Unabashedly celebrating that insatiable musical treat that is the power ballad, Ultimate Power has, over the past five years or so, amassed not only significant popularity but also much loyalty from club-goers seeking an alternative dancing experience.
The night’s head honchos, Steve Proud, Brian Mahoney, Flash, Dave Fawbert and Alex Gilbert (who all work in music A&R), describe it as “an evening of the greatest songs ever written”. While use of the word ‘greatest’ in this regard is undoubtedly subjective, even the more cynical of attendees would struggle to suppress their basic instinct of singing along and moving awkwardly to a slice of Meat Loaf.
We went to last month’s event at Camden’s Electric Ballroom, whereby we danced (and by ‘danced’ we mean mimed badly and pretended to play an air-guitar) to Phil Collins’ “I Wish It Would Rain Down”, Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Tina Turner’s “The Best”, amongst many others, and you know what? It was nothing if not infectious, hilarious and incredibly fun.
Ahead of this month’s event, we caught up with Alex Gilbert and asked him a few answerables about the origins of the experience and what new punters can expect from this night of sweeping balladry. Be warned, we can’t guarantee that Alex is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…
Why, hello there, Alex! How was the idea for Ultimate Power first conceived?
Quite simply. We would listen to brand new music all day long; mostly bands. At times this could become a little soul destroying because not all new music is brilliant music. Every day around 6pm, we would play “Objects In The Rear View Mirror Appear Closer than They Are” by Meat Loaf. The thinking behind this was simple: this was probably the best song ever written so if anything that we’d listen to that day was a billionth as good as that song, we knew we should go see the relevant band live or get involved with them. That song was the benchmark. To this day, that song is more important than any form of organised religion, the cure for cancer and the meaning of life.
Yikes! OK, so — pun unintended — do you remember the first time?
Urban myth states that the first “proper” Ultimate Power was at The Fly on Oxford Street back in 2006. Seven people attended. In fact, the first Ultimate Power was staged on the lawn at the White House. Dave and I had been, rather bizarrely, asked to DJ George W Bush’s 60th birthday party. They paid us a stupid amount of money. We started and ended with “it must have been love but it’s over now” by Roxette. We spent the money on booze and birds in two days. We had our visas revoked and have never been allowed back into the U.S.
We want to believe that. We really do. So we’re just going to. Now tell us — on average, which artist do you play the most in any one Ultimate Power event?
Phil Collins, Bon Jovi, Meat Loaf, Bryan Adams and Bonnie Tyler.
What’s the most outlandish outfit anyone has ever worn at Ultimate Power?
Brian came as a Klingon at Bat Out Of Helloween Part 3. I dressed up as Saddam Hussein at Bat Out Of Helloween 1.
Is there any particular song which you guys consider to be the biggest floor-filling ballad?
Yes. “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. And the biggest sing-alonger is “Always” by Bon Jovi.
Do you regard Electric Ballroom as your permanent London home now?
Yes, currently the Ballroom is home. We love being in Camden. It oozes rock’n'roll. It also openly embraces bad behaviour and stupidity. From the stage, Flash can view every single person in the venue. His goal is to make sure every single person in that venue has the greatest night of their lives. He has yet to fail.
Apparently he is up for the OBE this year for services to mankind.
Well you can’t say fairer than that, can you? Anyway, how did your recent stint at Radio 1′s Big Weekend in Hackney go down?
It was brilliant. A different audience for us but one we loved embracing. Damon Albarn danced with Flash for the whole of “November Rain” in the backstage bar. He cried throughout.
You’ve ventured out of London as well — does the London crowd differ from regional balladeering crowds?
Apart from the accents, the crowd are pretty much the same. Some songs work better than others, though. We once played “I Will Always Love You” at Sonisphere. We nearly got lynched. But seriously, we’ve never had anyone thrown out the club, we’ve never had a fight, a cross word etc. These songs bring people together. It’s like an enormous religious experience, but sexier.
You close the night with the same songs every time, don’t you?
We refer to it as “Double Rain” – “November” into “Purple” closes the night. Brian usually opens with Miles Davis playing “Time after Time”. We opened Glastonbury with “Here We Go Again” by Whitesnake. It blew the roof off.
Have you ever had an artist whose songs you play at Ultimate Power perform live?
We once made up an award ceremony just so we could get to meet Meat Loaf. We lied through our teeth, got a microphone spray-painted gold and blagged a suite at Claridges just so we could present said fake award to the great man. I lost my nerve and so Dave had to do the presentation. Meat Loaf won four awards. Best song, Best Album, Lifetime Achievement and Sexiest Male.
Ultimate Power returns to Electric Ballroom on Friday 27 July 2012. Tickets are £10.