Kermit was an original British b-boy, a Ruthless Rap Assassin whose rhymes were hailed by Roots Manuva as the ‘the roots of grime’. A subsequent founder member of Black Grape, alongside ex-Happy Monday frontman Shaun Ryder, Kermit scored a number one album in the UK charts.
After touring the world to critical acclaim, smoking crack with gang bangers in Compton, and crossing the near-fatal abyss of heroin addiction, Kermit now returns as a poet with lyrical wit that’s as distinct and impressive as ever. New recording projects, Blind Arcade and The Footprint are set to advance the left-field hip pop agenda once again.
Growing up in Moss Side, Kermit studied violin at Manchester High School of Art. In his early teens he performed as a drummer in a local jazz trio. At home, his father kept a radio playing in every room of the house, and was partial to ska and blue beat. His mother would play country and western music. Elder sisters dug Parliament and Funkadelic and an uncle obsessed on James Brown. This laid the foundations of a significant and extensive musical education.
As the jazz-funk scene exploded on Manchester’s underground, Kermit was at the forefront as a dancer in a crew called The Scorpions, battling with the best dancers in the region and beyond. Hustling to get by, he would make ends meet was by selling cassette tapes to local DJs, clearing the shelves in WH Smith. On the dance floor, his crew were dropping foot at the finest Manchester clubs. It was on the seminal electro-funk nights at Legend where Kermit first got to know resident DJ Greg Wilson. Greg would later manage Broken Glass, manage and produce the Rap Assassins, and today, over 30 years after they first met, having completely revitalised his own career, is once again working with Kermit!
In 1983, with electro-funk the sound of the streets, Kermit was a key figure – a founder member of b-boy crew Broken Glass. An early video of Rock Steady Crew inspired his moves. Broken Glass soon became the official breakdance crew of the legendary Manchester nightclub, The Haçienda. Although appreciating the club’s influence, he doesn’t look back on his days at The Haçienda with the same reverence as others who talk of its life-changing influence: “I hear people today on how they went every week and think back to how I practically lived in that place. Yeah we had a good time, but the way people go on, now it’s like heaven had opened its doors. When you’re doing something week in, week out, it’s not special anymore. Most of the time I was in there dancing or selling drugs. Just one of those things!”
This would soon change as he found success alongside Carson and Anderson as the Ruthless Rap Assassins.
In the mid-80s, Kermit moved to Hulme and one morning heard hip hop blasting out from the flat underneath him. He looked out on the balcony and saw Anderson Hinds smoking a spliff. With Carson, Anderson’s brother in tow, the trio would release the Killer Album, a critically acclaimed debut album in 1990. The influence of Killer endures. Roots Manuva, in a 2011 Guardian article about ‘catalyst bands’ from the UK, states how “After 20 years the Assassins are as relevant as any hip-hop. They put a UK black tilt on soundscape and dialogue. I would say that their music is the roots of grime.”
Kermit recalls: “I’m proud of the Rap Assassins. I’m sad about the way it ended. It was my fault. I fucked up on the drugs. I still listen to the Rap Assassins. We were fucking tight! I think back to how much enthusiasm we had. Best crew in the country, don’t care what anybody says”.
After the Rap Assassins, Kermit began spending more time with Happy Mondays Shaun Ryder, with whom he’d previously cut an album track. He’d known Mondays dancer Bez before his musical affiliation with Ryder. “He came over to get some whizz and was like, ‘We’re playing at The Haçienda this week. I went to check it out and he stuck this E in my mouth. There was only about 20 people in there. Fucking mad night. And that’s when I met Shaun too. We became drug buddies. We’d been saying for years that we’d do a tune together. Took us about 6 months to actually get to it. We were totally fucked up.
“We eventually did the album and it blew up! The whole world! The ceilings became floors, man. It went to number one and my life changed totally. They took us to London and put us in a flat in Hampstead. After that it was just years of madness. Drugs, touring, interviews, recording, travelling, drugs and touring, and drugs. Relentless. I had a habit. A really big habit at the time. Me and Shaun.”
