Bashy: “My dad kept me alive”

Bashy: “My dad kept me alive”
In our latest Daddy Issues column, award winning actor and MC Ashley “Bashy” Thomas talks traditional masculinity, learning survival skills from his Dad and ‘making it’.

Daddy Issues is Huck’s column covering masculinity, fatherhood and more.

Ashley ‘Bashy’ Thomas is telling me the story of how he got his brand new Nokia 6210 back after a snakey barber shop robbery in the early 2000s with the flair and skill of a BRIT school trained, award winning actor. We’ve reached the part where his dad has just walked into the shop, and demanded the patrons explain what happened. “I’m not gonna say what he said afterwards. But bruddah, within twenty five minutes the phone was back in my hand,” he explains, smiling at the memory, eyes full of love and pride. “When I think about these moments I get emotional … that’s protection.”

It's been two full decades since Bashy’s iconic Freeze FM birthday set; then, he was a prodigious teenage MC standing firm alongside the grime scene’s early pioneers. Now, after a ten year hiatus from music, during which he starred in HBO’s The Night Of, Netflix’s Top Boy and Amazon Prime’s Black horror anthology series Them: Covenant, he’s back with a long-awaited sophomore album. Being Poor Is Expensive is a deeply personal coming-of-age story about an adolescence unfolding at the intersection of poverty and racism in North West London. Throughout its eleven songs Bashy honours the father who guided him safely through that challenging, dangerous time.

Huck: What’s your earliest memory of your dad?

Bashy: Car drives. From young, I used to sit on my dad’s lap when he was driving and then … as an adult looking back, maybe I wasn’t actually steering, but I felt like I was driving the car. That’s probably the earliest memory that makes me smile. My dad’s Dominican and he’s from east London, from Plaistow. He would always take me to see my grandma [in east London] and we’d have these drives back to west, just me and him. He’d be like, “d’you wanna drive?” I’d be like, “yeah, course!” And I’d sit on his lap and then boom, he’d give me the steering wheel. He had a Ford first, then a BMW later on. That’s what made me want to drive from early! I started driving when I was seventeen. Bruv, as soon as I could, I was in a car. That’s how I was getting everywhere, going to east London to MC.

Huck: How important was your dad in shaping your early ideas around masculinity?

Bashy: He was quite instrumental. He was someone who was always in shape. My dad used to do press ups and I’d go and sit on his back while he did them. He had his weights in the house. He was always working out. Even now, he’s in his sixties and he’s not a slouch. And he worked on a building site. That’s a really physically demanding job. He was an electrician but during that era they’d know how to do a little bit of this and a little bit of that, they’re learning everything by osmosis. He was someone who worked hard, and who worked out. For his size, he was mad strong! My dad was like a superhero. I felt safe around my dad. I felt like, “yeah, nothing ain’t happening to me” … Actually that makes me quite emotional, quite upset. Because one of my friends growing up, his dad was taken away from him, his life was taken. And I’m thinking about this superhero guy, my dad [eyes well up, exhales] .. What if that had happened to him? That thought just hit me now. My dad was an actual protector. I saw it like, “nothing can happen to us, no-one can come in this house and hurt us.”

Huck: On ‘Sweet Boys Turned Sour’ you describe the influence of the “zones” outside your front door. Was there a point where you felt a clash between your dad’s teachings and what you were experiencing on the streets?

Bashy: A lot of the lessons he taught me worked for the roads. They worked to keep me safe and actually got me out of situations. My dad’s from east London and I do think east London has street smarts like nowhere else. I think the culture of it, the history, it just has it. My dad was born in 1960 and grew up with those fundamentals. Like, I don’t drink alcohol. And that’s because my dad always said, “listen, always be aware, don’t get to the point where you don’t know what’s going on.” So I just never drank, because I always wanted to stay on point, I never wanted to get to the point where I felt vulnerable or unsafe. Another one of my dad’s lessons: “if someone at a party says, “yo, come outside,” stay inside and call me or your cousins, because you don’t know what’s waiting for you out there.” Someone with an ego might rush outside and get pitched over! I had moments like that, where man would say, “yo, come outside!” And I’d be like, “nah”, and I’d find another way out of that party. Little things like that kept me safe, bruv. At the time you think, “man, dad’s just moaning, giving me these fucking lessons. Whatever man!” But they were gems.

“In acting, I come across loads of different people from different walks of life…And when we’re having conversations about how we grew up, it’s unfathomable to some people that these things happen. These are things we consider so normal, because we’re desensitised to them”

Bashy

Huck: One of the things Being Poor Is Expensive does so brilliantly is paint the threat of violence into places that many people would typically associate with youthful joy: fun fairs; takeaway shops; house parties. What effect did that have on how you presented your masculinity?

Bashy: The screwface thing, that was a real thing. I felt like you had to keep your face a certain way and not be too smiley because then people would think you’re soft. I tried to keep my face neutral, because if you screwed your face too hard it could actually attract trouble. Bruv, I even changed my walk for a while, like chest out, head up, confident. If I walked past a group of bruddahs, I tried not to hunch my shoulders or keep my head down because then they’d think, “nah, you’re shook.” You’re a target then. They’re gonna come and approach you. So I used to walk confidently to make people second guess, like, “why’s he moving like that? Who’s he with?” That was a catch twenty two, because what it also did was make some people think, “he thinks he’s bad. Watch when I catch him again.” But that was the armour I put on because I thought it would protect me.

