Pints with ShortList is a new series. It’s a bit like the FT Lunch, but less frequent, with even more relevant cultural figures. And with pints.
Goldie Lookin Chain’s legacy now extends to a discography 20 albums deep. Roughly. Maybe it’s more like 21? Rhys and Eggsy can’t remember, truth be told. We’re in a Sam Smiths pub in Soho and their lagers aren’t proving particularly conducive to their memories.
“Nobody can be bothered to count,” admits Rhys. “What was the first album called?” They exchange a look, the cogs of their memories audibly whirring away for a solid beat, before returning to their Taddys with a shrug. “Fuck knows.”
Eggsy: Have you done interviews with musicians before? Because quite often, they don't have a lot to say, and they just go off on a tangent. They just say: 'yes' and sometimes 'no'. It's nice to be able to fill in the blanks with some colour.
Rhys: We're trying to get to the real truth behind it, which is: it's all about the music. It's really important. Don't worry about anything else. This is serious music we're trying to make guys. Like Coldplay, but without the guitars, or the singing.
Eggsy: Not a big fan of Coldplay. I had their first album on tape. On one side was Coldplay, the other was the first Oasis album. I revisited that Oasis album recently. Not bad, at all. Will never go back to Coldplay. And you can put that as a quote.
Eggsy: I love that, when you see an interview, and you skip through and see those quotes without any context. "I went to a quarry." Another one will be: "One of the boys wants to write a song about a balloon. That will never happen."
Rhys: So, anyway, on Friday we’ve got the album coming out...
Fear of a Welsh Planet is - probably, and improbably - Goldie Lookin Chain’s 20th album. That’s loads. That’s eight more than The Beatles. By rights, it’s hard to see how a comedy rap group from Newport could even release one album without being immediately consigned to the petrol station bargain bin of history, and yet GLC’s insatiable output continues at a pace that would intimidate The Fall.
You hesitate to even dub them a ‘comedy rap group’. Comedy rap group implies parody, that they’re doing an impression of rap to make fun of it. Weird Al Yankovic is parody. A bloke with a ukulele changing NWA songs to be about tea and cricket is parody. GLC are undoubtedly taking the proverbial piss in their tunes, but their tunes are also legitimate belters. There’s a genuine respect for the genre and undeniable craft in their technique. Rhymes touched by glimpses of the sublime, backed by a Beastie Boys-worthy ear for samples, only delivered in South Walian accents. You can’t have six Top 40 singles and two Top 20 albums purely for a laugh.
It takes more than a Jamster novelty-act to become as nationally ubiquitous with any country as GLC have earned with Wales. Attempt to conjure a roll call of the nation’s most famous sons and daughters, and after old Nye Bevan, Joneses Tom and Catherine-Zeta, Anthony Hopkins. Gareth Bale, Charlotte Church and maybe the Manic Street Preachers, the average mind’s eye will likely come to rest on Rhys, Eggsy, Adam Huessein, Mike Balls, 2Hats, Mystikal, Billy Webb and Graham the Bear, collectively: Goldie Lookin Chain. You might think of Maggot, of Celebrity Big Brother fame, too, but he’s not in the band anymore.
“No one knows why Maggot left,” Rhys explains, so they wrote him a tune on the new album - ‘Maggot Come Home’. “It’s a love letter. We just want him to hear it and think, ‘Yes, I’d like to be in the band again.’”
Eggsy: ‘Lager 9T8’ was one of our original songs. Do you remember Lager 9T8? It was a mantra that went: ‘Lager 9T8, Lager 9T9'. And that was it. Because on New Year's Eve, on the carpark opposite the train station, somebody had spray-painted 'Lager 9T8' and the year after, someone had done it out and written ‘Lager 9T9’.
I went to that carpark once when it was empty, to skate, and then we went into one of the stairwells and there had obviously been a night out the day before - and there was a pair of small women's pants, with a turd the size of someone's forearm going through one of the legs and out of the gusset.
Rhys: So, back to the album: there are 17 tracks on this album. Which is a lot, cos we could have done just 12...
The group began recording material at the turn of the millennium, back when the internet was ‘crap’, building up a following through that lost pre-broadband art: word of mouth. “We just put out stuff on VCR and CD-Rs and it’d go ‘viral’ that way,” Rhys says, fiddling with a trademark - and massive - gold Elizabeth Duke chain around his neck. This was the pre-Lad Bible era, when a buzz meant the promise of, or at worst a heavy wink-wink nudge-nudge towards, a record deal or at least a kind of notoriety measured in the months and not the nanoseconds.
