Friends-&-Family @ the-roadhouse 27.09.01

What can one say about Roots Manuva?

Somewhat like Lee Scratch Perry before him, where pioneers tread architects do follow. A parade of like-minded voices & versions of themselves. One-part sound-system toaster, one-part pentecostal preacher (but sounding like no other): Roots Manuva came to my attention on Dobie LP 'Sound of One Hand Clapping', then (who could avoid) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usaeUUAAnLM) the relentless 'Dusted' for Leftfield, finally crowned by a classic DJ Skitz posse-cut 'Fingerprints Of The Gods', 'Blessed Be The Manner' & his contribution to 'Countryman' (Ronin) LP. These records cemented my fandom

Photographed him as soon as I could, one Counter Culture @ Planet K. Bought his rough diamond debut 'Brand New Second Hand' LP. To me his strange stream-of-conscious storytelling made mad perfect sense; like following the loony logic of Shaun Ryder, (which I had also once done), an heir apparent to a recently-vacated throne, left behind after crack-imploded masterpiece 'Stupid Stupid Stupid'

Like everyone else I had heard 'Witness (One Hope)'. Like everyone else I had seen it set dance-floors alight. A cross-genre monster, it united people; student unions; hip-hop jams; Notting Hill went mad for it. I was there in 2001. Saw posters for forthcoming LP, 'Run Come Save Me', and knew if he was coming to Manchester it was bound to be with Friends-&-Family

Quick internet surf where I was staying confirmed it was. Happy Days. I had that familiar feeling in old rock'n'roll bones: I had known 'Witness' would be an underground hit; expected his next LP would get major critical attention & bring him to a much wider audience; knew he was going to be HUGE when it dropped, but; (more importantly) knew never-again might I get chance to photograph him as up-close-up as the cramped confines of a crowded Roadhouse allows

Came early to a sold-out venue. Extra backstage security. Usually people drifted in & out. Not tonight, even poor Mr Scruff was roughly pushed back away from side of stage. I stood my ground, one foot on-stage half an arse-cheek balanced on a bass-bin, and that's how I stayed the rest of the show. They came on and blew everyone away, me included. New material like 'Join the Dots', 'Stone the Crows', 'Dreamy Days', and older tracks 'Clockwork', 'Movements', 'Strange Behaviour' whose more-familiar lyrics I boomed out like a personal P.A. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSoceVRGf5k)

I was right about his meteoric rise. He came back to Manchester in November to play the University, following year was at the Apollo. Another 2 original LPs, 4 out-takes & version-LPs, tours with full live band; then stripped his sound back to digi-dub & dancehall, kept it fresh with Breakage, Diplo, Jammer, Metronomy, Toddla T, WrongTom; recently Lord Gosh added another LP '4everevolution' to a pantheon of top-drawer, game-changing music that constitutes his cosmic ouvre
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pucMvJCcZEA)

I was wrong about never getting an opportunity to shoot him again (I did) but never like it was that magical night in the Roadhouse cellar. Am still a big fan (does it show? can't you tell?). Roots Manuva exemplifies what makes the very best of British hip-hop: provides us with genius originality as well as connecting together separate threads of bass culture; Reggae, Hip-Hop, Garage, Dubstep, Dancehall & Dub. Roots Manuva sits in several thrones. Like Lee Scratch Perry. Long May His Reign Continue!
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