“Present the world with another universe.”

The godfather of British hip hop is back. Roots Manuva describes himself as “the black British Mark Rothko” and I reckon that’s a great description. Creativity pours out of his every pore – he’s a brilliant writer, performer and thinker. The new track above, is absolutely beautiful – typically thoughtful and lyrical, and shot through with a poignant soul tinge via a Barry White sample. He calls it “gospel music for out of the box thinkers.” Check out the new album, Bleeds – it’s up there with his best work.

It’s interesting to think about how an artist of his calibre consistently comes up with ideas, keeps things fresh and keeps pushing his craft. The other day I read an interview on this very subject, where he was talking about the creative process and his scrupulous approach to every detail of his music. Check out this quote – his determination to create something unique is brilliant and inspiring: When you’ve spent about 20 weeks trying to find a certain snare drum, that’s when you have to stop. I’m always after a quality, a nuance, that in my head no one’s record should have. I don’t want to do anything that someone else has already done. Everyone uses drums, everyone uses basslines and everyone’s got a rap on it (laughs). It’s an impossible situation. I’m trying to get everything as organic as possible – I’m trying to make sure my special effects and the studios I use aren’t the same as everyone else. I try to make sure I’m using keyboards and microphones that nobody else knows about and I even try and change the power sources so that it sounds slightly different. All these things, they might only be apparent to me but it makes me feel better that in the ocean of new music that’s released today, I can honestly say with every album that I have gone the extra yard to try to present the world with another universe.”

This is beautiful, hilarious and heart-breaking in equal measure


A wonderful example of idea and execution in perfect harmony…

“Glimpses are all you ever get. There is so little time.”


This is so beautiful. A heart-breaking combination of the existential and the everyday. So much sublime pathos yet so clear-eyed and matter-of-fact. His maple tree’s shedding of leaves then blossoming as a metaphor for the cycle of life; the thought of him pushing through to spring to hold that final book of poetry in his hands; the vision of a grandfather connecting with his grandchild in the finite time he has left; the thought of a great intellect identifying with the many-layered genius of Tony Soprano and friends. All of it so modestly yet poignantly handled it brings a lump to my throat. And puts the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the strikes and gutters of everyday life, into perspective. Especially when he notes, reflecting on the noisy, trivial chatter of the blogsophere, “They all have time to burn. I wish I did.”

The ad that made me want to do ads

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In 1993 this ad leapt out of The Face at me like an advertising version of Anarchy In The UK. I loved everything about it: the look, the headline, the attitude. Most of all, I marvelled at the idea that a well-known brand would commission an agency to create this beautifully crafted ‘fuck you’ to Middle England and then pay actual money to run it in the (kind of) mainstream media. I’d been working at agencies but hadn’t done anything remotely good – or even properly realised that this kind of work existed or was even possible. It was like the boot that kicked the door in and showed me how potent advertising could be, how it didn’t have to be lame or boring. It was as though I could feel the creative team pouring all their anger, frustration and wit onto the page – and I wanted to be able to do the same. Perhaps this sounds a little melodramatic but the ad was my advertising Year Zero – the moment I got the sense that advertising could convey real, powerful emotion.

I loved the rest of that Pepe campaign just as much and, soon after, I discovered the other amazing work that was coming out of Leagas Delaney at the time. Many of those Pepe, adidas and Guardian ads were ripped out and stuck on my wall as inspiration. The Timberland long copy ads were an advertising masterclass  in themselves  (How good was We stole their land, their buffalo and their women. Then we went back for their shoes.?) I went into Leagas Delaney a few times with my portfolio but sadly never got a job there. And just as sadly, I find it rare these days that a piece of advertising provokes such a visceral reaction in me – be it shock, laughter, joy or even disgust. I long for the day when I feel as confronted and challenged as thousands of Home Counties parents no doubt did when they casually flicked through their teenagers’ copy of The Face only to be invited to cut this ad out and stick it up their arse.

“We had fuck all and I still thought that getting up in the morning was the greatest fuckin’ thing ever…”

Did you know that Oasis’ song Live Forever was written as a comeback to Nirvana’s I Hate Myself And Want To Die? I love the fact that at the height of grunge and the popularity of pessimistic American rock, they had the balls to zig when the world was fully zagging. I see Noel Gallagher as the little boy in The Emperor’s New Clothes calling the Emperor’s outfit for what it is. Not because I didn’t like Nirvana – I did. And not because I don’t think negativity can make brilliant creativity – obviously it can. I just love the idea of these Northern gobshites kicking against the herd. And, most of all, the idea of Noel being inspired to create something sublime by something he felt visceral disgust for.

When we think about inspiration, we tend to think about great work that we love. Work that inspires us, the giants’ shoulders that we clamber onto in an attempt to get to higher creative ground. But inspiration is everywhere. From something interesting someone says in a meeting to a headline you see in a free paper, to a snatch of a song you hear in the back of a taxi. And yes, all the way to an unconditionally irritating ad that comes on before a You Tube video you’re trying to watch.

The funniest comedy sketch ever AKA how the fuck did they get this bloke to sign a release form?

Keith Richards tells a great story about how he wrote Satisfaction in his sleep. There’s something brilliantly simple about the song and I love the idea that it came from the depths of Keef’s subconscious, fully formed. Of course, once he had the riff and the initial lyrics, he crafted the song with Mick. But that was gravy; the difficult bit was done.

On Desert Island Discs recently, talking about how he wrote his greatest songs, Noel Gallagher said, “I still believe there’s someone up there just dropping songs all over the place and if I’m not ready to catch them, Chris Martin’s getting them or Bono’s getting them.”

Clearly the trick is in being “ready to catch” ideas – AKA being completely immersed in your particular area of creativity and working your arse off. I think that’s why we get really proficient people, in all areas of creativity. Songwriters that seem to write hit after hit, artists who produce great show after show, consistently amazing creative teams, comedians whose well of new material never seems to run dry. It feels like the creative version of the golfer Gary Player’s famous maxim, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”

Dom Joly’s a great example. He’s done two seasons and two Christmas specials of Trigger Happy TV, plus multiple other TV shows, radio shows, journalism and books, with a very high standard across all of it. Clearly a man who works his arse off. And I like to think that, because of that work ethic, the sex shop idea above somehow popped into his mind, fully formed, just like Satisfaction did for Keef. One of the most sublimely funny sketches ever shown of British TV, it’s an absolutely pure idea, very simply executed, which cracks me up every time. But yeah, beyond his talents as a writer and ideas person, Dom Joly must be a master of persuasion, because how the fuck did he get that bloke to sign a release form?

PS. If you think there’s a funnier comedy sketch, I’d love to see it…