Image courtesy of Mabdulle.
“A Day With…” is a break from the traditional interview format. At a time when five minute press slots are now the norm, we wanted to bring you closer to some of your favourite artists, observing them candidly in their day-to-day settings. Thus, “A Day With…” was born. Peak behind the curtain and enjoy.
It was often gentle, spring afternoons like this one where distant, nostalgic memories seemed to hang most heavy on the mind. Maybe it was the mild, spring sun that immediately tempted Brits to the sandy river banks and cobbled pebble beaches of their youth. Or perhaps it was this precious mark on the calendar, the Easter Holiday’s, a holy time where most kids shelved their books and, if old enough, wandered the streets from dawn till dusk, passing much-to-do grown folks as they went.
Most likely, it was both, a liberty to bathe in Britain’s rare warmth without a worry of what was to come next. Whatever the reason, Angel, real name Sirach Charles, a small, lean man with a smooth, tattooed face and a soft, affable voice, felt it. And so, on this tender afternoon, blanketed by the stillness of early spring, he was not ambling aimlessly through the streets of Shepherd’s Bush, his home town. But instead, he stood still, with one arm in pocket, propped against the wall in the front room of his mother’s house, hugging a piping cup of tea and thinking about the old days.
This teeming terraced town house, with three floors and an attic, was well-manicured and when visitors entered, like three had done an hour earlier, they were politely told to line their trainers neatly by the front door. Then they sat patiently in the front room, staring up at the sweeping flat-plan TV that hung on the maroon wall, scanning the neighbourhood that passed by the large front window or listening quietly to Angel speak fondly of his childhood home.
“This is where that pure stuff comes from,” he said.
“Here I was, just grinding it out independently, not doing it for money, just for the love, ten free sessions in a day if I had to. I never had a job, never signed on; if I needed money then maybe I would do it other ways.”
“You know what?” he continued. “I thought I was ready so many times but they were kind of false starts. I’m finally at a place where I feel comfortable with what I’ve got.”
It was an idea Angel clawed to: fate. Since birth it seemed that he had a karma finger-locked with music. His father, Tendai, was a session player in the 70s and 80s for a few reggae heavy hitters, and so, following suit as a kid, Angel was self-taught on the piano and the guitar, the drums and Cubase. Not much had changed in that respect, his upper lip and chin now matted with thick black hair, his mind more wise, but his being still drenched with a child-like obsession for sounds and melodies, one that pulsed through his veins and purred through his pen, revealing itself to the world in the listless, chart-breaching singles he had either written for others or vocalled himself. Now older, at 28, music was no longer just a hobby, but a career also. He had a manager, Sam, who was with him today, a song writing agency signed to Universal, and a large extended family that included countless nephews and a young son of his own.
He continued to sip at his tea and peacefully watched on as the soft spring sun cannoned through the Venetian blinds, before he began telling more anecdotes of the Charles family history; the studio they had built and then dismantled in the basement, and the infinite rehearsal sessions staged here in this front room. Then, for a rare instance there was silence, one that endured for a few moments, only to be interrupted by the loud crack of the front door, where Tendai — with some bags of shopping in hand — began making his way through the hallway.
He was a greying but graceful man who looked to be in his mid to late fifties and who wore a ragged beanie and some faded trousers. For a second, he stopped by the front room, nodding and smiling at the three strangers that now occupied his puffy sofas, and whose shoes lined his narrow corridor and whose iPhones were using his electricity. But, he was not surprised, nor was he particularly interested, nor did he enquire about their intentions, only offering a brief nod before shuffling away into the kitchen.
He himself a musician, understood the nature of the industry, and he also understood that since his son had recently signed a record deal with Motown records, and was now working on a new album, his first in three years, that this came with press and promotion, and sometimes, on the rarest of occasions, this media fanfare would arrive at his front door, and make soft ass prints on the edge of his couch.
But the three guests would not be staying for long. Angel, along with Sam, had intended to soak them in his West London roots, the scenes and settings that had shaped him on lazy afternoons like this one. He would start with Phoenix High, his old secondary school, a short ride which they hailed in an Uber and, aside from the odd car in the parking lot, was empty due to the off-term. Though recently refurbished, it remained a pool of concrete and glass, and despite what seemed like millions of pounds worth of investment from the local Hammersmith and Fulham council, there was no brushing off the worn-out, humdrum feel of a city secondary school.
It was nearly three o’clock when Angel tumbled from the Uber and slowly approached the looming silvery gates. He had not been back in years, and so he valued the moment, gazing through the towering thick iron railings, over the blank dusty playgrounds and into the empty assembly hall. “It didn’t always used to look like this,” he said, almost surprised at how much things had changed. His stay at Phoenix High had been brief, no more than year and a half, when, back at the turn of the century, he was excluded for pelting teachers with his pellet gun. He smiled easily about it now.
“Go to school,” he said. “That’s where you learn the basics, that’s where you should be to be around different energies, seeing different vibes and just knowing how to react to different humans in life. But in terms of really learning, you need to read books.”
“Teach yourself everything,” he continued, now more irritated. “We’re robots. But there’s things that we need to read, books that we can buy that let us know about common law and what not, things that you might not learn in school. We’re in an age now where there’s YouTube, there’s the internet. Anything you want to know, just type.”
He turned away and reached deep into the pockets of his woolen tracksuit bottoms. “As long as I can read, write and count my money,” he said. “I’m fine.”
