Slowthai, Northampton, and forging community in a broken Britain

Slowthai's 'Nothing Great About Britain' will translate into global success, carried on the back of hyperlocal musical activism. Ben Sullivan felt its energy today on the streets of Northampton

Nothing great about Northampton: the brutalised edifices of the Carlsberg factory, the bankrupt council that can’t afford to hold elections, the highest number of homeless deaths in the entire Midlands region. “Nothing great about Northampton,” many locals will agree, ever eager for self deprecation.

It’s a town defaced by its own recurring failures to compete with the government’s vision of modern Britain.

I said there’s nothing great about the place we live in / Nothing great about Britain.

And so starts ‘Nothing Great About Britain’, the new album from Northampton’s Slowthai, aka Tyron Frampton, out this week. Read all about it from NME, The Guardian (5 stars!) and others. The tale of this 24-year-old MC born on a Northampton council estate’s rise to national voice is well told.

But it’s here, in this very town today, where his success, adoration, and realism materialises off the pages of the papers.

On Gold Street, squeezed between the windows of abandoned shop fronts, Cash Converters and assorted trinkets of declining high streets, there’s a flutter. Tyron’s doing a signing at 1pm at Spun Out, a remaining record store, with wristbands on offer for a free launch gig at Northampton’s Garibaldi pub tonight. Cosy and intimate, reviewers would say of the venue. It’s tiny and damp, I can tell you that.

“Did you see his Insta video,” one lad said to another as they sat outside Gregg’s this lunchtime. “Can we get one for Sarah,” a boy asked his mate on the high street just then.

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Fans outside of Northampton's Spun Out record store on Friday. Image: Ben Sullivan

Tyron’s spent the week waltzing through Northampton, gladly, literally, screaming to everyone in earshot about his new album. His pride is infectious and has permeated the town centre today.

Grime, rap, folk, punk. These labels are almost meaningless to Tyron, just as they are becoming ever meaningless to his generational peers. He’s co-opted writer Alan Moore (video above). He’s heralded Northampton mainstay punks Blood Visions. Just this week my Facebook feed was full of photos of friends who’d been drafted in to star, orange-clad, in a music video alongside Slowthai and Skepta; embargo now lifted, Northampton faces proud to reveal their roles. The video has had more than 300,000 views in just one day.

See, Northampton isn’t his muse. He is Northampton. There’s no artistic separation here from the performer and the subject. Northampton is the performer and the performance.

‘Nothing Great About Britain’ surely represents a new kind of localised music success that transcends both physicality and social media, carried on the shoulders of Northamptonians. While ten years ago, Gallows’ ‘Grey Britain’ penned a top-down prophecy for a faultering nation, in 2019, Slowthai builds his activism from the hyperlocal.

There is something great about Northampton. It’s the people. And Slowthai’s got them on board.

“Today, a Northampton artist that HASN’T tried to disguise his roots, but has worn them as a badge of honour, has released a really important album,” Katie Malco, a musician who grew up in the town, said today. “What’s more, it inspired me, for the first time in my life, to shout about Northampton – a town that frankly deserves a lot more than the hand it has been dealt.”

Ben Sullivan is the digital editor of The Big Issue and lives in Northampton.