Stephen Pennell talks to Brummie film maker George Francis.
It’s the week of the Birmingham Music Awards, and the quirky bars and coffee shops of Brum’s Bohemia are alive with hype and gossip about who will win and who will attend.
Me and my wife have tickets for the VIP area – she leaves the jeans-and-trainers-type gigs to me and the kids, but show her a red carpet and a champagne reception and she’s organising childcare before Amazon can deliver a new dress. At £85 a ticket, I’m out to impress her, and I’ve been with her long enough to know that, along with some free Prosecco, what will impress her most is if Lady Leshurr turns up. My mates Simon Pitt and Jo Jeffries are running the show, but they won’t tell me, so I’m left with no alternative but to find out from as close to the horse’s mouth as I can get.
I’ve met quite a few of the Birmingham music scene’s movers and shakers over the years, but none of them move and shake quite like George ‘G-Jiggy’ Francis. Born in Moseley, he emigrated to Jamaica aged four, where he won a singing competition broadcast live on national TV. At 13 he came back to his birth city after the sudden death of his father, and attended Smethwick Hall Boys school. At some point after that he bought himself a video camera – and boy did he use it.
As a videographer and editor he’s worked for Alexander McQueen, Sony, Gucci, Sean Paul, Julian Marley, Wu Tang Clan, Jesse Jackson, UB40 and, as I call him, David Bloody Cameron. And if you’re Wayne Rooney, who do get to get do your wedding video? G-Jiggy of course! He also runs the IDA U.K. and Ireland DJ organisation and has managed and mentored world champion ‘turntablists’ such as Italian superstar DJ Mandrayk.
At the age of 51 he thought it was about time he had some letters after his name and got a Bsc (Hons) in Film Production Technology from Staffordshire University – his lifetime of hands-on experience meant they couldn’t teach him much and he graduated from the four-year degree in just eighteen months. He’s helped out the West Midlands Combined Authority at the global property expo MIPIM, won awards for services to the community, and has had two films nominated at the Birmingham Film Festival.
We met up at the White Room in the Custard Factory and I steered the conversation towards all things Leshurr. “I first saw her at a showcase event for unsigned acts in 2006 and when she started rapping it gave me goosebumps. I told her there and then she would be massive, but she took some convincing. Three months later she won a female MC of the year award, but was still miserable about the prospect of 9-5 work. She just wanted to do music, but didn’t have the resources.
“I believed in her and had my own business so it was easy for me to go to Major studios in Brum and tell them – I want you to let this girl use the studio whenever she wants for as long as she wants. One night I picked her up from there after she had recorded a track, from start to finish, in 45 minutes. It was called Slow Flow and trust me, the title is ironic. She put it on in the car and it blew me away and convinced me I had backed a winner. There’s also a correlation there with my relationship with Lady Sanity, who I advised in 2017 just three months before she won a prestigious Get Rated award. “
What have you been up to outside music?
“I’ve worked on the big Netflix series Sex Education and the remake of Dumbo, and I’m currently doing a bit for a new BBC series called His Dark Materials that’s on later this year. I’m also working on the launch this summer of fashion and make-up brands GJIGGY and Streetlife Boutique, mentoring young people and doing artist and model management. It’s all about using the huge talent pool in the West Midlands and keeping it all local so that Birmingham thrives. I’m an 0121 foot-soldier.”
Talking of the West Midlands, you’ve been helping out the combined authority haven’t you?
“Yes, I was part of a big team that went to Cannes for MIPIM, where we showcased to the world all the investments opportunities across the region. I know they get a bad rap but people like Andy Street are doing a fantastic job in my opinion. He was doing presentations, introductions, then he’ll be behind the scenes talking to investors, then making a keynote speech. I was filming him for 12 hours straight and never saw him stop for so much as a sandwich.
“It was a real eye-opener to have the inside track on how much is going on in Birmingham, and believe me, after the Commonwealth Games and all the stuff around HS2 is finished in 2026 the whole world will wanna come here.”
On that optimistic note we parted and I remembered why I’d arranged to meet him in the first place. I texted him on my way home “So, is Leshurr coming to the Birmingham Music Awards or not?”, to which he replied “Well, she’s booked a table for eight in the VIP area, but you’ll have to wait and see if she’s one of the eight”.
I’m taking my selfie stick, just in case.