Horace Andy: ‘3D is a brilliant young man. But Massive Attack work slow’

The Guardian
The Guardian
‘I’m ready to get busy again’ … Horace Andy.

On a call to Horace Andy in Kingston, Jamaica, it appears that reggae’s sweetest voice is out and about – motorcycles roar past, dogs bark fiercely, children shriek and incoming calls interrupt our chat. “It’s hot here. And it nice,” says Andy. “Covid hit Jamaica but not like it hit London – less people here – so I been safe.”

I almost expect Andy to say “safe from harm” as, on Midnight Rocker, his first official album of new recordings in almost a decade, he covers the Massive Attack song of that name. Andy, 72, is now best known as the Bristol group’s reggae singer, a constant touring member who has contributed to all five of their albums after his long solo career immersed in rocksteady, dancehall and other Jamaican styles. That’s him delivering the unforgettable call of “loveyouloveyoulove…” in Massive Attack’s Angel, and giving long notes his wondrous, low-frequency vibrato.

On Blue Lines,Massive Attack’s 1990 debut, Shara Nelson sang Safe from Harm. Had Andy long been wanting to sing it? “I always like it and I cut my version a few year back. Adrian Sherwood, he hear this and he want me to voice it again when we work together – he has his idea of how he want the bass to be.”
Horace Andy at Tottenham Town Hall in 1985. Photograph: David Corio/Redferns

Midnight Rocker is produced by Sherwood and it is the first time Horace has worked with the British dub legend. Andy re-versions three of his own songs alongside new material penned by UK-based artists LSK, Jeb Loy Nichols and George Oban. “Adrian choose the songs and I happy with that. He a really good producer and a lovely man. Like me, he likes to take his time, not rush things. He lives by the sea and I thought it would be too cold for me but his studio is warm. And when I’m with him I do things that are your culture – go to the pub … have a pint!”

Andy mentions not having left Jamaica for the past three years, and Midnight Rocker has indeed not been rushed. From the headquarters of his On-U Sound studio and label, Sherwood explains: “We were determined to make this record as good as it possibly could be so I would send files to Horace in Jamaica, who would add vocals at his studio there, and send the tracks back to me to do more work on.

“Kingston’s home, but I’m ready to get busy again,” Andy adds. He is touring solo in April, then with Massive Attack the following month. “I like the challenge of singing with Massive Attack, no reggae producer allow me to sing like that. They use samplers – which I don’t like, I prefer when musicians make music – but they create interesting sounds. And 3D” – AKA their linchpin Robert Del Naja, 57 – “is a brilliant young man. But they work slow! It’s coming 10 years now since Massive Attack release an album and I think I record some six songs for them. I’m looking forward to them putting out the new tunes.”

Andy is now one of the few active veterans of reggae’s golden age. “As a youth, at first I would listen to American music – Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle, James Brown, Otis Redding, the Impressions – and then I get to hearing the Jamaican singers. Alton Ellis, he would let me play his guitar, gave me tips on how to sing. Ken Boothe, Justin Hinds – when they used to play him on the radio I’d boast to everyone: ‘He my cousin!’

“I didn’t know I was going to be a singer but when we would sing together [on Kingston’s streets] people would say, ‘Sleepy [his nickname], your voice is nice.’ So I gets to thinking perhaps I can be a singer. Then I audition at Studio One and Mr Dodd” – that’s studio owner Clement “Coxsone” Dodd – “he pick me out. He name me Horace Andy [Hinds is his birth surname] and Studio One become my school, my college, my university. I learn everything there.”
Massive Attack … on stage with Robert Del Naja and Angelo Bruschini in Barcelona in 2014. Photograph: Xavi Torrent/WireImage

It was Dodd who produced Andy’s 1971 breakthrough hit Skylarking, and it remains his signature tune. Horace has only positive things to say about Dodd – who ran Studio One as his personal fiefdom – having worked with Jamaica’s top producers and musicians. About the late bassist Robbie Shakespeare he observes, “He play on plenty of my tunes. He and Sly just the best.” But when I mention Bunny “Striker” Lee, the producer who died in 2020, Andy’s mellifluous voice sharpens. “Bunny Lee not a producer but a financier. And he never pay me! Not a penny! And he sell all my recordings to Trojan Records in England and I never see a royalty statement after all these years, yet they issue my songs on CD and vinyl and in boxes.”

Trojan Records, after being sold on several times since its founder Lee Gopthal went bankrupt in 1975, is now owned by BMG and thus part of the world’s fourth largest record label. I approach it with Andy’s accusation. “While it’s true that Bunny Lee struck an agreement for various recordings featuring Horace Andy with Trojan back in the 1970s, these have long expired and rights reverted to Bunny,” replies a BMG representative, who adds that none of those recordings have appeared on Trojan during BMG’s tenure (though a best-of compilation was in fact released via BMG in 2016). The company points him towards the executors of Bunny Lee’s estate, but says it will also contact Andy “to clarify these issues”.

However hard done by he might be, Andy’s voice remains more beautiful than ever. Not wishing to end on a sour note, I ask him to pass on some wisdom. “Practise equal rights and justice for every person. Respect your elders. Do good,” he says. “Jah bless.”

Midnight Rocker is released on 8 April on On-U Sound Records.

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