Paul McGann narrates the story of how Massive Attack's debut album, Blue Lines, which was released 25 years ago to critical acclaim and commercial success, was made.
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-You going down to Bristol again, are you?
-What's it like?
Bristol, what's it like?
MUSIC: Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack
This programme contains some strong language.
I think Blue Lines is one of the great albums of all time.
As a young black man, it was the first record I could identify
as something that came out of Bristol.
# I know that I've been mad in love before
# And how it could be with you... #
I remember hearing Unfinished Sympathy and I just went,
"Fuck, that is amazing."
You know that's exactly what I've been trying to do all of this time.
25 years ago, the music scene in Bristol exploded with the release
of Blue Lines, the pioneering debut album from Massive Attack.
A little kid can hear it in an estate, in France,
or in Germany or in Portugal or whatever.
They think if Grant can get up there and do something,
if Tricks can get up there and do something,
3D can get up there and do it, we can fucking have a go.
In February 1991,
the second single from the album, Unfinished Sympathy,
and the cutting-edge video that accompanied it,
thrust Bristol's music scene into the global spotlight.
But its genesis was in the decades that led up to the 1990s,
and the fusion of musical styles that emerged from the diverse
suburbs of this historic city.
Modern Bristol is a cultural melting pot.
Home to a large Caribbean community after post-war immigration,
it's stereotyped by outsiders as laid-back, even sleepy,
in comparison to the Northern powerhouses
of Liverpool and Manchester.
They have a saying in Jamaica...
"Soon come. Soon come."
"What time are you going to be here?" "Soon come. Soon come."
And in Bristol, we've kind of got that mentality.
The Jamaican community settled largely in the inner-city suburb
of St Pauls during the post-war years of relative prosperity.
But in 1980, less than a year into Margaret Thatcher's premiership,
rising youth unemployment and disaffection resulted in a backlash.
SHOUTING AND SCREAMING
On April 2nd, the Black And White Cafe was raided by police,
sparking a full-scale riot in which 130 people were arrested.
The reason why it went wrong yesterday, right, is because the
policeman came down in too much of a force to raid one small cafe, right?
We know how it is round here, right?
It's been like this for years, right? And the tension is so tight,
you can cut it with a scissor.
From what I remember,
the police were trying to arrest somebody in the Black And White.
It just escalated from there, I think.
You know, I think a lot of what was happening politically in the country
kind of exacerbated the situation to what it became, you know.
Just kind of like a world event.
It's cooled for a while, towards the late afternoon,
but then the police processed up the road with dogs and 50 police behind
them and I think the police, if they thought through that,
maybe they would've handled it differently.
That was a major reaction against something that young people
felt very strongly about and I don't believe it was a racial divide,
I think it was a youth and authority divide.
It was the first of its type in the country.
In the aftermath of the riots, the police gave St Pauls
a wider berth which gave the creative people who lived there
greater freedom to express themselves.
Late-night parties and unlicensed venues,
more freedom with drugs
and the liberated approach to the famous St Pauls Carnival.
Used to set-up our rig at 11am and we used to close, probably
around 6am, the next morning.
Cops used to come along and see 500 to 700 people in the streets
dancing and try to shut us down and nobody was having it, really.
They just shook their heads and left.
I think the riots kind of like gave us that freedom.
I think the police were wary about causing further problems.
Anything too clumsy would've caused big problems.
Jamaican immigrants had brought with them their sound-system culture.
Loud impromptu street parties with huge, often custom-built,
speaker stacks where communities would come together
to listen to music.
Sound-system culture was all about DIY.
It was about learning how to string up amps, how to cut the wood,
how to load speakers onto the van properly,
even how to learn to drive a big HGV lorry
down the thinnest roads in St Pauls.
Sound systems provided the musical backdrop to inner-city Bristol
and unified young people, regardless of their skin colour.
There was never an issue with the colour.
I don't think, you know, it really matters to the extent,
as long as what you do, you do it from the heart.
And the Wild Bunch sound system exemplified this racial unity.
Miles "DJ Milo" Johnson, Grant "Daddy G" Marshall,
Paul Nellee Hooper,
Claude "Willie Wee" Williams and Robert "3D" Del Naja all came from
different backgrounds but shared a love of music.
They were a multiracial group themselves influenced by the
coming together of those cultures.
