Horace Andy: Heavenly Social, London

After three decades as a singer, Horace Andy can still surprise. Lucy O’Brien reports

AN INTIMATE venue at the best of times, London’s Heavenly Social is packed to the gills for Horace Andy’s unplugged warm-up gig. Now slotted into that rather dubious category “living legend”, Andy has been singing slow-burning skank and roots reggae since the late 60s. In the 90s he began collaborating with Massive Attack, his sweet, haunting vocals perfectly suited to their dark trip hop. Many of the young crowd have obviously found their way to him via the “Massive” (Daddy G, in fact, is in the house), and he is delighted.

Smiling broadly at the crowd, he finds a spot on the tiny stage while his guitarist and percussionist sit either side of him. With his neat camouflage cap and casual clothes, Andy comes across as laid-back and low-key — until he sings. His wavering, sensual high tenor then takes over the room, gradually silencing most of the busy chatter.

Accompanied by the scratchy, rhythmic acoustic guitar and drums, his is a minimal set, capturing the raw feel of 70s sound systems. Though he begins with his 70s skanking hit ‘Money Money’, Andy concentrates mainly on songs from his new album, Living in the Flood, a return to roots that sounds muted on record but live sees each note driven home with delicate yet punchy precision.

He moves from the reflective to the righteous; from ‘After All’, a song about a potential suicide with the tender line “You’re lookin’ for a softer place to fall”, to ‘Living in the Flood’, a less interesting call to revolt that was “written by Mr Joe Strummer”. In the middle of the set he sings a rapturously received ‘Skylarking’, his classic song about growing up in Allman Town, downtown Kingston. Andy, though, seems to reserve his sweetest singing for spiritual numbers such as the mystic prayer ‘Seven Seals’, and ‘My Lord’, a bluesy “Rastaman anthem” that shows off his knack for writing intense, gliding melody lines.

“It was so nice to sing for you,” he says gently at the end of the show. “Reggae’s brilliant, isn’t it?” announces a lad at the back, as if surprised.

© Lucy O’BrienThe Guardian, 30 October 1999

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