Pop: Don't worry, be happy

Mishka sails. He smokes. He surfs. And he sings. Which is why he quit Bermuda for an English studio. But just for a little while...
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The Independent Culture
ALAN McGEE has a talent for sniffing out new artists in unusual circumstances. The fact that many of them have a family connection seems to be a happy coincidence. The boss of Creation Records only stumbled over Oasis, who were third on the bill at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow, because he was visiting his sister and she'd dragged him out for a night on the tiles. The mouthy Mancunians had strong-armed their way on to the bill, played five songs and invited the club owner to join them in a bout of fisticuffs. McGee was suitably impressed.

His latest discovery, Mishka Frith, is a far more laid-back individual than the Gallaghers. For a rough working-class upbringing in Burnage read an idyllic life spent in Bermuda, bobbing round the Caribbean in a sailing boat, communing with whales and dolphins and hanging out on rainforest- rich Nevis like a character out of Alex Garland's novel The Beach.

At least Mishka seems to be the real deal. With his sandy complexion, a huge mop of bleached red dreads under a soft, woolly tam o'shanter and a foot-long beard that resembles a sturdy rope, the 24-year-old might be considered a mixture of idiot savant and noble savage. In fact he's the son of a successful Bermudan architect who quit the rat race to build a boat and take his children out of the system.

McGee "found" Mishka when he was on honeymoon in Nevis. His wife Kate is a close friend of Frith's sister, the singer Heather Nova. "They came round for tea to my parents 'ouse," recalls Creation's budding reggae star in his soft, sing-song island lilt.

"She got me to play 'im some tunes and he was taken with them quite quickly. A few months later I was in England recording me album."

Mishka is such a product of his oceanic environment that a career in the business is viewed as a stopover, or something to do for the time being. Barely schooled in the conventional sense, he grabbed his education like flotsam and jetsam. A few months of school in the Algarve here, a couple of years in Canada there. "I got international roots," he nods. "Growing up on the boat is what I know. We didn't have television. Instead of school we listened to tapes all day long. JA [Jamaican] music in its totality is an influence. Bob Marley is an inspiration, but so are Sam Cooke, Joni Mitchell and The Police."

The music on his self-titled album reflects a laconic approach that makes Finley Quaye seem hyperactive. He describes his current single, "Give You All My Love", as "a good vibes ting about sailing. It's a reminiscence. There was a lot of pressure to make it a hit single. I knew what they were hearing, but it's not my best song. I prefer `Happy', which is about what it feels like to be pushed into a situation where you have a natural God-given talent and then they commercialise you," he chuckles. "I wanted me record to be really acoustic with bongos but they get you in the studio and it become a more typical project. I approve. It grew like a plant and I used my percussionists from Nevis to maintain me groove."

Sailing, singing and smoking herb aren't all Mishka does. He's already a celebrity in Bermuda, having represented the island at windsurfing championships in Holland and Scotland. "I was under-19 champion but that only mean nobody else my age was doing it properly. How did I do? I did OK, y'know. I came second to last."

It's hard not to warm to this beach boy with his gently lapping voice, although it's even harder to imagine him setting down roots in London's Archway for very long. What happens when it gets cold? "Can't be as cold as Canada though. I try not to daydream about the beach because I don't think I'll be here long-term. The ocean life could seem like a drug to a city person, but it's very isolated. People live for the sunrise and to catch fish. They don't worry about the world outside."

Frith says he isn't ambitious. "Not at all. It's work I have to do. I don't want to be number one. I just want to play while I'm living, to communicate with some entity. It's praises and prayers. I agree with the philosophy of thanks to the Creator who created all humankind."

Any other pearls of wisdom to impart, Mishka? "Yeah, the world definitely doesn't need any more golf courses."

`Mishka' is out on 7 June

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