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Portrait: Margie Keefe, aka Grime Gran, nan to the grime scene

Margie Keefe, 80, likes a bit of hustle and bustle, which is just as well given she’s the undisputed nan of the grime scene. After watching a generation of East End dreamers grow up to become global superstars, Keefe is finally having her moment in the spotlight. She has taken the internet by storm with her new show – Grime Gran.

The series, in which Keefe chats with grime legends in her Bethnal Green living room, has garnered hundreds of thousands of views and no shortage of fanfair. There’s not many talk shows where the host can throw biscuits at their guests and remind them they knew them when they had fack awl, but that’s par for the course on Grime Gran.

The unfiltered, transparently affectionate back and forth between Keefe and her guests has led to nothing but good vibes. Only family can talk like that with each other. The beauty of Grime Gran is that what viewers are seeing has been happening for years. All that’s changed is someone turned a some cameras on.

Margie Keefe is the grandmother of Roony Keefe, a.k.a Risky Roadz, whose series of films helped launch grime music into the mainstream. Many artists wouldn’t have found an audience without Risky Roadz, and Risky Roadz may never have started filming were it not for his nan, who bought him his first camera.

This was in 2004 during the early days of grime, when kids watched videos on DVDs and discovered new music through pirate radio. Now the genre’s early pioneers are playing to packed stadiums, Risky Roadz’s first camera is exhibited at Somerset House, and Margie Keefe is what she’s always been – nan to the scene.

The Keefe household as an early grime haven. It was a genre forged out of sight, on pirate radio in record stores and bedroom studios. Risky Roadz was at the heart of it, which meant a lot of the scene were regulars at his home.

‘There’d be umpteen pairs of trainers where they used to take their shoes off before they went up to Roony’s bedroom,’ Keefe remembers. ‘If it got too loud we’d bang on the ceiling with a broom and that’d quieten them down for a little while.

‘But none of them, none of them ever did anything in here that they shouldn’t have done. They were all very respectful, all of them, and I can say that with my hand on my heart ‘cos they was. Always.’

The Keefes have lived in the same flat for 47 years. Nan has been Bethnal Green her whole life. We talk on the Grime Gran ‘set’, which is to say, her living room. That’s where the show is filmed, the guest on the sofa and Keefe opposite in a grand black armchair. That’s also the setup when we meet. She wears fluffy slippers and bright purple eyeshadow and is sharp as a tack.

Risky Roadz is with us as too. They’ve done everything together on Grime Gran. It took him years to convince her to do it. ‘She’s a natural,’ he says. ‘It’s something I’ve seen in her a long time. I knew it could be done, that’s why I wanted to do it so much.’

The show’s success has taken his nan by surprise, but not Risky Roadz. He’s always known exactly where to point the camera. ‘I know when something’s gonna work.’

Keefe has hosted Ghetts, D Double E, and Giggs so far on Grime Gran. They all call her nan. They’re all comfortable there (and at times a little uncomfortable) because, for all intents and purposes, they’re family. They’ve been going round the Keefe household for 15 years.

‘No matter where you go I don’t think you can better East End hospitality,’ Keefe says. ‘It’s always been the same here, and all the boys know it. They know it.’ She’s watched a generation of artists grow up and take on the world. Her unconditional support of Risky Roadz, and the grime scene in general, shines through in the goodwill of the guests.

‘They respect us, they’ve been coming here for years and they’ve got to know me and Roony’s mum. We’re mum and nan to them anyway, that’s what they always call us. But they’ve always shown us respect. I think that’s why with me they’re being themselves, ‘cos I’ve seen them worse than that.’ She laughs. ‘I know, and they know I know!’

Keefe can get away with saying things no-one else can say. ‘Sometimes I can take it too far. I think of things they think I’ve forgot.’

But it’s all in good fun. The trust is there. From (Yorkshire) tea and toast to asthma pumps, Margie Keefe and her daughter, Nancy, have been there for a music genre that has been repeatedly stifled. If Grime Gran’s success shows anything, it’s that people never forget who supported them when no-one else would.

‘That’s how you earn their respect. Respect off of anyone is earnt. It’s not given freely on anyone’s part. I was always brought up to think if you respect me, I’ll respect you.’

Risky Roadz agrees. ‘There’s no judgement here. It was like, you’re doing something good and we’re all friends, everyone’s looking after each other.’

Both view grime as an outlet, a way for youth to express themselves and stay off the streets. Keefe used to drop off lunch for Risky Roadz when he worked at Rhythm Division on Roman Road, the leading grime record store, and recognised it for what it was – a community hub.

‘Rhythm Division told a story,’ she says. It was a place for people to come together. ‘Now there’s no youth clubs. There used to be youth clubs everywhere. I think we had three just around this area and there was something going on every night.’

Risky Roadz’s generation didn’t have youth clubs, but it did have grime music, and it had a diverse, resilient family of East Londoners who believed in them.  

Like any nan, Keefe is just glad to see her boys do well. ‘It’s nice for us to know that we knew ‘em right from the beginning and how big they are now,’ Keefe says. ‘Some of them are performing with the best rappers in the world and are every bit as good.’

None is above a cup of tea and a chat, though.

‘They do still pop in. If they’ve got to see Roony for anything they’ll always come in here first and kiss me and his mum hello and have a little chat.’ Tinchy Stryder was round the other and they were talking about his little girl. Ghetts visits to recharge the energy.

Keefe enjoys the flow of people. It’s natural. ‘I come from a big family so I’m used to the hustle and bustle. All these boys in and out never bothered me and Nancy.’ She is the second youngest of eight and all her brothers were singers. She’s used to noise. She likes it.

‘To me it’s not natural being quiet for too long. Give me an hour, two hours at the most, but then I start getting uneasy, because I don’t like it all quiet too long.

‘You can have too much of that.’

The success of Grime Gran has brought even more bustle. BBC interviews, and, of course, recording more shows have kept her busy. She wouldn’t have it any other way. She cites a saying her mother used to say often. ‘What do you want to be quiet for, you’re quiet enough when you’re dead, and when you think about it it’s true.’

With Grime Gran going from strength to strength it’s fair to say Keefe will be making plenty of noise in the coming months. Risky Roadz was asking people to take part when they started the show; now managers are asking if their talent can share a cuppa with the Grime Gran.

‘She’s like the 80 year-old influencer,’ he laughs.

‘That’d be the day,’ she says.

Neither is remotely fazed by what’s gone on so far. They’ve captured something real, put it out into the world, and it’s taken off. What could be more grime than that? However big it gets, there’s no risk of Keefe forgetting where she came from, or why it matters. And rest assured she can hold her own in the digital age.

‘I can speak my piece,’ she says.

If you liked this article you may enjoy reading our review of DJ Target’s book Grime Kids

 


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Frederick O'Brien

Fred is a writer and researcher with a background in community development. His research has featured in The Independent, the Evening Standard, and the New York Post, among others.

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