Eleven thirty-one in the morning, and a Filano scooter roars through the streets of Tambon Kamala in western Phuket. On it, Goldie: drum’n’bassed, paint-spattered, metal-head, Bjork-dating, reality TV-starring, gold-toothed Bond-villained musician, street artist, MBE.
An extraordinary introduction, but this is no ordinary 52-year-old. I mean, the man’s got a mouthful of metal worth a reputed HK$1 million. And his gold teeth – and Goldie, artist, musician, whatever – are showing me around Phuket for the day.
The 52-year-old shapeshifter isn’t very well known in Asia yet (yet – although he did play a sell-out gig at Mavericks in Hong Kong, on Lantau Island’s Pui O Beach, this spring). You might recognise him as the appropriately named Mr Bullion in the Bond film The World Is Not Enough.
Over the past 30 years, he’s been prefaced as a graffiti artist (‘Urban art – graff’s a dirty word,’ he says mincingly), drum’n’bass pioneer, jungle kingpin, ‘Gold Teeth’ (‘They call me Fan Tong [in Thailand]. Fan Tong!’).
Eight years ago, he traded the streets of London for the beaches of Phuket (‘Coming to Thailand was about finding myself, about reinventing myself’). He now spends most of the year in a white, wooden-floored, Nordic-inspired three-storey house in the mountains of Kamala. The place is very Goldie: bright prints are hung around monochrome portraits of himself and his gorgeous Japanese-Canadian wife Mika; the oversized fridge is daubed with family snaps, his youngest daughter Koko’s scrawl and notes; scary sculptures of gurning dragons sit beside a giant concave TV. A small, glitzy pool and lounger outside merge with mundane homey stuff: bottles of shampoo in the outdoor shower, tumblers and a drying rack with clothes crackling in the sun.
It was Phuket that birthed his new album, The Journey Man, out this month. It’s a tour de force that sounds hopeful, dancey and emotional all at the same time. It sounds miles apart from his first studio album, 1995’s Timeless. More than 6,000 miles different, even.
A quarter of a century later, the mix of breakbeat, jungle and drum’n’bass of that first album still sounds so inimitably British, frozen in those 1990s days of experimental music in London. It was the early 2000s by the time I was bouncing around cave-like clubs on Coldharbour Lane in south London’s Brixton neighbourhood as a teenager. Even now, listening to Inner City Life makes me feel 19 again.
On the other hand, The Journey Man is the kind of record you want to listen to with an iced Singha beer in your hand at a beach bar. The first single, I Adore You, might have been played non-stop in the UK on BBC’s Radio 1 – but it’s as at home in Kamala as Timeless was inside the M25 motorway.
‘Timeless was a coming-of-age album,’ Goldie says, drumming his yellow fingernails into his spotched wooden dining table. ‘But this album, The Journey Man, is about new horizons, mountains. It has some really cutting-edge drum’n’bass on there, but it’s also almost international.’
It’s 12:25pm. We’re in Goldie’s basement music studio. Two rectangular speakers boom out tracks from his album. Platinum discs hang on the walls (remember when albums went platinum?). Goldie sits in his bouncy chair, playing the air like an instrument: heavy jabs on the piano, feathery licks at a guitar string, closing his eyes and curling his fingers when the voice of British singer Natalie Duncan on Mountains nudges up an octave. I’m listening politely from the doorframe. In a professional-interviewer-listening-to-music way, it’s sort of erotic.
Goldie is a man who can’t sit still for more than a few minutes, which is why we’re outside flicking through his canvasses in his studio (1:15pm). It smells strongly of paint, owing to the dozens – no, hundreds – of bright spray cans stacked artfully to one side. His paint-smeared Stussy t-shirt and fingernails suddenly look bohemian and edgy.
‘I couldn’t do what I do now without going through graffiti,’ he says. ‘I‘ve been a graffiti writer for ages, but that’s a dirty word. Now it’s called spray can art. It makes me laugh. We were being chased 35 years ago and imprisoned for this stuff, and now…’
The ‘we’ being his crew of people with names like BG, Inky and Tracks. They’re doing a takeover of two train carriages in Shoreditch, London, next month. He whirls on. ‘I’m doing a Thai ladyboy show in New York with images that we’ve shot here of ladyboys, who are dressed up in punk gear.’ The next line is NSFW.
