Goldie: Born to shine

He grew up in care homes to become a pioneer of rave culture and – today – a composer for the Proms. How has he done it?
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The Independent Online

Imagine you are an employer who, despite the current economic gloom, is looking to take on someone new.

Leafing through a stack of otherwise monotonous CVs, you come across one candidate that catches your eye. Under the "Previous Employment" section, the following jobs are listed: drum'n'bass pioneer, international DJ, graffiti artist, breakdancer, record producer, painter, actor (The World Is Not Enough and EastEnders, to name just two), alchemist, former Celebrity Big Brother contestant and – wait for it – classical composer.

To say that Clifford Joseph Price – better known by his nom de musique, "Goldie" – has had a diverse career would be an understatement. Ever since he picked up his first graffiti spray can as a virtually feral child on the streets of Wolverhampton and began daubing the nearest wall, creativity has burst out of the 43-year-old musician with the same persistence as one of his relentless drum'n'bass tracks.

But it is Goldie's latest CV entry that will, perhaps, turn the DJ into a truly household name that stretches far beyond the connoisseurs of dance music, celebrity culture and James Bond cameos. This afternoon, a boy who was raised in foster care and in the 1990s was the very epitome of raver hedonism will take a seat in the Royal Albert Hall to listen to the world premiere of his first orchestral piece.

Sine Tempora (Without Time) has been commissioned by the BBC for this year's Proms and will feature the Beeb's Concert Orchestra. It's a far cry from mixing drum'n'bass beats on a computer in a studio flat and, as a headline grabber, it doesn't get much quirkier than "Goldie turns classical". But those who know him say they are not in the least bit surprised that their's friend's latest musical incarnation has traded a beat box for a conductor's baton.

The gentrification of Goldie in fact began last year when the gold-toothed impresario appeared on Maestro, the BBC's surprise reality hit where five celebrities battled it out to become orchestra conductors. Most of the other candidates, including the eventual winner, the comedian Sue Perkins, had some sort of classical music background.

Everybody thought Goldie, the bling DJ who couldn't read sheet music, would be the series' laughing stock. Sure, he was musically gifted, but would he really be able to keep up with classically trained musicians? In fact, he more than kept up. As soon as the first episode aired it was clear that Goldie was the show's star, exhibiting a genuine flair for classical music and a conductor's ability to motivate his musicians and, very importantly, the audience.

The Beeb was suitably enamoured and earlier this year a letter from Roger Wright, controller of BBC Radio 3, arrived at the star's home in Bovingdon, Hertfordshire, asking him whether he'd be willing to write a seven-minute orchestral piece on the subject of evolution for this year's Proms. Learning how to conduct is one thing, but would Goldie really be able to write an entire score for a full orchestra?

"Of course," he says, in his still thick Brummie accent despite years living in the south. "I've always worked with different mediums whether it's melting gold to make teeth, working with wood and paint or bending sound in a music studio. We started with a blank screen, lots of empty staves and an engineer who said to me, 'Right, what do you want to do?' It was fun."

Nick DeCosemo, the editor of Mixmag, has watched Goldie go from a little-known underground drum'n' bass pioneer to someone that even Radio 3 listeners now know all about. "There's always been an enormous amount of goodwill towards him in the dance scene but that goodwill is spreading," he says. "Goldie's a bit like a veteran politician or a building. The longer they stay around the more respect they get. He's becoming a British institution."

Those who meet Goldie are normally struck by two things – the first is his seemingly boundless enthusiasm and energy for whatever artistic project he is working on at that moment. Last week, for instance, while putting the finishing touches to Sine Tempora and frantically rehearsing with the BBC orchestra, he still found time to DJ at Fabric in London and at a rave in Hungary.

The second is how open and candid he is about the incredibly troubled childhood he led – a childhood that saw him bounced from foster home to foster home but almost certainly nurtured his creativity by turning him into a whirlwind of artistic energy and pent-up anger.

The Goldie we saw last year dressed in suave tails and conducting Edvard Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King is a very different beast from the angry man that burst on to the dance scene in the early 1990s and helped to pioneer drum'n'bass – a genre of music he has always maintained that most people simply don't get.

