Goldie returnz infused with Beethoven, Charlie Mingus & Charles Bukowski

Key Words:

Monday, September 18, 2017 - 16:25

The drum & bass stalwart is back with his third artist album The Journey Man and his second autobiography All Things Remembered.

Goldie arrives at Royal Festival Hall in a whirlwind of shiny teeth and energy; he’s come directly from filming an item to support Jeremy Corbyn on the importance of arts funding, further along London's South Bank. The unmistakable demeanour, the faint West Midlands twang and the extraordinarily candid window into his life - all are in play as we head up to the Members’ Bar to debate everything from the limbic system of the brain to whether Beethoven was black...

I’ve had a lot of richness but I’ve never really had wealth

He’s been in the public eye for some 25 years now, but there are no airs and graces about Goldie. 'I catch the train everyday, like Corbyn - people say "what are you catching the train for you should have driver?" I like catching the train!' 

Though in the UK to play a plethora of DJ sets across the summer festival season, and to promote both his new album, The Journey Man and upcoming his auto-biography, All Things Remembered, Thailand is where Goldie calls home these days, and, in its current post-Brexit climate, he doesn’t miss too much about London.

'In a way I’m glad I took myself away from England. If you’ve lived a very toxic life then it’s a very toxic place to be. I had to put myself away from myself to be honest. I do love this country but I love myself enough to pull myself away, and I also realise it’s about making way for other things to happen and enabling me to grow.' He muses, 'I’ve had a lot of richness but I’ve never really had wealth.'

Raised in the care system in the West Midlands, Goldie had what most would call a tough upbringing, but he found his escape in art - which took him out of the estates and off to the sunny climes of Miami. His love of art and culture has often pulled him back from the brink, 'It’s the love affair that will never abandon you.' 

The Journey Man is Goldie's third artist album, following Timeless (1995) and Saturnz Return (1998). It was after the latter that his career veered into the mainstream, taking in everything from acting in Bond movies to conducting classical music and donning the lycra in Strictly Come Dancing. On Saturnz Return he worked with the late David Bowie, forming a friendship he recalls fondly. Bowie, the undisputed master of reinvention, has clearly been a great inspiration to Goldie.

Does great stress lead to great art?

We’re debating whether the experience of going through hardships and turbulence in life can be a powerful driver for creating art. Goldie mentions a conversation he once had with a neurosurgeon about the limbic system of the brain, that which controls our emotional responses, behaviors, motivation and memory. According to the surgeon, when you view scans of the brain's response to observing art, and its response to observing trauma, they trigger very similar patterns. 'It explains a lot about why trauma excels us; why artists are often the most traumatised people,' he says, offering  Jay-Z and Bjork as tangible examples. 

Beethoven was berated... that’s always confused me, the fact that he was mixed race…

He’s becoming even more animated now, referring to the much debated theory that Beethoven was mixed race and that his mother, Maria Magdalena Keverich, was Moorish, having being born in Flanders in an area under the control of the Moors at the time. ‘It made him complex. He wrote his music so they couldn’t follow it, to confuse the orchestra. He hid his music behind maths.’

It’s not beyond reason to draw parallels in the unconventional ways in which Beethoven constructed his music, and the genre-defining manner in which Goldie time-stretched beats in ways not previously done, and played his sequencer backwards to create Timeless, a record that changed the course of electronic music production.

Beethoven’s compositions are known for the patterns hidden beneath the sounds. Some say his use of mathematical sequences to compose was his means of continuing to write music as he descended into deafness. Others suggest it’s more than a happy accident that in doing so he constructed layers of consonance and dissonance that somehow fit together perfectly to add turbulence and emotion to the score. Miles Davis, Goldie points out, is another artist who skillfully blends dissonant chords. ‘It’s fascinating isn’t it,’ he leans back admiringly, ‘I always found great inspiration from that.’

Next year marks a decade since we saw Goldie on television in his topcoat and tails, wielding a baton as he learned how to be a classical music conductor on the BBC programme Maestro. I ask if that experience changed him at all? ‘I like the fact that alchemy plays a big role in my life. Not having the ability to read music in the way that I’m supposed to. I’ve played Ronnie Scotts… I don’t think there’s been another artist who’s played Ronnie Scott’s that’s not been able to play an instrument. It was a a bit of mind fuck for me… in a good way. I’ve really enjoyed that side of my life.’

