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Things I Have Learned

Tricky on Englishness And The Country That Made Me
Luke Turner , October 15th, 2008 18:12

He might have spent the past few years in Los Angeles, but Tricky is a proud Englishman. He tells The Quietus about his loves and fears for his homeland

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English food is underrated

Things like sausage and chips and fish and chips, real basic food, bubble and squeak and stuff – I made that for myself in LA. My mate Caesar in LA, he loves it. I just went to Paris, and I talk about English food and they says ‘English food? What English food?’ I think it gets a bad rep. But perhaps you have to be from here to appreciate it.

The English are adaptable

I think we’re a bit more pliable. The French are the French and the Germans are Germans, they have their personalities and they don’t really bend from that. You hang out with French guys and you know you’re hanging out with French guys. We can camoflaugue ourselves a little bit, because the English language is spoken everywhere. We’re not so worried about change so much. The Parisians don’t want any change.

England knows how to integrate

Yesterday I was on the bus and saw a young Chinese girl talking to a 67 year old black woman, and by my hotel I’ve seen a black man and white woman arm in arm, walking to work. I just don’t see that anywhere else, and I’d notice it. At the end of the day, the thing with England is that I’m a black guy, but I’m English. If you’re an Arabic guy in France you could be born in France, but if you’re parents are Arabic, you’re still Arabic, they don’t look as you as being French. When I was growing up, people always saw me as an English kid. I’ve grown up here, so I’m English. I’ve got a British passport, no-one can look at me and tell me I’m not English. So the racism might be against black people, but it’s never that you’re not English. I’ve been called racist names, but I’ve never been challenged as to whether I’m British or not. I might walk into a store and have people call me a thief because I’m black, but I’m a black English thief!

"To be born English is to win first prize in the lottery of life"

Fucking what? Proud to be British? I’m fucking lucky to be British. My music helps me travel all around the world, and it comes from people like the Specials, Kate Bush, Gary Numan, Motorhead. We had the punk thing, we had the two tone thing, we were passionate. I’m lucky, not proud to be English, because if I wasn’t English I wouldn’t be where I am. We’ve got history here, we’ve got an old culture, and people might not think it’s much of a culture, but it’s been around for years. My great granddad is English, my grandmother is English, so it’s bred into us. I think I’m lucky to be English because it gives my music a certain reality and a certain rawness. I’m English and it comes from my music, and it makes it real.

No other country could have produced the Specials

Terry Hall grew up with Jamaican culture as well as English culture, that’s the only way The Specials could have happened. It couldn’t have been Jamaican music on one side, and English music on the other, then you’d just have had reggae and punk rock. They bled into each other. In America I know guys who’ve got Jamaican parents and they can’t understand a Jamaican guy talking, but Terry Hall can, and his parents are white. No other place on earth could have produced the Specials, unless a whole group of white English people did a mass migration to Jamaica, and they mixed. If you listen to American ska bands, they don’t sound authentic, it's like surf music with reggae mixed with it.

England makes heroes

Chris Eubank is one of them. Because he's such a showman man, when fought he fought with his heart, he was a showman. And Marc Bolan, I think he was totally unique and ahead of his time, he was a special boy, a very special boy. And the Specials.

England is losing its sense of community

When I was growing up, you'd borrow sugar off your next door neighbour. Now you don't know the person living next to you.

England is under threat from America

I think we're fucking swallowing other cultures too much, especially American culture, with the way we're dressing, the music. I think we're getting dragged into that American Hollywood, movie, music kind of vibe. You hear more American music on the radio than English music, you see more American movies on the TV than you do English films or programmes. I don't think that is a good thing because we're going to lose our identity, and then what's the point in being in England? There won't be no point. It's a great country, I want to keep that culture, because otherwise that's my home gone.

Beware the youth and their American gangster slang

The younger generation, they're American'd out. When I hang out with my brothers, they'll say 'what's happenin' blud", which is an American word. You can't say that in LA. You say that to a Crip, you've got a big fucking problem. So these bits of American culture have already bled into us.

It's time to encourage home-grown English talent

That’s one of the reasons I did Council Estate, I wanted to do something very English. I think urban artists need that identity, we need some more bands with that English identity, like the Specials, kids from Coventry and Manchester and Birmingham, the Stone Roses, the Happy Mondays, kids rapping in Bristol accents, London accents, Birmingham accents. It is winnable. We need a huge English artist who blows up, a huge rapper to blow up who's very English. We need English kids who want to represent England, and other English kids who want to be like them.

You don't have to be an ambassador for the country when you're abroad

Being English is easy. You go abroad and people just respect you. I travel with my friends who are American, and as soon as they say they're American they get treated a certain way. Same with Germans or especially South Africans. Once we land, I'm English. I can just sit back, it's written in stone, I don't have to represent. Just the fact that you're there you're representing. I don't feel like an ambassador, because as we're English we don't give a fuck about what people think of us. We don't give a fuck, we go there warts and all.