Born to a Scottish mother who sang in pubs and an itinerant Jamaican father, Goldie and his younger brother Melvin grew up in a broken home where violence from his mother's string of boyfriends was a routine occurrence. When he was three he was taken into care; while he struggled to cope with intense feelings of rejection, and having to compete with other children from similarly broken backgrounds, the violence against Melvin continued.

But while foster care deeply damaged Goldie, it also introduced him to breakdancing and the urban scene that he would eventually thrive in. He once recalled: "I remember quite well when I was in institutions, and the only thing I had was 25 other kids from broken families that had nothing and we used to learn breakdancing and go to all-dayers all round the country – it was a big thing in the 1980s – and battle the guys in Nottingham, battle the guys in London, battle them on the dance floor and it was no longer about violence."

In his late teens he travelled to the United States in search of his father. It was there the first of his many varied jobs began. For before Goldie the DJ came Goldie the dentist. Falling deeply in love with all things bling he turned to alchemy, creating gold "grills" (decorative metal covers for teeth) for New York's hip-hoppers, a look he took back to Britain to launch his drum'n'bass career. Hence the nickname.

In 1995 his debut album Timeless reached No 7 in the chart, a first for the drum'n'bass genre which even among dance aficionados has remained something of an acquired taste. The album fused fast breakbeats, thick jungle basslines and orchestral textures with soul vocals from Diane Charlemagne. Even in the early days, it seems, Goldie's alter ego as a classical composer was clear to see.

His second album, SaturnzReturn, received mixed reviews but featured an hour-long, 30-piece orchestral track called "Mother". The track was inspired by his then girlfriend, the Icelandic singer Björk, who introduced him to the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs by the Polish composer Henryk Gorecki.

Alongside the music came a series of surprisingly accomplished acting roles in The World Is Not Enough, Guy Ritchie's Snatch and EastEnders. Thanks to Goldie's trademark gold teeth his roles were almost always playful, bumbling and slightly psychotic gangsters.

But the spectre of his troubled childhood continued to haunt him, despite the success. High-profile break-ups with girlfriends Björk, Naomi Campbell and Stella Tennant filled the tabloids throughout the 1990s, along with an addiction to cocaine fuelled by an anger he once described as "overwhelmingly too powerful". His marriage to Sonjia Ashby in 2005 broke down soon afterwards. Today he is a father to four children with four different women.

It took a near fatal jet-ski accident and a long spell in the Hoffman Institute (an intensive therapy course) to turn his life around and finally forgive the mother he assumed had abandoned him. The Goldie that remains has retained the same boundless energy without the drugs, is rebuilding his relationship with his children and surrounds himself in spiritual metaphor.

"The moment things began to change for me was when I got back [from the Hoffman Institute] and I literally dug a hole in my garden and buried my ego in there," he says. "It was like escaping from a prison. The immense sense of rage I once had kept me full of energy but left me undisciplined. Once you leave your ego behind and let the good light in, you shine good light back. That may be a bit Buddhist but so what."

A Life in Brief

Born: Clifford Joseph Price, 19 September 1965, Walsall, Staffordshire. He was put up for adoption and raised in care homes and by foster parents.

Early life: Member of breakdance crew Westside in 1980s and later joined a different crew called Bboys. He moved to the US and started selling grills (gold teeth), a business which he continued after his return to England in 1988.

Career: In 1992, he released his first track as Ajax Project. His releases "Killa Muffin" and "Krisp Biscuit" and the Dark Rider EP were put out under an alias, Rufige Cru. His first globally released album, Timeless, entered the charts in 1995 at No 7, a first for a drum'n'bass record. Has appeared in several films, most notably the James Bond film The World is Not Enough and Guy Ritchie's Snatch. He played gangster Angel Hudson in EastEnders, and appeared on the 2002 series of Celebrity Big Brother.

He says: "I wanted to show the seriousness of the gang-related, the multicultural. Just like ruckus on the street and mobile phones on the street, there's a loada wannabes out there and people have to understand that whole thing: if you live by that, you die by that."

They say: "Goldie could make a go of almost anything he turns his hand to. He has got so much talent in a million different areas." David Bowie