After the visit to the school, they moved onto to his former pupil referral unit; a nondescript, fiery-orange building that looked more like a primary school, and was where he had been banished to after the incident with the pellet gun. The drive had been smooth for this time of day, and they waded through the nerve centre of West London without hurdle, skimming the tarmac, the gentle hum of the Uber taking them past a bristling Hammersmith tube station, scrubby franchised off-licences, and mini cab offices where off duty drivers sat outside and smoked cigarettes on the pavement. Angel, his faced pressed to the window, remained in the back seat for the uneventful journey across town, another anonymous soul in a web of silver taxis eating up the road with a place to be.
The situation when out on his feet in Shepherd’s Bush was all together quite different and he often stood out like a rose in a bed full of thistles. Excited teenage girls stopped him for selfies as he ate in Nando’s, guys dapped him up on the high street, local community leaders complained to him about a frustrating cycle of incarceration and re-offending, and then, when done, asked him to speak at their next charity events, all restlessly fussing over the local golden boy. But, in the Uber, his neighbourhood became a blur of tired legs and faces, and he moved through untroubled, until one stocky man in a hugging white tee, who had particularly sharp eyes, staggered from an office and yelled ‘Sirach Sirach!’
But Angel did not hear.
“Sirach!” he called again, this time slightly louder and enough to grab his attention.
The Uber slowed but did not stop. “Yoo…what’s good!?” Angel yelled in reply, flinging a hand from the window.
The encounter was over in a matter of seconds; the Uber continued pulling along the high road and the stocky man in the grey tracksuit, with the sharp eyes, faded to a spec. “That’s the probation office,” Angel said, a few moments later. “He just did eight years inside.”
“I like to keep them around me in the studio, I go off of vibes. Vibes is everything, you might not like music but if you give me that feeling then I like you to be around me. That energy, that’s what I feed off. I’ve got a friend who’s a plumber. As soon as he finishes work every day, he comes straight to the studio.”
One hour later Angel was dragging his feet through a quiet side street, and squeezing through the waist-high gates of a steep post-war council block. Planted in the scrub of residential Shepherd’s Bush, it cut out of the neighbourhood’s shrubbery skyline like an Oak Tree in the short grass. It was his last stop of the day, and perhaps the most sentimental. ‘Drake Court’, this concrete mesh, had ten years back, been the centre of his universe. There was a chicken shop across the road, that had now been re-branded, and an off-licence where he would stuff penny sweets in brown bags. “There would be about fifty bikes outside every day,” he remembered. “Back before police would even be bothering us.”
Now, they were on foot, easing down the gentle slope towards the entrance of the main block, passing a middle-aged woman led by a tigerish Jack Russell.
“How you doing love?” she beamed, smiling at him.
“I’m still waiting on them tickets,” she said, still smiling. “Your mum all right? Give her my love.”
He nodded kindly, moving past her. “It’s proper Eastenders around here, everyone knows everyone.” They stopped by the heavy wooden doors and paused for a moment to take in the locale. On a rambling brown patch of grass, kids scampered after a football, vaguely aiming for a goal fashioned from a gap underneath a five-foot iron slide. “That was all flat,” he said quietly as he watched on. He waved at the driver of a silver Mercedes who passed by and then hauled himself up onto the railings. “This was the main step,” he said, now almost dazed. “This is where we’d all be out. House parties galore in this estate. That was tradition.”
“I didn’t want to get into nothing else but music. Half the time I wish I didn’t have to talk about money either. But when you grow older you understand that you have to.”
“My thing’s taken longer. Maybe because I haven’t taken any back benders in life or haven’t taken any bribes along the road…maybe it might not have been the time yet…Who cares what it is? When that time comes you’ll feel it. Nothing can go against God’s plan. I don’t care how many years it takes.”
Then they stood, watching in silence for a few moments, wistfully observing the rag-tag game that had begun to slowly unravel, knowing soon that these kids would be like them, older, fussing over careers and bills and relationships, wishing they had fully appreciated the years when none of that mattered.
And then, after a few minutes, Angel turned and left. He no longer needed the Uber, his mother’s house not far from here. So he walked, as he had done fifteen years ago, drifting past the crawling town houses that lined Shepherds Bush’s quiet back roads, sighing to himself, still unsure of the future, hopeful that his turn would soon be here. “I can be on Jools Holland, walk ten minutes and be back here,” he said. “This is where I’m most comfortable. I kicked stones on these streets when I had nothing in my pockets.”
Then before long he was turning onto his mother’s road, looking ahead in the distance, spotting his older brother, laughing and tussling with his son and his nephews as they punted a sparkling green leather football back and forth. “That house there,” he said, eyes fixed ahead. “The most popular house in Bush.” He greeted his son with an affectionate tussle of his hair and stood, again hands in pockets, watching the rest of the kids scuff their trainers with wild smiles and boyish yelps.
His younger brother Akelle pulled up in a new-range smart car and Sam watched on from the front door. After a few minutes, his eldest brother stumbled from the game, to the side of the street, panting. “I don’t have the fitness for this anymore,” he said wearily, making his way inside. But the game went on, only pausing for passing cars and pedestrians. They continued to scuttle back and forth, scraping the pavement, unaware of the sun gingerly setting in the west, the looming clouds, their scuffed trainers, sweaty foreheads or their stuttering lungs, or Angel, who watched silently from the side of the road, smiling, for a second, a kid again.