REGGAE MAY be in the commercial doldrums elsewhere, but new pressings of old Trojan albums continue to fly out of record shops in Bristol. That this large venue was sold out before the gig started, however, must have been due to Horace Andy's Massive Attack connection. The veteran Jamaican singer has appeared on all three Massive albums and Living in the Flood, his own new album for the group's Melankolic label, includes a song - the appropriately titled "Doldrums" written for him by 3D, one of their two remaining permanent members.
The other one, Daddy G, manned the decks for the opening DJ session, where his masterly selection of ska rocksteady and roots reggae 7in singles was so good that one feared it might be a hard act for Andy to follow. Expertly cueing up his records while an operative shone a torch on the labels so he could read them, this was almost sufficient entertainment in itself.
When the band at last appeared on stage, they sounded a little workaday and things didn't look too promising. Even when Horace Andy came out to join them, it still took a while to warm up. But reggae can't be rushed. After an hour, it was great; by the time the second hour approached, positively inspired. Andy's voice is truly unique. In the higher registers he favours, he adopts a kind of muezzin's wail, tonsils wobbling to emit continuously trembling grace-notes.
On the lower notes, he occasionally misses the mark entirely, as if they aren't really worthy of him. As there's always another grand-standing tonsil-trembler coming up shortly, you're happy to take him as he comes.
Dressed in a natty camouflage cap and kaftan ensemble, the stocky Andy was clearly enjoying every moment of his relatively new-found popularity with the mainly young and white audience. But a small group of West Indian OAPs did push their way past the students and crustafarians to the front, resplendent in old-style bonnets and beenie-hats.
For the encores Andy sang the Massive Attack tracks he's celebrated for, "One Love" and "Spying Glass". It was a marvellous conclusion to a slow-burning performance that by the end seemed rather moving. In an era when real music by real musicians is getting harder and harder to find, Horace Andy did us proud. More power to his tonsils.