Huck: Even now, I catch myself still doing those things. Sometimes when I go out, there’s a tension I feel that I know relates to my experiences as a teenager. It’s not because of now.

Bashy: Because we were dealing with mad environments. In acting, I come across loads of different people from different walks of life. I’m coming across some middle class people and some who are almost aristocratic. And when we’re having conversations about how we grew up, it’s unfathomable to some people that these things happen. These are things we consider so normal, because we’re desensitised to them. People who didn’t grow up in that environment are like, “what are you even talking about?!” And my ting [experience] is not even mad like that. It was mad, because I was growing up in the ends and seeing certain things, but some people’s lives are mad, the things they’re experiencing. Man has that post traumatic stress, circling the block before you park up, checking Google images and Google maps to figure out two minute walks from here to there, little things like that. Why am I even doing all that? Some people don’t even care. They can just go and live their lives. But it never leaves you man, I say it on the album: “Vigilance required ‘til the day I expire.” I don’t even wanna feel like that. I can’t shake it though.

Huck: Feeling lucky to have survived into adulthood is part of that normalisation of violence, I think. How important was your dad in relation to that?

Bashy: The lessons that my dad has given me, and my dad being around, is one of the reasons I’m still alive now. I didn’t realise that at the time. Some of that is from the survival tips he’d taught me. And also it was just his physical presence, him being around. Because of that, I didn’t want to get in trouble with the police, I tried to not do the things that would lead to that, I wasn’t on the roads selling drugs. I didn’t go jail. I didn’t get killed at that time, when a lot of things were happening. Too many things. And I was doing music, and some of it [the violence] derived from music. I was more exposed than the average teenager, because I’m the guy on the stage. Now everyone knows my face. On top of that, I’ve got this false bravado that I’m presenting. So you’ve got people who want to test that. You’ve got people who might be envious of the attention you’re getting. People were on to me when I was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, into my early twenties, with that toxic masculinity of wanting to test me to see what would happen. But yeah, my dad kept me alive, man.

“My dad kept me alive, man”

Bashy

Huck: Was your dad supportive of your artistic pursuits?

Bashy: Kind of. My mum was always the caring, soft believer. Like, “you can do anything, you’re gonna be amazing.” She helped me fill out my BRIT school application form, took me to the theatre, to my acting classes. My mum used to drop me to pirate radio sometimes, bruv! Or drop me to a booking, sit outside in the car and read a book while I did my set, and then take me home. My dad was more like, “you’re gonna go and do Taekwondo lessons, you’re gonna learn how to change a tyre, I dunno about this acting stuff that you’re doing.” He used to say, “what are you gonna be? Another broke artist?” It’s only now … maybe since 2021 that he actually believes I’m successful.

Huck: Now he’s seen you on Netflix and Amazon Prime?

Bashy: I don’t even think that was enough. Yes, he’s proud of that stuff. It was more when he saw me achieve certain life goals, like bricks and mortar. The stuff that he values. Like, “ok, it has worked.” But in saying that, he’s never forced me down any road. He just worked hard, gave me money, put a roof over my head and let me do my thing. Looking at it now, he was just like, “whatever you wanna do, do it. But just be good, init.”

Huck: He was providing the necessities that allowed you to do that.

Bashy: Yeah. My dad is old school. I say it on the album: “My dad’s an old school tough guy. I rarely see the man cry. But when his mum died, he reverted to being a young child. In that moment I saw I, knowing that one day will be me. The cycle of life.” There were loads of moments in life where I thought me and my dad are nothing alike, but in that moment I realised we’re super alike. I was like, “fucking hell, even though you’re this tough guy, you have these emotions too.” I feel like society shuns these kinds of old school men with these old school values. And at any other time, I feel like our dads’ warrior spirit would be celebrated. When I bought my house, my dad was like,”right, we’re going out.” This is mad … he told me to buy a toolbox, so I did. He was like, “come to my house.” I came to his house, and he had all these tools that he’d been buying me for me, collecting and saving for me, for years. Like … ahh, no [eyes well up, pauses] … for years. Screwdrivers, hammers, everything. He was like, “when you’ve got your house, you don’t wanna be calling someone to fix things.” Now, anytime something goes wrong in my house, I’ve got whatever I need to sort it out. My dad had been buying tools, for me, for years.

Huck: These men are often framed as problematic, right? And it’s way more nuanced than that. They’re not.

Bashy: Yeah, in this technological age, they’re pushed aside. These men are to be held up. My dad’s a fucking solid man. He’s got his own problems because he grew from a different time. He’s got a different mentality. But these men with these old school values are to be respected. My dad protected me. My dad kept me alive. These men are of value. They are to be remembered and held up high as an important part of society. I love my dad.

Being Poor Is Expensive is out on 11 July 2024. 

Read more of our Daddy Issues column here


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