Goldie’s picaresque life – from graffiti to drum-and-bass music to bit part in a Bond film and contestant on Strictly Come Dancing and Celebrity Big Brother – has led to the walls of a fine art gallery in London’s Mayfair, where he is opening an exhibition of his paintings next week.
“Yeah, nice gallery,” he says. “I’ve landed on my feet at last.” We’re sitting by the window in the bar of a nearby luxury hotel, traffic streaming along Piccadilly outside, the trees of St James’s Park visible over the road. With his trademark grill of gold teeth, array of tattoos and a silk scarf tied around his neck, Goldie looks piratical in this plush setting – an outsider made good.
Now 48, he made his name over 20 years ago as a DJ and producer in London playing jungle music, an offshoot from rave culture that bewildered as many as it captivated with its ferociously fast tempo and mad clatter of breakbeats. Goldie – real name Clifford Price – was one of jungle’s first breakthrough stars as it moved out of the underground towards respectability and the more scientific label “drum and bass”.
His 1995 debut album Timeless was a top 10 hit and remains a classic of its era. But the follow-up Saturnz Return was a sprawling, overloaded behemoth that killed his chart career. Meanwhile a fast life in London’s 1990s celebrity scene – drugs, relationships with Björk and Naomi Campbell, hanging out with Noel Gallagher – made him a tabloid staple.
Next came the acting roles, including the Bond film The World Is Not Enough, and a succession of reality TV shows. By the time of his incompetent cha-cha-cha in the 2010 series of Strictly Come Dancing – awarded three points by Strictly’s Mr Nasty, Craig Revel Horwood – a lot of the credibility accrued from Goldie’s drum-and-bass days had evaporated.
He anticipates scepticism about his latest venture: “Oh God, he’s got an art show,” he imagines people saying, “he’s doing art now, he’s jumping on a bandwagon.” Except painting and Goldie go back a long way – much further than bad ballroom dancing or turning up with celebrity liggers at the opening of an envelope.
Goldie’s background is in graffiti art. He began as a teenager in Wolverhampton in the 1980s, copying designs from New York that he had seen on videos – a far cry from his Midlands home town. At first he covered his bedroom walls with images of the Statue of Liberty and the US flag; later, he went on to spray-paint his first outdoor piece on an archway near Wolverhampton railway station. “I think it was a head with some laces dripping, a really poor effort,” he says.
Taken into care at the age of three and moving between different foster families and institutions, he had what might be called a “challenging” upbringing. Hip-hop culture provided a new home. “I grew up in care and I wanted to be part of this, all these crews, feeling part of something else,” he says.
Goldie always loved art – it was the only thing at school at which he excelled. Before long he was a leading member of the first wave of British graffiti “writers”. A 1987 television documentary, Bombin’, shows him travelling to New York on a pilgrimage to the home of graffiti. “Subway art blew my mind,” he remembers. “It was trains, with art – moving across the city! It just blew my mind.”
He lived for several years in the US in the 1980s, practising street art and hunting for his absent Jamaican father; the gold grill he wears over his teeth was a look he picked up in Miami. On moving to London in 1988, he got swept up in the rave scene. Breakbeats took over from graffiti.
“Music was a beautiful accident for me,” he says. He continues DJ-ing but it is with art that he most identifies himself now. “I think there’s good honour in that, you know?”
The show at the Mead Carney gallery consists of artworks painted on lacquered wood. The theme is “lost tribes”, with Goldie linking Native American, Latin American and African tribal life to hip-hop’s crews of B-Boys.
“I like the fact that I got into graffiti and everyone said it wouldn’t go anywhere but now the paintings sell for a lot of money and people survive off it quite well,” he says. (Banksy, he reckons, gets the credit for developing “character form” that should go to one of Goldie’s old-school graffiti peers, Mode 2.)
Drum and bass has made a similar journey from margins to mainstream, resurfacing in bowdlerised form in the current US craze for “EDM” ( electronic dance music ). “You can water it down and associate it with Deadmau5 and Skrillex, you can water it down and put it in Barneys, but at its core it will never be accepted,” Goldie insists.
He gets prickly when I remind him of his own crossover with Celebrity Big Brother, Strictly Come Dancing and so on. “Enjoyed that,” he says, tersely. “Put money in the bank account, as they say. If you can’t dance get the money.” It paid for his daughter’s private school – and to those who think that he sold out, a simple riposte: “I don’t give a fuck. You do realise I’m 48, not 17, right?”
Captain Beefheart, of all people, rescues the situation. The great surrealist rocker’s name crops up as an example of a musician who took up art. “You know he recorded with a cardboard box on his head?” Goldie says, perking up. Noel Gallagher introduced him to Beefheart’s music. “I thought, ‘What is this? This is really mad.’”
His thoughts turn to the 1970s German art-rockers Can. “Can really influenced me. They were amazing. Ninety-nine per cent of it was shit but then you listen to ‘Vitamin C’ or ‘Turn off the Lights’ and you think, ‘Wow, what a track.’ I mean, maybe I did that. I did Strictly, which was really bad. But then I also did a couple of good things.” He laughs, and the gold teeth flash. “You know what I mean?”
‘Lostribes’, Mead Carney Gallery, London, November 14-24 meadcarney.com
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