“What are words worth?
Words in papers
Words in books
Words on TV
Words for crooks…
Words are working hard for you
Words tell you what to do…”
Wordy Rappin’ Hood – Tom Tom Club
“Do you do words?” asks Goldie’s manager Trenton.
“Yeah man, I do words,” I reply.
It’s 1996. Goldie and his band are rehearsing their live performance of Timeless. I’ve just come off stage at The Forum after filming them. Tonight, my shots will be projected live on a huge screen behind the band, remixed and funked up by digital technical wizard, Justin Keery. We’d teamed up symbiotically, in Hoxton’s bass blasted Metalheadz basement, adding our spice to that magical witches brew. I first met Trenton while I was at BBC Radio One, co-producing the first ground breaking series of One In The Jungle. I conceived the programme and those magic title words at home in Tottenham.
Post Sussex Uni, I was heading into broadcast-land. There had be journeys through BBC Radio and TV, a Channel 4 production company, filming a pilot for Goldie’s show Fereala, and grafting at MTV Europe, infiltrating jungle drum & bass beats into the building.
“Wow!” I hear you say. But by the end of four short years, I was thinking, “Fuck this for a lark. I’m going back to my proper job, Intensive Care nursing.” Except I signed on the dole for eighteen months to write, All Crews version one.
It’s said everyone has got one book inside them but it wasn’t like I had a master plan to write All Crew Muss Big Up. I just started writing, downloading my brain like a thing possessed. I’d start in the morning, finishing in the morning, puffing, listening to Kool and Rude FM, mostly forgetting to eat, my mind melding into megabytes. A lot of soap was dodged in those times. Imagine pre-internet times, my office (our spare bedroom) was organised chaos, with records, flyers, magazines, mixtapes littering the floor and every available surface. Interview appointments were stuck to the wall. Speak to Shy FX, Grooverider, Kemistry & Storm, Sarah Groove Connection, Jay World Dance, Dillinja, Clayton Renegade Hardware, DJ Kid…
To be honest, at first it all felt like the blag of all blags, just so I could meet the scene’s giants; “Yeah… I’m writing a book. Can I interview you?” I’d never written a book before. Didn’t know how it was done. Didn’t attend any literary classes, for fear of encountering sneering, snooty snobbish types.
Sure I made my mistakes, like not mentioning Knowledge Magazine! I’m still cringing from that one! But I gained trust, encouragement and lessons from our scene, without asking. Storm said, “When you come into the scene, everything’s open.” You could be the DJ, MC, producer, promoter, flyer designer, dancer… Opportunities are all there…”
Hype’s story was well jungle. He was drafted into some government inspired, yoof opportunities music scheme. When the teacher heard Hype’s production sounds, he disapproved saying, “Uggh that’s horrible! You don’t want to do that!!!”
Actually Mr Teacher, those ‘Horrible, nasty, and downright, absolutely disgusting’ sounds will take Hype on a trip around the globe, lasting decades; inspiring more people than you ever will… Sir.”
And from GQ & Kenny Ken in session, I heard the inspiring words in a tune: “Everyman do his ting a likkle way different.” So I do words a little or a likkle way different. I DO JUNGLE.
2017 and books have made a comeback, with more than £360 million worth of copies, bought by UK readers, an increase of 7% in 2016. It’s driven by young people shunning ebooks, in favour of good old print and paper. We’ve been treated to Billy Bunter, Uncle Dugs and Jumpin’ Jack Frost’s stories through the Music Monday’s stable. Jungle / Drum & Bass biography-wise, earliest on the shelves was MC Flux. Latest on the shelves is Mr Goldie, published by Faber & Faber. Though word on da street has Natalia Sheppard, aka MC Tali, penning her debut fictional novel, The Little White House, a first for our scene.
I’m happy that All Crews is the first factual account which remains in print, documenting our scene. But strictly speaking, All Crews isn’t a biography, though it documents my life in the dance music scene, going back to the early 80s.
People are waking to the fact that, our scene must be documented, our stories must be recorded. To borrow from Blade Runner, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe” and “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain”. So we need books describing those times which people wouldn’t believe, unless someone you know, even vicariously says, “Yeah man, you wouldn’t believe it. That’s how it went down. I was there, I saw it with my own eyes” or “I don’t care what anyone says, we were first!” to “I never wanna forget one moment of this night.”
We’re weaving history, our history, which people now study in universities. We provide history’s first draft, the raw material, for academics to analyse. Artists and players are getting on it.
Over the years, I’ve been approached many times by DJ Big-Player, MC Fantastic, and Mr Absolutely Wicked Promotions, wanting their biography written. For me they’d be dream jobs. Imagine mining the diamond mine of jungle artist’s golden experiences, sharing that intimate space, riding through the journeys of their lives; even hearing their off piste, “You better not put that in!” moments. Or the things they or I want to say but… well… look… you just can’t allriiight! Shit gets dangerous in the jungle. Words get dangerous in the hood.
