Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Ashley Walters (Photo by: Sal Idriss)
Ashley Walters (Photo by: Sal Idriss)

Ashley Walters is posing on the 6th floor balcony of his PR company’s office - the same publicity moguls that have counted the Beckhams, Prince and Paul McCartney among their clients over the years.

“Nice to meet you,” Walters greets warmly after the mega-fast shoot. His whole persona is as far removed from his gun-toting image of yesteryear as the Teletubbies are from grime.

“My manner often shocks people,” confesses the performer - only 24 years-old but already with an admirable and lengthy career under his belt. “A lot of people I work with have preconceptions about me - especially in film and TV. It’s like they expect me to roll up on set smoking crack, with a gun in my waist and a never-ending entourage. That’s so not the case and that surprises a lot of people. I work hard and I believe I’m a friendly person who does what they’re told. Well,” he grins, raising his eyebrows, “to a certain extent… Seriously though, my agent gets a lot of phone calls from directors and producers who say I’ve been a pleasure to work with. It’s almost like they’re in shock.”

You can hardly blame Walters’ work colleagues though. His 18-month prison sentence for possession of a firearm, back in 2002, was widely publicised in the press and So Solid - the group that made him a household name of course - was riddled with controversy.

“I’m yet to read an article about me that doesn’t mention gun crime,” says Walters. “Hopefully one day that will change.” That’s doubtful, Asher. Sorry. As with 50 Cent (whom Walters plays in Fiddy’s biopic ‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’) and the story of his crack-dealing past and nine bullet survival, when it comes to gory details, us humans just can’t help but lap them up. South London-bred Ashley Walters (he tends to use his real name for film and Asher D for music) is surely far too intelligent though not to concede that all publicity is good publicity. In all honesty, does Walters think his prison sentence and subsequent mass media coverage has had a positive or negative effect on his career?

“If I’m honest, I don’t think I’d be where I am today, no,” says Walters, somewhat dodging the direct question. “When I first came out of prison though I was depressed and disillusioned. My record label didn’t want to know; there was no support at all.” Following the relatively low key release in 2004 of Asher’s debut solo LP, ‘Street Sibling’, Independienté Records and Asher D parted company.

“When I decided to return with my current album,” says Walters of ‘In Memory Of The Street Fighter’, released late last year, “it was like starting all over again in the music industry; like I’d never released a record before.” This, says Asher, coupled with his sour experience at Independienté, propelled him to release the album through his own record label AD82 Productions, which also doubles up as his film production company.

The record itself has created little commotion outside of underground circles and you have to wonder why Walters bothered at all with its release. After all, the busy father-of-three’s acting career is flying high - with a British Independent Film Award for his excellent role in Bullet Boy and, more recently, acclaim for his character Billy Bond in hit BBC TV series, Hustle under his belt. Surely, with the current state of the music industry, money wasn’t his motivation?

“No way!” responds Asher, virtually falling off his PR company’s meeting room chair. “We spent a fortune on the last video- we had all the proper lighting and post production- the whole lot. There’s no way we’ll recoup that.” So why do it? “Firstly and foremostly, I missed music. I missed telling my story. Secondly, I strongly believe the music industry will find its feet again – once the structure readjusts to downloading and piracy and everything- and when it does, I want to be on the front line.”

Being on the front line is a position Asher D has never shied away from. Within the world of music, this was most famously depicted during his live, on-air battle with Dizzee Rascal in 2003 on Choice FM. The lyrical war was the most-talked about clash in Britain’s black music history and Asher is adamant, to this day, that he was the clear winner. “I won it and that’s that,” he says, his ever-present charm wavering slightly. Have he and Dizzee spoken since? “No, but I’d have no problem with talking to him,” says Asher. And does he think Dizzee would talk to him? “Judging by his attitude at Choice FM, I doubt it, no.” That was a long time ago though… “That’s true. I actually saw him recently - I was driving through Bow with the producer and director of Sugarhouse (Walters’ latest film venture, out this August). I looked up and saw him coming out of a sweet shop. Our eyes locked but neither of us nodded or acknowledged each other.”

While Ashley Walters may claim to have laid the feuds of his So Solid days to rest, there is clearly still a whole heap of street pride flowing through his pumped veins. Further evidence of this appears on his current ‘In Memory Of The Street Fighter’ LP dedicated to the memory of his late father, Tony Walters, who, like his son, had a volatile relationship with the law and spent time inside. Over raw yet tight production from So Solid cohort JD, Para Beats (Carmen Reece) and rising beat-makers Thezbian and Timeless, Asher delivers slick bars with blatant b-boy swagger. The lyrics, however, fluctuate from outright cocky (‘This Is Real!’) to downright sensitive (‘Andrea’), proving Asher D has either grown considerably since the UK garage era, or he’s simply a damn good actor. Something tells us, it’s a healthy dose of both…

Asher D’s single ‘Still Here' featuring Omar is released on July 9 through AD82 Productions.

‘In Memory Of The Street Fighter’ is released in August. The movie 'Sugarhouse' is released on August 24.
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Words Elle J Small

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