It starts in a queue. Well, less of a queue, and more of a scrum - bodies left, right, and centre, each one trying to blag a ticket while the increasingly flustered glasses and shirt behind the desk flicks through the labyrinthine guest list, his eyes dotting in a frenzy from name to name.
Despite this, though, the atmosphere is relaxed, jovial. Smiles are exchanged, old friends embrace, and somewhere out of view a sly zoot is billowing up into the rafters of the Roundhouse.
After all, Wiley is something to be celebrated. A modern day pirate, a Jesse James style outlaw-with-honour, he did more than any other single figure to establish the chassis (and the engine, even) of what would be termed grime.
It’s a sign of the times that this figure of continual innovation is able to return to a major label and drop an album of pure grime. It’s an even bigger sign of the times that said album – undiluted, boasting a plethora of stellar guests – soared straight into the Top Ten.
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But there’s still the wait of expectation. As Rinse mainstay Logan Sama comes to the end of his set fans begin to nervously look at the time on their phones, perhaps remembering Wiley’s last-minute Boiler Room cancellation just a fortnight ago.
In the end, Wiley does the most unexpected thing of all: he turns up on time. The huge crowd bulges at the seams, pushing their way to the front while the fans in balcony get up on their feet and stay there.
Live, Wiley bobs and weaves, a lightweight boxer adept at using speed to enhance his own physicality. The sound is crisp, at times brutal, the weight of the low end crunching against the pillars of the Roundhouse.
It’s a set heavy on new album ‘Godfather’, and heavy on guest appearances. Newham Generals share the mic, reminiscent of those illicit pirate sessions when the only way to hear grime was to live in certain London postcodes and point your radio out of the window.
Jme and Skepta are both in effect, with Wiley on joyous form, racing from stage left to stage right, caught up in the moment, caught up in the music. He’s impossible to pin down, a cartoonish character bobbing in the shadows that echoes both dancehall culture and the coyote that prompted his name.
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It’s more than mere promo for his new album, however, with Wiley dipping into the vaults. Big Dada single ‘On A Level’ soars into ‘Gangsters’, the grime don’s dismissal of East London’s ne’er-do-wells.
The crowd erupts as Stormzy makes himself known, the local kid made good returning for his first London performance in 12 months. It’s a sign of Wiley’s astonishing good nature that he even steps to one side, allowing Stormzy to take a second song, performing his ‘Functions On A Low’ echoing cut ‘Shut Up’ to the sheer astonishment of the crowd.
At times it appears to be rambling and chaotic, but suddenly Wiley will ride a beat and the varied fragments will coalesce, making for a curious sense of logic, both impossible to fathom and impossible to argue against.
Thanking his family, Wiley then turns to the crowd and addresses some of his failures, the times when fans have felt he let them down. “I was going through life, yeah… Cut me some slack! I was going through life!”
It’s oddly moving, witnessing a grime icon calling out his own flaws and then dismissing them in the same breath. But then, that’s Wiley: curious, irascible, talented, and flawed. The most dynamic, entertaining, and creative figure in British music. All hail the Godfather.
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'Godfather' is out now.
Photo Credit: Meara Kallista Morse