Roots reggae legend Horace Andy has earned a reputation for delivering stone cold classics, whether solo or in collaboration with Bristol trip-hoppers Massive Attack. And his new record Midnight Rocker is so chock full of them that it adds up to a late-career masterpiece.
At the age of 71, Andy is a much loved and respected veteran of reggae music, with a body of work that spans more than 40 albums. His new one, helmed by legendary UK producer and On-U Sound record label boss Adrian Sherwood, sees Andy returning to numerous songs from his past, as well as recording new ones.
While there are many choice renditions among the reworked songs, it is from the new ones that Midnight Rocker gets its highlight: a tune titled Today is Right Here. Over an infectious bassline, minimal percussion, dub guitar and psychedelic horns, Andy croons, “My mama told me / when I was child / said all the best things / take a little while / But mama was wrong, wrong, wrong / Best things in life / come and they go, go, go / in a blink of an eye.”
A song that is powerful in both music and message, Today is Right Here is just one of many great new offerings from Andy on Midnight Rocker.
Schooled at Studio One
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1951 as Horace Hinds, Andy was raised on a diet of soul greats such as Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, James Brown and Patti LaBelle. He was drawn to Jamaican music when he heard the likes of Alton Ellis and Ken Boothe in the 1960s. Another early influence was his cousin Justin Hinds, a ska vocalist who had a number one hit in 1963 with the song Carry Go Bring Come.
Andy’s early attempts to break out as a roots reggae singer in the 1960s met with little success, and it wasn’t until he auditioned for famed producer Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One in 1970 that his breakthrough came. It was then that he adopted a different last name to avoid comparisons to his cousin.
Andy paid tribute to Dodd’s impact on his career in an interview with the Guardian newspaper in April, saying: “He name me Horace Andy and Studio One become my school, my college, my university, I learn everything there.” By 1972, Andy was topping the charts with his Dodd-produced single Skylarking, and there was no stopping him.
Throughout the 1970s he would record numerous hit records, freelancing for producers such as Derrick Harriott, Gussie Clarke, Phil Pratt and Bunny Lee.
The birth of trip-hop
Bristol’s Massive Attack dropped their debut album Blue Lines on 8 April 1991, and the age of trip-hop was officially born. The second song on this seminal album was One Love and featured Andy. This was the beginning of a collaborative partnership that still exists 31 years later and has spawned such memorable songs as Spying Glass and Angel.
Andy remains an active member of the Massive Attack touring band and is the only guest artist to feature on all five albums, from Blue Lines to 2010’s Heligoland. But it has been more than a decade since Massive Attack released an album, despite ongoing recording sessions, as Andy explained to the Guardian. “They work slow,” he said. “It’s coming 10 years now since Massive Attack release an album and I think I record some six songs for them, I’m looking forward to them putting out the new tunes.”
By exposing him to a new audience, Andy’s collaboration with Massive Attack in the early 1990s brought about a resurgence in his career. One of the songs selected for Midnight Rockers looks back at this time, with Andy offering up his own version of Blue Lines’ opening song and third single Safe From Harm. Vocalist Shara Nelson sang on the original Massive Attack version – a cold minimal statement of urban dread, with Nelson’s vocals sounding as if she was pleading for salvation. Sherwood and Andy’s version is a warm-blooded dub tune, with Andy’s vocals sounding a lot more assured – as if the past three decades have matured the song into a new sense of security.
Safe From Harm’s opening words also gave Sherwood and Andy the name for the new album, an incredibly fitting one for what feels like an offering of nocturnal dub music.
Midnight Rocker also features re-recordings of some of his 1970s hits, such as the singles Mr Bassie, produced by Dodd; Materialist, produced by Winston “Niney” Holness; and This Must Be Hell, produced by Tapper Zukie.
A new partnership
Listening to Midnight Rocker, which features contributions from On-U Sound players such as Gaudi, Skip McDonald, George Oban, Crucial Tony, the Ital Horns and Style Scott, it is clearly a labour of love for both producer and singer.
As Sherwood told the Guardian, the producer and Andy were in no rush. “We were determined to make this record as good as it possibly could be,” Sherwood said. “So I would send files to Horace in Jamaica, who would add vocals at his studio there, and send the tracks back to me to do more work on.” Sherwood proclaimed the album a “true gold star performance” in the publicity material. “I’m very proud of it,” he said.
Sherwood’s production work was integral to the success of two of Lee Scratch Perry’s last great albums, Rainford and Heavy Rain, which dropped on On-U Sound in 2019, but this is the first time he has worked with Andy. “He a really good producer and a lovely man,” Andy told the Guardian. “Like me, he likes to take his time, not rush things.”
And the best news is that a Sherwood dub version of Midnight Rockers is set to follow.