And if you think, The Clash always had that combination of white rock
and reggae and so there was plenty of tradition to make that work.
Nellee was regarded like anybody else in the crew, really.
I think they saw him as somebody who respected the culture
and the music and that was all that mattered.
Milo and Nellee had met in 1979 and formed a new wave band.
They'd regular regularly hang out at Paradise Garage near the bus
station in Bristol, the hippest clothes shop in the West Country.
It was here they met Grant Marshall.
There were three of us for a long while
which was G, Nellee and myself.
We used to go to G's house and listen to records that we bought
in say Virgin, some punk records, some new wave, some disco,
some reggae, some early hip-hop maybe
and it was like sitting down as friends
just listening to this new music that we were getting introduced to.
These informal gatherings soon attracted more people and
a bigger space was required for the fledgling unit to share their music.
We played in one of these places
after we ran out of space at G's place.
It wasn't really planned to be anything to do with dance
or anything like that.
It was just to give us a bit more space and a bit more volume.
We just put our records together and just played what we bought
It was our first gig outside of the crib.
Unlike the industrial cities of the North, Bristol had never had
a musical identity it could claim as its own,
but as the '80s became the '90s,
things were changing and the creative city we know today
was emerging, albeit with typical West Country languor.
It was a very laid-back scene.
There was a lot of smoking of dope, I believe,
and that shows in the music.
You know, very contemplative, very sort of inward-looking,
I guess, but in a really lovely way.
When you go to London, everything is a million miles an hour but when
you come back to Bristol, it's like everything just slows right down.
I grew up in Birmingham and, you know, as a teenager,
the only place to go then if you wanted to drink
after 10.30 at night, was at Sound System.
So, you know, it was kind of part of my partying growing up
so Dub and MC Culture and all that was very familiar to me
and also very familiar to any white teenager who's going
out around that time.
Birmingham was very like Bristol in that it was a small scene,
so you all knew each other very well.
It was the same faces every night, different place.
Anywhere that we were having a party, everybody would come.
If Grant was DJing, we'd all go to his party.
We'd all meet in the Red Lion on a Friday night
and just chat to each other.
Oh, there's something going on there, there's a gig down there,
there's something going on... Just rush across town or whatever.
One of the party venues was Nellee's flat in Clifton Village.
Nellee lived in one of these apartments here so, yeah,
we used to practise here and did a few really good house parties
here and guys used to come up from St Pauls and it was basically
them who gave us the name, The Wild Bunch.
And the event where The Wild Bunch name really drew crowds was
the St Pauls Carnival.
I'd never heard bass like you hear through a sound system cabinet
and you can immediately understand the attraction,
because it was a much more sort of visceral experience
than a band could create in even the smallest pub.
Ronnie Size, at the time a young teenager called Ryan Williams,
had grown up with sound systems.
You'd be able to hear the music travel all the way up the hill.
As soon as you heard the sound systems
being set up in St Pauls, like the Pied Piper, me and my friends,
we'd all go down to St Pauls and join in all the celebrations.
The DIY ethos of sound systems was something shared with the
punk culture that already existed in Bristol and the political
ideology of the city's youth found common ground in both genres.
Punk kind of blew the doors open,
it was a completely enabling political act.
Seeing Paul from The Clash with little stickers on his bass showing
him where to put his fingers,
suddenly we thought we can have a go at doing that,
otherwise we would've ended up working in a factory.
I mean he wasn't that far away from that front cover of the fanzine.
Here are three chords, now go and form a band.
Coming back from a gig at The Roxy with the Cortinas,
we decided to make a punk band.
We said we'd called it The Pop Group to be anti-punk,
So we started putting on concerts at Barton Hill Youth Centre.
Grant was down the front, Miles was down the front, Delta was there.
In the late '70s and early '80s,
The Pop Group pioneered the post-punk scene
which embraced elements of jazz, funk and dub,
familiar sounds on the streets of Bristol.
We wanted to be mixing the stuff we were hearing in the clubs and
streets and the sound systems and the blues dances of Bristol,
which was baseline.
We were crashing and smashing and careering all the influences
we heard on the streets of St Pauls and Bristol in
a punk manner into what we were doing.
Because we thought it wouldn't be punk to do something
that was already happening.
Mark was also instrumental in introducing hip-hop to Britain.
And when The Wild Bunch added it to their repertoire,
the embryonic Bristol sound began to take shape.