Before long, cracks began to show in Kermit’s relationship with Ryder. “After recording the second album we hated the sight of each other. The only time I’d see him was when I walked on stage. We had a few fist fights. I was weary with it. I knew if I carried on, I’d end up dead on the tour bus. I got septicaemia from a dirty needle when we were in Spain, and that nearly killed me. Ended up in fucking Compton for a week smoking crack with these gang members. It’s like I had a death wish.
“We’d done a few dates in England and we were getting near Manchester. Shaun had this mate who he used to bring with him. Me and Shaun weren’t talking at all by then. This ‘orrible smackhead mate was always there. He’d already robbed some of the crew and been beaten up for it. But Shaun insisted on him coming. We were all in our bunks on the tour bus driving to our gig. I wake up to all this ruckus. ‘My fucking bag’s gone! Fucking dirty bastard’s taken all the dough!’ So I wake up to see what’s gone on. And he’d planned this. Two nights before we’d done Manchester. The tour manager had all the tour money in his bag. Shaun took the lot, just before Christmas. None of the crew got paid. None of the band got paid. Shaun had left a note. ‘I’ve fucked off and I’ve took the dough. I’ve had enough’. I said, ‘Right, that’s it, I’m out.’
I didn’t speak to Shaun again until I saw him backstage at a Snoop Dogg gig in Manchester a few years ago. A lot of time had passed, and I’m a totally different person now. We were cool. I was a bit edgy back then.”
“So I left the band, took some more drugs, but reached a point where I knew I had to clean up. I cleaned up for a few years and, in 2000, started a band called Big Dog with Ged Lynch (the Black Grape drummer who’d also worked extensively with the Rap Assassins), and Danny Saber, the bass player from Black Grape. But things didn’t work out. I retreated. Moved to Wales and gave up the drugs. Lived in Monmouth for seven years, awaiting the heart operation I was told I had to have to resolve some of the problems caused by the septicaemia. I kept myself to myself. AlI was doing was writing. I’ve always written since I’ve been in school, but at this time I was obsessive. Some of the poems I do now come from ideas I had back then. ‘Lies and Other Fools’, for example, I’ve been writing that for a very long time. The bit that people have heard is just a little piece of it. A fraction. There are volumes of it.
“The dreaded op finally happened, but rather than dying in surgery, as I’d feared, it was a total success, and I now had a new lease of life. I could set about redemption.”
In 2013 Kermit embarked on a flurry of writing and recording with new production partner EVM128 as Blind Arcade. Their instant rapport and studio chemistry proved to be a potent brew. “We hit it off. We used to get stoned a lot. Got into this whole 50s and 60s thing. Sammy Davies and Frankie Valli. Listening to the production. We thought about how we should go about making music, and decided to simply feel what we feel and dig what we dig. That’s why it sounds so eclectic. Reggae influences, country, hip hop and punk. It’s out and out pop, but with an edge. That’s not a shameful word for me. Pop just means popular music, and that’s what we want to make.”
The fruits of this labour were shared in June 2014 when Greg Wilson uploaded the free mixtape ‘Blind Arcade Meets Super Weird Substance In The Morphogenetic Field’. Uplifting, life-affirming, and perfectly timed for the summer months, the mix brews existing demos and works in progress, peppered with half-a-dozen GW edits into a Super Weird sonic stew. Download it here.
The Footprint, recorded in collaboration with Ollie Miles, is an experimental outlet for Kermit’s poetry, pairing original readings with guest interpretations and twisting this raw material into new territory.
“I read comics. There’s a character called the Sandman by Neil Gaiman. He’s one of the Endless. The Endless are older than gods. They are siblings. There’s death, dream, desire, destruction, delirium, destiny. Basically they are concepts. Desire lived in a structure like a human body. So massive you could walk round the arteries of the heart for a lifetime. I’ve written all these lyrics and the concept is a journey like the one in the comic.
