Prog fan Tom Mead emerged victorious on last week’s episode of Mastermind.
His specialist subject was Rush – and sailed the general knowledge round, too. Naturally, we wanted to know more and fire off some trickier questions of our own. And more importantly, is presenter John Humphrys a secret prog fan?
WHY DID YOU WANT TO BE ON MASTERMIND?
Tom: “I’d previously appeared on ITV’s The Chase and was looking for a new show to appear on; given its challenging reputation, I thought Mastermind would be a good one to try. I filled out the online form, then I got a call from the producers a few weeks later. They asked if I’d like to do a telephone audition right there and then; I wasn’t really prepared as I was having my lunch at the time, but told them to go ahead! They asked me 12 general knowledge questions, and then called me back later that day to say I’d answered enough of them correct to be considered for a face-to-face audition. For that, I went to the BBC studios in Salford to meet two members of the production staff – I nearly didn’t make it as I had to take a replacement bus from Sheffield due to a broken down train. There I was asked a further 20 general knowledge questions, and had a detailed discussion about what my specialist subjects should be. I had to pick three: for the heats, semi finals, and final. I then got another call from the producer a couple of weeks later, where we confirmed what my subjects would be; a final call a few days later confirmed my place on the show. I then had only three weeks to revise before filming day!”
IS THERE A STRICT CRITERIA TO GET ON THE SHOW?
“I had to do well on the quizzes they gave me, as mentioned above; they didn’t reveal to me exactly how well I did, but I felt like I got the majority of them right. That seems to be the main criteria in terms of your abilities; apart from that, I think the producers just want to get a wide range of ages, backgrounds and specialist subjects.”
WAS RUSH YOUR FIRST CHOICE AS A SPECIALIST SUBJECT?
“Actually no, it took a lot of negotiation with the producers to choose my subjects! I knew I wanted to do a music-related topic, and my first choice was Dream Theater – I figured no one else would have done it before. That wasn’t allowed though as there’s only been one book written about them; in order for question setters to verify answers, at least two independent, third party sources need to be available about each subject, so websites aren’t allowed. I then suggested Iron Maiden, but that had been done too recently in a celebrity episode by Frank Turner. The next one I thought of was Rush, and they said that would be fine. I also suggested Judas Priest and AC/DC to do in subsequent rounds, but they said I’d rather do a diverse range, and not just music topics. In the end, I was mainly just glad that we’d decided on something!”
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A FAN OF RUSH?
“Since I was about 15, so about 13-ish years. I had three of the The Greatest Air Guitar Album in the World Ever compilation albums and I already liked Queen, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, but wanted to hear more classic rock bands; my parents aren’t into that kind of music, and I had no older siblings to look to for guidance, so had to take the initiative myself. Spirit Of Radio was on one of the CDs, and I’m ashamed to say that my first thought was, ‘This woman has an interesting voice!’ I hadn’t heard of Rush at all beforehand, but I was impressed by their musicianship so decided to find out more. I then fortuitously found a greatest hits CD, Retrospective Vol. 1: 1974-1980, in a local independent music shop; I listened to it incessantly, and it all just took off from there.”
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE RUSH ALBUM, THEN?
“It depends on my mood; I love how Rush’s sound has evolved so much throughout the years. There are 4 albums in particular that I always come back to: Hemispheres, Moving Pictures, Power Windows, Counterparts. Collectively, they represent all the best elements of Rush; their sound has changed through the times, but they’ve impressively never ‘sold out’.”
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO SIT ON THE FAMOUS CHAIR?
“It’s much smaller than I was expecting. I didn’t want to get too comfortable, as I thought it might affect my concentration, so I made sure to sit right on the edge.”
DO THE STUDIO’S BRIGHT LIGHTS MAKE YOU FORGET THE ANSWERS?
“No. It’s quite a dark studio, so there was little to distract me. Once you’re in the chair, it’s just you and John [Humphrys, presenter]; the audience, cameras, and crew just fade away. I’m good at staying calm and concentrating well under pressure; I didn’t feel any different really from how I am playing at home.”
IS JOHN HUMPHRYS A SECRET PROG FAN?
“I don’t know! John’s quite a mysterious figure on set, which I think helps create a particular atmosphere. He doesn’t chat to you before or afterwards, and there’s little discussion beyond what you see on TV; the show’s essentially filmed live, in real time (unless pickup shots are needed). He’s a man of good taste though, I’m sure he is a fan – or at least I’m sure he would become one if I’d had the chance to discuss it with him further!”
HAVE RUSH FANS BEEN IN CONTACT FOLLOWING THE BROADCAST?
“There have been a few people tweeting me about it, saying how well they did compared to me. Many of my friends were particularly excited to hear what my subject was going to be. I don’t know if the band themselves are aware of the programme; if they did see it though, I’d like to think I did them proud.”
WHO PRODUCED THE ORIGINAL VERSION OF THE BAND’S DEBUT ALBUM, WHICH WAS EVENTUALLY SCRAPPED?
Tom: ”I have to think about this… Dave Stock.”
WHO PAINTED THE OWL THAT GRACES THE COVER OF FLY BY NIGHT?
“Hugh Syme does most of their artwork, so I’ll go with that.”
NAME THE 2112 SONG THAT FEATURES BAND ART DIRECTOR HUGH SYME ON MELLOTRON.
“I think it’s Tears.”
WHAT CONNECTS GAME OF THRONES WITH RUSH ON THEIR CURRENT TOUR?
“That’s a broad question. I can’t think, sorry.”
IN THE SONG DREAMLINE, WHAT DOES GEDDY HAVE A ROAD MAP OF?
“He has a road map to Jupiter.”
WHERE WAS A FAREWELL TO KINGS RECORDED?
“They recorded that in Wales… Rockfield Studios?”
WHO CO-PRODUCED EVERY ALBUM FROM FLY BY NIGHT TO SIGNALS?
**WHAT HAS GEDDY LEE ADMITTED TO DOING DURING SHOW INTERMISSIONS?
**“I can’t think.”
**WHICH MEMBERS OF FOO FIGHTERS INDUCTED THE BAND INTO THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME IN 2013?
**“Taylor Hawkins and Dave Grohl. They played Rush covers onstage afterwards, too.”
**WHAT IS ALEX LIFESON’S FAMILY NAME?
**“Zivojinovich and ‘life’s son’ is a rough translation.”
**WHAT IS THE FIRST PART OF LA VILLA STRANGIATO CALLED?
**“That’s one thing I never bothered to learn…”
**WHO WROTE A NOVELISATION OF CLOCKWORK ANGELS?
**“It’s a sci-fi guy… Kevin Anderson?”
AND ON THE COVER ART FOR CLOCKWORK ANGELS, WHAT IS SIGNIFICANT ABOUT THE TIME SHOWN ON THE CLOCK?
“The hands point to 21:12.”
Tom answered 9 questions out of 13. Eraldo Carugati painted the Fly By Night owl. Peter Dinklage appears in the Roll The Bones video backdrop on the band’s current tour. Geddy checks baseball scores during the intermission and the first part of La Villa Strangiato is called Buenas Noches, Mein Froinds!
Says Tom: “You really went into the nitty gritty, there. On Mastermind, the questions are a little more general to introduce the topic to people watching. You tested me a bit more thoroughly than John Humphrys did…”
Watch Tom’s appearance on BBC1’s Mastermind here. He’ll appear once again in the semi-final in early 2016.