Put it all down to his quaver

Horace Andy (right) has fathered 16 children. He's also had a long career in reggae. By Ben Thompson

Grab your Adam's apple with your right hand. Wiggle it vigorously back and forth while singing a plaintive song of love and regret in the highest voice that is safely available to you. At this point you may think you sound something like Horace Andy, but the pained looks of innocent bystanders probably suggest otherwise. Andy - ne Hinds - got his second name from the pioneering Jamaican sound system overlord, Coxsone Dodd (who wanted him to seem like he might be related to Marcia Griffiths's partner in harmony, Bob Andy), but his voice came straight from heaven.

A distinguished dab of grey at the temples is the only sign that the smartly track-suited man reclining in the management company office has been in the reggae business for a quarter of a century. But the briefest of acquaintances with his album Skylarking - the first release on Massive Attack's new Melankolic imprint - confirms the scope of his achievements. From the title track's captivating Studio One shuffle to his label bosses' ghostly 1994 rearrangement of "Spying Glass", Andy's enduring quaver illuminates a gorgeous gallery of shifting soundscapes.

It must make a nice change to have all his work in one place, rather than scattered through a stack of various artists compilations? "If I were to start again," Andy affirms, "I wouldn't sing for so many different producers, but when you're young you love doing it. If they say, `Come and sing a song', you will."

Further evidence as to the carefree nature of Horace's youth is furnished by his achievements in the field of paternity. "I guess when you're young the record's playing everywhere and girls get pregnant," he explains, with as much winsomeness as a father of 16 can be expected to muster. "But I love my children and I try my best to look after them."

Horace Andy has not had things all his own way in the roots-reggae sex war. He looks back in genial disgruntlement to the early Eighties, when he was living in Connecticut with a wife who refused to let him go to Jamaica to record on the (perhaps understandable) grounds that his intentions towards the womankind of the island were not entirely honourable. "That's one thing with the ladies," Horace observes resentfully, "they don't give you any time for your career - they just want you to be around for them when they get home from work."

The indignity of this period was further compounded by an unfortunate shooting incident (having breezed safely through the numerous perils of the Kingston dancehall circuit, Horace Andy is the only reggae star to boast the distinction of a bullet wound sustained in a Connecticut basement) and an unsuccessful attempt to kidnap two of his children after his marriage foundered. Does he think such tribulations might have contributed to the haunting quality of his singing? "I think it always sounded that way - it's the minor keys that do it."

Horace Andy's exquisitely judged vocal performances have given a valuable extra dimension to Massive Attack's two studio albums to date, and a tape he is carrying with The Clash's "Bankrobber" and "Straight To Hell" on it augurs well for the third. Meanwhile, he looks forward to Melankolic releasing (and 3D, Mushroom and Daddy G perhaps producing) an album of his new material. Given the remarkable extent to which the development of British dance music in the Nineties can be seen to have echoed the reggae blueprints of two decades previous, such symbiosis has a pleasing symmetry about it.

But surely there must be some bone of contention between Bristol and Jamaica? "I still tease them and say they can't DJ - get them in a studio and they will do it but on-stage you say, `Come up and DJ something like a Jamaican DJ would', and they run a mile." Andy laughs. "I probably shouldn't let this out on them, but they can't dance either - Daddy and 3D will try to move, but I've never seen Mushroom take a step."

`Skylarking' is out on Melankolic. Horace Andy will appear at Subterania, London W10, 3 Oct. Booking: 0171-344 0044

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