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As the Jamaican-born dub poet reflects on decades of race relations in the UK, from the Brixton riotings to Windrush, he says young pitch-black somebodies carry spears out of panic, and subjects how much progress we have constructed since his time as a youthful Black Panther

When Linton Kwesi Johnson was a boy, he wanted to grow up to be an accountant.” If I was an accountant ,” he chuckles gently, sitting surrounded by stacks of books and Cds in his modest south-London terrace live:” I would probably be a multimillionaire by now .” The world-wide, on the other hand, would be considerably poorer.

It is 40 years since the Jamaican-born poet attained his debut as a recording creator. The release of Dread Beat an' Blood- an album of revolutionary government style spoken in Jamaican patois, set to a reggae beat- caused a new literary genre known as dub poem, and innovated Johnson , now 65, as the expression of the Windrush generation. Neither he nor his make was universally appreciated. The Spectator memorably accused him of helping ” to create a generation of rioters and illiterates “( the magazine was appalled by his phonetic mean- as in “massakaha” for pogrom, announce) and he recollects how the police arrested and beat him up. Yet he became exclusively the second living poet to have his toil is issued by Penguin Modern Classics, and was the 2012 champion of the Golden PEN award for his” discriminated assistance to literature “. Next month, his contribution to the country's artistic life will be honoured at the Southbank Centre in London– an motive whose implication has been intensified by phenomena of recent weeks.

Johnson is described as a loath interviewee. “I've got interview fatigue,” he smiles before we have even sat down, and it is true that he can be quite diffident and reserved. But rereading all the interviews he has given over the years, I was struck by how comprehensively they map each turn in the advancing record of British scoot relations. From the Black Panther movement to the New Cross fire and Brixton rampages of 1981, through the Metropolitan police's notorious Special Patrol Group, the Stephen Lawrence slaying and the Macpherson report, right up to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Johnson has provided the social commentary absent-minded from so much better of the public narrative. Sometimes, he has clanged full of rage- and at other days, more hopeful. I'm curious, hence, to hear how he would characterise the present moment.

” In calls of home countries, “it wouldve been” foolish to say that we haven't made some advance. Because “were having” .” He quotes the compare between the” almost complete and utter lethargy to the New Cross fire from mainstream media” with the” huge outpouring of sympathy for people affected by the Grenfell tragedy” and indicates:” I think it's a measure of how significant progress we've prepared; how integrated “were both” .” Then he pauses.

Johnson generated the dub poetry literary genre … painted on stage in Amsterdam in 1980. Image: Rob Verhorst/ Redferns

” But, right now, we are living through a epoch of reaction; the rise of Conservative populism. And some things simply won't go away. I'm sure I'll be crucified for saying this, but I believe that racism are quite part of the racial DNA of home countries, and most probably has been so from imperial periods. And, in spite of the progress that we have realise, it's there. It is something we have to contend with in our everyday lives .”

Linton was born in rural Jamaica in 1952, and arrived in London 11 year later to affiliate his mother.” I retain when I was a youngster, there was always this myth that we were encountering it difficult to integrate ourselves into British culture. Or that there was a dislike on our responsibility to fit in with British civilization .” Most of the time. he tells gradually, as if carefully setting each command before committing it to speech, but seldom they come firing out, and supposed to do now as he goes on:” And that was really a nonsense, since we are British! We were created by the British, for God's sake .” The more deliberate pattern resuming, he lends humbly:” The actuality of the issues is we wanted urgently to integrate. But they wouldn't allow us .”

Johnson has held a British passport since Margaret Thatcher was in power, but has known countless Jamaican people who lived in the UK for years, exclusively to visit the Caribbean and discover they were not allowed back.” So this Windrush scandal has been going on for a long time. But it also represents symptomatic of the superiority of the Ukip wing of the Conservative party. Ukip doesn't really exist in any concrete appreciation any more, but it is alive and well within the Conservative party. It is not simply been the terrible defendant; it has been the anti-immigrant defendant .”

He takes center from the public commotion that has forced the government to radically alter its hostile context plan.” I conceive the vast majority of British people are scandalized and think it's grossly unjust. I intend, if you have got someone like Joseph[ sic] Rees-Mogg, or whatever his name is, coming out and saying this is unacceptable, that's a measure of the public fury .” I ask what the government's abject confessions mean to him.” Well, there's no damage in pronouncing sorry ,” he smiles, with a wayward glisten.” But people want their situation resolved .” Does he expect from everything the government has predicted that it will be?

” Well, I hope so. Because if it isn't, they've got a fight on their hands, I can tell you that .”

Johnson participated the Black Panthers as a schoolboy … pictured performing at the Lyceum, London, in 1984. Photo: David Corio/ Redferns

Johnson's worry, he lends, is:” It's not just the so-called Windrush generation, but other parties, maybe from the Indian subcontinent and other parts of the Commonwealth, who will be affected by this .” The Brexiters in authority, I answer, accuse EU membership for stimulating Britain to forget its Commonwealth cousins, and promise that Brexit will introduce this right.

” It's laughable ,” he rustles.” Really, it is hilarious .” He doesn't know anyone in London's West Indian community who fell for it.” I'm sure that some of our governments in the Caribbean may be hoping for some benefit. But that is very naive … awfully naive. I contemplate when people in government are talking about the Commonwealth, they're really talking about Australia and New Zealand and Canada. Not these little pinpoints in the Caribbean sea .”

