Benji isn’t cycling now, though. Days before this chat, his ride was interrupted by a police diversion following a major accident. It was only later he discovered that the son of a friend had been killed while cycling. “It’s a fucking terrible loss,” says Benji, who, understandably, hasn’t been on his bike since. Now he’s walking or running in his efforts to be “show fit” for the return of live music. “I’m treating it like someone’s going to suddenly call me up and say: ‘You’ve got a show on Saturday.’”
As much as Benji is looking forward to doing what he does best once again, he’s not afraid to peer over his shoulder to reflect on what’s come before, whether good or bad. “I’m very comfortable with the past, mistakes and all. In the present you have to deal with things, but if it’s in the past there’s fuck all you can do, so there’s no point moping about it.”
This self-proclaimed “lucky motherfucker” and grandfather of 14, who admits to acting like a frontman even when he goes to Asda, is an unpredictable interviewee. Despite being in the business for almost 30 years, he’s not one to fall back on well rehearsed stories and trite soundbites but shoots from the hip with answers that are funny, indiscreet and often very rude. It’s inspirational stuff, too, illustrating the importance of self-belief and music’s role as a bottomless fuel for empowerment.
“What do I put the longevity down to?” he ponders as we begin. “I can’t get that magic anywhere else.”
Your birth name is Clive. Does anyone still call you that?
“Benji is a name that my rasta mates started calling me when I was about 15 and it caught on. I don’t mind people calling me Clive if they were at school with me. But if a fan of Skindred learns on Wikipedia my name is Clive and calls me Clive, I’ll call them a c**t. That’s overfamiliarity.”
How would you describe your childhood?
“I grew up in a very loving, caring home with four siblings. Until the age of seven, I was in a solid family unit, with a mother working and a father working, but when my mother passed away a lot of things changed. I became quite unruly. When I was 13, my father died and after that I was like a feral cat.”
What qualities did you get from your parents?
“I got loyalty from my father and madness from my mother.”
“My mother was crazy as fuck, or so they tell me. Having lost her when I was seven, I sometimes think I remember things about her and then realise it’s what other people have told me. What I do know is that if she thought someone was being racist to her, she would drop a bomb on them real quick. My mother was light skinned and a lot of people would have mistaken her for white, but she would tell people if they were being rude, which I love about her. My dad would take it a little more, as he was born in the West Indies. But my mum was born in Wales, so she wouldn’t.”