He really did put us onto a lot of good music.
Punk had the attitude of you don't have to learn your instruments,
but hip-hop gave the means of putting music together
without needing to be particularly great musicians.
You know, it was all about the ideas.
You could sample the stuff, you could play with the stuff
without a huge amount of sort of musical talent.
# Party people, party people
# Can y'all get funky? #
We were virtually living in New York. Suddenly, somebody says,
"There's a really cool radio show on this thing called Kiss-FM and WBLS."
We used to have big ghetto blasters, double cassette machines,
back in the day. We copied these tapes, brought them back to Bristol.
Copied, copied, copied.
3D would draw on them. Suddenly,
everybody was getting into hip-hop in Bristol.
Coming up to London, London was not even aware of it.
# It's time to chase your dreams
# Up out your seats Make your body sway
# Socialise, get down let your soul lead the way
# Shake it now, go, ladies,
# It's a livin' dream
# Love, life, live Come play the game... #
They were getting all these exclusive tracks that no-one
could get a hold of unless you heard them on maybe WBLS
and that is when Wild Bunch really started to come into their own.
We were offering a different genre of music to a community that
probably had never heard that stuff before, you know?
And for us, that was just like...just the best.
Being able to play things like,
some really underground Chicago house music in like 1985
or whatever to a bunch of, like, West Indian people who had never
heard that and then staying for the duration of a record
that they had never heard like that. It's... I mean, that's job done.
One of the clubs where these new sounds were shaking the foundations
was The Dug Out on Park Row.
The Wild Bunch DJ crew was given a residency,
which gave them further exposure to the public eye.
I was made an honorary member of The Dug Out club, which I considered
to be one of the highest accolades I've ever received.
Oh, man, The Dug Out...
Even its best friends, even its mother would say it was
a horrible little place, actually, in many ways.
But the vibe was really good.
I just remember it feeling quite claustrophobic as a club.
It was just like one of those ones where it almost felt like it
was a glorified someone's house.
Lots of little rooms, you know.
And the DJ is over there, but you've kind of got to squeeze past them.
It had a rather wonderful atmosphere of decadence, I suppose.
It was quite an eclectic mix.
It felt extraordinarily Bristol.
Unfortunately, I was too young to get into The Dug Out,
but the amount of times I tried to sneak in
and got caught was a crazy amount.
Miles would find the tunes, Nellee would be the selector.
It goes back to old Jamaican sound systems.
Somebody was selecting the songs, then there was the MC,
or the toaster like U-Roy back in Jamaica.
Grant would toast a bit.
Round that time, I think we kind of, like,
established ourselves as a DJ unit.
Later on, we would get a couple of guys to do some emceeing,
which would be Willy and 3D.
Some occasions, Tricky.
I was working at The Face at the time and so we got sent,
kind of white labels of the early sort of Smith & Mighty
stuff and The Wild Bunch stuff and really, really liked it.
I guess it was like a natural progression
that we would want to record our own tunes at some point.
So, yeah, I think that timing of The Dug Out enabled us to do that.
# Scooby-Doo, get down with the crew
# On the mic singing one, two
# Where to drink your Tennent's where to drink your brew
# Get down with The Wild Bunch crew. #
In 1985, the graffiti art exhibition at the Arnolfini
gave young creatives the opportunity to legitimately flex their muscles.
3D and his fellow artists painted the walls of the gallery.
And The Wild Bunch perform to an audience that included
a 13-year-old boy named Geoff Barrow
who would go on to engineer Blue Lines
and later still, form the band Portishead.
This previously unbroadcast footage illustrates the emergence of a scene
which drew heavily on the New York culture,
which the likes of The Wild Bunch found so fascinating.
HIP-HOP MUSIC PLAYS
The whole hip-hop attitude in Bristol,
you could express yourself all kinds of ways.
You know, you could be a DJ, you could be a rapper,
you could make music, you could make art,
you could make record sleeves, you could make little films
and all of those things intertwined and mixed with each other.
And it was very acceptable to be a videomaker one day,
a rapper another, a DJ the next.
And as a result, you got that fluidity.
# No moneyman can win my love... #
The next step on The Wild Bunch journey was a trip to Japan in 1987.
Milo had been there the previous year deejaying during fashion shows,
arranged by The Face magazine and Neneh Cherry, a singer who had
previously been in the Bristol post-punk group Rip Rig + Panic.