Johnson subscribes to Marcus Garvey's belief that progress comes through autonomy, so has never ogled to Westminster for progress. As a schoolboy, he assembled the Black Panther movement, so I ask what he would connect if he were in his teenages today.” Oh, I would be in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, for sure .” Mainstream defendants don't interest him, he offers mildly.” Racist immigration legislation has been shared by both registered political party. Winston Churchill talked about the' wogs' and all that. So Mrs May, she's not outstanding; there's an historic persistence. And the Labour party is not exactly squeaky-clean. Though I'm particularly encouraged that in Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party, there's now a different hue .”

Different enough for him to elect at the next general election? It has been Johnson's lifelong policy to vote only in local government elections, but after a brief suspension, he gestures.” I are more likely to devote it serious thought .”

Although” a word junkie”, addicted to TV report directs, he acknowledges:” I'm just bloody fruitless when it comes to computers .” Sending and receiving emails are as far as his engagement with the digital life moves, so online political activism extends him by. But I wonder if he am of the view of Cressida Dick, David Lammy and others that social media is representing a part in the current explosion of youth street violence.

” Yes, I would agree it represents a part. All these juveniles with their smartphones, ratcheting it up .” He cites self-discipline as another factor, but goes on:” I always try to remind people, mobs are not a brand-new phenomenon. When I was a youngster there are still syndicates .”

Johnson says he carried a bayonet when he was young for self-defence, but stopped shortly afterwards where reference is disabled another young man who was bullying him. Photo: Rex Features

Why didn't he join one?” I didn't have the need to join a gang. I wasn't a rudeboy- although a lot of my friends were. And I never had the herd mentality. I was always a individualist. Nobody could get me to do anything I didn't want to do .” He did, however, carry a bayonet.” I used to have a spear when I was about 15. It was about self-defence and it was a lot to do with dread. There were bullies around .” Would he have exercised it?

” I did. Yes. A guy was bullying me. He was a lot bigger than me. I couldn't engaged him, so I made my pierce out and went to reduce him in his appearance. He put up his hands and I almost severed his thumb. I retain the boy sorority manager took him to infirmary and had his digit sewed up. And that was the last season I carried a knife .”

I ask why.” I concluded:' I'm not going to do this .' Because when you have a pierce you forget you have fists. You forget that you have handwritings and paws, and the first thing you do is go for your bayonet. So, I understand a little about why people carry pierces. It is to do with dread. And that has been around from time immemorial, you are familiar .”

What has changed, he foresees- and for the worse- are relations between the police and black kids. He says his grandson-” who does not carry a pierce”- comes stopped and examined much more often than even he was in his youth. The Macpherson report's conclusion that the police were institutionally prejudiced was, he reads, a watershed time- and attitudes of countless senior police have changed.” But the rank and file culture hasn't changed at all .” They are still institutionally racist?” Of direction they are. Of direction the objective is .”

I am curious to hear what he makes of the proposal for a Stephen Lawrence Day.” Yes, why not? Why not a Stephen Lawrence Day ?” he muses. Then he smiles.” You're asking me these questions, as though as I have the answer to the problems of them. I don't, you know .”

He becomes more forthcoming when remembering the early days of his career. After graduating in sociology from Goldsmiths in 1973:” I began to write verse , not only because I liked it, but because it was a space of showing the exasperation, the passion of the young people of my generation to its implementation of our fight against ethnic persecution. Poetry was a racial artillery in the black freeing clash, so that's how it began .” He mentioned to a love who worked for Virgin that when he performed his songs:” Parties say it sounds like music .” The friend advocated he make a demo tape.” And he arranged for me to meet Richard Branson. We met in this little Chinese diner in High Street Kensington, and Branson said he liked the videotape .” What did Johnson think of Branson?” I didn't think a lot. He looked like a hippy to me .” Branson ratified him- and so Johnson became a reggae artist, he smiles,” by accident “.

A father of three, and now a grandpa, in 2011 Johnson had surgery for prostate cancer, and says it changed his outlook.” It's made me perhaps regard a bit more how good it is to be alive. In Jamaica language, I would say' lives up and love up ‘. You know, cherish humanity and cherish your best friend and your children and your family .”

He no longer goes to concerts because “hes suffering from” tinnitus.” My guilty pleases are tobacco and alcohol. I like a delightful glass of Guinness and a roll-up or a glass of wine-colored and a roll-up. And I watch too much TV. Yes, I watch Strictly, X Factor, The Voice, those kinds of programmes .”

Johnson hasn't written a new rhyme in more than a decade.” I hope I will write something in the future, but it doesn't bother me if I don't .” He doesn't try to personnel it? “No.” I had thought he might have stopped writing because the wrath that once fuelled him has faded.

” No, it's because it has come to me that maybe I've written best available of what I can write already. I've known so many poets who have peaked at a certain period in their profession, and then they've written inferior stuff in the years after. I don't want to be that guy .”

Linton Kwesi Johnson is In Conversation with Robin Denselow on 14 May, as part of the( B) old-time festival at Southbank Centre 14 -2 0 May. Phone 020 3879 9555.

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