Big Issue Vendor

Following the tragic suicide of the Prodigy’s Keith Flint this month, surely nobody could have foreseen that James Blunt of all people would deliver one of the most poignant and widely-shared tributes.

“At the Q Awards years ago,” the You’re Beautiful singer wrote on Twitter, when Noel Gallagher was saying he was leaving Ibiza because I’d moved there, and Damon Albarn refused to be in the same picture as me, and Paul Weller was saying he’d rather eat his own shit than work with me, Keith Flint came over, gave me a hug, and said how thrilled he was for my success. 

“Keith, I only met you once,” Blunt added, “but I shed a tear at the news of your death. In our business, there are no prizes for being kind, but if there was, that Grammy would be yours.” 

Quite apart from being an earnest, decent and warmly revealing thing to say of a man who left the world in terribly sad circumstances, I like the way Blunt’s tweets tell their own story about how appearances can be not only deceiving in the music business – but also highly overrated.

One of the sweetest people I’ve ever worked with

Flint was by many accounts a guy pleasantly at odds with his image as the Firestarter. Pierced, tattooed, spikey-haired, typically resembling a scarecrow in a sex shop, his appearance was of course part of Flint’s ferocious power and iconography as a frontperson, and it enabled him to do precisely the thing that any great rock star should: scare the life out of your mum.

But off-stage people who knew him describe a gentle, softly spoken soul. XL Records boss Richard Russell hailed Flint as “one of the sweetest people I’ve ever worked with”. Brian May remembered how, at a festival once, he was surprised when the serious raver ran up to him excitedly, did the “we’re not worthy” salute thing from Wayne’s World then spent ages explaining how much Queen had changed his life.

video is circulating on social media showing Flint in the disabled area mid-song during a festival set, hugging and posing for selfies with fans while fat bass churns from the speakers. Just two days before his death he had taken part in a park run in Chelmsford, Essexdressed in full Lycra – he got a personal best.  

Even if he clearly struggled with his demons, these all strike me as hallmarks of a man sure enough in his character that he didn’t feel he needed to act the lunatic just because he looked like one.

It made me think about Nick Cave, the black-suited enigmatic poet of doom, about whom I remember there was a wonderful rumour went around several years ago of him being spotted with his twin sons at a pantomime in Brighton, waving a big foam finger and enthusiastically joining in with a chorus of It’s Chico Time. His Red Hand Files one-to-one online correspondence with fans, a response in part to him losing one of his boys in the most awful of circumstances in 2015, have seen Cave unravel his own mystique with wisdom, compassion and good humour.

George Michael’s final years were shrouded in darkness and self-absorption, yet some of the stories that came out after his death were heart-warming – be it donating millions to various charities on the down-low, or calling in to Deal Or No Deal off-air to give £15,000 to a woman who had hoped to win cash to pay for IVF treatment. Worried that he might look like he was doing these things to raise his personal stock, Michael hid his good deeds – that was his selfless attitude to appearances. 

The Prodigy frontman was ahead of the curve

The three august rock stars dissed in Blunt’s tweet I’m sure all had their reasons for body-swerving and doing-down a perceived posh-boy commercial balladeer, to uphold their reputations in an atmosphere of blokeish-ness and sharp elbows. But I’d like to believe that those vainly conformist days are passing for the music industry, and that the Prodigy frontman was ahead of the curve in helping to usher in an age in which differences, contrariness and, yes, kindness are qualities to be more openly celebrated. Be more Flint.

Image: REX/Shutterstock