Darren McGarvey talks to Mill Magazine
Five years on from his first book’s release, Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey is putting society under the microscope once more. Here, he talks to Mill about the process, Ferguslie, returning to hip-hop and much more.
When it comes to writing a book, conventional wisdom would say that the concept comes first and the publisher comes second. But for writer, rapper and social commentator Darren McGarvey – who rose to broader acclaim after the 2017 release of the in-depth and unflinching look at working class disillusionment that was Poverty Safari – his latest book, The Social Distance Between Us, came by way of seizing an opportunity.
“To be honest, it came about because I got a book deal with Penguin the day I won The Orwell Prize,” Darren revealed. “I didn’t really have a strong idea for a second book, but I didn’t knock it back. I did a bit of travelling about and just kind of followed my instincts.
“I was interested in the immigration debate, so I went down to Margate to see what people had to say about it. After that, I went to London to visit the Grenfell Tower and meet the surrounding community in Lancaster West estate.
“It all formed a bank of stuff, but I didn’t really know the theme until the pandemic happened and I had this burst of creativity. At that point, this idea of the social distance between us kinda crystalised. Once I had the structure, most of the work has actually been organising it and the editing process has been gruelling to say the least.
“I had to trim it down by about 100,000 words. A lot of that has been taking out the more autobiographical stuff. Eventually, I got more confident about putting that aside as I learnt my lesson with Poverty Safari. A lot of times, people only want to focus on that stuff. So, it’s good to say that this can stand on its own and isn’t some kind of misery memoir.”
“Most of my thoughts during the day are related to music, whether it’s what I’m listening to or what I’m thinking about creating”
Suddenly jumping from the literally equivalent of an independent record label to a major in Penguin, McGarvey has revealed that he took cues from cinema’s most revered sequels when it came time to break ground on his new book.
“I thought of, perhaps grandiosely, The Godfather Part II in that it was familiar, but it takes in a social and political history while evolving the characters. So, I did kinda model it on that in terms of how I want the readers of the previous book to feel when they read this. It’s similar, but broader.
“A lot of my anxiety around this one was that I’d taken too long,” he continued. “But, the last book has had great legs and it got around lots of different demographics. Most books are never even read, reviewed or discussed, so it’s good to know that side is dealt with and my family are taken care of for the next couple of years, whatever happens.”
Now that the editing process has elapsed, Darren McGarvey is open about the fact that the sheer toll of austerity that came into focus over the course of the book’s creation had left him with an anger that had to be detoxified and channelled in a constructive way. Now, he’s hoping that the publication that was born from it will spark conversations that, with any luck, may even reach the corridors of power.
“I kinda want it to enter the political discourse like a hand grenade,” he says matter-of-factly. “The theory that I’m putting forth is that the leaders are so distant from reality that it’s actually dangerous for our democracy, public health, basically every aspect of our lives that arises from a political decision. In that sense, even though a lot of it was written a couple of years ago, it’s quite timely.”
Next to Poverty Safari, Darren’s other main export in recent years has been his BBC Scotland series, Class Wars. An in-depth look at how our social stature continues to infringe upon the nations in ways that are both distinct and unavoidable, his odyssey into society’s inequities provided some noteworthy characters with plenty of airtime. Not least of all, the leader of Ferguslie’s Darkwood Crew, Terry McTernan.
“I didn’t know Terry, but I felt like I had for ages when I met him that day,” Darren says of the experience of filming with the Mill alumni. “He’s someone that’s always had the interest in the community and now he’s suddenly found himself on the other side of the track where he has a bit of responsibility. That’s a difficult transition to make, but the people who do it right can be very effective. He was a brilliant contributor.”
Although Darren hadn’t encountered him prior to the show, it was far from his first dalliance with Terry’s local community. In fact, like countless others from across the generations, some of his formative years were spent in the Tannahill Centre. So, when Terry asked him to return to that hallowed hall to host the first Ferguslie Community Awards, he didn’t hesitate.
“It was great to go down to that centre again, I’ve got memories of nicking about in there. Big Div gave me my first opportunity to do a rap workshop in that centre and we used to do the Ferguslie Park Radio on a Friday night too, playing hip-hop and doing freestyles. To go back there again and for that hall to be the same was amazing as, usually, things always seem so different. They made it seem so glamorous at night as well.”
On the subject of Darren’s first love of hip-hop, it appears that the new avenues afforded to him haven’t doused his desire to perform and record whatsoever. After intermittently dropping tracks and even collaborating with Paisley’s own Empress, who he refers to as “one of his favourites” on Tell Me Something New, Darren McGarvey is now looking to align all facets of his artistry and vocational life under one, all-encompassing banner.
“Most of my thoughts during the day are related to music, whether it’s what I’m listening to or what I’m thinking about creating,” he remarked. “But, it doesn’t always translate to the time required to make that happen. Then, the pandemic brought its own problems which almost trivialised the music. My wife likes to record at home, but I don’t. I need to get out of my own zone, because I almost need to become something else to get back into music.
“I’ve got a stack of songs that I think are really strong and the reason I know that is because some of them have been sitting about for so long that they should’ve gotten old. The last few years have actually been a weird paradox for me. It seems like the more resources you have, the harder it’s become to actually make the music.”
“I’m going to release tracks under my own name for a while,” he continued. “Just to synchronise all the things that I do. Plus, when I first took the name Loki, there was no Marvel Cinematic Universe. I just want to have my music, writing and films all in the one place where people can get them. As for when the album comes out, f**k knows man (laughs).”
The Social Distance Between Us is available now. To keep up with Darren McGarvey follow him on Twitter.