CASH FOR QUES­TIONS: PLAN B

The hip-hop soul man an­swers your queries about be­ing ex­pelled, his ri­val band to East 17 and why Lon­don has lost its soul.

Q (UK) - - Contents - WORDS NIALL DO­HERTY PHO­TO­GRAPHS AN­DREW COTTERILL

The hip-hop soul man vents on spi­ders, fry-ups and work­ing with Michael Caine.

There is a nec­es­sary process that Ben Drew has to go through at the end of every al­bum. Un­for­tu­nately for some­one in his vo­ca­tion, it is one that in­volves him hat­ing mu­sic. “Look at it,” says the artist bet­ter known as Plan B, kick­ing back on a sofa in his stu­dio in King’s Cross, Lon­don. “It’s usu­ally taken me three years to bring out an al­bum. I take a year to re­cover, and ba­si­cally hate mu­sic for a year.” Today, we catch the soul­ful hip-hop star and some­time ac­tor in the mid­dle of his non­de­test­ing phase. It is less than 24 hours since work was com­pleted on his fourth record, Heaven Be­fore All Hell Breaks Loose, and his bleached white hair helps add to the slightly fraz­zled look of a man who has spent late nights star­ing at a mix­ing desk within th­ese four walls. He soon warms up, though. Af­ter all, what bet­ter way to rein­tro­duce your­self to the world than un­der­tak­ing a pub­lic in­qui­si­tion? He lets out a big yawn, and hands him­self over.

Who’s the most fa­mous per­son you’ve ever ac­ci­den­tally pocket-di­alled? David Bur­rell, via Q Mail I don’t think I’ve ever done that. My uncle keeps on pocket-di­alling me. I think it must be cost­ing him a fuck load of money cos he lives in the South of France. It’s a four-minute-long call each time. I need to get around to telling him he’s do­ing it. But I don’t think it’s gonna make a dif­fer­ence. It’s his pocket that’s do­ing it, not him. What was the first song you ever wrote? Ca­tri­ona Reid, Totnes I re­mem­ber writ­ing one when I was in in­fant school. My mates at school were start­ing a lit­tle boy band called E7, cos East 17 were re­ally big at the time, so they were like, “We’re start­ing one called E7.” I was like, “Can I be in it?” They was like, “Nah, there’s too many mem­bers.” I said, “Can I write the songs?” So I took it proper se­ri­ously. I re­mem­ber giv­ing it a crack. It was al­right.

What’s the most trou­ble you got into at school? Pam Mitchell, Gran­tham I got ex­pelled from school for throw­ing a stool at the science teacher. It didn’t hit him. It was more of a state­ment. I threw it in his gen­eral di­rec­tion. Ba­si­cally, they’d put me on fi­nal re­port, red re­port, which is, “You have to be a lit­tle an­gel.” I was do­ing that, iso­lated. Then one of my mates was sit­ting next to me and we were do­ing our work but talk­ing as well. Then the teacher was, “Ash­ley, move away!” I said, “Sir, come on, man, I’ve been good, I’m do­ing my work.” He told my friend to move away from me and I just switched on him. I said, “Sir, you’re a fuck­ing c**t, mate. I’ve been an an­gel.” He told me to get out, I said, “Nah, you get out!” and threw the thing at him. And that was it, ex­pelled. Bol­locks, re­ally.

How many other names did you con­sider be­fore ar­riv­ing at Plan B? Hope John­son, New­port Pag­nell Loads. The worst was Hot Prop­erty, which got short­ened to H.O.T. Lit­tle garage MC name. MC Scholar was an­other. MC Scholar is a com­mon one, cos every­one was like, “I’m a scholar.” It was a slang thing. I think I spelt it “Skolla”. Punk-style. I re­alised, “I need a proper name.” My friends al­ready called me B, and I was go­ing to sleep one night and thought, “Plan B”. I sat up in my bed and thought, “Yeah, that’s the one!”

