Insight into a colossal mind

Gerry McKeever kicks back with Roots Manuva

Roots treads the imaginary tightrope of success with a flair few can claim to posses. Somehow, he has nestled into the hearts of a huge number of fans in the UK and worldwide, yet managed to retain an image of being edgy and underground. His unmistakable hip-hop cool avoids being tempered by an honest and explicit intelligence, which never fails to shine through in his reliably interesting tunes.

On the back of his new album ‘Slime and Reason’, Roots brought his show to an expectant Arches, with mainly positive results. Before the show, Roots took some time to chat to Guardian in one of The Arches’ dressing rooms. Bizarrely toting a Halloween trick-or-treat handbag, Roots was nevertheless a formidable personality, oozing London-informed Jamaican sensibilities.

What do you think about Glasgow & Scotland?

“Yeah, it’s amazing, the people are warm. I’ve been coming here for nearly 11 years now, it’s been a beautiful romance. I totally feel in love with the place, just the stones, just the geography, it’s just like uh! It’s a beautiful place. On top of that, I don’t properly understand the intricacies of it, but there’s the Irish connection, and as a Jamaican descendent there’s always a connection to the Irish, and we’re always eating Scottish oats. It’s how people connect to people, through namesakes, through food and just through characters man. A lot of the Jamaicans have got Scottish surnames. We’re family, it’s a massive connection!”

Tell us about your religious upbringing?

My mum and dad were devout Pentecostal Christians, from a West-Indian kind of breakaway sect. I look at it now, I’m 36 now, I’m old. I’m an old boy! But yeah I look at it now and I think: ‘my upbringing was quite extreme, quite specific’. It’s even more extreme than Catholic. It’s almost like – you’ve got fashion, you’ve got Topshop fashion, Versace fashion, Moschino fashion, up and up and up, and I feel like the Pentecostal Church is like fucking Gucci man! Yeah really high, high, high fucking fashion. I’d go out with my Mum and meet people on the street, she would meet lesbians on the street and try and convert them.

“It’s like ‘Where you sleeping tonight?’, and they were in the house within a day, living in the house, looking after me. But that’s part of their faith, Pentecostal faith, to share. Even if you’ve got half a piece of cheese, you’re supposed to share that. I’m different now, cos it’s not a piece of cheese – if I’ve got half a bag of weed, I’m gonna share it with you, if I’ve got half a bottle of Whisky, I’m gonna share it with you, If I’ve got a line of cocaine I’m gonna share it with you too! – My daddy’s not gonna like that one!” (impersonating his father)  “You’re taking drugs! Son, drugs have got only one way to go, to the devil!”

You’ve collaborated with loads of interesting people, who sticks in your mind?

“I always say this, but it’s Leftfield. Just the attitude was so succinct, they didn’t give a fuck, they were in the studio for days and days, just spending tons of money, just like ‘we don’t care, we need to get our sound right’.  They opened my ears to what became my sound, they’re a massive influence on me. They were meticulous man, they’d spend days over a high-hat.  It was that dedication that knocked me out, and I always try to implement a level of that into what I do.”

The conversation then turns to Roots’s label-mate Mr. Scruff, with Roots keen to make an album together, and him explaining how much Ninja Tune have helped and taught him. All the while, Roots veers between a focused interest and a distracted preoccupation with his now empty glass of Whisky. The interview finishes with Roots discussing his plan to do community work helping kids to get involved in the arts.

An hour later Roots hit the stage, causing absolute uproar from the Glasgow faithfull.  The show went well, with Roots and wingman Ricky Ranking both bantering well with the Glasgow crowd. In terms of a stand-out moment, ‘Witness the Fitness’ sent everyone silly. The level of pioneering throughout Roots’ career really shone through with the lasting freshness of all his back-catalogue, not to mention the new material which went down well. An absorbing evening spent in the company of a truly warm character.


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