You can't beat a Georgian crescent

My favourite city is Bath. Only because it's so beautiful. For a weekend walking around Bath, visiting the coffee shops, seeing those ancient ruins, it's such a beautiful city. Normally I don't give a fuck about things like that, I like busy streets, I love the Brooklyn Bridge, quaint villages ain't my thing, but there's something amazing looking about that place.

Violence in England has changed

We've always been violent, but now it's stupidity, people kicking heads in for no reason. When I was a kid we used to fight or rob the people we wanted to fight or rob, we didn't walk along the street, kick someone's head in, and film it on a mobile phone. Now you've got a guy stood at the bus stop, minding his own business, and eight guys jump him and beat the fuck out of him, or stab him to fuck for no reason. It's like these video games, you can go on a video game, shoot someone twenty times and they get back up again. I don’t want to sound like an old man, but when I was growing up we had films like Get Carter and Scarface. Scarface was one of the best gangster films ever. But those films were more about the threat of violence that makes it a violent. Now people use violence as a marketing tool, that's the problem we're having right now.

Leaving England just makes me love this island more

Because it's always here, my family's always here, and it's a great place to come back to. I'd miss it, but just jump on a plane and you're back. Coming back, and missing the place, that's what makes it special.

Tricky's new single 'Slow' is out on Domino Records on Monday October 20th

jonny mugwump
Oct 16, 2008 6:49pm

is it just me or is this interview somehow incredibly surreal?

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Vince Mor
Oct 21, 2008 9:41pm

Well, Jonny, there was no mention of ants. Or was there?

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Gareth Young
Oct 22, 2008 2:07pm

If Tricky would like to write an essay on">What England Means to Me he'd be more than welcome.

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Adrian Rowan
Oct 23, 2008 12:29pm

What a great article! Like Tricky, I love the bubble and squeak and just being in England.

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stuart leyton
Oct 24, 2008 8:16am

tricky, like morrissey has invented a sense of being english that travels well and is nothing like the week in week out english experience people living here have - it's a nostalgia for something that never really existed because it is his perception, not everyones reality... interesting all the same

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ken soko
Oct 24, 2008 8:24pm

I'm american. I have a good friend whose a brit and he's a wicked drunk! is that also your culture's invention? You know to say american is too broad because we have many musical cultures here, blues and jazz, cajun, country and bluegrass all come from this island. Then it was american ingenuity that made that happen. But i thnk it's other cultures that brought these to germinate. Tricky's music seems to be heading more mainstream like the things he complains about highly reggae bassed funk. I think he should come up with something new and be that respected figure he longs to see. "Represent"? what the fuck's all that anyway? sounds like more american bullshit slang to me. If he has this nationality thing going on where's his fiddle and concertina? jamaican musicians ripped off motown anyway. do something different already. Really different.

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Will Kelly
Nov 27, 2008 6:45pm

As an Englishman who has been living away from England myself I can totally relate to the things he misses- the food, the music, the different cultures all mixed up. When you live in England you do think it's shit but when you're away you miss it like mad.

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Robin Brown
Jan 5, 2009 3:03am

Hmmm....yes jonny, I know what you mean. I'm an Englishman (or Geordie to be more geographically correct) living in the U.S. and many points I agree with. However I do have to take umbridged with the Specials comment. They really couldn't have happened anywhere else, but then of course they couldn't. That's like saying The Velvet Underground couldn't have come from anywhere other than the U.S.
I do miss the food, the music, the multicultured society, Britishness and Channel 4....but I don't miss the Mail, the Tube or the shit weather.

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Feb 1, 2010 6:17pm

"When I hang out with my brothers, they'll say 'what's happenin' blud", which is an American word. You can't say that in LA. You say that to a Crip, you've got a big fucking problem."

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Feb 1, 2010 6:18pm

In reply to Lola:

Jeez... I wanted to add an lol


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Feb 1, 2010 6:25pm

In reply to jonny mugwump:

No, I think it has to do with him coming from a specific time or relating strongly to a specific time, in the UK, which I think younger people can't really relate to

Maybe that makes it surreal

I can totally relate, he talks about the exact things that are "home" to me.... ect

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Feb 1, 2010 6:31pm

"it's a nostalgia for something that never really existed because it is his perception, not everyones reality.."

Uh, no, what he talks about was a very real reality, he seems to have a strong sense of how the UK was in the 60s - 90s, or something

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Lisa Jenkins
Apr 25, 2012 10:09am

God I love Tricky, he is so spot on about certain things, The Specials in particular. Great piece!

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Feb 8, 2013 7:49pm

What a great attitude and what an intelligent, insightful interview. Top man Tricky.

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May 6, 2016 9:22am

In reply to jonny mugwump:

I find it super real ...

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