Readers, he *has* been bitten on the bum by a terrier
Darren Holtom, a Cheltenham postman who’s been in the game for 15 years, moonlights as an illusrator for hip-hop legends Public Enemy. If you found yourself drooling over the lush, cartoony artwork to their surprise 2017 release Nothing Is Quick in the Desert, you’ve got Darren to thank. We asked him about his multi-talented approach to life and his relantionship with Chuck D and pals, before throwing in a few questions you’ve always wanted to ask a postie.
Hey Darren! How did you come to work with Public Enemy?
It all came about through social media back in 2011. I really enjoy drawing hip-hop icons such as Chuck D, so I did a picture of him back and sent it to DJ Lord through Facebook. To my amazement, he showed it to Chuck D and I received an email from Chuck saying that he and his wife loved it.
What a result!
Yeah, and then the breakthrough came a couple of years down the line when he added me to his group of designers called Mad Urgency. He asks us all to make Public Enemy covers so he can choose his favourite for each project. There are about 12 of us, though I think Chuck’s main ambition is to gather 50 to 60 artists from around the world. As well as the […Desert] album cover, I made the covers for the singles ‘No Sympathy for the Devil’ and ‘Earthizen’, and now I’m working on the cover for the [Public Enemy side project] upcoming Prophets of Rage’s single ‘Radical Eyes’.
Are you a long-term Public Enemy fan?
They became my favourite group when I was 13, way back in 1987. I love all music but I do like my hip-hop, and especially old school hip-hop. I think the first track I heard must have been ‘Public Enemy No. 1’. I’d never heard anything like it before. They just spoke their minds; they really wanted to make a change. It was just so different. It was so fresh. We’d had the Beastie Boys the year before, and Run DMC, but Public Enemy were just on another level.
When the message first came through from Chuck D, how did that feel having been a fan for so long?
It was very hard to take in for a while. I was buzzing, I was on Cloud Nine. He’s so down to earth. He makes time for everyone. There’s a story that, when he was young, he went up to his favourite baseball player to get an autograph off him. But the baseball player refused to give him his autograph. Chuck’s always said that he’s not going to be like him. He always wants to say hello to all of his fans and give us much time as possible.
Have you met Flava Flav too?
Yeah! He’s not as wild as he makes out, though we once had a lock-in together in Bristol. We had to go to this old pub on the outskirts of Bristol because they couldn’t let anyone know that Public Enemy was in there. We had a game of pool until three in the morning. He had his big coat and big chain on with a massive clock. Somebody made a bet with him years ago that he wouldn’t wear a clock on stage and he’s never taken it off.
Darren, I’ve had a whip-round the NME office and asked for questions we’ve always wanted to ask a postman. Are you ready?
Have you ever been chased by a dog?
I have – a couple of times. It’s only a problem if you’re in their territory. As soon as you leave their territory, they leave you alone. But if you’re in their garden, they go absolutely mad. I was once bitten on the bum. It was small terrier, which I think are actually the worst ones. It jumped up and was hanging off as I ran out of the garden and up the road.
Have you ever delivered post to a celebrity?
Only a celebrity’s mum – Jaz Coleman from Killing Joke’s mum Gloria lives downs the road from me. They were playing at Cheltenham Town Hall and she was backstage, so we all went partying for a bit afterwards.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve been confronted with when somebody’s opened the door to you?
I had a naked man once. The door was already open I got there and he was just walking down the hallway with nothing on! He turned round, saw me and grabbed a letter to cover himself up. That was really awkward.
Have you ever met a postman called Pat?
Yeah! He’s gone back to live in his hometown, on a farm in Ireland. Irish Pat, he was called, lovely chap. I spoke to him the other day – he sent some lovely photos of where he’s living. Right near the sea. He loves it. He’s a very true character, very funny, and is dearly missed by all of us.
– See Darren’s work on his website www.darrenholtom.com and look out for the cover art he designed for the upcoming DJ Lord’s upcoming track ‘EagleForce’