Keepin' it geezer!

How do you get signed to The Streets' new record label? You pull a 'reverse pickpocket manoeuvre' on Mike Skinner, that's how. The Mitchell Brothers tell Craig McLean about their life of grime

The Mitchell Brothers had a good Brits. In fact, it was blinding from the minute they turned up at London's Earls Court for the ceremony last month. Trays of champagne - for free! There's Daniel Bedingfield! There's Lemar! Loads of dudes in suits and ties!

The Mitchell Brothers had a good Brits. In fact, it was blinding from the minute they turned up at London's Earls Court for the ceremony last month. Trays of champagne - for free! There's Daniel Bedingfield! There's Lemar! Loads of dudes in suits and ties!

In fact, Tony and Teddy had decided to make a sartorial stand in front of the millions at home wondering who these strange, out-of-nowhere top-table geezers were. Unlike most British artists making "urban" music, and as might be surmised from their name, the Mitchell Brothers favour proudly English clobber, not bulky American sportswear. So they'd dug out their best sky-blue and turquoise Fink cardigans, cleanest jeans and boxfreshest Adidas Stan Smiths (white for Tony, black for Teddy). They actually want to make flat caps their trademark look, but Brits night wasn't a night for flat caps. Tony went bare-headed, Teddy plumped for a bowler hat. Madonna's dressers were certainly impressed. "Nice cardis!" her stylists cooed. "Looking good, looking good!" So was Sharon Osbourne. She squeezed Tony's backside, and treated him to her best come-hither/gargoyle look. If only she was 16 years younger, thought Tony...

The Mitchell Brothers were guests of their mentor and mate Mike Skinner. When The Streets were announced as winners of Best British Male Solo Artist, the increasingly publicity-phobic Skinner was situated conveniently in the toilets. Teddy and Tony Mitchell were duly dispatched to collect the statuette on behalf of the chav-poet. "One day, lads," Skinner seemed to be saying to the first signings to his own label, "all this will be yours!"

At the winners' podium Tony and Teddy managed to get in a plug for their debut single "Routine Check", but it was cut from the TV broadcast. No matter. The Mitchell Brothers had, in a way, arrived. At the post-Brits party hosted by Warner Bros - paymasters behind Skinner's label The Beats - Teddy and Tony got well drunk.

It's the morning after the night before. In the bistro lounge of the Marriott Hotel in Bristol, the Mitchell Brothers are tucking into revivifying sandwiches. It's been three weeks since the Brit Awards. Last night, Bristol's Colston Hall was location for the opening night of The Streets' 10 Rounds tour. The Mitchell Brothers are support act. They're a smiling and chipper pair, all the better for having had a toxin-expelling sauna this morning. Teddy is the more sober-minded of the pair, Tony the animated, bouncier brother. But both are unfailingly polite and, as double acts go, as adept at finishing each other's sentences as they are at sparring in rap form.

It was a bit of a late one last night, but they didn't stay too long at the post-gig party - too many "little girls", they say. They're mildly embarrassed at having been spotted handing out aftershow passes to a crowd of girls on the venue's balcony. Mike Skinner's instructions, it would appear.

Now they're discussing possible titles for one of their newest songs. Its call-and-response vocal goes "Fuck Teddy!" and "Fuck Tony!" But being courtly types in conversation, they don't like to swear. "Flipping Teddy vs Flipping Tony" is one suggestion for the name. "Let The Games Begin" another. Or, thinks Teddy, "The Song Where We're Having A Banter". This debate, as often happens with the Mitchells, brings out their inner Vicky Pollard.

Tony: "We argue a lot. We will always argue. That's the way it goes."

Teddy: "No, but, yeah, he likes to argue a lot."

Tony: "No man, I just like to get my point across."

Teddy: "Yeah, even when he knows he's wrong, he's stubborn."

Tony: "Oh, he's stubborn. [To me] He's the most stubborn! [To Teddy]: You're the most stubborn..."

Tony splutters to a halt, outrage robbing him of all speech.

Contrary to this impressive display of sibling rivalry, they're not really brothers, but second cousins. Nor is Mitchell their real name. Tony Nyanin, 24, has always lived in Manor Park, east London. Teddy Hanson, also 24, was born in Dagenham and now lives "two minutes" from Mike Skinner in Stockwell, south London.

They entered this world only nine days apart (Tony is older), and have been mates forever, meeting up at family gatherings over the years, doing little breakdancing routines and, in their late teens, starting to rap together.

Another cousin of Teddy, clocking that Teddy and Tony were always hanging out together and were always squabbling, said they were just like EastEnders' Grant and Phil. Recognising that this sobriquet was a) funny, b) memorable and c) an effective way of telegraphing the Britishness they wanted to be absolutely integral to their hip-hop and garage, Teddy and Tony adopted the name the Mitchell Brothers.

Tony: "We looked at [the name] on a bigger scale. Anyone in the UK, whether they're white, black or Asian, will be able to get it. You know that stereotypical name that a lot of artists use?"

Teddy: "Like... Something Squad or... Something Crew?"

Tony: "That whole American thing? A lot of artists lose identity because there's so much influence from America - wearing a Boston Celtics cap with a bandana and a basketball top and Air Force One [trainers]. The Mitchell Brothers couldn't do that."