Their most IT-literate member, Mystikal, built them a site which started racking up hits, and in 2003 they announced their first tour, ‘The Glastonbury Warm-Up Tour’. There was one date, in Cardiff, the day before Glastonbury, a festival they were not booked to play. It sold out, with a 500-strong army of rabid fans forking out up to £100 for tickets on the door. A year later they released their first studio album, Greatest Hits, and the seminal bona-fide sound-of-the-summer smash ‘Guns Don’t Kill People, Rappers Do.’
[Rhys unthinkingly mentions Purple Aki. Eggsy gets very animated.]
Rhys: Often we'll go off to do a gig, and he'll bring up Purple Aki, and I'll say, “Please, I don't want to hear about this now.” Then we'll lose 5 hours.
Eggsy: Have you heard about Spitman? He'll give you a pair of trainers if you play with his feet-
Rhys:So back to the album, right. The album is - I want to emphasise - it's all about the music, I really spent a long time making this…
With the benefit of hindsight, you could generously reframe that ‘Glastonbury Warm-Up Tour’ as speculative as opposed to outright misleading, as the band made a barnstorming appearance on the mega-festival’s Pyramid Stage in 2005, just two years later. It didn’t matter that such a slot is normally almost-exclusively reserved for heritage acts and dad-pleasing stadium rock, GLC drew one of the most enthusiastic crowds that year. In the words of one amusedly contemptuous contemporary review, their set stands as a point of historical note as “for the first and possibly last time in history, novelty Welsh rappers Goldie Lookin Chain seem more appealing than The White Stripes”.
The correct response to a write-up of that tone is simple: speak for yourself, mate. The more cynically-minded might be tempted to dismiss GLC as a whacky nostalgia relic, squatting something like a decade past their expiration date. It wouldn’t just be uncharitable to do so: it’d be plain wrong. There’s something to their appeal that’s proved more enduring than just the sugary sweet pull of nostalgia. This isn’t a Freshers Week ‘remember them’ binge, ala Coolio or whichever limb of McBusted is currently flailing across the ex-polytechnics of the West Midlands. Sure, you’d be hardpressed to make the case for the likes of ‘Your Mothers Got a Penis’ and ‘Your Missus is a Nutter’ being anything other than what they are; wilfully lewd chart-bothering monuments of the pre-woke era known as the mid-’00s. But being lewd, crude and - most importantly- funny doesn’t mean stupidity. There’s something more to the Newport laureates than slapstick gurning in an oversized tracksuit to inspire the kind of genuine fandom that still witnesses sold-out homecoming gigs in Cardiff and a hardcore of devoted travelling fans.
Eggsy: Have you ever seen the film Threads, about nuclear war? Brutal. If they drop the bomb tomorrow, you won't be able to watch Threads. It's gutting. What would you prefer, right? One: complete evaporation in a wall of heat. 0.2 seconds, you don't even know. Everyone dies. Two is: you're on the edge of the circumference of the blast, and you're severely burned and semi-crippled, and you can still walk and talk, but you get £2.5 grand. In cash. Or, three: You are 160 miles away from the blast, so completely safe, but then you have to go through radiation poisoning, and watching everyone around you slowly die from radiation. And you get £1.5 million for that.
Rhys: What would I be able to buy with my £1.5 million? Vaporize me now.
Eggsy: I'd go for that, too. But these are the questions that matter. And if we all held hands, maybe we'd survive.
Rhys: If more strangers held hands in the aftermath of a nuclear bomb, then vaporization would be fine.
Eggsy: Loads of people don't hold hands, right. Lovers do. Some relatives do. When you go to work in the morning, you could hold hands with someone at a bus stop. On the bus, you could hold hands with the person on the seat opposite, or to the side. There's loads of hand-holding opportunities, but you never do. The world would be a better place. Remember that song?
Rhys: I dunno if this is something we thought about when we started making the album...
Eggsy: It's Fear of a Welsh Planet. You see more people holding hands in Barry than you would in Central London.
Rhys: I don't think this was the message that we actually intended. We haven't written a song about this. There's nothing in the album about holding hands…
Their sustained draw is something - along with simply “still being alive” - Eggsy finds pleasantly surprising. “We did a show the other day and a woman had driven properly ages with her 9-year-old son. It was amazing and weird” (though “not in a horrible way”, he hastens to add). Although, as Rhys puts it, “He was like ‘who are you?’ She was more into it than him.”
Their live act has had to be considerably finessed accordingly. What was once, to Rhys’ mind, “eight men walking round in a circle, and then into each other”, has evolved into a Flight of the Conchords-esque comedy set of music and performed material. “It’s a bit like watching Wogan,” says Eggsy. But travelling up and down the country in a van is, as Rhys puts it, not something that encourages “delusions of grandeur”. He outlines an upcoming gig in Glasgow as a potential case in point. “It’s under an arch full of heroin addicts, so what you do is, sit in the Spoons round the corner until the gig. Then get back in the van again, get changed, and then do the show.”
