Meet Ali Campbell: Xfm’s resident fitness freak. Of course, that’s all relative, and anyone who can prise themselves out of the DJ chair unaided may be a candidate for Ali’s proposed Free-Running team.
All which seems more unlikely when you consider Ali’s previous rock’n’roll (and dance crossover) existence, as a member of DJ crew Jengaheads.
Ali Campbell is a man in a hurry. The cycling shorts – and indeed the bike which he’s just deposited round the back of the Xfm Scotland studios – are a bit of a giveaway. We have a little extra time since a cycle through Glasgow’s teatime traffic has got him here faster than going via car – squinty bridge or not.
Of course, Ali wasn’t always the prospective face of Raleigh, The Greens, and Fitness Scotland. “I drove vans… trucks… people mad…” he jokes, of his previous jobs. And when he wasn’t doing that he was on tour almost constantly. Perhaps he’s putting, Branson-style, something back in the environment, that’s not CFCs? “It might be my conscience, or what’s left of it!” he admits.
“I always cut about on skateboards, snowboards and BMXs,” he continues, “but started to cycle again as a means to get about – so I started for myself, but thought I might as well raise some money for charity.” Hence his participation in Pedal For Scotland, the annual 50-mile trip between Edinburgh and Glasgow. However, his plans don’t end there. “I would love to cycle from John O’Groats to Land’s End – but with the time it takes and the feasibility, it’s pretty heavy.”
For now then, the relatively sensible option of long-distance running, starting with a half-marathon last year.
“I do 100 miles a week just getting about on the bike, and did the half marathon 9 mins faster than the previous year… but if I find myself getting obsessive I have to step back and be more casual about it.” He pauses. “I hadn’t run since I was at school, so when I got fitter it was the whole Forrest Gump thing!”
But is he really getting obsessive about fitness?
“I’m a wee bit evangelical about cycling in that people should be able to get around without being hit,” he muses. With good reason too. “I got knocked off by a lorry – at a slow pace though; in fact, I was able to get up and throw the bike at him!”
“People are more aware than they were 6 or 7 years ago,” he continues. “Cycle lanes are better marked and drivers are maybe more conscious of cyclists. I’m not saying people should give up cars, but it’s about education…”
Despite the dangers, spectator sport isn’t for Ali. Well, with one exception. “I follow Thistle – for my sins,” he says of the Maryhill Magyars. “What am I saying – THEIR sins!” He’s not been to Firhill for a couple of years, and that was a launch party for Triptych – pies and Bovril in the Alan Rough Suite! Saturdays are more likely to be spent on another desolate and windswept place, chasing waves of the non-Mexican variety.” Scotland’s not the easiest place to surf,” he admits, “but I’ve been a couple of times this year, Machrihanish and Dunbar.” Indeed, he’d have be there now if it were not for a bout of sudden high pressure. “Which means there’s no waves,” he explains. “I just keep an eye on the swells, then grab a board.”
However, warmer waters are his favoured surfing environment. “Lanzarote’s good – the water’s warm, so I don’t need not a wetsuit that’s as thick as my mattress.” Surfing, it seems, is more of a family sport than the more solitary running or cycling. “My daughter is quite intrigued by the whole thing, and my wife’s about to have a surfing lesson too.”
As he said, Ali’s primary reason for all this exertion was to keep in shape, and as you can see from his picture – untouched by Photoshop – he’s lean and healthy-looking. I’d consider it rude to question his age, and as we talk about his childhood tastes only the odd answer hints at years kept at bay either by his fitness regime, or a diet of monkey glands.
As with many of us, his earliest memories are of Top of the Pops – “when they were replacing Pan’s People, they had a competition to name Legs & Co,” he remembers. “And I got really into into Quo – until I realised that it was all the same song!”
However, this has laid down a bed of rock to his musical tastes, even given his time involved in the dance scene. “I’d be in clubs by default, so I prefer live, no matter what size of venue – I enjoyed the Beastie Boys a year ago, finally.” That was his first time seeing the Beasties properly. “I did see them at T in the Park but they were 3 tiny guys in boiler suits!” There are a few surprises in the list that follows – Green Day, Morning Runner, and less so, Primal Scream. “I like crossover-y stuff like the Primals, and Radiohead – you can tell they listen to a lot of dance from the way they use sounds.”
Listeners to his show on Xfm Scotland may be surprised that it’s pretty much a straight ‘record’ show – with no live deck action or mixing. Whether by accident or design, this suits Ali nicely.
“I made a conscious decision not to DJ in clubs – in fact, I went back to it in a pub as a favour to a pal, but wasn’t really enjoying it. When I’m there playing the music I enjoy it, but you end up tired all day Saturday – and having young kids…”
And the same goes for life on the road, the Jengaheads living like a rock band for a while. “It can sound glamorous,” he admits, “ but in its own way it’s hard work – it’s physically tiring going from place to place… and you’d get invited to parties and the like and then it’s 7am – or we’d actually be DJing in a 7am slot at festivals”. So his club DJdays are well and truly behind him? “At the time it’s great, I’m grateful for that experience, but no, I don’t miss it.”
His DJ career started, perhaps like many, in a student union. “It had an ancient console with 2 record decks and a cassette player – a deck broke down so I just found songs on tapes and mixed those with the records, and ended up doing the rest of the night – the DJ was like ‘how did you manage that?’.”
Which early mixing skills coincided neatly with the naescent dance & hiphop scene which saw the arrival of Public Enemy and The Prodigy, and the coming of Bigbeat, with Bentley Rhythm Ace et al.
He also enjoys, to my surprise, Kasabian.
“I enjoyed the first album most, but also like how they’ve got themselves worked out as much as the brand as the band – a dodgy marketing term I know! But that kind of appealed, how they set themselves up as a kind of gang.”
Ali’s into music first and foremost but has an interest in ‘image’, due perhaps to his training in design – he confesses to a degree in woven textiles. All far-removed from the guerilla marketing techniques of the dance music industry – examine the lamp-posts of Glasgow and you’ll still find Jengaheads stickers around. Though he wasn’t responsible for Mylo’s infamous ‘stencil’ campaign. “I know they guy who did it, he got a cease and desist and threatened with an ASBO! But it’s all about getting stuff into places where they shouldn’t be.”
Speaking of which, there’s a tale here involving the roof of Glasgow’s Central Station, which we sadly can’t share, but which gets us onto the subject of Parkour – Urban Free-Running. And surprise surprise, that’s something Ali quite fancies. “I’m thinking of entering an Xfm team,” he reveals.
At that, we step back and await the stampede of volunteers from his fellow DJs.
Ali hosts ‘The Sunday Joint’, every Sunday afternoon from 16:00 to 18:00
2020 update: Ali has added another of his hobbies as a job – see for yourself… campbellbikeworkshop.com.