Mr.C on his early years, family and the future
I have very distinct memories of being an 11-year-old, watching The Shamen’s video for Ebeneezer Goode and being completely hooked by the vocals of the group’s rapper, Mr.C. I remember my uncle cracking me up by repeating the infamous line, ‘Naughty, naughty veeerrrry naughty’, this was a very early introduction to rave culture (that and a copy of a compilation called Rave 92, which came out on Cookie Jar Records the same year).
At the time I was, obviously, completely unaware of the euphemisms ‘hidden’ in the song’s lyrics – years later I found it amusing that the song had made it to number one with such naughty (veeerrry naughty) lyrical content. I was a big fan of The Shamen, but what I didn’t know was that Mr.C had already been around as a DJ and MC for a good few years before the group hit the charts.
Fast forward 21 years and he’s still involved in rave/underground culture – travelling the world as a DJ, hosting his Superfreq parties, running a label of the same name (which he recently relaunched) and maintaining a lifestyle based around meditation, creative visualisation and positive thinking. Here’s an excerpt from the interview, the full article can be found on my website.
First of all, I wanted to ask you about where you grew up and what your childhood was like, because I read that you come from quite an impoverished, one-parent family?
I was born in Mile End, in Whitechapel Hospital – so within the sound of the Bow Bells. At the time my mother lived in Clissold Park in Stoke Newington, so the first six months of my life I was there. We moved to Holloway when I was six months old, my mum and dad split up when I was five – we then moved into my mum’s friend’s place, so it was two families in one flat.
How many people were living there?
Well, there was me, my twin sister, my brother and my mum and then there was my mum’s friends and their three kids, so it was two full-on families in a three-bedroom flat – which was quite hard work for a year. After that, my mum managed to get on the Circle 33 Housing Trust, which was basically for problem families, so you’d get in ahead of people on the council list because it’s an issue. We moved into this rundown old house in Camden Road, it was almost derelict so it was pretty hardcore – we were a one-parent family for a couple of years until my mum met my stepfather, he immediately went to work to support us, but it was really hard work, we’re from a very very poor family, always on the welfare.
What was he doing?
Roofing. But he never interfered in any way with the bringing up of us lot, he left it to my mum to do – he never reprimanded us or anything. Amazing man, he fathered me in a way, even though my real father was an East End publican from a line of East End publicans, proper bad boys.
Was your actual father involved in your life as well as your stepdad?
Not really, my mum would always make us go and see him, every month or so we’d go and spend the day at his pub in Bethnal Green, just off Shoreditch actually.
How was that?
It was great, he used to have a DJ in there, who played disco and soul and funk… and there were strippers. So, as a kid, at 10, 11, 12, that was always good. So I always had music around me, my mum was into music.
What were you like as a child?
I was a naughty kid, very intelligent, which I think was a lot of the problem. When I was in primary school – I went to Hungerford School, which was off York Way (Camden, Brecknock that area) – I was top of the class in everything, maths, English, arts… everything.
I had a similar thing when I was a kid and you get bored and start acting up.
That was the thing and I was a naughty kid anyway, I was very easily led. If anyone said, ‘Let’s do this’, I’d be the first one in. I’d even plant seeds so that other people would suggest it and then I’d be egging everyone on. When I was in the fourth year of primary school I won an art competition for the whole of Islington, I had my poster up all over Islington – it was a ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ poster. I got presented with a gift at Islington Town Hall! I was very gifted in every way and was doing music in primary school when no one else was, playing the piano.
Did you have someone teaching you?
It was self-taught, I started off with one of those Rolf Harris Stylophones, they were brilliant! Then I went to Holloway Boys – 1,300 Arsenal fans – so that was a challenge being a Chelsea supporter. Straight away, in the first year, I was way ahead of everyone, academically – even when you go back to my first year at primary school, at six years old I was reading The Times, when other kids were reading Peter & Jane books, I was that far ahead.
So, when I went to Holloway I was immediately mixed up with the wrong kids. 11 years old; playing truant, sniffing glue, robbing the milk float – a proper urban tyke. By the end of the first year my mum was being called up to the school about my truancy, called to the school about my behaviour – we set fire to the science lab, we set fire to the maths room, we set a fire waiting in line to get BCG injections, which I ran away from and wouldn’t do. I didn’t want to be immunised, so I was the only one in my school that didn’t get it… thankfully, that’s why I look so young!
