Page last updated at 08:09 GMT, Wednesday, 20 January 2010

So Solid: 'The UK needs us back'

So Solid
So Solid - back for a new decade. (L-R) Romeo, Lisa Maffia and Megaman

By Mark Savage
BBC News entertainment reporter

The last time the BBC News website encountered the So Solid Crew in 2001 , they were backstage at Top Of The Pops, relaxed, confident and at the top of their game.

The collective had just scored a platinum album, a number one single and two Mobo awards.

The South Londoners had, in their own opinion, "proved themselves" to an industry that was "showing us no love".

What happened next is well-documented.

Asher D was sent to prison after being caught with a loaded gun; one crew member ended up in court for breaking a fan's jaw; another, Carl Morgan, was jailed for murder; and the band's lynchpin, Megaman, spent 18 months fighting accusations that he had encouraged and supported Morgan's actions.

Garage got a bad stigma about it because all of the people that were following it were nothing but trouble
Lisa Maffia

"A few of the members did get caught up on the wrong side of the law, and So Solid was tarnished for it," Megaman admits now.

"But the thing that makes artists great worldwide is when you can go through things like that and come out and still have a smile on your face."


Now that the dust has settled, the 30-year-old has reconvened the old team for a second shot at stardom.

They are, he acknowledges, older and wiser - but their hunger for success is undiminished.

"I'm anxious to come close to where we did the last time around," he says. "It's time to get back to business and help the UK out musically."

Megaman's conversation is full of this bluster and braggadocio.

He boasts of selling a million copies of debut album They Don't Know, although the BPI says the figure is closer to 300,000.

He claims (not without justification) that he paved the way for UK urban acts like Tinchy Stryder and N-Dubz.

Megaman says all of the old crew have agreed to work on the new record

And he directly contradicts himself - telling me in one rambling sentence that "all 35 of us used to go into the studio together" but "it was never 35 people all in the studio conversating [sic] on one track".

Other proclamations aim for philosophical, but end up garbled.

Attempting to describe the new So Solid album, he says: "Our frame of mind of the younger generation of the music industry is totally our own now. We've got our own way of speaking and everything, so it's just going to transcend into everything that we do this year."


But it is hard to dislike the man born Dwayne Vincent. He is honest about his shortcomings, and speaks frankly about the problems his band has faced.

In the opening lines of So Solid's new single, he even gives a shout-out to George Carter-Stephenson, the lawyer who won his acquittal in 2006.

Since You Went Away is a conscious step back from the tough minimalism of the group's breakthrough hits Oh No and 21 Seconds.

Rooted in R&B, its chorus is based on the Elkie Brooks hit Sunshine After The Rain - an appropriate lyrical metaphor for the band's chequered history.

"Doing the garage thing was alright when it was hot and on fire," explains Lisa Maffia, the band's sweet-natured, glamorous frontwoman.

So Solid Crew in 2001
The band as they were in 2001

"But it got a bad stigma about it because all of the people that were following it were nothing but trouble.

"We've always had the influence of R&B, so it's nice to put the music we listen to at home into the music we make."

Megaman is more strident: "We don't live in the ghetto any more. If I brought out an album today and was to speak on those subjects, would you call that progression?

"Regardless of how much our fans want to hear garage again, if you want to hear that, go and play the old album."

It is not just the music that has progressed since 2001.

The band (no longer a "crew", because of the negative gangland connotations) have left the Battersea council estate they grew up on.

Many of them have children, and several have their own businesses.

"We used to see each other 24/7," says Maffia. "Sometimes we'd even kip at each other's houses if we had to be ready for early morning photo shoots.

"Now everyone's separated and living miles away."


With age comes maturity, and Maffia says the band are better equipped to handle press scrutiny in 2010.

"We were really naive and really young first time around," she confesses.

"We was only 19 and 20. That's really young to be given so much opportunity and to make grown-up decisions about money, how to handle situations."

Lisa Maffia
Lisa Maffia scored several solo hits, and won ITV2 reality show Celeb Air

In the past, she says, the group were advised not to speak to the press about incidents like the shooting that took place outside MC Romeo's birthday party at the London Astoria.

"If we'd been allowed to put over our side of the story, we would have had more longevity," she says.

Megaman agrees: "At that time, if we saw Take That get in trouble, they'd be on a panel in front of the BBC News and they'd address it. We were told just to speak through our music.

"For me, that was bad advice - which I know today. If I feel I'm in the wrong, I'll apologise."

The events at the Astoria led to an unofficial ban on So Solid playing gigs in many UK venues.

That is no longer the case, says Megaman, and the band hopes to capitalise on their high stock with DJs by touring the new material in clubs around the country.

But if it all goes wrong, at least one member has a fallback plan.

"Many years ago, I got offered to go down to Strictly Come Dancing for an audition," reveals Maffia, who was trained in ballroom, tap and Latin as a child, "and I turned it down like an idiot!"

"And now I'm absolutely gutted, because watching Alesha doing so well, I just keep thinking to myself, 'I could so do that'.

"But do you know what? I actually hope I can turn it down again."

Since You've Been Gone is out now on Mega & Co. An album is due later in the year.

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