(Mirror 11th April 2003)
INNOCENT OF CHILD PORN SLURS, MASSIVE ATTACK'S 3D IS ANGRY AT THE SYSTEM.
For Massive Attack mastermind Robert Del Naja, the nightmare began back on February 22. That was when the publicity-shy star was thrust into the spotlight after being arrested as part of Operation Ore - the international crackdown on child pornography.
It was the same investigation which had earlier led to the arrest of Who guitarist Pete Townshend. But throughout his six-hour police interrogation and the traumatic month that followed, Bristol-based Del Naja, better known as 3D, maintained his innocence, confident that the justice system would eventually clear his name.
And, while on tour in Australia last month, Del Naja, 36, got the news that the Avon and Somerset police inquiry had closed without charge and that his computer equipment was being returned.
Speaking for the first time since then, 3D recalls how it felt when he was proved innocent.
"I knew there was never any case against me, so it was really a relief for everyone else involved in the tour," he says. "There was never a sense of relief on my part because I always knew that nothing would come from it.
"But when the story was leaked to the newspapers the human cost was horrible for me, my friends and family. When the police announced there was no case it was the people close to me and those around me that I really felt happy for.
"I don't really want to talk about my feelings on the British justice system. The police illegally leaked my name when I hadn't done anything and put me through so much misery. That part of the justice system certainly broke down pretty quickly.
"I'm the most paranoid and conspiracy theory-minded person I know, so lots of thoughts went through my head as to why this was happening. The way it was reported in some places certainly went to great lengths to highlight my political beliefs. It was seen as a chance to knock someone back down and call them a hypocrite, which I am not."
The reason for Del Naja's arrest remains unclear, but the title of the new Massive Attack album - 100th Window - refers to the portal on a computer that is always open to outside surveillance, something that only added to his paranoia.
"It was like some weird, self-fulfilling prophecy," he says. "It was as if everything discussed on the album about our current electronic state of existence came back and bit me. It was really strange. I was away when the police came to my home and I got back to Bristol to find they'd taken everything away. I spent most of the time very upset for everyone around me and in disbelief. It was like walking around in a terrible dream."
The last time 3D was in the spotlight was during the fallout from the Sarah Ferguson incident at the 1998 MTV Awards in Milan. When the former Princess turned up to present the Best Video Award for the single Teardrop, he asked, "Is this a f***ing joke?"
"I got so much grief for that," he says. "I didn't want to go there again. It was just like having something horrible crawling in the back door of your life. Something that makes you realise how dark the world can be."
One of 100th Window's standout tracks is the collaboration with Sinead O'Connor, A Prayer For England. It's a withering condemnation of child abuse, but although Townshend has admitted accessing child porn web sites to research his autobiography, Del Naja emphatically denies ever having done so.
"I'd never seen any of this stuff, so to be mentioned in the same breath as someone who had made me really sick inside," he says. "I've been very vocal about my views on every issue of pornography over the years. It's something I've never been exposed to and would never want to be."
While the police inquiry was still ongoing, Del Naja and the 40-plus Massive Attack touring party embarked on concerts in Australia and the Far East. At an early show on the tour in Melbourne there was reportedly an angry reaction from the audience.
"These ridiculous allegations were still in the air so it was really hard to get onstage," he says, "but I was determined not to martyr myself or wallow in self pity.
"I like to get lost in the music when I'm performing, but it was hard work. And I hope it never gets any harder than that. But I wanted to let people know that the charges were bulls**t, and I did eventually get a lot of support in Australia and Japan."
With the investigation now behind him, Del Naja can concentrate on the rest of the world tour. In Britain, as elsewhere, each show will be preceded by a minute's silence to mark his opposition to the war on Iraq, but the presentation itself is the most ambitious to be staged under the Massive Attack banner.
"We've got real-time statistics on screen along with the music," he says. "There's weather systems and local news from various cities around the world. A lot of political content, but it's not rammed down your throat. There's so much information that you get bombarded with online, I thought it was good to bring some of it into the show."
Despite months of speculation that Del Naja was the last man left standing in the Massive Attack frontline, the tour has also seen the return of Grant "Daddy G" Marshall. The only other surviving member of the line-up which released their 1991 debut Blue Lines, Marshall took no part in the recording of 100th Window - essentially a Del Naja solo project - preferring instead to concentrate on parental responsibilities.
"He's been very supportive of me this year, which I appreciate because we've come through a typical Massive Attack period," says Del Naja. "There's been lots of bickering and lots of silence, but we've managed to bond again.
"It was good fun introducing him on stage because no one expected him to be there. Even I wasn't sure he would be there, but life is short and we are in a fortunate position to be able to do this. You don't want to look back on your life and regret that you've missed opportunities."
Despite their formidable reputation, based on multi-million selling albums such as Protection (1994) and Mezzanine (1998), Massive Attack remain a mysterious, ever-changing entity. Does it feel like joining a new band every time they go into the studio to make an album?
"It's very unorthodox," admits Del Naja. "It's more of a project than a band. There's always been a battle of egos going on. Being typical men - vain and stubborn - you will clash. I think the reason we lean towards working with women is that the studio can be very male-oriented.
"Working with Sinead was great because she has such a strong vision of the world. She has been very brave putting forward her views on authority and institutions. She'll definitely be turning up on some of the British dates."
3D is busier than ever. There's a remix CD of 100th Window being prepared, and plans are afoot for a film based on the album to be directed by his actor friend Robert Carlyle. Collaborations with Tom Waits and ex-Faith No More man Mike Patton are also under discussion.
With the upsetting events of this year now behind him, Del Naja looks forward to resuming his role as the little known force behind one of Britain's most influential bands.
"What started Massive Attack was The Wild Bunch," he says. "We were just a group of guys who liked to put on parties, set up decks on the street and sell beer from the boot of a car. There was never really any ambition back then to be a pop star, or to be rich and famous.
"To be honest, our manager at the time forced us to go into the studio to write Blue Lines. If he hadn't, we might have only ever done a few tracks and nothing else.
"I've always been able to blend in. I come off stage and mix into the crowd without having to carry around the Massive Attack thing forever. That's why we don't put our faces on fly posters or album sleeves - it ties you down too much and limits the band.
"Also, it's nice when I'm in the street or doing something casual that I just become anonymous again. I like that."
By GAVIN MARTIN