a hand getting involved and taking that step. It’s not like you go, play for half an hour, and leave again. It’s quite an intense experience. So inadvertently, that’s the thing about Tailenders, welcoming people into the game and seeing it a different way than it has been.
Your General Cricketing Sadness feature lets listeners share times that cricket was cruel to them. Do you have any General Cricketing Sadness you’d like to get off your shoulders?
JA: I’ve got loads. Mine’s getting out to Greg. Twice. He got me out at the nets at the Oval, caught behind. Around the time I got to 600 wickets [in August Jimmy became the first fast bowler in history to reach the milestone], there was a clip going round about me not being able to get Mattchin out at the Oval. I’ve been thinking about that a lot since.
GJ: I’ve just remembered one. I played in a match for [youth and disability sports charity] the Lord’s Taverners once, and I dropped a catch – quite a difficult catch – off [former England fast bowler] Andy Caddick, and he called me a cunt. [Felix plays a sad tune on his guitar.] He took it way too seriously, bowling way too fast for a charity match, no sense that it’s a fun day, full run-up.
FW: He just said it to your face, as you dropped it? Looked you in the eyes? Did it hurt?
GJ: I took a season off. But I started Tailenders. Put my energies into something I can do.
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