“I used to go out and dance and party but now I’ve mellowed and I’m a people watcher. I’ve noticed that even though this is the 21st century there are a lot of disenfranchised people, but a lot of other people don’t really seem to notice because they’ve got a lot of their own shit going on. That’s what I wanted to get across. The journey is going to start off in a really cold, ghettoised way. It will end really warm and sophisticated. So the listener will go on a journey with various artists speaking my words. I wanted to do it like an opera at first. But if we do that, we’ll alienate half the people I want to hear it”.
“I originally met Howard through going out partying, a long time ago. We’d always chat. Then I went to this wedding and had my suit on with a pair of Converse. Everyone else was really dressed up. I turned around and saw Howard, and he had a pair of Converse on too! I thought, I’ll be in good company tonight!
“Howard was supposed to be DJing, but we started talking, went upstairs, and we stayed up there all night. He didn’t end up playing. We got really stoned, of course. We hit it off. Now I don’t know what my life would be like without Howard in it. He’s really taken me under his wing. He’s taught me a lot. He’s very intelligent man. And he’s one crafty motherfucker, I tell you!
“I asked him to read the poem ‘Lies’. Straight away he said he’d do it. Did it in one take at Greg Wilson’s house with Greg’s son Ché recording it. What got me was Greg’s reaction! ‘What’s this? You wrote that?!’ He couldn’t believe it. I was humbled. I play it to people and it’s like they’ve been punched in the stomach. They don’t say anything for about 15 seconds. Like they’ve been holding their breath, and can only exhale when it’s finished. People say it’s really visceral.
“To tell you the truth, that’s one of the lighter bits of ’Lies’. There’s some really awful stuff that I’ve seen and written about. It’s not rhyming shit, it’s all blank verse mate. I can say what the fuck I want. I needed to recreate myself, unlearn all the things I’d learnt, and become somebody else. Somebody I liked and respected. I was writing this when I was depressed. It was a shock when I re-read it. It was like I’d put a life buoy in time for myself. I can look back and say that now I’ve achieved that. I’ve gotten rid of all the bad habits. I’m not as much of a prick as I used to be. Not arrogant any more. I try to be humble now. I was far too arrogant. I had the skills, but I underachieved. If I’d have applied myself properly I could have done a lot more. I know that now. I understand that now. I’ve got film scripts, pieces of art. But devil finds use for idle hands. And that was especially true in my case.”
In 2012, Kermit was photographed by Elspeth Moore at a book launch party held by award-winning photographer Ian Tilton and punk rock musician / documentarian John Robb in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Kermit and Elspeth have since worked with his poetry together, developing ‘Lies And Other Fools’ through a set of photographs, a graphic novel and a limited edition 7” single spoken by Howard Marks and issued on Record Store Day 2014.
On the road, he has broken bard at Festival No. 6 in Portmeirion. At the end of 2013, Kermit was commissioned to write a poem for the UK charity Missing People. He wrote a piece that was performed in Manchester Cathedral, spoken by three people and accompanied by a haunting violin backdrop. Kermit was the featured guest at the first Campfire of 2014, Ditto’s magical storytelling gathering in London.
He is now writing a performance piece titled Prophet Margin that revisits his childhood bedtime reading of comics and the Bible. It also reflects on a lifetime of quite spectacular ups and downs and takes on the prodigious task of ‘fixing’ the Bible!
“I take my writing more seriously now, it’s cathartic. I’ve always woken up every day and written, but it didn’t ever seem to have a purpose. Now I realise, it’s that whole monastery thing. Greg went through it too before returning to a hugely successful DJ career following a 20 year gap. I had to do the same thing. You are in a sense forced to take time out and it becomes a period of reflection, re-evaluation and personal study and creativity. You shut yourself off from the world and at some point re-engage again as a stronger, more focussed person”.
“I used to take a lot of drugs to stop thinking. I realise that now. Self-medication. I was proper spangled at the time. It wasn’t nice. I had money, I could get anything I wanted to. As many drugs as I wanted, but I was empty. I wasn’t happy. Right now I’ve got fuck all, but I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I’ve even got a certificate to prove I’m not mad!”