“As part of the 40th anniversary of Milton Keynes, and to celebrate Milton Keynes talent – MK Idol talent contest – first 500 applicants will be seen by the judges” and gave a web address.
I remember thinking “that sounds like a really careless lack of quality control” and on the spur of the moment, I downloaded the application form and began to fill it in.
“What is your talent?”
I had to admit that was a very good question, and I wasn’t sure what my talent was – it would be safe to say I’m a jack of all trades and can try my hand at most things, but I’m not sure whether I’d be classified as having a talent as such. Well it was about Milton Keynes and I’ve lived here long enough to be able to honestly say “I remember when this was all fields” so I put in:
“I sing songs about roundabouts”
The rest of the form was fairly straightforward until the last box at the bottom, where it said “please provide us with more details” so I just put in:
“It’s true! I do sing songs about roundabouts”.
I looked over the form, giggled quietly to myself for a moment and clicked send, expecting to hear nothing more about it. On reflection, expecting not to get the audition seems a bit daft as they’d already said that they were going to see the first 500 people, but I genuinely didn’t expect to hear from them again, so pretty much forgot about it.
And then they sent me the invitation to the audition.
Now I was a little amused by it, as I’d been right – they clearly didn’t have any quality control in place – but most of all I was slightly concerned. Just in case I didn’t make it clear enough earlier on, there was one specific entry on the application form were I’d been less than truthful. I didn’t sing songs about roundabouts. Not ever. So I now had a choice I guess:
- Don’t go to the audition
- Write a song about roundabouts and go and sing it to them
I was always going to take the second option I think, but really didn’t know where to start. I sat and jotted down a few ideas about Milton Keynes in general and roundabouts to be specific (you’d be amazed at how much there is to write!) and eventually came up with a phrase that worked:
“unique in a roundabout way”.
From that point onwards, I knew it was going to be ok to be honest. It didn’t take long to put the bones of the song together, and “Milton Keynes – Built on Dreams” was born.
The day of the audition came, and I nervously popped down with my trusty guitar to the Hilton in Central Milton Keynes. There were loads of people there – mainly kids, but a few other adults so I didn’t feel too lonely. I chatted to a couple of people and found out that I knew one of them from a web forum, and knew the other one’s partner in real life and started to relax a bit. And then came my moment.
I walked into the audition room – it was laid out just like the X-Factor programs on the telly – a table with four judges sitting behind it. If I remember correctly, the judges were Shiny from Kik Music, someone else from Kik, Trevor Marshall from 3 Counties Radio and I have no idea who the fourth person was – sorry if that’s you.
I walked and stood on my spot, and did my song. When I got to the end, it’s fair to say that I was met with an uncomfortable silence. Up to that point, they’d spent their day seeing wannabe Kylie and Robbies, and suddenly they’ve got this bloke in his late thirties singing about roundabouts at them. I stood in silence for a second, waiting to see if they were going to say anything, and when they didn’t I just said “shall I go then?”.
That stung the back into life a little and one of them said “no – hold on a minute. You’re very different to anything else that we’ve seen today, and it might be quite interesting to take you through. They talked amongst themselves for a minute or two, and then came back with the killer question:
“We’d like you to come back tomorrow for the next stage – do you have more songs?”
I must have looked convincing when I said “yeah loads” as they said thanks and asked me to come back tomorrow and sing them a different song.
This was starting to get a little weird. I’d done it, and taken it as far as I had ever expected to, and now I’d got through to the next stage. And now I had to write another song. By lunchtime on the next day! It was starting to be fun though, so I had a swing in my step as I walked out.
Back home, I got the pen and paper out again, and was trying to write another song about roundabouts. To be honest, the first one had mentioned roundabouts, but had been more about Milton Keynes generally, so I was trying to focus on the roundabouts angle. Oddly enough, the song just came out within about an hour. I’d had to sweat over the first song – it came out well in the end, but it took a lot of time. The second one really just flowed and before I knew it “We’ve Got More Roundabouts” emerged into the world, and my signature tune had arrived.
I found the next day much more relaxing. I’d already taken it further than I’d expected to, so anything that happened now was a bonus, though I had started to wonder whether I could actually win this. The way the competition was structured was that they saw 500 people on day one, invited 40 people back on day two, and would choose six people from day two who would be the finalists. The finalists were scheduled to take part in the opening of the MK Dons new stadium, in front of thousands of people, after which point a final winner would be chosen.
The second audition was just fun. The song was fun to play, they enjoyed listening to it, and it was just a nice way to finish off the whole thing. We shook hands at the end of it, and they said that they’d be in touch if I’d been succesful.
I’m not sure how much later it was that I heard from them – I think it was a couple of weeks, but it could have been a couple of days or a month. I seriously hadn’t thought about it from the day of the second audition, so I was surprised when, while laying in the bath on a Sunday afternoon, I got a call from the guy at Kik Music. He very quickly amazed me by saying that the judges thought that what I was doing was interesting, different and enjoyable, and they were happy to announce that I had been successful, and that I was in the final six. My ghast was genuinely flattered! It was during that call, as we discussed the expected structure of the final that the name Tony Stratford came into my mind – I was laughing as I thought of it, and I explained that from that point forward, I’d be performing under that name.
Now some of you reading this may be surprised to find out that Tony Stratford isn’t my real name – there are people who I’ve known since the start of this who call me Tony to this day, and it’s gone on too far for me to be able to correct them without embarrassment. Plus it’s quite funny. Just in case it doesn’t jump out at you, or if you’re not from this area, one of the existing towns that Milton Keynes was built around is called Stony Stratford – dropping the S just seemed to make sense.
The big final never happened as planned due to delays in the stadium development, but I did end up playing ‘We’ve Got More Roundabouts’ in front of 10,000 people at Stadium MK, and from there I’ve played a number of gigs, made a number of radio performances and have now got enough songs to make me think that I have the core of a musical (or more correctly a MooSical) so in the future, who knows what will happen with it.
That’s pretty much the story of the origin of Tony Stratford – there’s much more to talk about some point, but for now, I hope you enjoy the rest of the site.
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