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.
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.