Music: The Goldie variations

The genius of British drum- and-bass is back and kicking - and making classical music about his mum. Phil Johnson talks to the loquacious Goldie about life, love and jazz-fusion talks to the drum-and-bass genius about his childhood talks to Phil Johnson
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The Independent Culture
THE CENTREPIECE of drum-and-bass star Goldie's new double album, Saturnz Return, is a remarkable quasi-classical composition entitled "Mother". And just like some mothers, it goes on and on and on - for 60 minutes. For Goldie, however, a nagging mother is a luxury he has only rarely known. At the age of three he was taken into care, and, while his mother kept his younger brother, Goldie was brought up in series of foster-homes and institutions. Once you know this - and most people do, as he neither hides the fact nor dwells on it - to listen with "Mother" is to hear a painfully drawn-out cry from the heart, like the primal scream of fellow working-class hero John Lennon's song "Mother" stretched to breaking point.

Musically, "Mother" keeps the listener waiting interminably for some kind of resolution - for a proper beginning, even - and for Goldie this is completely deliberate. "I was always waiting," he says. "Waiting to find out where my mum was, waiting for her to come back, sitting in a dormitory looking at the doorknob. You spend a lot of time doing that, starting in the womb, thinking you'd rather not be born. 'Mother' is not just about the physical mother but the fact of needing to be mothered, needing to have something that surrounded me. Yes, I can be melancholy, but do you think I had Bing Crosby singing 'White Christmas'? I never had nothing. I didn't have all the things I wanted when I wanted them. I didn't have presents. I had 'Ma, stop crying,' 'Why did you torture me?', 'I'll be here, Mother, after you've gone.' Do you know how deep that shit is? But my pain is no longer that pain, it's everybody's self- denial. 'Mother' is an internal virus, and I'm putting it into your subconscious, because that's where it came from with me."

IT'S DIFFICULT to convey the force of Goldie's personality: how funny he is, how likeable, how warm; how close he occasionally seems to being out of control, and how much you want to, well, mother him. If ITV ever feels the need to resuscitate the tired old showbiz formula of those An Evening With ... shows Goldie is their man. In front of an audience of his peers (the Gallagher brothers, Massive Attack, Naomi Campbell, David Bowie, his one-time girlfriend Bjork, sundry Hollywood pals, old school-friends, mates from Miami and people specially released from high-security prisons for the night), Goldie would more than hold the floor.

There'd be the old-skool bad-boy stories: "So I was lamping this geezer's head with a shovel ..." There'd be film-world gossip with Goldie imitating his friend Val Kilmer: "It was a scream and a laugh man, but I've got this faggot director, I've got this big fuckin' condom on my head, I'm in a pair of fuckin' tights, and I got my own kid going 'No, that ain't Batman!' " And there'd be Goldie trying on lines for his new film project with Josh Evans (the son of Hollywood producer Robert Evans and Ali McGraw), screaming: "Kill all the fucking leopards!" (don't ask). And as he talked, his accent would shift from West Midlands to Hollywood to Miami, to somewhere in between, which is probably London and the present, though his voice always returns to that trademark Wolverhampton twang. Goldie is a real performer.

When I walk into his suite at the Landmark Hotel in London, Goldie is lying face down on the bed playing the new 007 game on his PlayStation, the lenses of his spectacles reflecting the shoot- em-up action on the screen. He's completely engrossed, and what with the cropped hair (dyed blond and razored with Vs, natch) and the baggy sweater and jeans, he looks about 12 years old instead of 32. It's a touching scene that belongs to the idyllic childhood he never had, as he lies surrounded by his toys in his bedroom, the object of our fond attention. After all the degradations of the past, Goldie now really is the golden boy and everything he touches turns, of course, to gold. Downstairs in the hotel garage is his latest toy, a Ducati motorbike, delivered that very morning with the price negotiated at a favourable discount, and next to it sits his new Porsche car.

He drives round to the Stussy store whenever he wants and they fill his boot with clothes; he's got more complimentary pairs of trainers than he knows what to do with and he's just bought a stockbroker's house in Hertfordshire to house them, and also to provide, as he says, "a garden for my dog to shit in". True, he hasn't actually sold that many albums yet, but Warner Brothers have given him an advance to head up a label for them, and he runs a profitable club night at the Blue Note in Hoxton, east London. He gets 10 grand or so for a remix of somebody else's record, and on New Year's Eve he made the same amount doing three DJ appearances. In short, he's dealing with the pressures of fame very well.

