I'm not the man I used to be but I still love Roland Gift
Posted on the 29th Aug 2014 in the category sport

I've interviewed prime minsters, drug kingpins, sports stars and many other notables in my career but no-one gave me the dry-mouth nervousness of Roland Gift.

I was a huge FYC fan as a teenager, the Raw and the Cooked, along with LL Cool J's Walking With a Panther, were the two seminal albums of my youth.

Perhaps it was knowing he was a Brummie and seeing him being a worldwide star made me love Roland and FYC as a teenager, their 1989 calendar was still on my wall in 1991! 

So on deadline I had to break away from hard news and spend 15 minutes on the phone with Roland, I probably came across as a blithering idiot but it seemed to go ok and he even ended up saying he would keep an eye out for Obama and Me - which was nice!  

I even managed to pass on a message from Twitter from the perfectly formed Frances Barber to him - which is another reason why I love Twitter!

And I managed to get his backing for Rave Against Racism which is something I've been asked to get involved with which garnered some great stuff about his work with Rock Against Racism.

The first famous person I ever interviewed was Johnny Edgecombe (RIP) who Roland portrayed in Scandal (forgotten classic of our time) so I told Roland and what the Profumo protagonist thought of one of the coolest men of our time to play him, that will remain between us two though!

As usual I forgot to ask him several questions, one being did he remember Puff Daddy  (he was breakdancing) from the I'm Not The Man I Used to Be video?


Anyway here is my feature which appeared across all Newsquest Midlands sites....


HE was God’s gift to MTV in the 1980s and now Roland Gift is returning to Birmingham for a intimate homecoming gig.

Roland Gift's unforgettable face graced the cover of the Rolling Stone and was a global star at the height of Fine Young Cannibals fame.

His face also was on my wall as a teenager as I did not take down the FYC 1989 calendar until 1991 but that is another story.

Also forging an acting career Gift had the world at his feet in the early 1990s when he decided to shun the stardom and enjoy family life.

However, after a hiatus the Birmingham born singer is back touring with a six piece band playing old hits and music from his forthcoming album Return To Vegas, which is the soundtrack to a film of the same name he wrote the script for and will act in.

Last year he was a hit with audiences as a guest vocalist with Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra and is now relishing being the main man again.

He said: "I'm getting to know the band and have enjoyed the gigs and festivals that I have performed at over the Summer, the audience reaction has been great.

"I am playing the kind of music that I like, not a million miles from the stuff we did with the Fine Young Cannibals as well as some ska."

And the 53-year-old is looking forward to returning home to the Hare and Hounds, King's Heath, on Wednesday.

He said: "I used to come back to Birmingham quite a lot but not as often these days. I've noticed the Bull Ring has changed a lot but that's about it.

"The last time I was in the Hare and Hounds was for a wake, so it will be nice to be returning on a happier note."

A funeral is the starting point of Return to Vegas when the main protagonist Johnny returns home for the funeral of his ex-con mentor.

Gift said: "It is good to see people at funerals but it is a shame we leave it to that to catch up with people."

Lately Gift has concentrated on the writing process penning Return to Vegas.

"It is set in Hull so I have been going up there a lot to get inspiration and have spent a lot of time on my own writing.

"I like writing fiction it gives you a lot more freedom, but it is a lonely process writing, I have been in tears writing some of it."

Brought up in Sparkhill in the 1970s Gift found his musical feet in Hull when he studied at art college.

First with punk outfit Blue Kitchen he learnt his craft and then moved on to ska band  Akrylykz.

He said: "We played a lot of gigs and did lots of Rock Against Racism gigs which was an important thing to do at the time."

With Akrylykz he played the saxophone and became known in the ska scene but he has not played saxophone for a while.

He said: “I was up in Hull and a woman said her son had my old saxophone from all those years ago but he didn’t play it anymore, so I managed to buy it back.

“I need to get some reeds for it so I have not been playing it yet.”

However, despite his woodwind skills it was his distinctive looks and iconic voice which soon got him acclaim.  

The break-up of brilliant Birmingham ska band The Beat was his gain when Andy Cox and David Steele asked him to front their new venture - The Fine Young Cannibals.

Hits including Johnny Come Home and Suspicious Minds in the mid-1980s followed before She Drives Me Crazy and Good Thing became American number ones. The Raw and Cooked was at the top of the US charts for three months. Gift’s face was perfect for fledgling music channel MTV and FYC’s videos were a mainstay of the channel’s output.

Gift had the ultimate rock and roll compliment when he made it onto the cover of Rolling Stone in October 1989.

However, the iconic front page does not adorn the walls of his London home.

He said: "I am not sure where it is, I tend to live in the present, my awards and gold disks are in some boxes somewhere and not on show."

