Don't call him Cowell

Former England international Ugo Ehiogu tells Peter Fraser about life after football and moving into the music industry

Ehiogu: Spent 20 years as a professional footballer

Little Comets: New single, 'Isles', was released on 18th October

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It is safe to say that former England international Ugo Ehiogu does not have his television tuned to a certain independent television station on Saturday evenings.

The ex-West Brom, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, Leeds, Rangers and Sheffield United defender, who quit football in the August of 2009 after 20 years in the game, is not spending his retirement years with his feet up in front of X Factor.

Instead, the self-confessed music fanatic has decided to make his own way into the industry and has become a partner in new record label Dirty Hit Ltd, whose main signing to date, Little Comets, released latest single, 'Isles', at the start of this week.

It would be easy to label Ehiogu as an emerging music mogul, but, while also reflecting on his football career and assessing the current situation at Middlesbrough, the 37-year-old admitted to skysports.com that he is learning the trade alongside his values of artistic authenticity. Don't call him Simon Cowell.

Ugo, since retiring from football you have branched into the music industry with your involvement with Dirty Hit. How did that come about?

I had always shown an interest in music and had looked to get involved somehow. My financial advisor was looking after a few bands and we had a meeting with a mutual friend and threw an idea together of setting something up. It took about six months or so to get to the stage where we had an outline and a plan and then it has gone from there. It's still in the early stages.

What exactly is your role with Dirty Hit?

I'm a partner, firstly. We have a three-man board, if you like. Ideas are run by and okayed with us. We are generally of the same mind and thought. The only area where one of my business partners has a bigger input is on the talent side. He initially goes out and finds people and when he does find them we get together and have a look and make sure he hasn't made a huge mistake.

How are you finding life in music? Is it stressful compared with football?

No, it's enjoyable. I have been to a couple of gigs. I have met the lads from the Comets, who are a really hard-working group. I look forward to going to a few more gigs.

The general understanding of Dirty Hit is that you aim to sign acts who may be overlooked in the current, quick-fix, music culture. Is that a major problem in the industry?

With such programmes like X Factor, it is not always won by the person with the best voice. They are looking for marketable people as opposed to people with actual, real singing potential. That does play a part, for sure. There is loads of room for all kinds of acts and bands who make it through hard work and gigging to 200/300 people. There isn't a lot of that coming through, or there certainly isn't in the press and to that extent it doesn't get glamorised as much as X Factor winners or contestants.

So what were your influences when you were first getting into music?

My first album was by The Fugees. I've grown, as I've got older I've learnt to appreciate all kinds of music and my range is quite diverse. Sometimes I'm not quite sure how it fits, but I think it fits for me. I've been to festivals, T in the Park, V Festival, so I do like bands. I pretty much like all live music. I went to see Jay-Z at Alexandra Palace and he blew me away, he was unbelievable, it was breathtaking. I remember going to Leeds Festival and going absolutely nuts watching Arctic Monkeys. There have been various genres that have caught my eye.

You are obviously passionate about music. Were you the dressing room DJ in your playing days?

Before a game I used to get psyched-up to a bit of Bon Jovi! Anything that resonated and made an impact with me got played. A lot of footballers are very superstitious and certainly at Sheffield United, my last club, we had a set selection on the iPod for every game and it got a bit tiresome. We kept it until we lost a game. At Villa I took a big control in the selection of music and I tried to keep it varied and quick-tempo to get everyone ready for the game. After the game was a different mood-set altogether, but before the game I insisted that it was a positive beat. I can't recall there being music in the England days. It was Terry Venables at the start and then Sven Goran Eriksson. That was when everyone was bringing their own iPods and I didn't find that conducive to team bonding at all. That eventually did change.

Are your music commitments keeping you occupied or do you miss football?

I miss parts of football, I miss the banter. But I was lucky enough to have 20 years of playing and that was enough of training, playing and the discipline. It had taken its toll and my mind and my body were ready for a break after 20 years. I don't miss it, but I do like going to games. I will go to a few more games with friends and I enjoy it from a social point of view.

You were at Middlesbrough for seven years of your playing career. What have you made of the recent events at The Riverside?

It's a shame because I do think Gordon Strachan would have been ideal for the job, having worked out that crowds are down. Part of it is a social thing, if they're not playing attractive football, people are not going to want to watch. On top of that, with the way Strachan has been in his career he can come across as quite aloof, sarcastic and dry with his comments. That's okay when you're winning, but fans like to know a bit and trust a manager, know what he's about, that can come across and that didn't help his cause either.

Going back to music, what are your long-term aims with Dirty Hit?

We are looking to take things progressively. We obviously want to build up the range of acts in the label, but first of all we need to make a decent success of who we have at the minute. Hopefully, with success, we can then expand and bring in a different genre and basically get bigger and better.

Now that you're on the other side of music, have you been surprised by anything from behind the scenes in the industry?

How hard the bands and the guys who go the orthodox route have to work. I did Soccer Am with Little Comets about one month ago and they had been driving for six hours to get to the show and as soon as it finished they were off, driving another four hours to do another gig. You constantly have to put yourself out there and show your stuff. I never thought it would be that much hard work for the guys. But you have got to hand it to them, they don't complain and they love what they are doing, which makes working with them a lot easier.

The million dollar question, what would you have rather been, a footballer or a musician?

I have always thought they are so closely linked, but I think football would just edge it. My love of football is massive, but my love of music is amazing. You have people eating out of your hands when you're singing, you have people singing the lines of your song. Basically, the only difference would be that, socially, when you're a musician it seems that you can get away with doing almost anything you like. It is deemed as being what a rock star does. That balance needs to readdress itself, but I don't think it ever will.

Little Comets' new single, 'Isles', is available on M-Flow for 79p. For more, visit www.mflow.com