FEATURE GIL SCOTT-HERON
There is more to Gil Scott-Heron than his music and the legacy of his father’s glory days with Celtic FC. As he comes to Glasgow with a couple of novels up his sleeve, he speaks to Damien Love.
t one point during our conversation, Gil Scott-Heron, the mellow, drawling godfather of articulate and socially conscious jazz-rap, excuses himself and disappears from the other end of the phone line. After a couple of minutes of static air, he returns. ‘Yeah, sorry about that. man,’ he says. ‘I heard somebody out in the living room, and I thought it was my employee. lt was — he’s come back with some messages. Sorry. it could have been anybody in this neighbourhood.’
The area in question is 145th Street, near St. Nicholas and Harlem, New York. How long has he lived there? ‘Long enough to know that when you hear somebody coming through the door, you gotta go out and check on it. About a year.’
This month, Scott-Heron will leave the Big Apple for a brief sojourn in Glasgow, accompanied by a percussionist and ﬂautist and. he says, ‘Finding out if I can still remember how to play the piano. Maybe a sip of cognac.
‘People talk about my music, but they have pictures of my father. First time I was on TV over there, I wore a Celtic scarf and a Bangers hat, to show I’m not a part of it.’
too. We’ll be alright.’ He is to appear in the city’s Reading Lights festival of writing, reading excerpts from The Vulture and The Nigger Factory. His novels are receiving their ﬁrst British publication through the auspices of Edinburgh’s Payback Press — more than 25 years after appearing in the US.
Back in 1968, Scott-Heron was living in Oxford, Pennsylvania, on the campus of that state’s Lincoln University, where he had enrolled following the footsteps of his greatest initial inﬂuence Langston Hughes, the father of jazz-poetry. Scott-Heron’s mind, however, was fixed ﬁrmly back in the Chelsea neighbourhood of New York City he had left to pursue his studies. Chelsea was an inner-city area where the problems common to such a landscape were exacerbated by tensions arising from having a black population directly abutting a large Hispanic community, and his observations and experiences of life there were plaguing the young student with the belief that a book could be woven out of them.
‘I really had the idea of writing a book that could express some of the things I had gone through,’ he explains. ‘I felt that was interesting enough, if I could draw the characters well enough, to pull in anybody who was interested in the sort of people who had to dodge and duck and . evade and avoid the traps and pitfalls of that life.’ 6" Scott-"8'0": 25 188': Wow Payback "m8
The List 18-31 Oct 1996