# Looking good hanging with The Wild Bunch
# Looking good in the Buffalo Stance... #
But now the group were to tour Japan,
another step on the ladder to wider success.
Me and Nellee went out there the following year and hooked up
the tour and brought the rest of the guys out there.
But when the rest of the crew arrived,
things quickly deteriorated.
I don't want to put anybody on the spot here or anything like that,
but it's just like...
a member of the crew had an issue,
problems he had back home at the time
and he needed to get back.
And we were like,
"Dude, we just got this tour together and you want to bail
"on us right when we're going to start this tour?"
And that kind of like...really pissed us off.
And with tensions running high, the tour that should have been
the making of the group put an extra strain on their relationships.
When we came back from the tour and we came back to the UK,
it was hard work trying to work with that dude again.
In spite of the disagreements within the group,
on returning to UK, The Wild Bunch secured a record deal.
Got signed to...
Island - 4th and Broadway,
and recorded a couple of...
..things for them.
# Born and raised in the ghetto
# An age-old story
# And this is how we go
# They call me black my skin is brown... #
The deal with Island led Nellee to believe that the logical
next step was for the group to relocate to London.
Nellee was the one who was basically the ambitious one,
so I was just tagging along.
He just said, "Do you fancy moving to London?"
I thought, you know, "Sure."
Nellee had previously tasted the limelight,
appearing on Top Of The Pops with Cheltenham band Pigbag.
He was like the leader,
in that sense, in terms of pushing us forward,
not so much creative steps forward, but steps forward as a crew.
But Daddy G and 3D were reluctant to swap the laid-back lifestyle
of the west for the fast pace of the capital.
We had asked them, but they just weren't comfortable with it.
They did come up to do some recording.
And whatever press things that we needed to do.
The geographical spread of the crew wasn't the only issue.
As pioneers of a new sound to British audiences,
their record label struggled to know what to do with them.
We were like their first, basically,
hip-hop, say, group to sign to a major.
How are they going to promote us and stuff?
It's much easier to sell a female singer than
a hip-hop band or the genre
that people just were not familiar with yet.
And that really was...the trouble that we had.
Their relationship with Island was short-lived and the crew fragmented.
Milo set up home in New York
while Nellee joined Jazzie B and Soul II Soul,
co-producing their multimillion selling debut album
Club Classics, Volume One.
Back in Bristol,
the collective that would become Massive Attack was taking shape -
3D, Daddy G and Andrew "Mushroom" Vowles.
There wasn't one Bristol sound and that gave Massive Attack the
opportunity of saying, "Well, look, there is room for something big."
# Massive. #
One of the things that made Massive Attack into the phenomenon
they were was meeting and knowing Neneh Cherry
and Cameron McVey, you know,
who supported them financially and gave them lots of resources
and really encouraged and nurtured their talent.
# In my space... #
I think it was Daydreaming that I first heard.
I loved the juxtaposition in that piece,
the fact that it was a really strong but simple driving groove
and this really ethereal, softly, sort of rapped vocal.
-Way that we say 'em in style
# That we write 'em in Massive Attack,
# We keep it strong just like a vitamin
# Going for the positive wiping out the negative songs
# Cos, brother, it's relative
# The pass is picking up all the lyrics on the dance floor
# That raise your spirit level cos it demands for
# Attitude is cool degrees below zero
# Up against the wall behaving like De Niro
# Tricky's performing taking his phono
# Making a stand with a tan touch it like cocoa... #
If you hear Blue Lines, it's like walking around City Road,
a little bit out of it after Carnival or something
and just hearing all these things,
just like washing over you and they didn't polish it, they didn't...
It's real, it's fucking real.
Bang, there you go. You've got these huge, huge hits.
Massive records played on daytime radio.
And in a pre-Internet age,
Milo Johnson, who Mark Stewart referred to as the king in exile,
stumbled upon the band's phenomenal success in a New York bookstore.
I saw them on a quite big magazine cover in New York.
And I was like, "Wow, shit! Guys, fucking brilliant!"
Do you know what I mean? It put a smile on my face.
Blue Lines kind of had this impact
where they recognise Bristol having a sound.
It was that underlining sub-bass from the dub,
it was the breaks from hip-hop
and the two gelled together and it just summed up the culture.
And I think Massive Attack really tapped into that.
