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Plan B swapping mic for the director's chair

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: February 07, 2013

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OVER the last year, Ben Drew has barely stopped. He released Ill Manors, the movie and album, toured the UK festival circuit and starred in a remake of The Sweeney with Ray Winstone.

And now he is off on tour again showcasing hits from multi-platinum selling album The Defamation of Strickland Banks, debut Who Needs Actions When You Got Words and latest offering iLL Manors.

The London-based musician says he is looking forward to some time off after the tour.

"I've been working every day in the last few years, so it doesn't leave much time for life. I think I'm starting to burn out now. So after this, I'm just going to have a break."

Fans of the 28-year-old – better known as his rap alter ego Plan B – will be aware that he has gradually been moving away from music into film, with roles in Adulthood, and Harry Brown, in between releasing his critically-acclaimed soul album The Defamation Of Strickland Banks.

He's recently taken the next step by making his directorial debut with iLL Manors, which is accompanied by an album soundtrack of the same name.

"It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life," he admits. "That was because I didn't have the financial support I needed, and people doubt you, so you have to deal with that. It's pretty tough."

Based on "a collection of stories which me or friends have experienced" in east London, the hard-hitting gritty thriller is not an easy watch, although its provocative nature has won Drew the label of "the mouthpiece of a generation". It has been praised by fellow musicians Ed Sheeran, Professor Green and Tinie Tempah.

"The majority of the white population in this country don't even believe this environment or these people actually exist – they think it's just an exaggeration but it's not. There's no way I can fictionalise that," he insists.

Starring Four Lions' Riz Ahmed alongside up-and-coming actors like Anouska Mond and Ed Skrein, iLL Manors is clearly a passion project for Drew, who has always wanted to make this film to encourage social change.

"It was a chance for me to show where these problems start and the domino effect they have within people's lives. This is about the negative things and crimes you read about in the newspapers that don't explain why they happen," he explains.

The musician – who attended Tunmarsh Pupil Referral Unit in Plaistow after being kicked out of school at the age of 16 – is in a position to confront society with these stories, having grown up in and around London's Forest Gate, but he also wants to touch today's troubled youth.

"I want teens and young adults to learn that messing with guns and being in gangs ain't cool – I know it's hard because it's easy to get sucked in. I want my movie and music to help kids like me, who have been forgotten about and laughed at," he says.

Yet Drew, whose musician father walked out when he was just five months old, readily admits he could have been one of those kids.

"I could have gone down that route, yeah. But I was lucky – I had talent. I knew if I worked hard at it, I could make something of myself," he says.

Drew admits the big screen is his calling and now plans to incorporate his music within movies.

"I didn't do it as a one-off thing, I want to make films and be a director. I saw this as my calling card, but also it allowed me to talk about this issue," he explains.

"My hip-hop music is not really for com-mer-cial radio, so I felt like if I had a different kind of medium where it could live, I don't have to water it down or compromise. I thought film would be the perfect place."

Plan B plays at Plymouth Pavilions on February 12. Tickets are sold out so it is returns only. Details: 0845 1461460 or visit www.plymouth pavilions.com

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