Rapper Chris Fawcett was 16 when a careers adviser told him he would never get a job in music. Today, he’s teaching songwriting to youngsters and has become one of Hexham’s rising stars, with 210,000 views to date on his YouTube channel.
YOU can’t buy a CD of Chris Fawcett’s music and you won’t find him filed under “F” in any shop. And yet his latest release was viewed by 10,000 people in just one week on YouTube. Chris is endearingly modest about his own accomplishments but he is something of a phenomenon in Tynedale – an area, it has to be said, not usually associated with rap.
His channel on YouTube has had 210,000 views to date and that number is rising all the time. The prevailing message throughout his hundreds of songs, is “Be Yourself” – indeed, that’s the title of his latest song.
“Stay true to yourself, be proud of who you are and don’t change for anyone,” said Chris, who accepts that he has a tendency to speak in soundbites. “I just can’t help it,” he laughed. “I come out with lines without even realising it. Friends joke that they must carry a notebook around when they’re with me so they can write down what I say. I think of new lyrics every single day. I carry my phone around with me and type in any new ideas. I’m always thinking of a new song – I never stop.”
Chris started writing poems when he was a boy and by his teenage years was adding music to his lyrics. Today the 24-year-old writes songs about “anything and everything”, inspiring young and old with his positive message and clever harmonies.
He’s also been accepted on a prestigious community music course at The Sage Gateshead, where he’s learning to use his talent to help others. And his work is starting to make waves nationally with an unsigned MOBO award under his belt – one of the most important accolades in the music industry – as well as a number of warm up gigs at the 02 Academy in Newcastle.
Chris started off as a rapper – a style of music, he says, that is often associated with gangsters, fighting and aggression. “But that’s the stereotype,” he said. “And it’s not real. Rap can be positive and uplifting. It can inspire and move people.”
Chris’s hero is American rap artist “2pac”, alias Tupac Amaru Shakur, who sold more than 75 million albums and was an outspoken advocate for the poor. “He was shot when he was 25,” said Chris. “He had a crazy life, but he produced some world class albums. There would be no Eminem without 2pac. A friend bought me his greatest hits and I was bowled over. I had never heard anything like it.”
Other role models include UK rapper Tinie Tempah and British hip hop group N-Dubz. “But my guilty pleasure would be David Bowie’s song Magic Dance from the film Labyrinth. I love that song.”
Chris has travelled the region to find the perfect backdrop to his music videos with some shot on Newcastle’s Quayside and others at his favourite thinking spot – Hexham’s Swallowship woods.
“A lot of people are surprised when they listen to my music and watch my videos,” said Chris. “I don’t think it’s what they expect.”
Chris’s style is hard to define. “It’s a bit of rap and a bit of pop,” he said. “It doesn’t quite fit into any known genre.
“When I was younger my songs were either lovey-dovey or a bit edgy. Now they are much more complex and multi-layered. They are also very honest. A lot of people lie and pretend to be something they’re not in their songs. I have never been like that. My songs are who I am.”
Most of Chris’s songs are for public view on the internet but there’s one that is private. Dear Mother was written for his mother, Viv and it’s for her eyes only. “It’s my message to her,” he said. “And I don’t want everyone to hear it.”
“We need to take the time to get to know each other. Every single young person has something to give. Everyone is worth something.”
Chris’s songs are often driven by real emotion and tough times. “I have lost a few friends over the years. Some are dead and some are in prison and that does affect you. We all have our down times, but that’s life. Writing about how I feel is, I suppose, a way of dealing with what happens.”
It’s hard to believe that Chris was ever told that he didn’t have a hope of a career in music – that he was living in cloud cuckoo land and had to think about getting a real job.
“A careers adviser at school said I didn’t stand a chance because I didn’t play an instrument and I couldn’t read music,” said Chris. “I was really disillusioned. This was my dream. It was the only thing I wanted to do. So I sold my Walkman and bought a one way ticket to London. If I was going to get a chance to make music, my way, I knew I had to get away. I wrote a song about it all later. It was very therapeutic.”
It was a risk, but it paid off. Chris found himself in East London’s grime scene where UK rap was evolving from garage music to make a huge impact on the music world. This was the breeding ground of a number of stars who would go on to make it big, both in the UK and worldwide – not least the UK’s most famous rap artist, Tinie Tempah, who recorded in a studio next door to Chris.
“I felt at home there,” said Chris. “In Hexham, I was the boy with one GCSE in English and it was the one that didn’t count. I was the boy who couldn’t read music or play an instrument. But in East London I found people who were speaking the same language – who were as passionate about music as I was.”
Chris knew he had to come home some time and earn some money. So he came back to Hexham and found a job baking cakes in a factory. But every spare penny was spent on trips back to London. “I was starting to produce songs my way and it felt great,” he said.
A job in a local supermarket followed, but after three years Chris was sacked for refusing to change his hairstyle. “It was shaved with patterns in it,” said Chris. “They said it wasn’t the right image.”
It was another setback for Chris but, characteristically, one that wasn’t going to keep him down. “I decided to learn from what had happened to me and change the things I wanted to change,” he said. “That careers adviser had a point. I did need to learn an instrument. So I taught myself piano and guitar.”
Chris, who clearly has a natural, raw talent is now accomplished in both and that’s no mean feat for someone who is only beginning to read music.
It was this raw talent that so impressed course leaders at Newcastle College who offered him a place on their musical production course on the spot after hearing snippets of what he could do. “They normally keep people waiting and you don’t hear for a while, but they told me straight away,” said Chris. “It was a great confidence boost.”
Now Chris is continuing his studies at The Sage and divides his time between trips to Gateshead and a new youth music project in Hexham. He was the main driver of The Positive Me project which has its own recording studio, decks and drums at the Hexham Youth Initiative on Gilesgate.
As such he’s a role model to young people throughout Tynedale, an inspirational youth worker and songwriter. For Chris it’s simply a case of “giving something back.” He says he wouldn’t be here today without youth worker Keda Norman who always believed in him and gave him a chance when others were shutting doors in his face. “I went to see her and said I wanted to work with kids and music,” said Chris. “She said OK, come in on Thursday. And that was it.”
Chris now runs sessions for 13-19 year-olds every Thursday from 6-9pm and every Sunday from 5-9pm. It was his one-to-one work with a 14-year-old lad which led to the launch of The Positive Me project. “He was coming in with some negative lyrics and I told him to come back with something more positive.”
Chris is proof that you can achieve your dreams, against the odds – a message he’s keen to impart to the young people of Tynedale. So what does he think about people’s perceptions of today’s “yoof culture.” Is he frustrated by misconceptions floating around about the hoody generation?
“I don’t know what to say about that,” says Chris, before coming out with another characteristic soundbite, worthy of using in a song. “People will continue to judge others – that’s the way of the world. But we need to take the time to get to know each other. Every single young person has something to give. Everyone is worth something.”