It’s all part of the “having a good time, all of the time” philosophy that we keep returning to throughout the conversation. If not for that, then for what? Though Rhys mentions the group’s lack of delusion and pretension in the present tense, it’s something that evidently comes inscribed in the GLC DNA. Even at their commercial peak, this was a group that saw taking the piss as something akin to a national service. Who could forget the crowning glory of their appearance at the 2005 Wales vs England World Cup qualifying match at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium? A performance so momentous it provoked a minor diplomatic incident.
[Discussing new song ‘Sex People’, about a dominatrix who discreetly moved into and built a sex dungeon the flat beneath Eggsy’s without informing any of the other residents.]
Rhys: So she's there. Right. £1.5 mil. She's got a piece of barbed wire, which she's wrapped around your cock and balls, and then she ties it to a Ford Capri through the window. And then she gets in it, and drives off really fast.
Eggsy: I would not do that for £1.5 million.
Rhys: Even for a great song? Even for an eternal banger?
Eggsy: No, because, just by having that sex dungeon underneath my flat, was enough to give me the part for the song. Having my dick ripped off by a car, I would never sing again. That's a good quote. Put that in big bold letters.
What exactly the footballing dignitaries of the Welsh FA had stuffed in their pipes prior to the booking remains unclear. For the first, and possibly the last, time in history the strains of ‘Your Missus is a Nutter’ were to reverberate across the bows of an international sporting event. Clocking that David Beckham was - of course - in attendance, they personally dedicated the track to old Goldenballs, and by extension, the venerable Mrs Victoria Beckham, also in attendance.
The uproar was immediate. Despite the Beckhams, at least superficially, taking the shout out in good humour, the countries’ respective FAs did not. GLC were treated with the same level of ire and accused of the same flagrant disrespect as a footballer who refuses to wear a Remembrance Day kit made entirely of chain mail and synthetic poppies. The FAW felt moved to issue a grovelling, simpering apology to the Beckhams and the English FA, on behalf of the people of Wales, for any distress caused. Though a brilliant anecdote, ripe for the plucking by any budding cultural historian with an eye on the popular history of the mid-2000s, its origins involved the murky machinations of the tabloid press, or as Rhys puts it “some guy from a red top newspaper, who will remain nameless” who offered the entire GLC stable £100 between them to dedicate the tune to the Mrs Beckham. For Eggsy this is still a sore point, as the scheming journo only paid up half. “He still owes us £50.”
Eggsy: These days, it doesn't matter if something’s good, it just needs to go on the internet. And if you've got moving images, it works.
Rhys: The images don't even need to match what you're talking about, or what the video is.
Eggsy: No, it doesn't. I mean, I'm a big fan of aliens, ghosts and things like that. And quite a lot of these videos, they'll be like 'Alien Spotted In Albuquerque, Rips Man's Dick off' you'll press play, and what happens is there's a guy talking about it, but all he does is just snatch images off the internet that are roughly related to aliens. And you'll watch this whole seven minute video, waiting to see the alien rip the man's dick off, and he doesn't.
Rhys: The album. 17 songs. This Friday...
So, to the new album. Fear of a Welsh Planet. It contains, as Rhys is at mock-desperate pains to point out amidst Eggsy’s fantastical diatribes about his favourite internet holes and conspiracy theories, 17 songs. They’ve enlisted some of their favourite animators to craft an ambitious eight videos for these, too. “The internet,” Eggsy mutters, taking a plaintive sup of his pint. “People don’t listen to music anymore, they need a video.”
You get the sense that either: a) the group’s success came at the exact right time, on the cusp of the social media explosion, or b) that they could have flourished even further had they been birthed into the internet’s present landscape. They note, with a mixture of admiration and something resembling pride, that Kurupt FM (of People Just Do Nothing) have achieved massive popularity with an act not a million miles away from, literal and spiritual, home. Certainly, for a DIY-outfit consisting of gaggle of Welsh lads in their 40s-or-thereabouts, GLC have a far more astute understanding of how to manipulate the sordid contortions of the web to their own ends than many of their younger contemporaries.
“We had a song out last year, made a video, put it on Facebook and it got a million and a half hits,” says Rhys. “Ten years ago, that’d be fucking incredible. It would turn the world blue. (’Is that a phrase?’) Now? It’s nothing.”
Even still, that’s a pretty big “nothing”, even if it seems relatively small scale to their own previous chart-topping standards. New single ‘I Got a Van’ is already racking up hundreds of thousands of views and shares on Facebook, despite being, as Rhys explains, “a song about a van, and having a van, and the importance of having a van”.
Rhys: Can’t remember what I was saying. I’ve had two pints now. Had a really important point to make, just there.
