Pop: Everything's fine with Finley

'I'm generally really happy,' Finley Quaye muses to Phil Johnson. But then, the rootsy-reggae wonderboy is up for two Brits - and he doesn't have a manager
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The Independent Culture
"MAYBE it's because I smoke so much," Finley Quaye says, "but I'm generally really happy about things." Peering through the thick cumulo- nimbus clouds of ganja that hang suspended in the Amazonian micro-climate of his small west London hotel room, you have to agree he has a point. True, at times it can be difficult to actually see him, but Finley certainly seems chirpy, and so he should be. He's 24, and the rootsy, reggae-derived grooves of his debut album, Maverick a Strike, is approaching platinum status (300,000 sales in this country alone). And he's up for two Brit Awards (for Best Male Artist and Best Newcomer). All this has been achieved without a manager, which is why his record company is sometimes a little concerned about his welfare. Finley, typically, is more concerned about theirs.

"For a start, when you work in a record company, you're prone to symptoms of angst," he says, in an accent that hovers around the precincts of Greater Manchester, although he was brought up partly in Edinburgh. "It's to do with you not having any sunlight every day, and your brain is working at a far greater rate than your physicality, so you're concentrating with your mind more than with your body. That makes you mentally exhausted, and this means that there is not a lot of real happiness in record companies, but this is only natural. Somebody who recognises this imbalance, a doctor who knows about yin and yang and ch'i, he might be able to help them. But it's not a figment of my imagination that they are hassled by a lot of work while I'm maybe just stoned."

Two weeks ago, Finley was due to fly out to Trinidad to join his band for the filming of a video for his mellow new single, "Your Love Gets Sweeter" - but he delayed going by a day, and the record company, Epic, started to display their lack of holistic health. "They were really nervous, because now they've only got one day for me to film my bit instead of two, and they're going 'What if the weather's wrong?'," he says. "But if it's rainy, it's rainy, if it's sunny it's sunny: it's neither worse nor better". Finley shakes his head. "I mean, you're going to get really pissed off in life if you think rain is worse than sun." In the end he didn't go at all: the director caught a lung infection and the insurance money covered the cost.

If Finley gets a Brit at tomorrow night's ceremony, his acceptance speech should prove interesting: he could say, well, whatever enters his mind. "I'd like to send a message", he says, contemplating the possibility of the speech. "Not just the usual stuff. If I say something, it will have a meaning." Just uttering this phrase makes him laugh and think of his new friend, the boxer Chris Eubank, who is also prone to "messages". He then free-associates to the talks he has had recently with the promoter Barry Hearne about taking part in a pro-celebrity snooker tournament for charity. His best snooker break is 126, and he planned to become a professional before music got in the way.

Prowess at snooker is said to be a sign of a misspent youth: for Finley, this isn't the half of it. When I interviewed him last year - before "Sunday Shining" became a hit - he filled me in: "I was in Edinburgh until I was four, then I went to London until I was 10, and then back to Edinburgh, to live with my grandparents because my mum had a heroin problem. Then my uncle and aunt in Manchester looked after me because I was a bit too exuberant for my grandparents. Then I went back to my grandparents for a year, and then back to my uncle's when I was 15. Their relationship was falling apart and he would pay me to go out so they could have a good shout. One day he took a belt to my head, so I just left in my school uniform and went back to Edinburgh on the train."

He got a job in a garage spraying cars, and then went back down to Manchester again to enroll in a BTEC course for sound recording. He left again - after contributing a vocal to a track by A Guy Called Gerald, the Mancunian dance producer - and hit the road, joining the ranks of the Donga Tribe and camping out in a tepee in a Kentish Town church. Back in Manchester, his path crossed those of the Gallagher brothers. "They were notorious," he says.

As should be well known by now, Finley is also Tricky's uncle, through a weird set of genealogical circumstances whereby his much older half- brother, Caleb Quaye (who played guitar with Hookfoot and Elton John in the 1970s), is also Tricky's mother's half-brother. When Tricky's album Maxinquaye (named for his late mum, Maxine Quaye) came out in 1994, Finley was confused. "I used to see these words on ads everywhere, bits of my name, and I couldn't work it out. I didn't even think of Maxine Quaye. My family is huge, man." The daddy of them all is his own father, Cab Quaye, a half-Ghanaian, half-American musician in his seventies who lives in Holland, and whom Finley had never met until last year.

Of all the things that have happened to him recently, what pleases Finley most is that he has finally met his dad. "I was playing at the Milky Way in Amsterdam and someone came backstage with a message, a scroll - well, a piece of paper anyway - from my father and I went and met him and his wife. We've met up a few times since and I went over at Christmas with my own son, who's four. We're a match. We look very much alike, and I've got photographs of him with his band in the Forties and Fifties - Ronnie Scott used to play sax with him when he was 16! - and he looks just like me." Relations with Tricky have been, well, tricky. After a promising first meeting in New York they haven't seen each other since. "The situation with the Bristol connection is a sensitive one," Finley says. "I speak to the rest of my family but I never hear from him. Tricky's doing his own thing. He's been given enough opportunity and it's up to him."

Meanwhile, Finley continues to record his new album and to question the wisdom of record-company advice when he could be riding his skateboard down Parliament Hill and stopping off for a joint in the pub. As the clouds of smoke drift silently across the room, one thinks fondly of record-company executives waking up in the middle of the night worrying about Finley Quaye.

'Your Love Gets Sweeter' (Epic) is out on 16 Feb. Finley Quaye will perform at the Brits tomorrow (shown on ITV, Tues, 8-10pm).

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