Drugs, violence, hip-hop... knitting
                           Singer Tricky has a reputation for being difficult.
                           But, as James Delingpole discovered, he has a
                           homely side as well
                                  ADRIAN "Tricky" Thaws is almost as well known for
                                  his violent, explosive temper and intolerance of
                                  criticism as he is for his edgy, amorphous, innovative
                                  music. This, after all, is the man who once
                                  threatened to put a journalist in the boot of his car
                                  and shoot him; who told another, "You wouldn't say
                                  that if I stuck two pencils in your eyes"; whose uncle
                                  stabbed someone 15 times and removed his lung;
                                  who told a Channel 4 documentary: "Schizophrenia
                                  runs in the family."

                                  So when Tricky looks me in the eye and says, "If
                                  you're gonna f*ck with me, I'm gonna f*ck with you.
                                  I'll wait 10 years if I have to", I suppose I should be
                                  feeling distinctly nervous. But the strange thing is,
                                  I'm not. In fact I've decided by then that Tricky is
                                  actually one of the most engaging stars I've ever
                                  interviewed: funny, clever, mercurial, natural and
                                  deliciously surprising.

                                  Who would have guessed, for example, that the
                                  king of dark, underground hip-hop was secretly a big
                                  fan of the Spice Girls and REM? Or that the black
                                  ex-criminal (passing counterfeit notes) from one of
                                  the rougher Bristol council estates was hell-bent on
                                  sending his four-year-old daughter to public school?
                                  That he's heavily into knitting, and t'ai chi? Clearly
                                  the Tricky I'm seeing here has little in common with
                                  the snarling beast of popular legend. Perhaps I've
                                  just caught him on a good day.

                                  Or perhaps, as Tricky maintains when we meet in his
                                  hotel suite, it's all down to candidiasis. This is the
                                  yeast-like fungal infection from which he's been
                                  suffering for the last two years. Apparently it has
                                  been giving him symptoms not dissimilar to
                                  schizophrenia - "fatigue, depression, looniness and
                                  spaced-outness," as he describes them. It reached
                                  a nadir while he was making his new album, Angels
                                  With Dirty Faces: "I wasn't thinking of melody at all.
                                  All I could think about was darkness." He would
                                  often fly into violent rages, putting on boxing gloves
                                  so that he could beat up his hapless studio

                                  Until recently, he was convinced he was heading for
                                  a nervous breakdown. But now that the disease has
                                  been diagnosed and cured by a New York doctor, he
                                  has suddenly found himself fitter and happier then
                                  he can remember.

                                  Not that he looks, to my untrained eye, in the pink of
                                  health: his eyes are bloodshot, his heavy features
                                  drawn, and he talks in an extraordinarily croaky
                                  voice which, allied with his heavy Bristol burr, makes
                                  him sound like a cross between Pam Ayres and a
                                  Dalek. But maybe that's partly the effect of the
                                  extra-strength hydroponic skunk reefer he's puffing,
                                  a brain-numbing 14 of which he smokes each day.

                                  I did wonder whether the weed might also be to
                                  blame for his recent albums. Since his acclaimed and
                                  relatively catchy 1995 debut Maxinquaye, they have
                                  grown successively darker, moodier and less
                                  accessible - more stoned, indeed. Tricky, however,
                                  insists that this was his artistic intention. In his New
                                  York home he has many albums' worth of songs just
                                  like the ones on Maxinquaye. But if he released
                                  them, he reckons, it would be the death of his
                                  career. "I can't just be thinking about what people
                                  like. I'm learning. I have to carry on learning."

                                  This might sound like wilful self-delusion. Certainly
                                  quite a few reviewers have suggested that Angels
                                  With Dirty Faces is dreary, uninspired and indicative
                                  of a spent creative force. But, talking to Tricky, you
                                  do rather see his point. He doesn't want to be
                                  doomed, like his Bristol contemporaries Portishead
                                  and Massive Attack, to make more or less the same
                                  record over again. "I feel for them a lot. People put
                                  you into a category and if you don't fight it you're
                                  stuck there for the rest of your life."

                                  The category people tried to impose on Tricky was
                                  "trip-hop", the eerie hybrid of hip-hop, ambient and
                                  cocktail noir which he helped create on Maxinquaye.
                                  "Trip-hop?" he now splutters. "That's never existed
                                  and they say I invented it. Trip-hop is just hip-hop
                                  with a girl singing on top."

                                  Tricky's loathing of such glib labels extends to the
                                  music industry in general. "Remember we used to sit
                                  in the Brits / Never won any awards / That's not
                                  what we used to look towards," he rasps on one of
                                  his new tracks, Money Greedy. Perhaps it's sour
                                  grapes, perhaps it's a dig at the Brit-Award-winning
                                  Finlay Quaye, who infuriated him by claiming -
                                  erroneously - that he was Tricky's uncle, but Tricky
                                  appears genuinely proud of his refusal to take the
                                  easy commercial route.

                                  Still, he is not doing that badly financially. Besides
                                  his album sales (Angels With Dirty Faces has
                                  already sold more advance copies in the US than all
                                  his other records combined), he makes a small
                                  fortune remixing tracks by admirers like Stevie
                                  Wonder and Yoko Ono. "Three hours it took me to
                                  do that [Yoko] mix," he says. "I think she paid me
                                  £40,000. Crazy, isn't it?"

                                  He's also available for hire as a DJ, for £200,000 a
                                  time. That, at least, was the price he demanded
                                  when asked to DJ at a Paris fashion show. The
                                  show's organisers changed their mind, which was
                                  just as well, since Tricky admits he can't mix records
                                  to save his life. "People think that because I'm from
                                  a hip-hop thing I must be a DJ. But they're stupid. If
                                  I DJ you'll hear rock music, you'll hear Elvis Costello
                                  and all kinds of stuff. You won't just be hearing
                                  trendy music."

                                  Unlike the majority of his image-obsessed
                                  contemporaries, Tricky genuinely appears not to give
                                  a damn about notions of cool or uncool. He hates
                                  the "pretentious" All Saints, for example, and loves
                                  the Spice Girls: "Their image is a lot more honest
                                  than Blur or Oasis, say. I like the way you can hear
                                  all their accents through their voices still." And he
                                  adores REM's slushy crowd-pleaser Everybody
                                  Hurts. "People think that because I try to push the
                                  boundaries, I don't take any notice of that stuff. But
                                  a good songwriter will get more respect from me
                                  than any 'attitude'."

                                  Only when I happen to mention the car-boot death
                                  threat does the conversation take a mildly worrying
                                  turn. Tricky rants to the effect that it wasn't a real
                                  threat - "just words, words" - because it was only
                                  expressed in the lyrics of a song. And anyway, Tricky
                                  thinks, the guy deserved it for having dared suggest
                                  he wasn't a good father to Maisey, his daughter by
                                  sometime muse and collaborator, Martina

                                  So let's make it clear once and for all that Tricky is a
                                  very good father. "My daughter will go to the best
                                  private school," he says. "I ain't got no problem with
                                  that. I want her to be well-educated and
                                  well-spoken. When I walk into hotels, even though
                                  I'm famous, I'm still uncomfortable. But when my
                                  daughter does that, it won't be a big deal.""

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