You worked with Michael Caine on Harry Brown. Did he give you any good ad­vice? Jen Harper, via Q Mail We kept our dis­tance. I didn’t wanna taint the ex­pe­ri­ence by get­ting too friendly with him. In terms of the char­ac­ters in the film, it helped us there be­ing that kind of dis­tance, in terms of the roles and the per­for­mances. Any other dy­namic would’ve taken me out of the mind­set to do the role in the way in which I did it. There was a slight method to it. But what he did do is he saw [ Drew’s 2012 film] Ill Manors and cham­pi­oned me to a lot of peo­ple in Los An­ge­les. I met

[ film sound­track guru] Hans Zim­mer be­cause Michael Caine said to him, “You need to see this film, you need to check out this young di­rec­tor.” And that was off his own back. That’s fuck­ing lovely, man, he proper sorted me out.

Your act­ing ca­reer so far hasn’t tested your ac­cent skills. Could you, for ex­am­ple, take a role in Down­ton Abbey? Olly Hop­kin, Sun­der­land There’s some I’d def­i­nitely en­joy try­ing… North­ern­ers, toffs, Brook­lyn, New Jer­sey shit, I’d en­joy that. I find the stan­dard Amer­i­can ac­cent re­ally dif­fi­cult. Welsh, I’d be a bit fucked, that’d be dif­fi­cult. Aus­tralian, maybe, per­haps. I’ve al­ways had trou­ble with the Ir­ish ac­cent. Scot­tish, prob­lem. Then af­ter I watched Peaky Blin­ders, I thought, “Could I do a Brum­mie ac­cent?” I think I could do Brum­mie, you know. A lot of work, but I could do it.

When was the last time you got told off? Lyn­d­sey Deb­nam, Brain­tree No one re­ally tells me off. They can’t. I won’t have it. It’s like the stool in the science room again. Even if I’m in the wrong, I can’t have that. It’s that East Lon­don chip on my shoul­der. My daugh­ter told me off the other day. She’s the only one I let tell me off.

Are you scared of spi­ders? James Bradley, Belfast If I know where a spi­der is and I’m pre­pared for it, then no. But if it creeps up on me, yeah, fuck­ing things. You know when they do a cob­web at the gar­den gate and you’re com­ing home at night and as you walk through the gate you feel the cob­web on your face, that proper fucks with me. I’m like, “It’s in my hair! On my neck!”

When was the last time you thought to your­self, “Shut up, Ben!” Si­mon Keats, Stroud All the time. Prob­a­bly this morn­ing.

What’s the most em­bar­rassed you’ve ever been? Nat Dixon, Black­pool I went from For­est Gate all the way up to Es­sex for se­condary school. On my first day, all the uni­form had come to the house but not the tie. My mum was like, “You’re gonna have to buy the tie when you get to school.” I got to school late, bought the tie, went to the room and the teacher was like, “Where’s your tie?” I said, “Here,” and he told to me to put it on but I didn’t know how. So every­one sat in si­lence while he put the tie around my neck. That was em­bar­rass­ing. What was your first job? Su­raj Rah­man, Il­ford Com­mis chef. I was a hard worker, man, for £ 4.50 an hour. It was only a tem­po­rary job be­cause I was at col­lege. It was Christ­mas work, so I would go to this restau­rant from Novem­ber to the end of Jan­uary. I was go­ing af­ter col­lege, get­ting there about four o’clock, wouldn’t get home un­til 2am. One time, we did eight days in a row. It was hard. I had about three hours sleep, it was mad­ness. It gave me a work ethic and dis­ci­pline. Once I’d done that, I knew how to work hard. I knew how to be tena­cious and not take no for an an­swer. You took Den­nis Water­man’s part in the film ver­sion of The Sweeney – did you of­fer to write the theme tune and sing the theme tune? Holly Fin­lay, Bar­net No. It never came up. When I get old and fat, I’ll do film scores. Ba­si­cally, when it’s not cool to come and see an old, fat, bald man jump­ing round on­stage do­ing songs like Ill Manors, I’ll get into scor­ing films, def­i­nitely.

