Chilled out, tuned in and keyed up

His music may be mellow, but Finley Quaye admits he's yet to simmer down
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The Independent Culture

Finley Quaye's voice, mellow and open only a beat ago, has taken on a strident note: "Where are we going?", he demands. His face, formerly a wide smile, is a reflection of the dark clouds drawing over our heads as we sit on the terrace of a Primrose Hill pub.

Finley Quaye's voice, mellow and open only a beat ago, has taken on a strident note: "Where are we going?", he demands. His face, formerly a wide smile, is a reflection of the dark clouds drawing over our heads as we sit on the terrace of a Primrose Hill pub.

I'm trying as tactfully as possible to square Finley Quaye, the artist who has just released an upbeat and entertainingly diverse second album, Vanguard, with Finley Quaye the character who is so troubled. Quaye is happy to discuss the music, and will extemporise about it at length if given the chance, but questions relating to his life are met with suspicion and hostility.

"I'm very laid-back you know, not easily excited," he says, drumming a dinner knife on the table in agitation. "People stop me in the street and speak to me. I've never had a bad word said to me."

Perhaps not, but people who have worked with Quaye will testify to his unpredictability. "He's full of contradictions, an extremely complicated person who can be very difficult," says a former associate. "One minute he can be a real sweetheart, a great bloke, but the next he'll blow up in your face."

Quaye's personal life has been a catalogue of misfortune and misadventure since he broke through with his debut album, Maverick A Strike, three years ago. It went on to sell over 500,000 copies, yielding five hit singles, a Brit Award and the sort of attention and attendant pressures that can unsettle even the most phlegmatic of characters. Quaye, who can hardly be described as phlegmatic or even-tempered, embarked on a route that muddied an already complicated life.

There was the assault on a hotel manager; a bust-up with the mother of his first child, and a court appearance over late payments; a drink-drive charge after a session at the Met Bar; a row on a BA flight with the mother of his second child, Mercedes Gutierrez, and a trail of drink and drugs which led to a spell at the Priory Clinic in May of this year. He was asked to leave after 10 days, but not before he had fallen for fellow inmate Paula Yates and announced their engagement.

It doesn't take a psychiatrist to realise that the upheavals of Quaye's formative years are mirrored in his volatile personality. Half-Scottish, half-Ghanaian, he was born in Edinburgh and brought up by his mother, after his father, jazz musician Cab Quaye, walked out when he was two. Her death from a heroin overdose when he was 11 led to a nomadic existence moving between relatives in London, Manchester and Scotland, where his grandparents live.

There was a public outburst from his grandad last year admonishing Quaye for ignoring them since his sudden elevation. He also split from Gutierrez, leaving another broken relationship in his wake.

The standout number on Vanguard, "When I Burn Off into the Distance", details the stress of success, and the damage it inflicted on his personal life, though even inquiries into lines like "I've been out of my mind" make him edgy.

"Do you call going to Rio de Janeiro heavy? It's about going around the world, touring, being up to the eyeballs with schedules that were constantly being rescheduled," he explains heatedly. "I could never make any plans so I ended up neglecting my family for two, three years. I'd make a token phone call to try and keep a relationship alive, otherwise they'd all have been severed. I've knocked things into shape where I'm not neglecting my family any more."

As for the spell at the Priory, Quaye dismisses it as a mistake. "I thought it was somewhere to relax, a sanctuary, but it's a hospital. It was the wrong place for me. I couldn't relate to their programme. They couldn't get into my head, they're full of shit."

So, was he looking for peace of mind? "Slow down man ... no ... I mean slow down!" he jabs. "You're asking me some pretty intense questions and you're flicking around all the time. If you want honest answers, slow down." We sit back in a tense silence as he examines his pint of Guinness.

The turmoil of his personal life notwithstanding, his music is nevertheless remarkably mellow and soothing. "I don't want to bring unhappiness to people, I don't want to bring anyone down," he says quietly. "There's been lots of tough things, things I'd rather not talk about. It's good to be able to choose how and when to talk about those things. They're too close, too recent. Maybe in a few years time. I rarely dwell on the bad things. There's been two tragedies in my life recently and I'm trying to make the best of my time. I refuse to go down painful avenues and I don't want to lay my unhappiness on other people."

Does he find making music therapeutic? "I'd rather promote positivity, answers rather than questions. There might be signs of unhappiness in my music but listen to it - there can't be an unhappy guy behind that album, I refuse to let it happen. I've had to be bloody strong at times, I really have, but I'm putting it behind me."

The recent deaths of Yates and his father in February only a short time after they had been reconciled, clearly shattered the equanimity his sunkissed music displays. "Things have happened to me that have been almost too much to bear," he says, suddenly fixing me. "My father's death was a shock but a lot of positivity came from his passing away. Then my friend dying the other day was the latest blow I've had, a real blow, but I can't let it take me over, I can't let the darkness close over me and I can't let it into my music.

"You know," he adds, shaking his head, "I get really pissed off with people being unhappy." He breaks into a smile, the clouds roll back. He extends his hand: "Thank you for letting me talk like that, man." Mr Good Vibes is back, but for how long?