"Yeah!" he says. "They talk about the pressure but there's no pressure on you when you've had the door locked on you all the time. They'd say 'Sit like this!' and you'd sit like that, and they'd say 'No! Sit like that!' You can't do anything right, so you don't know what's right and what's wrong. You walk through your door every day of your life and all of a sudden you hear 'Get back in your room!' And then one day the door just opens and you sit on your bed and you ponder for hours thinking what to do. You can go, but you've been conditioned for years to think that it's a trap. I've spent so many years trying to get it out of my shell. You want to get out but they're always holding you down and keeping you in one place. And you know what? I forgive them, because it's that what's learnt me what I am today. It's made me a better person.

"I've grown up putting my suitcase down, making new friends, and then having to pick it up again, like 'Let's move him to another foster home in six months' time.' I've just packed my life into a suitcase, moved along, put it down, picked it up again, and now I've finally hit the ground. I was the only kid in my school who had to wear uniform in the fifth form when you had the choice not to. I was forced by the institute to wear it, so I looked like a right cunt. I was the one with the grey jumper and the white shirts. There was this maths teacher who really used to hate me because I couldn't count. He dragged me over chairs and put me in detention, and that's how I know there's 16 ounces in the pound, because I had to write it out 20 thousand fucking times. He hated me because I was a clown, because I was from an institute, because it was the only thing I could do, to become a character."

The character he became was the man he still is today: Goldie (his real name is never willingly revealed), pioneer British graffiti artist (a friend and contemporary of Massive Attack's 3D), break-dancer, and one of the kids to whom the new hip-hop culture of the early 1980s was less a fashion than a lifeline. "Goldie has been around a lot longer than his gold teeth, than the golden locks", he says. "Not many people know me. He was a Rastafarian ... They know Goldie the player, like my boys in Miami, or Goldie the graffiti writer, or Goldie the guy on the estate with the gold teeth, but nobody really knows that little boy from school, you know? Goldie protected that kid, and I'm still that kid, cos I won't ever grow up. It's important for me to show that as an artist I'm only half-way there. I haven't really arrived."

As a graffiti artist, he was one of the best in the country, anthologised in the internationalist sequel to Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfont's standard work Subway Art, and memorialised in the film Bombing, a Channel Four documentary made in the mid-1980s. He travelled down to Bristol from his home in Wolverhampton to hang out with the Wild Bunch crew, who later became Massive Attack, the producer Nellee Hooper, and Tricky. Later, he went to Florida to find the dad he had never known and made more graffiti, sculpted jewellery, and designed gold teeth. When he came back, he moved from hip-hop to rave and helped pioneer the emerging sound of jungle or drum-and-bass. His debut album, Timeless, from 1995, took drum-and-bass into the big time. At last, after a lifetime of building a character and preparing for fame, Goldie had made it. His were the teeth that launched a thousand magazine covers.

But I know Goldie's dark secret. Though the magnum opus of "Mother" is acknowledged as owing a debt to Gorecki's Third Symphony, which Bjork had first played him, this isn't the half of it. Goldie is a closet jazz-fusion fan, and the album's most abiding influences are, he says, the American guitarist Pat Metheny and Metheny's keyboard player Lyle Mays. "Pat Metheny's my hero, man," he says. "He's going to remix 'Sea of Tears' (from Timeless) and I'm going to remix two tracks from his album". Hell, Goldie even likes the Yellow Jackets. "They're my favourite. I must have bought four copies of their album over 10 years, six copies of Metheny's Still Life, nine copies of Miles Davis's Decoy ... I take everything in. I am that fucking black hole."

AFTER THE interview, Goldie takes me down to the hotel garage to show me his new Ducati, pulling off the black veil that covers the machine to reveal the incredible, cartoon-yellow beast beneath. As we stand admiring it, a middle-aged man in motorbike leathers walks past, and stops to take a peek. We watch as he walks around the bike appraisingly. "Ever ridden one of these?" Goldie says. "No, but I'd like to," the man says, and then moves off a little disconsolately towards his own bike. As we walk back out of the garage Goldie laughs. "I wanted to say, well I've fucking well ridden it mate, and it's mine!" Back in Bristol the next day, I meet one of Goldie's old graffiti chums, Inkie. "Still cheeky is he?" he asks. You betcha. And for Goldie, of course, this is just the start of something big.

'Saturnz Return' (FFRR) is out tomorrow.