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Pop: Still massive after all these years

He was big 30 years ago, but Horace Andy is singing sweetly to this day.
THE SWEET, celestial voice of Horace Andy - singing "You are my angel / Come from the way above / To give me love" - pierced the dark, rumbling sound of Massive Attack during the first moments of their recent concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

The song, "You Are My Angel", composed and recorded by Andy in 1974, and idiosyncratically reworked by both Massive Attack and Simply Red, is revered by reggae musicians and singers for revealing the depths of Jamaican creativity and musical inspiration.

Horace Andy's fruitful relationship with Massive Attack began in 1990, but his musical past is long and rich. He recorded his first song, "Black Man's Country", for Sun Shot Records in 1966. (The producer, Phil Pratt, now owns Scandal, a Jamaican restaurant in Harlesden, and cooks "the best jerk chicken in London" according to Andy.) But it was at Studio One, in the early 1970s, that Horace Andy developed his voice, one that is, perhaps, the most instinctive in reggae music.

Mr.Bassie, a collection of his recordings from this period, demonstrates the fragile, sometimes child-like qualities of his falsetto voice, ably supported by the raw, robust sound moulded by the session musicians at Studio One.

"I never got paid when I was young", Andy admits; and still today he will not receive any royalties from sales of this CD, nor from several others that bear his name. "I've seen three CDs and I'm not getting paid for them. But these record companies that put them out, they know. That's what's so unfair - you put the song out; these producers, all of them, they get the money".

Horace Andy was born in the Kingston district of Allman Town in 1951. He sang at his local church and school and it was at here that he acquired the nickname "Sleepy". He explains, with a gentle laugh, "When I was very young, about 12 years old, I loved to sleep." His doctor, finding no signs of narcolepsy, informed him his condition was transient.

After recording those first singles at Sun Shot Records in 1966, the years before his arrival at Studio One in 1970 were invested in musical disciplines: "I thought I could sing, but I couldn't sing. I had to coach myself. We used to get up and sing everyday and play the guitar and write songs. We had to do it ourselves, I had to do it myself."

Hearing his cousin, the singer Justin Hinds, on the radio only increased his motivation. His religious curiosity was cemented in 1968, the year he joined the Rastafarian faith: "I used to love listening to good reasoning, to sit down and listen to the Rastaman, you know, they were telling me nothing bad."

When he was releasing songs through Studio One his musical initiation continued. "When I went to Studio One, The Heptones was there, you know, Scully was there, Burning Spear. But the most I learned was from Alton Ellis. Me and Dennis Brown called Alton, `The Father'.

Leroy Sibbles and Pablove Black also tutored him: "I had to learn harmony, everything. That's why I love Studio One."

Although the studio had lost the impetus it had in the Sixties, it was still a formidable company in the early Seventies. Horace Andy believes this was because Clement Dodd, the owner, accepted that "Rastafarians were the famous musicians, they were the best singers, the best writers".

American soul singers, especially Curtis Mayfield, had a dramatic influence on Jamaican singers and vocal groups. Frederick "Toots" Hibbert, the leader of Toots and the Maytals, was powerfully affected by James Brown; and Delroy Wilson was inspired by the songs and voice of Lou Rawls. Horace Andy loved the music of Otis Redding and the impact of American soul music is reflected on Mr. Bassie. But his interpretations of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine", "Oh Lord, Why Lord?" by Parliament and "Fever" are instilled with a pronounced Jamaican character.

The subjects of the songs he wrote, himself, like "Conscious Dreadlocks", "Help The Children" and "Every Tongue Shall Tell" often referred to the social plight of Jamaicans. Jamaican singers with high voices usually devoted themselves to singing about love, but Andy sang songs of protest in an angelic falsetto and it was this that delighted Bob Marley.

Horace Andy's original compositions are credited to himself and Clement Dodd, the owner of Studio One. Although Clement Dodd did not write the songs, Horace Andy explains that, "the investors in Jamaica always say they write the songs, they produce it, they do everything". The chaos of an emerging music industry in its infancy created opportunities for ruthless entrepreneurs to exploit powerless or naive singers and musicians. The desire of many young Jamaicans t record and release their music was intense and they were easily lured into studios without signing any contracts.

Copyright laws were vague and singers were not in a position to enforce them and demand royalties. Horace Andy remembers that, "I was getting two cents - two cents off each record, and then it went to five cents. We weren't making any money. You don't get no advance in those days, right? When they put the songs out, if it sells 3,000, you can't get no money. Yet if it sells one you are supposed to get paid." The ramification of this, today, is Horace Andy's inability to recover any royalties for his Studio One recordings.

Horace Andy is a prolific musician and after leaving Studio One, he recorded many singles and albums for other Jamaican and American producers. Peckings, the reggae shop in Sheperd's Bush which specialises in Studio One recordings, sells his rarest seven-inch single, "Illiteracy", for pounds 70.

Two years ago, the compilation Skylarking was released on Melankolic Records, which is run by Massive Attack, to "let people know what I was doing before". A new album, with contributions from Joe Strummer, will be released before the end of the year.

The longest period that he has lived outside of Jamaica is 18 months, but he maintains, "I always go back". And despite the lack of financial reward for his Studio One work, Horace Andy, who after all wrote the song "Money, Money (The Root of All Evil)", generously reminisces about the studio.

"Clement Dodd is a very nice person, no matter what. He never stopped me from playing no instruments. When there was no session going on, I could always play the piano, play the bass, play the guitar, whenever. That's where I learned to sing and to sing harmony, so I have no regrets."

`Mr. Bassie' by Horace Andy is released on Heartbeat Records on 22 June.