MC Harvey: Don't blow someone's head off, buy our music

James Morrison
Sunday 09 December 2001 01:00

'We are not saying, 'go and get a gun and blow someone's head off'. We are talking about what's happening out there on the streets today."

It is 2pm on Thursday and MC (Michael) Harvey, 22, is chilling at his mum's flat in South London – killing the hours before his latest recording for Top of the Pops.

Contemplation has become something of a routine for the DJ-cum-rapper. In the few months since his band, So Solid Crew, first emerged from Britain's underground garage scene into the rapids of pop's mainstream, he has spent more time in backstage limbo than many stars twice his age.

Harvey is used to performing to large crowds, but mostly in the confines of TV studios. For the time being, that is how it will remain.

Amid ferocious criticism of their alleged promotion of violence, So Solid Crew were left with no option last week but to cancel their debut UK tour. After a wave of negative publicity not seen since Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax" was banned by Radio 1 in 1984, venues across the country removed the double Mobo (Music of Black Origin) winners from their bill. Within 24 hours, the remaining dates had been pulled by the band's promoter.

The abandonment of the concerts came in the wake of a series of incidents at So Solid shows, culminating with the wounding of two men in a shooting at London's Astoria nightclub five weeks ago. It invited comparison with the Sex Pistols' abortive "Anarchy in the UK" tour, which was cancelled by local councils and university vice-chancellors who feared it might threaten the fabric of British society.

While the Crew argued that they "abhor" violence, the cancellation brought a collective sigh of relief from many local authorities that had been steeling themselves for the arrival of one of Britain's most notoriously unwieldy acts.

Composed of some 30 producers, rappers and DJs, So Solid Crew is more of a musical collective than a conventional band. And it is not just the band that people find intimidating – Crew fans are gaining a reputation for their unruly, often violent, behaviour.

"We actually ain't caused any trouble," Harvey says with a hint of impatience. "But we've been taking all the flak for it, and people are starting to analyse our lyrics on chat shows and everything to look for evidence that we encourage violence. We are just normal guys, but we are being blamed for what one person does at one of our concerts."

Having said his piece, he returns to a more measured tone, saying with quiet defiance: "This is a temporary setback until the authorities ease down on us and realise we ain't done nothing wrong.

"We'll definitely be playing in the new year. Touring's brilliant. We're going to go for the arenas, and London will be just the start. If the police want to make sure there's no trouble, they can come to the gigs."

As he reclines on his childhood bed, one hand resting on his mobile phone, the other on his black Evisu jeans, Harvey could not seem further from the menacing ghetto kid who raps about guns on the Crew's album, They Don't Know. He is a picture of polite self-assurance: straight-talking, yet mellow and good-humoured.

Despite his protests to the contrary, there is much that is sinister about the crew's lyrics. In one song, the Crew threaten to "beat your ass up and take you to the morgue", while the video to the hit single "U Can't Stop Dis Shit" features rapper Skat D physically attacking policemen.

But for all their machismo and professed maverick ideals, the Crew have never lost sight of the one goal all pop stars agree on: the need to sell records. Referring to their recent number one single, Harvey says: "On "21 Seconds", everyone's lyrics are in their characters, and it's got a great hook for the children and sing-along appeal for the grans and mums."

Like all their songs, it chronicles incidents the Crew witnessed while growing up on a council estate in Battersea, south-west London.

Asked if he feels certain elements in the record industry are simply trying to demonise the Crew, he can barely suppress a laugh: "We've had that since day one."

A former Chelsea Football Club academy wunderkind who never quite graduated to the first team, Harvey has more to offer than a mouthy stage persona. Though his bedroom betrays traces of his new-found musical infamy (gold and silver discs, 27 freebie pairs of trainers), pride of place is reserved for an earlier triumph: a photograph of his first ever goal as a professional footballer, playing for Basingstoke against Rochdale more than five years ago.

For all the attraction of late-night parties, fast cars and overseas promotional trips, you get the sense that Harvey might prefer the quiet life.

"I watched my friend playing for England under-21s the other day, and someone pointed at me and I was suddenly mobbed," he says. "I just can't go to certain places or do certain normal things any more."

With youth on his side, and a bank balance that is never likely to slide below six figures, the question is: does he really need to?

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