When 18 year old Mark Watson met the American jazz musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron after a gig in Liverpool in 1984 little did he realise that the star was going to play such an important role in his life.
Mark had just been released from 9 years in the care system and could barely read or write.
Nevertheless he WAS streetwise and blagged his way into the backstage area of the Royal Court theatre in the hope of shaking Gil’s hand and praising him for his performance.
Something about Mark’s character affected Gil and he invited him to become a roadie with the band and over the years their relationship blossomed and Gil became his friend and mentor.
Fast forward to 2022 and Malik al Nasir ( Mark changed his name when converting to Islam 30 years ago) is doing a PhD at Cambridge University and has just released a book – Letters to Gil – describing the impact Gil had on his life and telling HIS story about how the musician saved him where the care system in the UK had failed.
Malik is this month’s guest in the Misadventures in Music podcast with Ian Prowse and Mick Ord – both huge Gil fans.
It’s a genuinely astounding story about generosity of spirit and the power of music.
- “Cane” from the album “Secrets” based on a novel called “Cane” by Gene Toomer about post slavery segregation in the rural south where he grew up. It aligns with my fathers experience in the cane fields of Demerara in Guyana. The song is adapted from the characters in the book and poems about them. “Karintha” and “Becky”.
- “Washington DC” from the album “Moving Target” This was the song that first introduced me to Gils work and caused me to go to that fateful meeting at the Royal Court Theatre in 1984 which forever altered the course of my life.
- “On from a broken home” from the last album “I’m New Here”. I was with Gil when he wrote this poem in 1988 whilst we were on tour in the US with Ritchi Havens. I’d been telling Gil about my issues and he said “you’re not the only one with issues” and proceeded to read me what he’d just written. That was 88 but it didn’t get released until 2010.
- “Immigrants – Free at Last” by Malik & The O.G’s (Song features Gils drummer Rod Youngs & Gils percussionist Larry McDonald). It was my response to the xenophobia that we faced growing up by people always telling us to “go back to where you came from”. After working with Gil I attained the knowledge to answer that trope.
About the book
Last year marked the 10th anniversary since Gil’s passing and in October he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In Honour to his legacy, Malik Al Nasir releases Letters to Gil, a frank and moving memoir, which tells the story of Malik’s empowerment and awakening while mentored by Gil; from his introduction to black history, to the development of his voice through poetry and music.