‘I wanted to be bad but wasn’t cut out for it’
In the Nineties, Goldie achieved the edgiest kind of fame as the face of a new musical form called drum ’n’ bass. Soon after, he gained a reputation as a womaniser and drug-taker, became friends with David Bowie, Robbie Williams and the Gallagher brothers, dated Naomi Campbell, and was engaged, briefly, to Björk. On my way to meet him in London, it occurs to me that perhaps I could lob him the famous question asked of George Best by the hotel employee who found him in bed with Miss World and his casino winnings: “Mr Goldie, where did it all go wrong?”
I don’t, though, partly because it did all go wrong for Goldie: by the end of the Noughties, his appearances on Celebrity Big Brother, The Games (in which he broke a femur) and Strictly Come Dancing had seen his hard-earned musical fame lapse into a lesser, reality-TV-inspired kind of celebrity. (“I’d become a parody, man.”) And partly because all that hedonism never made Goldie happy. He remained the cut-up kid whose mother had put him into a children’s home at the age of three, when she started a relationship with a new partner who didn’t want him around.
But as a musician, he was uncompromising: his 1995 debut album Timeless still has a place in the hearts of many for its percussive marvels and sweet urban soul; his second album Saturnz Return, with its 1hr 11min opening track, displayed the kind of hubris that can send a career into the stratosphere – or oblivion. The album didn’t sell and Goldie’s contract was not renewed. Now, at the age of 52, he’s back, with his first proper solo album in two decades, The Journey Man – 16 tracks long, with a musical palette that shows just how much time has passed since Noel Gallagher heard his ground-breaking early single Terminator and thought: “Whoever made that track has got serious problems. That track is not right! It’s too fast and it’s too mad and he’ll never get anywhere.”
Goldie says he couldn’t have created those early recordings if he hadn’t been on drugs, but – oh my gosh – even wiser and sober, he is still out there, man, a long way out there. He riffs, free associates, throws out provocative lines and spiritual musings, his gold teeth shining, energy flowing through to his fingers, which can end up pointing centimetres from your face. He invokes Proust, alchemy, old fishermen, David Lean. He describes Bowie as a “glass hexagonoid – every time you looked at one side, it multiplied in another way”. He talks about his musical synaesthesia – “I see the sound very clearly, not only in colour, but as a 3D object” – and, two hours later, he puts his hand on my neck and his forehead close to mine and says, “Remember, man, this album is yoga-powered.” Goldie is happy.
When he moved to Thailand two-and-a-half years ago with his wife, designer Mika Wassenaar, and their daughter Koko, now five, he was, he says, “done with music”. He was going to do yoga, swim, take Koko to school on his motorbike, and paint. That was the plan. “I shipped my studio with me, just in case…” he adds.
Now here he is talking about what emerged from that studio, an album whose influences are broad, rich and surprising. There’s drum ’n’ bass, yes, with drums sampled from 97 separate tracks, but there are also nods to Eighties British soul, to the analogue synths of Gary Numan and John Carpenter, to Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, and the jazz-fusion of Pat Metheny. There are even echoes of the days when the children in the home in Walsall were allowed 15 minutes each on the record player, before it was the next kid’s turn. In one new track, Prism, “I can hear the Stranglers”, says Goldie, as he feasts on steak in the elegant surrounds of the St Pancras Hotel.
It could all have been very different. Nine years ago, his son Jamie from a relationship he had as a troubled youth in Wolverhampton, killed a rival gang member, and was sentenced to 21 years in prison. “Destroyed his mother, destroyed the mother who lost the kid, destroyed his family,” says Goldie, “I blame myself. I have failed as a father.”
Goldie is no stranger to wrongdoing. At 21, in the grip of a passion for another man’s girlfriend, he took a shotgun and waited for the man in his car – “I was definitely going to cancel him out,” he wrote in his 2002 autobiography Nine Lives (he has a second, All Things Remembered, coming out in November). But the action jammed, the gun wouldn’t cock, and “he just strolls by”. A fluke, not fate, he says now. “I was in a really bad place.”
By then he’d committed crimes – ram-raiding, shoplifting, burglary; he’d done community service for a job on a sheepskin warehouse, but some of the crowd he ran with had been into muggings and he was expected to do that, too. When he balked at targeting an old lady, he realised something: “Much as I wanted to be bad, I wasn’t cut out for it,” he says. “It was a feeling that it’s just so ----ing wrong. I felt guilty enough about taking £2 out of my foster grandma’s drawer.”
He escaped into a different kind of subculture, with a Wolverhampton break-dance crew called the B-Boys, then focused his obsessive nature on creating graffiti art, becoming one of the most notable talents in the country. It led to an unlikely relationship that would become perhaps the most influential of his life, with Gus Coral, a film-maker and photographer 20 years his senior.
Coral made the documentary Bombin’ for Channel 4 in 1987, in which he brought New York graffiti artist Brim Fuentes to Birmingham to meet some of the UK’s homegrown artists, among them Goldie. Coral then took Goldie’s crew back to the Bronx, a trip that would change everything for him.
After New York, Goldie went to Miami, Florida, to find the father who had abandoned him as a toddler, Clement Price (now 94), a Jamaican who had been living in Leeds when he met Goldie’s mother, then emigrated to the US, and given another son the same name as Goldie’s, Clifford Price. The reconciliation was not everything he had hoped for. He slips into his father’s Jamaican accent. “‘ Well, ya mama love different man’ – well just disown [me] then, Dad. That’s what he did.” He reels at the memory.
He stayed in Miami, though, making a living selling T-shirts, while learning how to make the gold caps that he eventually had fitted to 24 of his teeth. At the end of the Eighties, he returned to the UK at his mother’s request (he had reconnected with her at the age of 17 after running away from a children’s home in Walsall) fell back into crime and, in 1989, attempted suicide (“A cry for help,” he says). After that, he decided to leave the Midlands for good, and pitched up at Coral’s flat, on the 15th floor of a north London tower block. He asked if he could stay for a couple of nights. Ten years later, he was still there. “New York, Miami, Dorney Tower,” he laughs. “That’s the T-shirt, right there.”
He was in care and into crime. Now he’s a British icon and an MBE. Goldie tells Chris Harvey about his highs and lows Even wiser and sober, Goldie is still out there – a long way out there
He last saw Coral a few days ago. He calls him Dad. “Gus has been my mentor. He always said to me, ‘Be whoever you want to be’. It was like university for me, that flat. I had enough paints to blow the side of the building out, oxy-acetylene, aerosol paint, I was doing gold in there, too. I always thank him… he’s getting on now, he’s 72.” Goldie is tearful now. Emotions run very close to the surface for him.
London is where Goldie met and began dating make-up artist Kemi “Kemistry” Olusanya, who was
Edgy: Goldie with Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja in Wolverhampton, c 1985