He added: "I am happy to be performing again."

Roland Gift is at the Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, on Wednesday.


Glorious summer when Perry Barr was the centre of the graffiti world
Posted on the 11th Aug 2014 in the category sport

This feature appeared in the Great Barr Observer on August 8 and tells the story of when Perry Barr became the epicentre of graffiti during the summer of 1988. Come to the Crown and Cushion on Bank Holiday Sunday and see these talented dudes in action as part of the Perry Barr Film and Music Festival.


DURING the glorious summer of 1988 an unremarkable subway in Perry Barr became the centre of the universe for graffiti artists across the UK.

Spray painters descended on the Walsall Road subway after Birmingham City Council officially commissioned local graffiti artists to decorate the subway.

Led by a group of teenagers from Perry Barr and Great Barr calling themselves The Mid City Artists work got underway to create an underground masterpiece.

Previously been seen as a scourge on society the talented artists now could create their works of art during daylight without fear of persecution or penalty.

Self-taught artists Steve Carroll, James Brennan, Peter Biddle, Jarrod Mason, Robert Johnston, Jason Pritchard and Steven Dodd had honed their talent on car parks, trains and walls with paints they begged and borrowed but forming the Mid City Artists brought sponsorship.

Steven Dodd wrote off to businesses and organisations to get sponsorship for the spray paints which were needed to create the art.

Car dealership Sandicliffe Ford, Aldridge Road, answered the call and sponsored the crew providing legitimacy for Birmingham City Council to commission the subway near The Alexander Stadium.

Steve Carroll, now aged 42, said: "To get commissioned to paint our own subway in Perry Barr was unthinkable when we started painting as kids.

"It was a massive job to design and paint all the different walls of the subway but we were happy to do it."

He added: “There was no internet in those days, we would have to travel to see graffiti with our own eyes and had to come up with our own designs."

Graffiti began in New York in the late 1970s and along with breakdancing and rapping form the three pillars of hip hop.

The widespread use of concrete in 1960s designed estates, flats, subways, fly-overs and buildings meant the urban landscape was the perfect canvas for the art form on both sides of the Atlantic.

Intricate murals began appearing in London, Wolverhampton and Birmingham in the early 1980s as British artists picked up on the American urban phenomenon.

Youngsters would “tag” walls, road signs, buildings, buses and trains causing authorities to clamp down on what many thought was vandalism.

However, due to the brilliance of some of the sprayers graffiti began to become a recognised art form which could enhance the urban sprawl.

Proper artists were not helped by countless youngsters tagging everything in sight but through the talent of the Wild Criminals in Wolverhampton led by Goldie, who went on to become an international music and film star, the graffiti movement became a by-word for cool.

Steve said: "Goldie was a massive inspiration to use, we used to go and see him in Walsall and then Wolverhampton.

"Hanging around with him and seeing the graffiti he was producing in Heathtown at that time would inspire us in our painting."

After rioting in the inner cities of the UK councils began to explore ways to encourage youngsters to channel their talents and frustrations legally and Birmingham City Council led the way.

The council commissioned the Perry Barr subway, which was a massive moment in the graffiti movement.

Steve said: "We were under pressure to create artwork which would please the council but remain critically acclaimed by the graffiti world where competition was fierce.

"We ran out of paint half way through but the council stepped in and gave us money as they wanted it finished and we also got grants from various arts organisations."

He added: "After we had painted the council logo and slogan we were pretty much left alone to paint what we wanted from abstract stuff to characters."

"It took about two months in total but we had some guys from London come up a couple of weekends which helped us out.”

When the final can was sprayed and the last panel completed the teenagers rightly felt proud of their achievement and word quickly got out something special had been created.

Steve said: "It was great when we finished it, people came from Scotland, Newcastle, Bristol and all over coming to Perry Barr to see what we had done.”

Youngsters in Perry Barr were proud to call their own what people came from across the country to see and older generations could see the skill and talent needed to produce graffiti.  

However, the paint naturally faded and eventually, in the late 1990s the subway was filled in and a crossing installed above it.

Steve said: "Every time I pass that part of the Walsall Road I always smile thinking about all that artwork under the road and how much fun we had painting it."

Several of the Mid City Artists will be holding a graffiti workshop day as part of the Perry Barr Film and Music Festival on August Bank Holiday Sunday.

They will be painting a giant mural at the pub and teaching youngsters painting skills all to the sounds of old school hip hop and electro.

Steel Pulse bassist Amlak Tafari, artistic director of the festival, said: "I used to walk under the subway most days of my life and always saw something different to marvel at on the various walls.

"And to have the guys who painted it getting involved in PBFM and passing their skills on to the younger generation is what the festival is all about.”

Steve added: “It will be great to spraying something special in Perry Barr again.”


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