Fox is a true collaborator and has been a perennial friendly face on the Manchester music scene, so his debut solo EP is long overdue. You can currently catch him in a variety of live capacities, from vocals for the likes of The Mouse Outfit and Levelz to hosting nights like Swing Ting and Hoya:Hoya. Shiddleywiddleyskangdangdiddleywoi is a sort-of-sequel to ‘Harder’, his single from a project with Chimpo in 2012 under the name The Eyes, and showcases six strong, personal tracks across a range of styles.

He wasn’t always embedded in Manchester, as he told me during a recent interview. “Born in Manchester, grew in Jamaica. My parents decided they either had enough or preferred to bring their children up back home. I’m grateful really, because there’s something special in Jamaica. Despite all the violence and poverty – or maybe because of it – people seem to value the little joys of life more. And of course, what’s not to love about sunshine, good food and the vibrant culture?

“I’ve been about on the Manchester underground for a while. When I came back to England, my brother was already here and deep into music, so that drew me in. It was soundsystem culture and hip hop that was strongest in my life at that point. I used to play and MC for Megatone Sound Foundation, was in a hip hop crew called Subliminal Darkness and have also had shows on pirate stations like Ital FM and Love Energy.

“Over the years I’ve evolved and done loads of different genres of music, and have taught loads of music workshops. I’ve been blessed to be a part of Estate Recordings, do the Skittles live shows with what is now 8 Gold Rings [named in honour of music lover, father and friend Salford John, who died in 2014], and make music with Mancunian legends like Marcus Intalex, DRS, Zed Bias, Mark XTC, Jenna G and more. I’m currently a part of the Levelz collective, doing music with The Mouse Outfit [see the review in this month’s Albums section], and also I’m resident at Swing Ting, Hoya:Hoya and Hot Milk, as well as regularly doing Hit & Run and Soul:ution nights and gigs with Red Eye HiFi.

“Up among my greatest musical moments is watching a video of a couple getting married in Brazil and walking down the aisle to ‘Soul Remember’ by DRS, featuring Dub Phizix and myself. Other proud moments have to be recording ‘Harder’ with Chimpo, ‘Runaway’ with Marcus Intalex and Calibre, ‘Never Been’ with Dub Phizix at the most fun video shoot ever, performing on a beach in Sardinia at Sun and Bass with the Estate family, every time I’m playing Swing Ting, and also a gig for Tru Thoughts at Koko in Camden with Rodney P. And recently recording at BBC Maida Vale for DRS with 8 Gold Rings, Tyler Daley, Shola Ama and Terri Walker with Toddla T in the place. Non-musical achievements that spring to mind are moving on from the life on the road and the youth work I’ve done since, especially the instances where I’ve had a young person come back and tell me they appreciated my energy and how it influenced them.

“The most solid relationships I have in music are with people who I actually would be friends with in life anyway. People who can be honest, are willing to listen, can take responsibility and seek to learn and better themselves. It’s as simple as that.”

So what happened with The Eyes project? The single ‘Harder’ was well-received and promised a follow-up album, but nothing emerged. “The Eyes ting was sat there for a while, partly due to being busy with other stuff and partly due to me and Chimpo being bad organisers. In the end I spoke to Chimpo and we agreed to whittle it down to an EP, and that it would come out as my EP, which is what Shiddleywiddleyskangdangdiddleywoi is. Since most of what people hear of me are collaborations which are made for the clubs, I wanted to use this EP to put out the tracks that address a different side to me.”

Most of the Levelz collective recently took a limo and some melons down to London to promote their debut single, ‘LVL 07’. How will such a large crew keep it together? “To be honest, I’m not really a limo guy so it worked out dandy that I wasn’t there for that. Levelz is pretty big as a collective, but we’re all connected somehow pre-Levelz, and we associate beyond music, so hopefully that will be a positive influential factor in keeping us together. Saying that, I feel Estate sort of paved the way for Levelz, so who knows what Levelz will pave the way for. There are a lot of younguns and olderuns getting themselves together musically in Manchester who are associated in some aspect to members of Levelz, so as long as it keeps evolving and music gets made, and we can still laugh, then it’s all blessy.”

Their approach certainly hasn’t hurt Manchester’s reputation outside of the city. “I think Manchester, for the last few years, has been consistently stepping its game up. That’s reached a point where we are known across the world now for making great music and having our own sound and vibe. The areas outside London have traditionally suffered from a London-centric view about most things, so maybe that has fostered an attitude of self-reliance. Hence I feel Manchester, for sure, has lost that need to seek approval from anyone but ourselves. I’ve got some great mates in London and get support from many people in the industry, and collaborate with enough artists there who are aware fully how great a vibe Manchester brings to the musical table. Long as we keep on as we have been doing, and looking at some of the young talent like FreeWize, Room 2 Records, Deepo, Chuckz, Yemi [Bolatiwa, from M20 Collective], Fabz, and the people dedicated to putting on great nights and also seeing how collaborative we are, I think Manchester’s image will be safely kept in the respect zone.

“I get messages from people in places I’ve not played yet, so I think Manchester music is getting out and about. I have been a good few places performing outside of England for a while now and can say I’ve definitely seen the difference in terms of people’s knowledge of Manchester music and crews. Dub Phizix and Strategy, Chimpo, DRS, Marcus Intalex, Zed Bias, Chunky, North Base, Virus Syndicate, Indigo, Biome, Synkro, Werkha, Mark XTC, Tonn Piper, Bipolar Sunshine, Jenna G, Hoya:Hoya and Madam X amongst others are great Mancunian exports and represent our music well abroad, not to mention the other UK artists and industry heads that rep us.”

So what’s next for Fox? “More of the same really. Levelz is on a UK tour now, I’ve got a few tunes and gigs with The Mouse Outfit for their new album [Step Steadier – read the review here] due out soon, some tasty collaborations I’m working on with DJ Die and Dismantle, Sam Binga, DJ Q, Total Science, Riya and more, plus the next Swing Ting label EP.

“I just did the last regular Hot Milk dance at the Roadhouse and it was emotional. Packed and fulla vibes. It definitely will be missed, but we will still be doing dances and hopefully the rarity will make it more special. I have no doubt that Manchester will still be a vibrant club scene because there’s always someone willing to try a new idea out or rep some good music. Dub Phizix and Strategy just started their Well Good Do night recently, the second of which is in a few weeks and sold out rapidly, barring a few tickets for the door on the night.”

So why now to get the EP out? “Now is a good time to get it out because I need the mental space. It’s way past time I put something out with my name at the start and the scales need balancing on all the clubby bangers people know me for. There are always plans for more music. I think I’ve sort of decided that doing EPs will be my way forward for a while. I’ve got a few different concepts and sides I wanna show that may work better in EP format and separated. Gonna do a Sweet Tip Willy – long story – EP at some point soon. I would really love to follow DRS and Skittles’ lead though, and put a great album together, so keep an ear out.”

Fox’s Shiddleywiddleyskangdangdiddleywoi EP is out on 19 March on Estate Recordings. Read our review in this issue’s Manchester Albums section.
soundcloud.com/mc-fox-mcr
Swing Ting happens on the third Saturday of the month at Soup Kitchen.
Background photos of Fox with LVLZ by Gary Brown.
An extended version of this interview can be found on groovement.com

Jamie Groovement