Now he’s lying on his belly clutching a yellow can as it puffs paint onto a blocky canvas. I’ve got no idea what it is. Goldie’s art can be anything from Thai-style goddesses to impressionistic pieces that look more Cy Twombly than Shepard Fairey.
We’re hungry. It’s 1:45pm, lunchtime, and we’re off to his favourite joint in Phuket: Nan Lanna, a northern Thai roadside shack in the middle of the island. It’s Goldie’s fourth visit that week. He orders a ‘fancy Vimto’ – mulberry cordial and soda water – and bowls of khao soi gai, the fried noodle speciality from Chiang Mai, before dousing it in lime juice. Lanna sausage, jungle curry and kaeng hang le, northern stewed pork soon appear: ‘It’s probably the best thing I’ve ever tasted. It’s soul food.’ Quite.
It’s 3:10pm, and we’re back at Goldie’s party palace. Phuket is nothing like Hong Kong, I say. Yeah, Goldie agrees. But you’ve got a Marks & Spencer! But we’ve got a Makro – like an Asian Costco. ‘And there you can buy tons of water, loads of cheese, toilet paper, all the sexy stuff.
‘There’s such a realism living here. You’re kind of stacked in Hong Kong. It’s a very Batman Gotham sense. And you can get super ultra rich. But in Phuket it’s more linear and spaced out.
‘I see people in the city – they’re miserable in London. They’ve got a really beautiful car, but they’re miserable. And you wave to them in the window and they lock the doors. I think that’s why we live here.’
It’s 3:20pm. Nap time. Goldie’s digesting. He’s going to a yoga class this afternoon, which should involve him sitting still for at least five minutes. He heads downstairs to sleep. A few minutes later, Horizons from the new album floats up the stairs and he bounds back up.
By 4pm he’s back on the Filano and whizzing high above Kamala Beach, to a studio run by a sinewy, suntanned Australian. Goldie bounds in, dressed in his Yogangster sweatshirt (naturally), throwing a call backwards to meet him at Bob’s Bar on Kamala Beach in a couple of hours.
The sun starts to dip around 6pm. I’m on my second Singha beer when Goldie rocks up, backgammon board in hand. He plays regularly with his daughter’s school teacher. But first – we’re doing yoga. (Didn’t you know Goldie’s into yoga now?)
‘I mean thank God I drank sake last week because I did 10 days of yoga, which was killing me.’ I’ve never done yoga, I say. Which kind? ‘Hot yoga and vinyasa. I’ve just started doing vinyasa, which is killing me. People think Bikram is hard work, and I’m over it; I’ve been doing it for seven years, five times a week and no problem.’
And so our day ends, as the sun drops into the dove-grey Andaman Sea, doing the triangle pose. ‘Really solid,’ praises Goldie. Excellent. We move into the downward dog. ‘Move your feet inwards. Keep your legs straight.’ I do, although I think something snaps. ‘Needs work.’ Yeah, yeah.
We leave Goldie studiously playing backgammon with the lilt of reggae tunes floating in the background. I’ve got some more adjectives to add to the list: downward-dogging, sake-drinking, khao soi-snarfing, Phuket-living graff artist, bohemian, urban creative and the most consuming man I’ve ever met.
Gold standard sleeps
Kata Rocks, Kata
Kata Rocks is the Phuket retox venue of choice: giant suites host dinners and parties, live DJs spin tunes through the sunset, and it’s just hosted its first superyacht ‘rendezvous’. The hotel’s decor is boiled white, wear-sunglasses-inside: which just serves to better reflect the blue, blue, blue skies and topaz pools of the Sky Villas. Detox in the space-age spa if the happy hour cocktails overlooking (probably) the island’s best sunset ruined you the night before.
Sri Panwa, Cape Panwa
Southern Phuket’s Cape Panwa is one of least developed bits of the island, and Sri Panwa, built high up in the jungle from the coast, is as calm and collected a Phuket resort as you’ll find. Penthouse suites in the new Habita block come with infinity pools, gauzy soft furnishings and licks of local wooden furniture.