Outside of the core members,
Tricky was also bringing his unique talent to the group.
# Weebles, wobble, occasional squabble
# But what happen when the bomb drops down... #
I met Tricky before everybody, basically.
He was like around about seven years old.
He looked at music differently from most kids at that age.
I mean, he was, like, really focused on everything,
every detail of what we were playing him.
I had this, like, big house down...by the Feeder Road and
Tricky used to... On his way home from school,
he used to just pop into the house, right?
The guy was an obvious...nutter.
He brought his, you know, original style of laid-back, smoked-up,
doped-up lyrical flair to the table.
After Blue Lines, Tricky went on to have
solo success with his debut Maxinquaye.
Tricky's first album is a seminal album.
You know, it was the darker side of the whole trip-hop thing,
I think. I hate that word trip-hop, actually,
but of the music that was coming out of Bristol, you know,
his was the more kind of paranoid,
"been smoking dope for a week and
"I'm not quite sure where I am any more" kind of side of it.
But it also had a kind of really beautiful intimacy that drew
you in and a great warmth about it.
MUSIC: Safe From Harm by Massive Attack
Massive Attack's willingness to collaborate was
a key element of the success of Blue Lines.
This is something they carried forward throughout their
They are great collaborators with each other,
but also with other people and they brought the best out of
everyone they worked with, I think, including each other.
# But if you hurt what's mine
# I'll sure as hell retaliate
# Infectious and danger...
# Infectious and dangerous. #
A quarter of a century has passed since Blue Lines was released
and Massive Attack have gone on to have huge success with their
After Mushroom's departure in 1998,
the duo of Daddy G and 3D
remain as creative and relevant today as ever.
Their legacy to the musicians who came out of the city in their
wake is immeasurable.
We took the hip-hop breaks, sped them up,
we took the sub-basses from sound system, tuned them up.
You know, our whole thing was about energy.
It was about creating some atmosphere vibes in your head
and then we were trying to get that from here out to those people.
I think most people who came out of the Bristol scene,
none of them wanted to be celebrities,
and that enabled them to be more creative rather than less.
I think the ambition was to do something really exciting musically.
But the ambition was never to be world-famous
and chased down the street by paparazzi.
They are punk. Nobody tells them what to fucking do.
They won't talk on camera.
I end up talking about them or for them all the fucking time,
which I don't want to. I'm trying to have my tea.
Do you know what I mean? But they are proper punk.
But Bristol punk.
I think the whole crew owes a lot to Mark.
I don't think without him,
they would be where they are, pretty much.
And without me, I don't think they would be where they are.
That's kind of like...
..that's pretty much a fact that I can feel comfortable saying.
When you saw these guys on Top Of The Pops, it was fantastic.
You looked up and said, "You know what?
"If they can do it, I can do it."
There is something in the water down there.
Where the hell does all this amazing music come from?
# Big wheel keeps on turning
# On a simple line day by day
# The earth spins on its axis... #
I think it just made a lot of the people who were already making music
in Bristol kind of go, "Yeah, of course."
# Seems like the world is out together just by gravity... #
The impact that Massive had on the city is just undeniable.
# Look, my son, the weather is changing... #
Your shoulders got slightly wider, you know,
you just stood a little taller.
# And so the green come tumbling down... #
The sense of pride to be written across your face,
"I'm from Bristol."
# And I'll show you sunset
# Sometime again
# The big wheel keeps on turning
# On a simple line day by day
# The earth spins on its axis
# One man struggle while another relaxes. #
The story of how Bristol found its musical identity and tracing the creation of the city's most famous band. The documentary looks at the emergence of the 'Bristol Sound' in the 1980s culminating in the release of Massive Attack's first album. Narrated by actor Paul McGann - who was a part of Bristol's creative scene throughout this period - it traces the history of the scene. From the sound system culture that arrived in the city with the immigrants from the Caribbean, and how that mixed with the existing punk and new wave scene in Bristol, to hip-hop which arrived in Bristol from New York before any other city in Britain was aware of it.
It explores how this clash of cultures and musical styles gave the city a musical identity which to that point it lacked, unlike other industrial cities in Britain such as Liverpool and Manchester. Featuring contributions from key influencers of the creative scene including Milo Johnson of The Wild Bunch, Mark Stewart of The Pop Group, DJ and Producer Roni Size, and Neil Davidge - producer of Massive Attack's later work.