Eggsy: Two pints and can’t remember. I’ve got one: The internet is so crammed it’s going to become a bucket of blood that spills. And we were around before the bucket of blood tipped over.
Rhys: Eggsy's got this belief, that the internet will end up being-
Eggsy: Yeah, I figured this out. And I figured this out long before memes and gifs were big. Probably about '97, when the internet started. I said, and I stand by this: the internet will end up being just a three-second clip of a turd on a pavement, with someone swilling a bucket of blood, and then pouring it over it, on a continuous loop.
Eggsy: And the only reason you'll know what's going on is because at Christmas, there'll be some holly on it, or some Easter Eggs round it, and people will type their emotions underneath it. So you'll get up, log on, and there'll be a smiley face in the turd and the bucket of blood.
Rhys: To be fair, we're not far from that.
Eggsy: No, we're not, and I came up with that in '97. It's amazing, if you use your mind, you can imagine what the future's gonna be like.
Turning a song about a van into a Facebook-algorithm-bypassing feed-pleaser is a feat that’s central to the charm and appeal of Goldie Lookin Chain. They only make music about subjects that matter to them, however mundane or absurd. Theirs is an unapologetic celebration of their particular part of a world, one that neither seeks to exaggerate nor denigrate the mundanity of thoroughly ordinary cities and the grubby grey concrete towns that sprawl out from them, one that has no qualms making hyper-specific references to often since-defunct South Wales haunts, one that turns their local offy into a sleeper-viral-hit single.
Perhaps you could make a case that their strain of self-deprecating pisstaking is something rooted in the Welsh psyche, where the widespread tongue-in-cheek revelry in all things naff reflects a part of the national culture sustained by - and dangerously in thrall to - knowing irony about its place in the world. But this might well be taking a swing-and-a-miss at the central point: that this is pisstaking with pride.
This isn’t a nation making fun of itself because it harbours some deep seated desire to be anything other than itself. This is a nation that has a fair idea of it’s own absurdities and ridiculousness, and is happy with that just the way it is, thanks. It’s a nation that will happily enthrone a comedy rap group as one of its foremost musical exports. It’s a nation that will be absolutely shit at football for the best part of a century, and enjoy a deeply improbable run at Euro 2016 fuelled by a ragtag bunch of superstars and Championship middleweights all the more for it. And if said comedy rap group re-appropriate a Justin Bieber song to commemorate the occasion along the way, even better. It’s a musical monument every bit as strangely poignant as Baddiel and Skinner’s efforts two decades earlier.
Eggsy: A lot people from Wales kept going over to these French places, because football kept changing and Wales stayed on.
Rhys: Eggsy doesn't get or like football. It was an amazing time for the other members of the band. Except Eggsy.
Eggsy: Football is a massive game, guys. A powerful game. It brings people together, but it also tears them apart. See if they held hands more... You could be a street cleaner, or a member of the SAS, if you hold hands...
Eggsy: And also, as you know, the UK's on high terror alert these days.
Eggsy: You know this!
Rhys: He's on point again.
Eggsy: Dunno if you know, but the SAS are now posing as homeless people on the streets. To keep an eye on us, to keep us safe. Have you heard about this?
Rhys: [Staring] Oh my god... Where the fuck did you hear this?
Eggsy: So what the government have done, they put high-ranking SAS officers on street corners.
Rhys: That's definitely the best use of an SAS officer: putting them on a street, reading a book. Why don't they just recruit homeless people into the SAS?
Eggsy: It's true right! Cos you notice, where you live right, you'd know there'd be a regular homeless person that had been there for years. And that spot - over the past 18 months - you'll have noticed new faces turning up-
Rhys: The album… Fear of a Welsh Planet… 17 songs...
But these are still matters of the past, however recent. What does the future look like for GLC past album 17 and past the world coming to terms with its fear of a Welsh planet? It’s a decent question, with an obvious answer. More output and a continued refusal to accept that just because the rest of the world might be boring bastards, that you have to submit to their tyranny of the humourless. Maybe it isn’t that simple, though. As Rhys acknowledges, dryly: “We’re a bit older now. We don’t have as much time to booze, or eat curry and cane ciggies and whatever else we did back then. So we have more time to create content. Which is the main thing.”
Given a chance to do it all over again, would they have captured the imagination in the same way? Well, “who knows?” But as long as it still feels how it should, like having a good time most of the time, the right question might be “who cares?” Theirs is a path rarely trod. Making music with your mates on purely self-dictated terms, to please as many or as few people who get the joke and enjoy what you’re doing. It’s not a bad deal. And as long as that’s the case, it’s doubtful whether the GLC discography will ever cease to mushroom.
Eggsy: It’s been a great journey so far. And long may it continue. Until one of gets really ill or dies. Then the journey will stop.
Fear of a Welsh Planet is out now. It’s got 17 songs.