Rapper Dylan Cartlidge on life after BBC documentary ‘The Mighty Redcar’

He warmed your cockles on the uplifting documentary about the north Yorkshire town – and now the rapper/singer has unveiled his groovetastic new single 'Wishing Well'

Dylan Cartlidge started to write raps at the age of 13 (“I was hell-bent on trying to achieve something with it”), put it to music at age of 18 and, last year, when he was 22, took part in the BBC documentary ‘The Mighty Redcar’. An uplifting look at the north Yorkshire town, portrayed as having few opportunities for young people, the show explores the lives of residents attempting to broaden their horizons. Among them was Dylan, who was working in Wetherspoons while pursuing his music career, his signature sound a ’70s-influenced mix of funk, indie and hip-hop.

In the middle of filming, he signed a deal with Universal Publishing, and since then has been heralded as a rising talent who’s worked with Jamie T and, back in May, performed at Brighton’s buzzy The Great Escape festival (at the time, NME wrote that he “blends pysch-rock influences with a silky smooth flow”). Now that the documentary has aired on BBC Two, he’s in the peculiar position of being a household star – without having released an album. He’s working on that, and in the meantime has unveiled a new single, the groovestastic ‘Wishing Well’.

On Friday, he also announced his upcoming UK headline tour, which follows a stint supporting indie hero Darwin Deez. Viewers of ‘The Mighty’ warmed to Dylan for his affable demeanour, which belies what seemed a tricky start in life, given that he lives with a foster family in Redcar while his brother stayed back in their native Stoke on Trent (Dylan moved to north Yorkshire at 16 and claims the town “saved” him). NME called Dylan and found him to be precisely as he seemed on screen: warm, funny, chatty – and thrilled at the response to the show.

Wishing Well

Wishing Well, a song by Dylan Cartlidge on Spotify

Tell us about your new single, ‘Wishing Well’

“‘Wishing Well’ is a song where, if you just want to listen to it and groove out, you can – I think it’s a groovy track – but also it has themes of self-discovery, admitting doubt, but not letting too many outside influences crowd your judgement.”

You worked with Jamie T on your track ‘Up & Upside Down’, which came out earlier this year…

“That was so cool, man. We both use the same producer, we have a mutual friend called James Dring who has done four out of the last five Jamie albums. He also worked on ‘Demon Days’ by Gorillaz. We’d been working together and Jamie caught wind of the song we’d been making, came into the studio to hear the music we’d been making and, you know, we went from there.”

Can you break down your influences for us?

“I’m a massive fan of Kid Cudi fan; he’s my idol. I’m also a massive fan of a Belgian musician called Stromae, as well as Jack White, The White Stripes and The Black Keys.”

What do you love about Kid Cudi?

“He’s literally my idol. Cudi’s music helped me so much, and not just musically; it pretty much saved my life. It showed me the profound effect that music can have – what it can do for people and people’s lives. That’s something that I’m trying to give back in some way through my music. There were times where Kid Cudi’s music was my only friend. It was my consoler and my guide; he shows you blueprints in how not to be self-destructive.

“It was just good to hear somebody relatable, somebody who wasn’t just rapping about having all the money in the world – something a little bit more down-to-earth and being true to their soul. It was life-changing for me, being a child who didn’t understand a lot of those issues [such a mental health] and only found a lot of it in music.”

Was it really just a coincidence that you signed with Universal as ‘The Mighty Redcar’ was being filmed?

“It was totally crazy, man. I’m a massive Louis Theroux fan – you know the episode When Louis Met…The Hamiltons? So serendipitously, while they were filming the documentary, there was a scandal that came out [about the Hamiltons]. It just happened to happen while Louis was filming them. And that totally changed the complexion of the documentary and it was so surreal and weird that that happened as they were filming. It was a similar thing to that, really.

“The BBC just happened to be looking to make a documentary on the town, and they were looking for young people to feature in it. Their first port of call was my mum, because she works for the youth services in the council. My mum mentioned me and what was going on with the music – they really enjoyed that. It was really crazy, because they literally got their as I was working at Wetherspoons for maybe two months before getting a publishing deal. Since the documentary, the record deal’s happened and I’ve been to New York to record at Electric Lady Studios. It’s so crazy.”

What’s Redcar like for upcoming musicians?

“Because there isn’t a scene, people have to get way more creative. In some ways, I think it’s easier to get given chances to do things because there’s no competition. In fact, there’s no position for those things to happen.

“But there are creative people, people that have been in bands years ago in Teesside and Redcar and Middlesbrough that have been there, done that, done the whole thing and just have such a sense of pride and love for where they come from. They’ve been working for 15, 16 years, trying to create those opportunities for new bands coming through by putting nights on and stuff.

“So, it’s sparse – there isn’t much happening – but people are so invested that they’re the lifeblood of the music scene.”

‘The Mighty Redcar’ is sort the anti-‘Benefits Street’. Is that what you expected it to be?

“It’s been a good thing for the area, it shed some light; Redcar came across in a good way. From a personal standpoint, I don’t know if it was exactly what I thought it was gonna be. When it came to my story, it focused in on certain things for dramatic purposes, to use them as a tool for the narrative. Which was fine…”

Which aspects did it exaggerate, from your point of view?

“With my story and where I come from, it’s very easy to see it from more of a sympathetic light. There was nothing wrong with the way my relationship with my family was portrayed – I just feel that it was a very keyhole view of what it is that I’m trying to do with my background and music. My brother and I are not the first people – and we will no be the last people – that bad things happen to. With my music and things, I wanna show that regardless of anything, people can do these things, even if bad things happen, but it isn’t specific to people that have had similar experiences.”

You’ve been on the road with Darwin Deez and have your own headline tour coming up…

“I’ve just finished touring with Darwin Deez, which has been a dream come true. We’ve been playing venues that every musician dreams of. When you get in that pub, when you play you first gig, you’re like, ‘One day we’re gonna get those kinds of gigs.’ It’s those kinds of gigs, every night, guaranteed. It’s really humbling. It’s a real experience. We’re gonna be going around the country again with Bad Sounds in a couple of weeks’ time. And then a headline tour. So everything’s super surreal at the moment and crazy – but good crazy, good surreal, I think.”

On balance, do you think ‘The Mighty Redcar’ has been positive or negative for you career? 

“Whenever anybody goes to do a documentary or a TV show, there’s always a fear of how things will be portrayed. But all those fears were dismissed the second that the documentary came out because – regardless of what story it told and in what way – what people got from it was exactly what I would have loved for people to get from it in an ideal world.”

“Hundreds of people reached out. There were people saying, ‘I’ve been going through this’ or, ‘I’ve been inspired to put my music out’. I’ve had people offering to drive from Stoke to Redcar to bring my brother up to see me and give up their flat for me to stay in on tour. It’s just been absolutely crazy.”

So it’s helped you achieve what you set out to achieve in the first place?

“The maddest thing is that when I was 13 and made that decision to maybe get out there and reach some ears, I could never comprehend what that would look like in reality. To have seen these people coming out and showing support, and being touched by it, is just incredible. That’s definitely in large part to the documentary.”

Dylan  Cartlidge’s headline tour takes him to:

November 27: Headrow House, Leeds

November 28: The Cookie, Leicester

November 29: Think Tank Underground, Newcastle

November 30: The Independent, Sunderland

December 4: Seabright Arms, London

December 5: Louisianna, Bristol

December 6: The Venue, Derby

December 7: Eagle Inn, Manchester

December 8: Sugarmill, Stoke