Scorcher On Small Axe, The Impact Of Prison, And Pursuing The Art

Catching up with the underground MC...

Clash virtually meets Scorcher in his living room at the height of the UK’s second national lockdown.

We’ve been told that no subjects are off-limits for this interview, and the North London MC, record producer and actor is particularly keen to share his thoughts on today’s pressing issues. A week earlier, he’d appeared in Mangrove, the first film in Steve McQueen’s stellar new BBC series Small Axe, which retells historic true stories of the struggles faced by Black Britons in the 1960s and 1970s.

Musically, the former Movement member is in a great place, too; 2020 has seen him grace both GRM Daily and Mixtape Madness’s studios for coveted Daily Duppy and Mad About Bars freestyles, and he’s just released a breezy new single entitled ‘Cookies’ with Ay Em.

Plus, he’s launched his own football podcast, Armchair Gaffers, over the summer – another subject which he’s itching to discuss.

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How did you land your role in Small Axe?

Initially, I’d met Gary Davey, the casting director. He suggested putting me forward for Small Axe and I got asked to come in and read. At the very first audition, I’d seen some friends that I hadn’t seen in years, so it felt like a good omen!

So that was filmed last year, right, before the pandemic and the recent Black Lives Matter resurgence?

Yeah, that was in the summer; it was really hot.

What did your appearance in the show mean to you?

For me, it felt like a moment. Even though the world was different at that time, you had the sense that this was important.

I felt privileged to be a part of something like that. I’ve played roles so far that don’t steer too far out of certain stereotypes, but this was interesting because I essentially played a character not too dissimilar to my granddad or my friend’s granddad – but this is like a young version of them. As much as you know them today, I’m sure they were slightly different, so it was fun, that side of it.

I guess the show must have brought up some particularly poignant parallels for you, too, given your grandmother’s death at the hands of the British police just 15 years later. Your mum would have been pregnant with you at the time, right?

Yeah. I can’t even put my finger on when I learnt about it because it was something that was just known throughout our family, you know? One of those things that you’re kind of born with, in a sense.

Throughout this calendar year, there’s been a lot more awareness of certain issues due to research and campaigning, but it’s stuff that sadly my family’s been aware of for quite some time due to life experiences, really.

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Have you been back to Broadwater Farm recently?

Not Broadwater Farm specifically, but it’s an area that I frequent ‘cause my whole family’s from Tottenham and I’ve got friends and family in the surrounding area.

It’s been interesting reading about the recent developments – entire blocks vacated and scheduled for demolition, plans for new builds… are they gentrifying the area?!

It’s crazy. When I came out of prison, it looked like space! Things were the same but different; like Sliding Doors or something. It was weird to me how much can change. Obviously, it’s not a short space of time, but the changes seemed drastic.

You mentioned in your TRENCH interview that the police shut down your original Instagram account. Did they ever tell you why?

To be honest, I’m not quite certain. I believe somebody – I don’t know who – may have been posting from my social media when I was incarcerated, and so perhaps people might have thought it was me. I think I’ve got more followers now than I had before, though, so it’s funny how things work.

I feel like that fits into a wider pattern of censorship and the feds taking down drill videos et cetera – stifling Black British musical expression.

It’s a weird time, man. I feel like drill music brought a level of freedom to artists – I can’t really think of another style of music here in England having a similar impact in that way specifically.

Drill music ushered in a new wave of artists being able to independently thrive. The level of censorship kinda concerns you as an artist, it’s like… why? I fully comprehend all arguments, both sides, but this isn’t something that they do to other artforms. When they do a serial killer movie, they don’t have to explain ‘this is art’. They try and make the films as real as possible; you know?

I’ve seen a few comments on your recent videos accusing you of ‘glamourising jail’ in your lyrics, and I feel like that serves as the perfect answer, really.

When I speak about jail, I speak about my experiences, be it ones I’ve actively gone through myself or things I’ve seen. What a person goes and does with that information is fully up to them. I try to give people a balanced view of things, because the reality is that prison isn’t particularly fun. It isn’t great for rehabilitating criminals. It can impact you further than your time spent away and your time spent on licence.

I don’t feel, as an artist, like you shouldn’t be speaking on certain things just because they’re touchy subjects. In reality, these things are part of real life. Hiding from them isn’t going to make them go away or equip us to deal with them.

From your perspective, what needs to change about the prison system?

When I was away, I almost felt like cattle. It felt like my primary purpose for being there was to help the prison system generate money. The different jobs you can do are very structured around getting you to go and work in the factories. When that happens, you’re essentially doing a 9 to 5 job for like £15 a week, but the profits are normal profits, so you’ve essentially got a slave labour-type workforce! I couldn’t help but notice that.

And I feel like there’s not enough real and genuine effort when people are away to help them rehabilitate and reform. They want you to do certain courses when you come home—that’s counterproductive. If you’re going to spend all that time away, sitting down in your cell, you just had all this time to do the rehabilitation work and be a functioning member of society, but it’s wasted. And it’s weird because more or less all of the courses could be taken while you’re away.

On a related note: do you think we should defund the police?

Things are not working the way they are, man. At this point, I’m open to change. How I look at it is: it’s not great now, so why not?

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How’s this lockdown been treating you?

Pssh, it’s whatever [laughs].

Yeah, I imagine it probably pales in comparison to jail.

I was talking about this with a couple of friends who I used to play dominos with, away. Everyone’s come home; got jobs; had kids; got married, but we still like to meet up and play dominos. We were saying it’s funny, this lockdown stuff, because to us, it’s almost like normal people have got an idea of what D-cat is like now! It’s like an outside prison sentence, almost. But when you’ve been to the seg, stuff like this is whatever.

Quick question, do you watch football?

A little bit, yeah.

When I was away, I ended up using the time to work out how I would do my football podcast. I came home and wanted to do it leading up to the 2020 Euros, and then there was the lockdown… Anyway, I reached out to some guys whose footballing opinions I really respect, and we came together and made Armchair Gaffers.

We release a podcast and several YouTube videos a week – we love to talk about the nitty gritty. I love my co-hosts, Jess, SB and Walks. I don’t know if it’s because I’m one of four or just because it’s a new project, but something about the football analysis makes me so passionate; I wanna share it with everyone. We like having different opinions from each other. We like when the people get involved in the comments and the DMs and we bring it up. It’s a passion project, man.

I take it you’re a Spurs man, yeah?

Yeah, yeah, yeah! Big Spurs fan. Going to an under-19s game – before they had the full stadium – was one of the first things that I did when I came home.

While you’re here, we can’t miss the opportunity to discuss your music – what’s in the pipelines for you?

I’m gonna drop an album. I haven’t decided on a date yet, but I’m nearly finished now. I think first quarter of next year, the project will be coming soon. And I’ve got a couple more videos for the end of the year.

Sounds exciting!

I have some acting projects coming up, as well. One already done and couple others to shoot, but with the COVID stuff it’s delayed it a bit. Fingers crossed; 2021, I shall be on your screen.

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Stay in touch with Scorcher HERE.

Words: Luke Ballance

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