How Young Fathers changed my life.
On the 6th of May 2015, a parcel came through my letterbox.
Inside it was a cassette that I had recently bought, with six simple words written on the front — White Men Are Black Men Too. Those words and that tape would truly go on to shape the next few months of my life.
The band who had recorded the tape were Young Fathers, who I had discovered via the Mercury Prize, an award given out yearly to an album in the United Kingdom. The group, consisting of Alloysious Massaquoi, Kayus Bankole and G Hastings, had won the prize the previous October for their outstanding album, “DEAD”. When I had first heard a snippet of the album on the news, after they won the prize, I was intrigued by it, even though it seemed a bit too dark for my taste, with the band themselves describing it as “the funeral procession”. Nonetheless, I listened to it in full on Spotify, and I was truly amazed by it, as it encompassed many musical genres and styles.
After that, I began to follow the progress of Young Fathers, watching clips of live performances on Youtube and reading interviews with them on the internet, to learn more about the enigmatic trio, and if they had any plans for a follow up. Finally, after months of speculation, in February 2015, the band announced they had a new record coming out, titled “White Men Are Black Men Too”. At first, when I read the title, I was shocked. A band trying to break into the mainstream don’t normally give their album such a racially charged title, but after reading Alloysious’ message about confronting issues “head on” with “the best music” in the press release, it all made sense to me. I was excited for Young Fathers to break “out of the ghetto” as they moved from Hip Hop to Rock and Pop.
However, at the time, as desperate as I was to get the album, I didn’t have enough money to buy it on iTunes. My only option was to buy it on cassette, a snatch at £6 and postage, and dig out my mum’s old portable Walkman to listen to it.
I waited eagerly beside the letterbox on the 6th of April, waiting for the postman to drop off my tape. As soon as it hit the carpet, I tore open the parcel and hurried upstairs to listen to it. When I first heard it, it seemed catchy and likeable, so I listened to it casually when I was doing my homework.
About a month later, on the 14th of May, my life changed. I was in a weightlifting accident at my school, that involved me being rushed to the hospital for surgery on my left hand. I don’t really remember most of it, apart waking up post-operation with an enormous bandage on my left hand. I was severely restricted with my movement, but discharged from the hospital after a couple of days. Unfortunately for me, I found it hard to really pick up and use anything, but luckily, my mum’s Walkman had extremely large buttons.
I stumbled into my bed and and hit the play button on the Walkman, and the first song, “Still Running” began to play. I was entranced by it, with the overlapping voices crying out “what happened?” to me. The songs kept me compelled to listen, from the catchy (but sweary) “Shame”, to the menacing “Feasting” and the angelic “27”. “Rain and Shine”, a song that I had heard a couple of times on the radio, particularly stuck out to me with its mantra “I could do more, I could care less”, that really resonated with me. Sirens made me shed a tear for those who had been shot in America, before the song faded out to silence as the A side had finished.
I flipped the tape over, trying to listen out for the start of the next song, before a violent “FOR FUCKS SAKE” commanded me to listen to “Old Rock N Roll”, the song on the record most explicitly about racism, as well as being insanely powerful. “Nest” soothed my nerves afterwards, before “Liberated” ramped me up again for the one-two punch of an optimistic “John Doe” and a pessimistic “Dare Me”.
The one track that resonated with me the most was the finale, “Get Started”, with its cacophony of discordant piano, hammering drums and cackling laughter. The final wasp synth that draws the album to a close truly made me feel like I had wings, and the abrupt finish of the song was like the cutting of the strings that held me up.
The tape had finished, and all that could be heard was the hissing of the Walkman. I had finished listening to the album properly for the first time, I was left breathless by the twelve track odyssey through race, religion, politics and everything else, so I lay on my bed, pondering how my life had been changed so dramatically in under an hour.
As a mixed raced fourteen year old living in a mostly white town, I always felt that I never really fitted in, and this album seemed to really address how I felt, with its majestic synths, amazing drums and powerful lyrics, it really seemed to sum up everything I was feeling into 40 minutes. To me, it was the album to top all albums. After ten minutes of silence, I hit rewind and listened again.
For two weeks, on a diet of painkillers and deep sleep, all I listened to was the album. I began to appreciate it more that just a pop album, as I began to pick out the individual noises and instruments, and closely listened to the lyrics. After a few listens, I found myself singing along to the boys and humming to the riffs, and by the end of the first week I could hear it without the music playing.
Over the next month, as my health improved and my injuries healed, I found out that Young Fathers were going to be playing a show in my local city of Gloucester on the first of June. Enthusiastically, I booked four tickets, for me, my mate and my Jamaican uncle and mother. Annoyingly, after the ticket confirmation came through, I found out that the first of June was when I was when I was supposed to return back school for the first time after my accident. My parents tried to persuade me not to go to the concert, but I was adamant, and decided that I had to go and see them live.
The day arrived, and after spending hours talking to people about my hand, I nipped back home to change before heading out. When we arrived at the Guildhall, we got there just in time to watch the amazing Kojey Radical warm the crowd up before the big event. When the time came for the band to perform, I was pumped up on a cocktail of painkillers and adrenaline.
I won't say much about the concert itself, because everybody should really experience in the flesh, but it was magnificent. I danced for ninety minutes straight, not caring about my injuries or anything. Young Fathers helped me lose my mind, and for that I am eternally grateful. (If Young Fathers are reading this, I was the teenager at the front wearing a red biker jacket and a sling, and standing near the crazy tambourine lady)
I wanted to stay and chat with the band members after the show, but the painkillers were starting to wear off, and so I had to hastily pick up a Scarfman tee and leave before I collapsed. But I had truly enjoyed myself, despite knackering me and my hand for the next couple of days.
After the show, I felt the need to repay the band, so I waited for an opportunity to show my respect for them. Luckily, whilst browsing Twitter a few months later, I discovered that they were running a competition to promote their upcoming tour. All I had to do was tweet their hashtag “#weareallmigrants”, but I decided to take it one step further, with a short video.
I felt elated when they liked my tweet, along with their manager and one of their mates, as they had finally noticed me. I felt even more surprised when they sent me a signed vinyl copy of the album, as a reward for the short video I had made for them.
Young Fathers had helped me through a dark time, and nearly one year on from the accident that changed me, I felt it right to properly thank Ally, Kayus and G for everything that they’ve done. So guys, thanks for all the music, and I hope that you don’t stop anytime soon.