Following a chance encounter at Mister Saturday Night in NYC some years ago, we catch up with Michael Davies head chef and proprietor of one South East London’s finest gastropubs, The Camberwell Arms. Delving into his music tastes and journey through food and music thus far.
Michael Davies

Hi Mike, thanks so much for sitting down with us today!

No problem mate!

I wanted to speak with you today, as we met several years ago at a Mister Sunday event in NYC. I believe you guys had gone out there for a fact finding mission, which had all sounded pretty hilarious.

Haha yeah it was a “Research and development” trip out there. We went to a Steely Dan concert, but for some reason I got really grumpy towards the end of the gig and went home. My partners went to go see the band after the gig, they went to their hotel room and The Eagles were there – so I was a bit gutted I missed that!

So Eagles aside, what’s your go-to album to get the day started at the moment?

Good question, I tend to make Spotify playlists a lot. I’ve been listening to a lot of Robert Palmer recently, that song ‘Johnny & Mary’ which is on ‘Clues’ (the same album as ‘Woke Up Laughing’) both of which I really like. It’s a bit weird but I love it. I’ve also been listening to ‘Tusk’ by Fleetwood Mac, it’s a great one to listen to of a morning, it’s a good pace and doesn’t get anyone to riled up. It kind of works for everyone and keeps a mellow mood going.

Do you have a musical nemesis?

I’m not a big fan of Dido. Someone that works here was recently trying to be ironic and playing her, but music like that just makes me feel a bit nauseous. Coldplay has the same effect on me as well. I’d rather have something that I don’t like at all, just to evoke some sort of feeling!

Any guilty pleasures?

Loads. I listen to ‘Goldust’ by DJ Fresh in the gym. That’s definitely one. Kelly Clarkson ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ is definitely another. Banger! The list goes on…

Have you ever dabbled in any musical projects yourself?

No unfortunately not. But I’ve always had ambitions to learn how to mix. Every year we have a big New Years party here, and I always get DJ’s in, and I’ll cook and we do a big set menu and people dance upstairs afterwards.

I’ve always liked the idea of cooking and then doing a set after that. Still very much in the pipeline though. I used to play bass guitar also, but it’s always just been more of a love of music than an interaction.

Were there any musical subcultures that you full subscribed to as a teenager?

I definitely listened to a lot of punk and a lot of hip hop, but I was always a fairly amorphous individual. I liked anything that was good, but I didn’t like to pigeonhole myself. That being said I definitely went through a sort of grunge phase when I was about 12/13. One of the first albums I bought was Nirvana’s “In Utero” on CD, which stayed in my discman for weeks on end.

I didn’t have any big idols, but I always looked up to Josh Homme from Queens Of The Stone Age. They were definitely one of my favourite bands growing up. Their first album is one that I’ve absolutely played to death.

One of the first albums I bought was Nirvana’s “In Utero” on CD, which stayed in my discman for weeks on end.

When you were pursuing cheffing and cooking as a living, was there any one that you were looking up to that was perhaps involved in both aspects?

With the Camberwell arms, I’ve felt like that lately because there’s been people that have come here and eaten, who I’ve then become friends with, who have then gone on to become quite successful in their field. Say Midland for example, he comes here and eats quite a lot. I kind of look up to him, he’s a terrific DJ and amazing producer, and a he’s a lovely guy. Also a friend of mine called Sarah, who runs a festival called AVA in Belfast, she set that up herself. Her brother is one of the Bicep guys – so meeting those guys was definitely great. They’re people that have really grafted to get where they are, and timeline wise it’s been similar to my own – so I guess I felt some similarities there.

What music would you play to get you through a gruelling dinner service?

It’s difficult with the restaurant because obviously you have to represent yourself properly to the public. At Franks, which is different pace to The Camberwell Arms, we used to play music in the Kitchen (but now we don’t) – but in year five of Franks, Jon Hopkins released his album ‘Open Eye Signal’ the second track on that album is like an eight minute techno banger. It’s a really slow builder, but also really groovy and intense. I think working in a kitchen there’s a kind of rhythm, that if you can lock in with a track like that it works really well. It’s like fuel for the fire. With the Camberwell Arms I like to find tracks that fit with the energy of the dinner service. We’ll build in intensity throughout the night, and the volume increases throughout also, so it’s reaches it’s pinnacle when the service actually finishes. In the kitchen here it’s never loud enough so that you can really get into it, aside from at the end during the clean down.

As for specific music, to be honest it’s a really overplayed track but “Got To Give It Up” by Marvin Gaye is one I’ll go for, or “Controversy” by Prince. And then I can kind of just go in whatever direction from there. We do get people dancing in here after dinner etc which is nice.

It’s an interesting point you make about the repetitive tasks of kitchen work being well soundtracked by Techno, as it’s been widely discussed by the likes of Theo Parrish that these jobs were created by people working in industrial Factories in places like Detroit and Chicago, that this almost found a place within the music, but with humans using the machines for creative purposes.

There’s definitely something about working in a physically intense job that is very rhythmical. So if you can have something similar to underpin that, it definitely helps the process.

What do you think is the most memorable gig you’ve attended?

Ah so many! But going back to Queens Of The Stone Age, I went to SXSW in 2011 and saw them play their entire first album back to back in a Mexican restaurant with about 200 people there. Jack White came onstage for the second half of the gig, and they just started taking requests. That was extraordinary.

If you had to put together a supergroup, who is making the cut?

Hmmm difficult one. I suppose it depends what type of music you’re making. If we’re talking rock music then I guess John Bonham, Hendrix and… this might be a controversial one, but Jack White. I think he’s an amazing musician, it looks like it’s just coming straight through him, like he’s just channeling his deepest thoughts into his instrument, which I loved. Maybe chucking Phil Lynott and Mick Fleewood in there too would be good.

Do you think that your music tastes have impacted the food you cook and restaurants you’ve opened in any way?

I think in terms of shaping how the restaurants are, then not really. But in terms of shaping me, and then in turn perhaps shaping aspects of them then yes. Musical is intrinsically linked to all of the cooking work that I’ve done. From the likes of having an argument with my first boss about what we were allowed to listen to in the kitchen (he wanted to play Michael Buble all day), to living and working in Manchester for a few years, starting to get into techno and the party scene there at the time, it all plays a part. I think a lot of links back to also being alone, part of being a chef is the reality of a very antisocial path. It’s extremely long hours, under very intense conditions, and strange hours, so you sometime can’t easily just tune in to what other people are doing. I think Music can be a great release,It kind of grounds you and allows you to persevere. For example, leaving work and having loud music in the car (and I know I shouldn’t say this) but in your earphones when cycling has been a really important part of my development as a person and probably as a chef. It’s a great outlet.

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About The Author

Josh Byrne

Josh Byrne

Head chef at both High Praise and XVI Records, Josh has been involved in releasing and promoting electronic music for the past ten years. Currently handling PR & Radio for a number of labels, Josh also DJ's by night - and consults for creative agencies on trends within music subcultures, providing up to date insights from the forefront of the scene.

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