Goldie’s political manifesto

The world has changed a lot since Maestro. Back then Barrack Obama was striding towards his first term as US President. Now, the spectre of Obama's successor looms large, particularly as we meet in a week when Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un are beating their chests like nuclear-armed silverback gorillas. It’s left us both feeling somewhat uneasy about the state of the globe, and the future. 'I think we’re in a really special time for young people now. They still see two people arguing but it’s not like Scargill and Thatcher anymore… it’s much worse. It’s like Darth Vader and Genghis Khan... and that’s the choice you’ve got! What can you do?'

If I had my way yoga would be in the school curriculum, and parkour a national sport

These days to keep calm and carry on, he does yoga speaks highly of its benefits - if his next reinvention takes him on a political journey, it will form a part of his manifesto. 'If I had my way yoga would be in the school curriculum, and parkour a national sport. I’d have music colleges as a given, and I’d have free transport for young people to create healthy minds. The amount of money this country makes from speed cameras is more than enough to educate our youth.'

To Goldie's credit he’s regularly used his public platform to try and inspire disadvantaged young people, in fact it was for services to music and young people that he was awarded an MBE in 2016. He advocates for facilities in estates to help channel children's talents in creative ways, because he knows from experience what can happen if they have no outlets. 'My kid Jamie, got 35 years for homicide… aggravated, premeditated homicide... killed a kid.' 

The tragic gang related stabbing in Wolverhampton was widely reported when he was sentenced in 2010. 'I’ll be 64 when he comes out of prison. I’ll never forget the day they closed his school down. He was nine years old and they took his junior school in the middle of an estate - a place called Firetown. Do the maths. You close the school down which is the community at the heart of the estate, chop out the heart and watch it die, and you wonder why those kids went left and right.'

I’m Dr. Price twice! None of them are going to get me anything in the real world. They open a few doors maybe but I don’t know what doors they are, I ain’t seen them yet!

I wonder if his MBE means anything to him? ‘Let me tell you something, putting letters after my name makes no difference to me.’ He reminds me it’s not his only title, he also has an honorary doctorate in Social Sciences from Brunel University and an honorary degree of Doctor of Design from the University of Wolverhampton. ‘I’m Dr. Price twice! None of them are going to get me anything in the real world. They open a few doors maybe but I don’t know what doors they are, I ain’t seen them yet.’ That said, he concedes that his mum, who sadly passed away in 2015, may feel some pride at his accolades, ‘maybe there’s a little part of her that just gives me the wink when I’m sleeping.’

The Journey Man takes a sojourn into jazz 

So to the new album. A decade since his last and reportedly four years in the making, The Journey Man is, according to Goldie, an amalgamation of the music he grew up with. 'I love the album because it is a body of work. There’s something for everyone on there.' A whopping 16 tracks long, it boasts a healthy dose of pleasingly heady drum and bass as you might expect, but for good measure The Journey Man also takes a sojourn into jazz and soul territory too, with some stunning vocal contributions.

Goldie kicks off a live tour to promote it in November, getting back on stage with some of his friends from the Heritage Orchestra, the ensemble with which he performed his Timeless album live at Royal Festival Hall in 2015, to rapturous acclaim. 'Nine of us on stage with the four singers - it’s a bit like watching Incognito.'

Playing at Ronnie Scotts meant more to me than my MBE

In February this year Goldie took his Timeless Orchestral show to legendary jazz club Ronnie Scotts. 'Playing at Ronnie Scotts meant more to me than my MBE to be honest,' he beams. Jazz has long been a great inspiration to his music; Timeless was inspired by American jazz drummer Art Blakey, and now he’s espousing Charlie Mingus. 'For me Mingus as a composer… forget playing double bass - as a composer he was unbelievable, fierce as well.'

Now Goldie is looking to the future, he’s experimenting with not smoking. It’s a week since his last cigarette and that hasn’t happened for the last 20 years. 'I’m enjoying it,' he says with just a hint of uncertainty and lashings of good intention.

'I’m looking forward to [coming to] Southbank.' He’ll be discussing his upcoming autobiography on 22 October as part of London Literature Festival. All Things Remembered is his second autobiography, the first, came out in 2002 but an awful lot has happened since then. This tome, he says, is very different to the last one. 'The book’s been a good story... a kids story as well. Like Ham on Rye but the darker, blacker version of that,' he laughs, drawing parallels with the brooding social commentary of Charles Bukowski. All things considered it will definitely be a ripping yarn.

And with that he’s off, pausing gracefully for a selfie with a fan, before he heads out to the next appointment in his exhausting schedule. I don’t know where he finds the energy.

See Goldie interviewed at this year's London Literature Festival on 22 October  

Information and tickets

Jazz inspiration play list

Hear some of the composers and musicians that inspired Goldie's music.