In the second year my mum was like, ‘Can’t you put him up a year or two but it was a comprehensive school so they were like, ‘No, we can’t do that kind of thing’. This led to more truancy, more getting in trouble. By the time I got to the third year I was 50 per cent truant, it was in the third year we moved from Brecknock Road down to the other end to Tufnell Park, still Circle 33 Housing Trust, still always on the ‘Never Never’.
In the fourth year I picked my options but I was 90 per cent truant, I think I went to six maths lessons in the whole year and the last one was the end-of-term mock exam – I got a 92 per cent CSE pass and they put me into the O Level group. I went to the Deputy Head and said, ‘Look, don’t put me in this group, you’re depriving another child of an O-level place’. One of my mates didn’t get in the group and I was depriving him of a place, so I told the Deputy Head, ‘I’m not gonna go, put my mate in, he’s gonna work and get O Levels’. But he was like, ‘Oh no, you’ve got to go in the group’, I didn’t go once. I was completely absent and that was it, the end of my schooling at the age of fifteen, done!
So no qualifications at all?
I didn’t get any qualifications and I was still always in trouble. I started going out to pubs; my first proper pub experience was when I was 13. By the age of 14 I was going to disco pubs on Hackney Road, hanging out in Hoxton. By the time I was 15 I was going to Busby’s and The Lyceum, getting in trouble outside those places – at 16 I was going to the Hippodrome & Xenon’s, hanging out with rich Jewish kids in Golders Green and Edgware. By the time I was 17 I was going to the Titanic in Mayfair, hanging out with debutantes. I did everything early, but it was a tough upbringing, I was a street kid. My mum was a very strong, very beautiful woman – she was the community mum, not just my mum, she helped everyone, always had a house full of kids all the way up until she died seven years ago, community mum, house always full. Always helped everyone, never had anything, gave away what she didn’t have… she even sold a bit of weed because me and my mates puffed it. At 17 years of age, my mum found out I was puffing and got a bit concerned, so I went out and got a book on marijuana and said, ‘Read that’. After she read it, she was like, ‘Ok, I’d rather have you upstairs with your mates having a puff and listening to music, than going out to pubs, drinking alcohol and fighting’.
That’s a fair point.
Yeah, she was a brilliant mum, absolutely brilliant, an angel, I’m getting watery thinking about her. Amazing, amazing upbringing. I started rapping when I was 16.
Where did the inspiration to start rapping come from?
When I was 14 years old I was listening to a lot of early rap, 1979 Sugar Hill Gang, that kind of thing. I started doing robot dancing then Jeffery Daniels from Shalamar started doing body poppin’ moves, so we started to imitate that. I was a pretty good popper, then breakdancing started coming through – by the time I was 15/16 there were 11 year olds coming through who were amazing breakdancers, that was a no-no for me. I was never really that supple and my hair’s a bit thin, so spinning on my head was out! So I thought, ‘How can I stay a step ahead?’, so I started rapping and writing my own lyrics with a friend, Robert Brown his name was.
We’d rap together and play records at his place in Archway and he called himself Buster Rhymes and I called myself Mr.C – there was already a Mr.C in New York but I wasn’t aware of him. I was writing all my own lyrics, but my mate was using all of Buster Rhymes’ lyrics! He was getting all these tapes from New York and learning the lyrics, and I was keeping up with him with my own lyrics! Because of that I was getting really good and it kept me ahead of the game, so while the other kids were breaking to Planet Rock, I was on the mic. That was how the whole street rap thing started for me, and I took it into the clubs when I was 16/17 – that was the first time I rapped in Camden Palace.
How did you get yourself into a position where you could rap at places like that?
The first time I ever rapped in a club, I was 16 and I was on my first ever holiday in Tenerife with my girlfriend at the time, her name was Marcella, a girl from Ladbroke Grove – I had girlfriends all over the place, I was fond of the girls. I think it was probably to prove to myself that I wasn’t gay – I was sexually abused from the age of 10 to 13 by a guy – so I was always keen on girls, which I think was a subconscious thing.
Read the rest of this interview at marcusbarnes.com
Mr.C’s album ‘Smell The Coffee’ is out now and his Smell The Coffee Tour kicks off this weekend – for more information, visit his Facebook page here.Mr.C, Smell The Coffee, Superfreq, The Shamen
Recent Posts on Arts
- Vennart Interview and album stream: ‘This album is more focused on vocals and guitar rather than pounding your head and complex riffs’
- India’s old moderns keep the art auctions buoyant
- Scottish Book Trust: Ask the Illustrator with Debi Gliori
- Dialects: LTKLTL - EP Stream
- Charlie Barnes: More Stately Mansions - Album Stream
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter