Written for Parlophone, August 2016.
On first impressions, The Manor are three old friends whose music and tales of everyday life – booze, birds and finding the positive in any negative situation – are being embraced by like-minded souls the nation over. Along the way there’s been some classic south-east London style duckin’ and a-divin’ as the trio – Johnny Dutch, Scotty Stacks and Danny Graft – stand on the cusp of substantially bigger things.
Scratch the surface, however, and you’ll see that there’s much more to them than such a snapshot suggests. Johnny and Danny were schoolmates who later connected with Scotty at college. When the former pair headed to university to study economics, Scotty made a small fortune trading “wine, land in Brazil, sports hospitality, houses, baked goods, Ralph Lauren. I’ve sold everything!”
“Me and Danny did economics during the banking crisis,” explains Johnny with a mixture of bewilderment, anger and hilarity in his voice, “so everything we learned got proven to be bollocks anyway.”
As with many graduates, the great post-university question was, ‘What now?’ “We were both thinking I don’t wanna grow up and get a job yet,” he continues. “We had a passion for music and knew there was a little money to be made on YouTube, so it was either that or get a job like every other person out of uni was trying to do.”
The influences of lyrically dexterous rappers such as Rodney P, Mike Skinner and Skinnyman can still be heard in The Manor’s evocative rhymes today, but the breadth of their influences – Foreign Beggars, roots reggae and even the Stone Roses – was an early signpost towards their ever-growing ambition. Their introductory mixtape, ‘Welcome To The Manor’, earned the boys a nomination at the Official Mixtape Awards as well as the respect of an influential talent.
“The first message we got from anyone once we dropped that tape was Mike Skinner,” recalls Johnny. “That was crazy considering he was such an influential artist for us. We must’ve DMed him the album, and he came back saying, I love what you lot are doing.” The Manor continued to stride forwards with ‘Full English’, a mixtape celebrating British culture that was crammed with samples from national heroes such as Winston Churchill, David Beckham and Danny Dyer, and then the ominously-titled ‘Free Mixtapes Don’t Pay The Rent’.
That very realisation caused a hungover, mid-comedown Danny to suggest to Johnny: “How about we retire?”
The announcement that The Manor planned to call it quits after their debut album (‘Don’t Do What We Did’) and a big send-off show caused ripples in the scene with SB.TV, GRM Daily and RWD leading the tributes. As they barely spoke or even rehearsed beforehand, it even felt like the end. Given the occasion, Danny was tasked with getting some ladies in but ultimately, he sighs, “it was rammed with 600 geezers and about three birds.”
It was an emotional night in which The Manor’s devotees had travelled from as far afield as Bolton to pay their respects, and Scotty particularly remembers “people telling us deep shit about the times that our music has helped them to get through.”
As the album emerged, radio play from Charlie Sloth and Mistajam meant The Manor were bigger than ever – and word continued to grow through further plays from Toddla T and on Soccer AM, plus support from Complex UK and the backing of Will Poulter, the rising British actor best known for The Revenant. The “end” was in fact a brand new beginning.
“We were trying to show that if you give up, good things will come to you,” laughs Danny in his classically cockney accent.
“Or,” corrects Scotty, “if it’s not going well, cut your losses and start again. Good things come to those who quit!”
And the good things kept coming. A riotous set at the O2 Academy Islington saw The Manor’s fans break the venue’s record for their most beer sales in their history (“And a lot of people told me they gave up on the bar because it was too busy,” asserts Scotty). A deal was quickly sealed with Parlophone, which bodes well for The Manor’s future given that ‘Don’t Do What We Did’ hit #3 on the iTunes hip-hop charts with no money invested in it beyond studio mastering.
“It was clear that there’s only so much you could do like that…” says Danny.
“It was time, though,” interjects Johnny. “With four projects already out, it seems like the time to make a crossover project and I think we’re in good hands to do that.”
With new material on the way, The Manor laid the foundations for a glowing future with festival appearances at The Great Escape (which forced Crystal Palace fan Scotty to leave the FA Cup Final early in order to make the show) and Wireless (in a day packed with music’s big hitters, Johnny was most impressed by a chance meeting with Arsenal legend Ray Parlour).
Backed by their regular collaborator and video director Elliot Simpson, The Manor are unaffected by their upward momentum – they’re the exact same people they always were. Asked to analyse what each member brings to The Manor, Johnny explains: “Scotty comes through with a ridiculous bar, he’s the one who has the verse that everyone catches on to. I do the odd little hook, and Danny does his cheeky chappy stuff, he brings a vibe and always has a laugh.”
“And Johnny brings realism… extreme realism!” counters Scotty.
“He’s a realist,” concurs Danny.
“I’m the realest!” defends Johnny with mock indignation.
Welcome to the best thing from Beckenham since Bowie. Welcome to The Manor.