He talks about wanting to remain an 'outsider' this is how you do it.
approximate reading time: minutes
The Social Distance Between us - Darren McGarvey
BBC Radio 4 extracts.
Writer and performer Darren McGarvey still smokes, although he’s given up the booze and drugs. He is from Pollok, on the outskirts of Glasgow.
Years ago, when he was still ‘just’ Loki, the rapper, I bumped into him a couple of times. Then I was managing and co-producing a group called Young Fathers, from Edinburgh, rooted in hiphop but divorced from the boom bap beats and everyman or sexual lyrics that dominated in the 2010s. YFs had already decided they wanted nothing to do with Scotland’s parochial hiphop scene, where accents were examined and ‘authenticity’ was prized above musical and lyrical quality. While I looked after them, Young Fathers won both the Mercury prize and the ‘Scottish Mercuries’, the SAY Award, twice, much to the chagrin of some of the more traditional stalwarts of the hiphop scene who didn’t like the stew of accents YFs used, reflecting their background: Nigerian, Liberian, American, and the schemes, or estates, of the outskirts of Edinburgh. Darren McGarvey struck me then as being the type of Scot I was surprised to meet too many times during the years I lived there, who made immediate, negative assumptions about my southern accent, who associated London with over-priced pints and rip-off hotels in the West End. And, I think he proved me right, for a while.
But people move on and change. I read his first book, Poverty Safari and, even though the themes were familiar (the overlooking of white working class suffering, especially when compared to the middle class ‘hand wringing’ around, for instance Black Lives Matter) Darren had obviously become more thoughtful, if remaining just as bitter. I understand the bitterness. Although the 1960s new town council estate I was brought up in was a world away from the schemes on the outskirts of Glasgow in the 90s, I also nurtured my chippy low self-esteem and used it as a bargaining chip in my relations with the better off. Shamefully for me, particularly those who, whatever their methods, tried to do something to make a better world. I try not to do that now. But I understand accent. There’s always a hierarchy. There’s even a hierarchy when it comes to south eastern working class accents. Coming from Essex a real Cockney Londoner would always spot the difference and often I would end up feeling plastic.
This week, BBC Radio 4 has hosted Darren reading from his current book, The Social Distance Between Us. I’ve enjoyed the readings. He pokes at his hosts, the people who pay him to talk about being poor. And, in the final episode he tries to nail his own feelings of moving up the ladder, earning thousands more than most of those from where he feels rooted, wondering if he is still able to speak ‘for’ them, or even about them. Feeling inauthentic. It’s touching and I can feel for him. I don’t earn as much but, together with my partner, we own a house, when I always assumed I would rent forever. I write. I make music. My living is in the so called arts. Left school at 16 and I am self-taught. And I feel like an imposter in both directions, sometimes.
The singer Ian Dury, also from Essex, but the son of art teachers and someone who went to art school and famously dropped his aitches, when asked by his son, Baxter, whether they were middle class or not, said, apparently, ‘we’re arts and crafts’. I use that a lot, have said the same to my daughter. I recommend it to Darren. It’s a way of coming to terms with a position in life, separate from the traditional class system. He talks about wanting to remain an ‘outsider’ - this is how you do it. Of course, it comes with a whole other set of presumptions. But it does mean you can get rid of the shittier things that you might have held on to in order to feel like you haven’t completely lost touch, like smoking a fag, cupped in your hand, standing in the shadows like a burglar from Dixon of Dock Green, outside a posh flat in Pimlico where you will be sleeping.
Darren McGarvey's The Social Distance Between Us is available elsewhere, but here
helps our nearest bookshop
More info at Penguin's website