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Gil Scott Heron

I’ve just learned that Gil Scott Heron died last Friday after falling ill on his current tour. He was only 62.

He was known as the Godfather of Rap but disapproved of the title, preferring to describe what he did as “bluesology” – a fusion of poetry, soul, blues and jazz, all shot through with a piercing social conscience and strong political messages, tackling issues such as apartheid and nuclear arms.

I first came across his music in the mid Eighties when I was at Leeds doing my architecture degree. One of the guys I shared a house with was a huge fan and I too, was soon caught up in his smart, street-wise poetry and soulful tuneage…

We went to see him play live at the University and although I remember it as being a strange gig (I think he was a bit too pissed or stoned to be convincing) he was nevertheless a huge force on stage, almost mesmerizing.

Having written far too many excellent songs to list, there are a few that have always stood out for me. Firstly the full fat, 12 minute version of “B” Movie, in which with unbelievable lyrical dexterity he convincingly suggests that the only reason Ronald the Ray-Gun became the 40th President of the United States, was that John Wayne was already dead. At the end of the track is a fantastic, almost hypnotic chant, repeating over and over “This aint really your life, aint really your life, aint really aint nothing but a movie”. An unbelievable song. The other two are of course The Bottle and The Revolution will not be Televised, both again very lyrically powerful yet musically very different, and both undisputed classics.

Having struggled over the years with various addictions, illness and time in prison, it seemed that he had finally managed to sort himself out and his last record, the stunning “I’m New Here” was a very strong return to form.

I had always intended to go and see him play live again, give him another chance so to speak. Sadly though, I will now never get the chance. He will be sadly missed.

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