A few weeks into his second year at Lincoln, Scott-Heron solved the problem of how to concentrate on a novel while still finding the time to study. He dropped out (although he would later complete a masters degree in creative writing at another university). ‘It was interfering with everything else: when l was supposed to be studying, l was thinking about the book, when l was trying to write the book I was thinking about the fact that I should be studying - I wasn’t getting it done, and it just seemed easier for me to stop worrying about school. There didn’t seem to be any way to stop worrying about the book.’

The result was The Vulture, which centres around the murder of John Lee. a local pusher. Events peripheral and leading up to the crime are explored in a quartet of storylines using a flashback structure, through the eyes of four contrasting characters Spade. IQ, Junior Jones and Afro. The author admits not all of these individual voices were drawn from observation.

‘The one that had least resemblance to me was Junior Jones - the other three were people I had been at times, as l was perceived in the neighbourhood,’ he explains. ‘The intellectual ([0). because I went to a private school in Riverdale; the community guy (Afro) because I had volunteered for certain things that were going on . . .’ And what about Spade. the feared. respected loner aware of his plight as ‘The man with a death mask for a face. The man with a tombstone for a heart. The man without a solitary soul who knew how he felt, or how much he was alone . . .’?

‘Well,’ says Scott-Heron, ‘I had to be, because I was one of the only black guys in the neighbourhood, and I wanted to survive.’

With its early 70s setting. the book in some respects resembles a twenty-year update of another Payback title. Herbert Simmons’s SOs-era Corner Boy. another book detailing the combined effects of drugs and oppression on the lives ofagroup of friends in the I . city. The language and fashions .{j’ ' might have changed. but the area is familiar. Scott-Heron \

recently revisited the Chelsea ”“ housing projects and, he says, ., ‘They‘ve changed somewhat. 3A a


but I saw the same pictures. If John Lee was working nowadays, he might be selling

Gll Scott-

lleron: ‘I have

something different. but he’s still there. The product might mums Wm,

have changed. but the mo. remains the same.’

His forthcoming visit to Glasgow brings up talk of his father. the Jamaican born footballer Gil Heron who played briefly for Celtic in the 50s, earning the title The Black Arrow. ‘That‘s the first thing people over there mention.’ he laughs. ‘Thcy 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 Rangers hat. to show I’m not a part of it. Yeah. I hear about him quite a bit. They seemed to really appreciate his playing, and he had a great time over there, so the l‘eeling’s mutual.’

In his own previous visits to Britain. Gil Jr. has had run- ins with the authorities. once famously deported over possession of a small amount of a controlled substance. ‘I have problems with authorities everywhere.’ he sighs. ‘lt’s cool with me. I don’t push it. My primary respect is for the Ten Commandments and aside from those laws. I don’t have too much respect for the others. People make ’em and they break ’em and they put them together again and rewrite them I can’t keep up. They let me know when I do something wrong.’

From here. it’s back to checking on that living room. Well. someone has to.

Gil Scott-Heron is appearing at Reading Lights festival in conjunction with Ten Day Weekend, at the Velvet Rooms,

Glasgow, Sat I9 Oct, 7pm. The Vulture and The Nigger

Factory are published by the Payback Press imprint of C anongate at £5.99 each.

authorities everywhere’

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The List l8-3l Oct 199613