2003, I’m grafting All Crews version final, listening to a writing tip (or should that be a self preservation tip?) from DJ Fresh, one of the greatest players on our scene. I emphasise, Fresh was not threatening, just explaining other scene-ster’s lay of the land: “Brian mate, whilst you are perfectly correct in your BBC trained-journalistic sphere to say/write such ‘n’ such about so ‘n’ so; they may well reserve the right to… smash yer fuckin’ face in.” And I remembered the number of scene-sters I interviewed, who standardly had a baseball bat within swinging distance.
Like an impartial BBC reporter in a war zone, I always write what I need to write, and am largely left alone. Well, apart from that time when I feared I was gonna be stabbed right up. The client didn’t like my verbals. But we don’t talk about that… “Sorry, what was that..? Oh…” Correction… We can all laugh about it now. “Was that OK…?” My All Crews publisher and friend Colin Knowledge, an honourable decent man grafting in this difficult scene, was punched in the mouth by a fist full of golden rings. “Say what!?!” The ways of da hood…
You learn by experience. And I’ve lived through decades of experiences.
Fast forwards to today. Today I meet one of the scene’s greatest, oldest, hardest promoters. People now know, “Yes, I do words.” Except…
Having dragged DJ Ron through the courts for evading paying my salary, I’m older and wiser. Wiser and experienced enough not to give away my skillz for free, asking for a deposit up front. I’ve got headz beating a path to my literary door, wanting golden words as thick as their chains. Except when they hear my modest terms of engagement, I hear nothing. One recent meeting lasted three hours. I was surprised to see a Facebook announcement before our talks. Still we meet. Our terms of engagement are on the table. Everything’s discussed. I know his literary desires. I even explain that, “Although you can handle yourself with a baseball bat, libel lawyers can drag you through the courts, leaving you destitute. On parting I ask, “Now you won’t disappear on me?”
“Bruv!” he says to me, “No!” Kissing teeth…
But I knew from a gut feeling, it’d be radio silence. He’d disappear, not answering my WhatsApp “What’s up?” calls or texts or emails… Nowt but radio silence… That’s what happens in the Wordy Rapping Hood.
One question I often hear is, “B man! When are you writing the All Crews update? It’s gotta be done!!!” There are several reasons from the colloquial, ‘Quit while your ahead.’ to the knowledge and experience of knowing, that I can’t face any more “DJ No Shows”. What was that phrase? “Money talks. Bullshit walks”. Hire me and you can even pay in instalments, as Kemi, Storm and Goldie did buying their first set of decks. It’s an investment. Your past written large for your future.
For my future, I’m writing my next long awaited book Hospital Stories, which concentrates on my life as an Intensive Care nurse, in London’s St Bartholomew’s and Great Ormond Street hospitals. There are a few medical bits in All Crews, but Hospital Stories goes right in. It’s another world which, like All Crews, I had to tell the story. But this is literally life and death, living and dying. I couldn’t have lived those years without music. All Crews is the music. Hospital Stories is real life and death. But it’s interspersed throughout with music. I know now that I can’t write, can’t live without writing in music.
Years down the line, I can say to Goldie’s manager, “Yes Trenton, I do words, if you’ll pay for my services.”
If you want a good book to read, instead of watching Goggle Box’s seasonal repeats, the time’s right for you to fill yer boots…
Books in order of appearance:
- All Crews: Journeys Through Jungle Drum & Bass Culture by Brian Belle-Fortune, published by Vision Publishing.
- MC Flux – Dirty: The Confessions of a Reformed Drug Addict and Soccer Hooligan Who Made it Big on the Dance Scene by Pete Nice, published by Goodreads.
- The Love Dove Generation by Billy ‘Daniel’ Bunter with Andrew Woods, published by Music Mondays
- Rave Diaries & Tower Block Tales by Uncle Dugs with Andrew Woods, published by Music Mondays
- Big Bad & Heavy by Jumpin’ Jack Frost with Andrew Woods, published by Music Mondays
- All Things Remembered by Goldie, published by Faber & Faber
- Catch the Beat: The Best of Soul Underground – various (including Brian Belle-Fortune’s first articles), edited by David Lubich, published by DJhistory.com
- Natalia Sheppard aka MC Tali has just penned fictional tale, The Little White House, published by Pegasus
- The Star Of The Show by DJ Kid with Brian Belle-Fortune, due 2018
- Hospital Stories – A Nurse’s Journey by Brian Belle-Fortune, due 2018
Pssst I’ll let you into a secret
Everyone should be recording audio books…
They’d make a killing.
Just cut me in for 10%