Horace Andy

Reggae legend talks about his roots

Horace Andy, living reggae legend and sometime Massive Attack contributor, returns with a new album, ‘On Tour’, out on Trojan records.

In Andy’s decades-spanning career, he’s collaborated with loads of musicians, singers and producers, but for this long-player he’s going it alone, producing the whole album and playing pretty much all of the instruments.

As the title suggests, this album has been created while Andy’s travelled the world, performing either as a solo artist or with the Bristol-based ‘Blue Lines’ boys. The overall sound of the album reflects the transience of touring, with styles both retrospective and forward-thinking.

They want me to go back to the 70s but I still have that thirst in me

Clash caught up with Horace on the phone and chatted to him about the response to ‘On Tour’, performing live, Massive Attack, and hot drinks.

So, tell us about the new album. “I’ve been saying it was brilliant since a long time ago. I’ve had this for 7 years now”. And what’s the reaction been like when you’ve performed it? “I’ve played it to a lot of people but they say ‘nooo, the new stuff…”, he trails off. “They want me to go back to the 70s but I still have that thirst in me”.

There is an element of frustration here, a natural feeling for a long-serving musician, when the crowd demand the crowd-pleasers. “Most people want to hear the signature songs more, and that makes me sad, you know?”

And whilst he has a shed-load of amazing signature tunes, most notably Skylarking, Money Money and You Are My Angel, the new songs deserve a listen. Horace tells Clash that despite the initial demand for the heavy hitters, most people enjoy the new tracks when he performs them, in particular, title track On Tour, Fire A Go Burn Dem and album closer, Can’t Fool the Youths.

I ask him to name his personal favourites off the album. “On Tour, Back Against the Wall and Zion High. I love all of them but my favourite one is On Tour”. Don’t Break My Heart is a sad love song written in a similar vein to the popular Just Say Who, and it’s all the more aching due to Andy’s inimitable warm voice. “I love it, I love it! It’s written from experience – listen to the words. I think I wrote it after someone, and now she’s gone”.

With ‘On Tour’, Andy pushes reggae in a new direction, leading it into the realm of dancehall with the appropriately titled track Dance Hall Music. “I have it on a different beat, you know? I changed it to the dancehall drop – I changed it from one ‘tk,tk,tk’ to the modern dancehall beat.

“A lot of artists at my age now, they’re saying that the music that’s coming out now is not reggae. I don’t really agree with them. The beats have changed, but it’s a slight change of beat and it’s still reggae music. I keep that one-track but I don’t try to get that King Tubby sound or that Channel 1 sound, or the Studio One sound. I try to get the modern sound, but with the same feel. If you take Zion High (from the new album), it’s got old drop but new feel. It has the Studio 1 vibe”.

It’s refreshing that Horace is still keen to push his musical control and test himself by writing, producing and performing practically the whole of the album. “All of the musicians, you know if you tell them to do this and do that, they want to put their own sound in, so I said ‘I’m going to do this myself, and it will come out good’. But I brought in a lead guitarist for On Tour and Take My Love, because they were too big for me, it was bugging me. It was really brilliant, he gave it a brand new feel”.

I changed it to the dancehall drop

In keeping with the album title, let’s chat about touring. What’s the best thing about it? “I would say the noise the people make, when they really give you a good reception”. And does the reception change, depending on where you’re performing?

“Everywhere I go it’s really positive. What surprised me is when we went to Israel. I couldn’t believe a lot of people brought my albums to sign! I really was surprised. Even in Australia and New Zealand. Not Massive Attack albums, my albums. One person said he’d never thought he’d see me in his lifetime, because it (the country) was so far away. Most of the time, when I go on tour with Massive, people brought my reggae albums along for me to sign. They always bring Skylarking. I hope they all love this one.”

And what do you always take with you on tour? “I always take my laptop with my keyboard because I’m always creating new things. I love to create new things. Musically, it depends. I’ll always bring Sizzla, Capleton, Michael Jackson, and I love Ray Charles – he’s one of my real, real inspirations”.

Many people will have first discovered Horace’s delectable voice on Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, in such tracks as One Love, and even more will have fallen in love with him after listening to songs like Angel and Man Next Door from Mezzanine. He’s touring with the elusive band this Summer, as well as doing some solo appearances at festivals, such as Bestival, but can he give us any insight into their new album? “I’m always with Massive, but they’ve been taking so long on their album. 4 years! We’re touring this summer, but in my heart I don’t want to go. I want to go to Jamaica and keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve got a lot of new artists, they come to my studio in Jamaica. I have it where Treasure Isle used to be, but I want to name my studio Jah Bless!”

Working with new artists, creating new music, pushing the boundaries of reggae further – what’s left for you to achieve then, Horace? “I’d love to have a number one in the British charts. That’s my dream – take it to where Bob Marley was. I’d love to take it back to that height”.

Your cover versions of tracks like Ain’t No Sunshine are always popular, because you always manage to make them your own. Have you done any recently? “We’ve done two! We just played Alicia Keys No One and I’ve done (sings a bit of it down the phone) Apologise by Timbaland. Really brilliant songs. We were playing it here in London not too long ago.”

Finally, the voice. It’s so easy to fall in love with it, especially with such adorable songs as Bless You, which Horace always dedicates to husbands and wives when he plays it live. But what other voices does he admire? “Stevie Wonder, especially when he was very very young, in his early days, and Michael Jackson. He did so much, I’m one of his biggest fans”. And how do you keep your voice in good condition? It doesn’t seem to have aged! I bet you drink lots of honey. “Yes! I never drink coffee. Just honey and lemon, with lemon tea, that’s the best tea I have. Especially in the winter.”

Horace Andy releases ‘On Tour’ on 28th April on Trojan Records.

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