In summer 2002, Teddy was in the Brixton branch of Barclay's, paying a bill for his mum. In front of him in the queue was a bloke he knew he recognised. His bag was slightly open, and inside it Teddy could see CDs and cables. That confirmed it: it had to be Mike Skinner.

It was funny, because The Streets' first album, Original Pirate Material, had recently come out. Teddy and Tony had been listening to it a lot. Actually it was doubly funny: Tony had been joking that "we need to meet Mike. We need to start the Cockney Rotten Rhymers! He's British, and he's using his accent - that's what we want to do!"

Fortunately that morning in the bank, Teddy had on him some CDs containing sample snippets of their songs. One was called "Keep it Geezer", their riposte to the American hip-hop notion of "Keeping It Gangsta". Teddy did a "reverse pickpocket manoeuvre" and slipped a CD and his phone number into Skinner's bag. Skinner called that evening. "Who is this?" he said, followed by, "We should do something together." The Mitchell Brothers were rolling.

Nearly. In a scenario lifted straight from a Streets song, a few weeks later Teddy was in a club. He gave his mobile, on which he'd saved Skinner's details, to a girl so she could enter her number. Then, drunkenly, he walked off, losing the phone. It would take another fortuitous meeting on a train and 18 months before Skinner called again, asking Teddy if he'd sing on the chorus to "Fit But You Know It". While in Spain to shoot the "Fit..." video last March, he mentioned to Teddy that he was planning to start a label. Did the Mitchell Brothers want to be the first signing, and spend the next few months recording an album in Skinner's spare room with him producing and supplying occasional lyrics?

The rest, as they say, is the first example of post-Streets, keeping-it-entertainingly-real Brit-hop.

In Bristol's Colston Hall, Teddy and Tony had bounded on stage at 8.24pm to a booming chant spelling out their name. They were resplendent in matching Gap anoraks, Fred Perry trousers and flat caps (brown for Teddy, grey for Tony). They carried plastic cups of brandy. Colston Hall is a lovely Victorian civic structure on the outside, a dreary Seventies lecture hall on the inside. You can't drink in the auditorium.

"When we saw the crowd wasn't too hype," says Tony (meaning "was too sober"), "we knew we had to get them off their seats from the get-go."

To that end, they kicked off with a song called "Rushed Red". The chorus talks of "getting cracked in the back with a barstool", its original function being part of the remix of The Streets' mordant "Blinded by the Light". (Skinner had given them the song's beats and asked them to come up with new words. Tony and Teddy took inspiration from the "Blinded" video, in which Skinner takes drugs at a wedding, gets mashed and gets thumped. Their own experiences also informed the lyrics.) Next up, the minimal beats and geezer-ish rap of "Excuse My Brother". Behind the stage, a screen had shown footage of a bleary Tony staggering round a pub, a concerned Teddy following, trying to smooth things over.

"That's an everyday thing for me and him!" says Teddy. Tony it seems, is a liability, forever chatting up girls, whether they're single or not. "Talking rubbish," mumbles Tony through a mouthful of prawn sandwich. "Know what it is? I like to have a good time. He acts like the granddad!'

Lest all this suggest that the Mitchell Brothers are following Skinner's onstage lead (the 10 Rounds show has a beery, lairy theme) and becoming ever more laddish, it should be noted that there is a savvy humour at the heart of everything Teddy and Tony do. With their flat caps and blithering banter they often recall Norman Wisdom. When they perch side-by-side on their hotel bed for the photographer, cups of tea held jauntily aloft, they resemble nothing so much as a black Morecambe and Wise. And they are adamant that the "bad boy" vibes that dominate - ruin - much of the emerging "grime" scene are not for them. All the rhyming braggadocio about Glocks, hos and weed - well, that's the refuge of talentless scoundrels.

The Mitchell Brothers, like their mentor Skinner, prefer the quotidian and humdrum as subject matter. At least they can then argue that what they're doing really is "keeping it real".

Take "Harvey Nicks", which might be their second single. It's about the suspicion with which these clothes-loving young black men are usually regarded when they travel "up West" to London's fanciest department store. Or "Routine Check", the Mitchells' first single. Utilising the lurching beats and whipsmart lyric style familiar from many a Streets tune, it's a droll discussion about the propensity of police to stop and search black male youth. Again, this is something of which Tony and Teddy have direct experience. But it's no angry shout-out from a voiceless underclass.

"We didn't wanna make it [sound] like we're oppressed!" says Tony

"That we're frustrated!" scoffs Teddy.

"When you're stopped by the police," they say, the experience is not "always so aggressive." Sometimes it's a bit of a laugh, for all parties. Cue lyrics about a boot full of condoms and coppers rummaging in the bruvs' Calvin Kleins.

"I mean," clarifies Teddy, "with 'Routine Check' we're not talking about flipping having candy floss in the park. It's deviance. It's not something that my mum would approve of. But we're not talking about guns or girls or whatever."

But don't go thinking the Mitchell Brothers are soft.

Teddy: "We have made tracks that are like... daunting. There's one called 'Smart Bastard'."

Said chap is a little bit woah, a little bit weay. He's a dealer, engages in low-level fraud, but is no bling-bling show-off. That way lies the attention of the law. A smart bastard, suggest the Mitchell Brothers, "keeps it humble, acts like a gentleman, and moves smartly."

Move over, 50 Cent. Say hello, 50 Pence.

'Routine Check' is out tomorrow on The Beats records

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