What­ever hap­pened to your planned 2011 al­bum The Bal­lad Of Bel­marsh? Michael Evans, Cardiff It’s one of them lost al­bums. I’d shot Ill

Manors and the la­bel wasn’t tak­ing the film se­ri­ously. I’d writ­ten most of it be­fore I put out [ 2010’ s The Defama­tion Of…] Strickland Banks. I was liv­ing at RAK Stu­dios [ in Lon­don] and done the whole Amer­i­can thing where I’ve got dif­fer­ent peo­ple work­ing in dif­fer­ent rooms. It was bol­locks. [ It felt like] I was only do­ing it to cap­i­talise on the suc­cess of Strickland Banks, and at that point I was sick of Strickland Banks. Fuck him! You know them fuck­ers who get stuck in sit­coms, like the geezer [ Harry Cor­bett] from Step­toe & Son? Ap­par­ently he was a sick up’n’com­ing ac­tor and he done Step­toe & Son and it blew up and he got type­cast. I started to ex­pe­ri­ence what that felt like by do­ing The Bal­lad Of Bel­marsh af­ter Strickland Banks. By that point, I hated the sight of Strickland Banks. I’m sure a lot of other peo­ple did too. I was plas­tered ev­ery­where. That would’ve got on my nerves. It did get on my nerves! I can un­der­stand why it gets on other peo­ple’s nerves, when some­one gets so big you’re just bom­barded with their face all over the place. I was sick of the sight of my own face. That was why I did Ill Manors in­stead of The Bal­lad Of Bel­marsh.

What is your big­gest fear? Debs Ross, Old­ham I can’t tell you. I can’t give any­one that power over me.

Salt and vine­gar or cheese and onion? Chris­tian North, via Q Mail Salt and vine­gar, but I do like cheese and onion. Walk­ers’ salt and vine­gar, they’re the guys. But I do like Ket­tle Chips. And Squares.

Are you amused/dis­mayed by the rock­et­ing prop­erty prices in For­est Gate in re­cent years? Ben Far­quhar, Northamp­ton I don’t know if ei­ther of them are the right word. I think if you own prop­erty round there it’s good for you. If you’re a young per­son who’s try­ing to move out of your mum or dad’s house and you’re try­ing to stay in the town where you’re from, I think it’s an ab­so­lute c**t. What’s hap­pen­ing is all the cul­ture and the youth is be­ing pushed fur­ther out into the sub­urbs. It’s be­com­ing more like Paris. All the rich, white, over- 30s, they all get to live in Lon­don, and every­one else doesn’t. And I think that’s bol­locks. What makes Lon­don great is you had all th­ese de­mo­graph­ics and eth­nic­i­ties liv­ing side by side. Even if you go to Por­to­bello Road in Not­ting Hill, you got th­ese big houses and then a big council es­tate round the corner. That’s how Lon­don works, that’s how you in­te­grate. Other cities could take a leaf out of our book and it would prob­a­bly be much bet­ter cul­tur­ally and so­cially. But we’re go­ing back on that. What made our city great is now chang­ing and there­fore our city is not great any more.

What’s the key to the per­fect fry-up? Sean Hodg­son, Birm­ing­ham Less grease. A greasy fry-up is what makes it bad. But you go to cer­tain cafés, like Arthur’s on Kings­land Road in Dal­ston [ East Lon­don]… he passed away re­cently and he was a lovely geezer… but along­side that the food was clean, clean greasy-spoon. It was cooked in oil but weren’t drip­ping in oil, it was dry. That’s the key.

How many keepy-up­pies can you do? Tom Fer­ris, Maid­stone Right now, cos I’m rusty, I could do 20. Would I only get one go? [ Q in­forms him he could have two warm-ups]. I’d aim for 20, I’d prob­a­bly get to around 15.

What’s your most lav­ish pur­chase? Josh Free­man, Nor­wich A house. Com­ing from where I’m from, buy­ing a house, shit! My mates are only just get­ting on the prop­erty lad­der now, or rent­ing. I was rent­ing. That’s flashy for me.

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“Af­ter I watched Peaky Blin­ders, I thought, ‘Could I do a Brum­mie ac­cent?’ I think I could. A lot of work, but I could do it.”

2009 movie Harry Brown.

(Right) East 17, in­spi­ra­tion for E7, Plan B and mates’ “lit­tle boy band”; (above) Drew played a drug dealer in

Plan B picks a bit of cob­web out of his ear from one of those “fuck­ing things” below.

Shoot­ing stars: with Ray Win­stone in 2012’ s The Sweeney. If the pro­duc­ers of Peaky Blin­ders are look­ing for new ac­tors, they know who to call.

Grease is not the word for Plan B’s per­fect fry-up.

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