The Komedia on Gardner Street is in the centre of Brighton, just a few minutes from the seafront, train station and main shopping areas, including the Lanes and North Laines. It’s the perfect location for a music venue although the Komedia also houses a cinema and sidewalk café, as well as several performance rooms. Downstairs is a four hundred capacity L-shaped space with low ceilings, diffused lighting and newly installed sound system. That’s where Brighton audiences have been treated to some of the best in old and new school reggae over the past year or so thanks to Global Beats, who were co-promoters with Cultural Promotions for the Horace Andy show.
The support act that night was Samsara - a local reggae band with backing singers, horn players and charismatic front man, who kept the sold-out crowd happy before the break. It’s message music you can dance to but delivering it with power so that you feel awed by it is another matter. Four hundred people sensed the change as Mafia and Fluxy and the rest of Horace’s musicians struck up a weighty roots rhythm, punctuated by Henry “Buttons” Tenyue’s trombone and anchored by the Heywood brothers’ tightly knit bass and drums. A few minutes later Horace Andy, legendary Jamaican singer and sometime lead vocalist with Massive Attack joined them from stage left, walking slowly towards the mic dressed in a khaki outfit with Rasta trimmings, his head bowed and greying dreadlocks tied back in a ponytail. Because of the low stage, there was little separation between artist and audience. There was a feeling of intimacy, and Horace sensed it from the start. He immersed himself and us along with him into the music, which never once sounded jaded and prompted those soulful, quivering cries that have been his hallmark for decades. His voice can sound so delicate it’s more like a fragrance yet it’s never weak. The strength in it comes from depth of feeling and also his identification as a Rastaman, because whilst he’s always sung love songs and also dancehall occasionally, it was the roots and reality tracks that impacted the most.
The majority of his set was made up of hits recorded for Studio One and Bunny Lee and the band played them with real authenticity, helped along by Buttons’ lyrical phrasing and a rock solid rhythm section. “This is the favourite of all my songs,” said Horace when announcing Every Tongue Shall Tell, which was one of many highlights. We learnt that his sister inspired See A Man’s Face and that the epic Skylarking was his “first hit from 1971.” A surge of energy then swept through the audience as he started into songs like Money Money, Zion Gate and a rumbling, dread-inducing Problems. Cuss Cuss was dedicated [with a twinkle in his eye] to manager Nicky and Spying Glass was first of his Massive Attack collaborations, with Hymn Of The Big Wheel - along with an aching cover of Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine - being saved for later.
Hymn Of The Big Wheel was sung over a dancehall rhythm and it worked a treat, with Horace clearly enjoying every minute. By the encore, he’d stripped down to a black singlet and was jumping on the spot like a man half his age. The music had energised him and when he roared into Do You Love My Music, with Stephen “Marley” Wright stepping from the shadows and playing some blistering rock guitar, the answer was a resounding ‘yes!’
Minutes after they’d ended the set with a triumphant You Are My Angel bassist Mafia, drenched in sweat and with a massive smile on his face said it was the best show they’d done on the tour so far, whilst Fluxy raved about the sound and the crowd. Horace meanwhile, greeted fans backstage looking happier than I’ve seen him in a long while. Not for the first time, he’d proved that he was still in command of his powers and that fine musical legacy, echoes of which still lingered as the rest of the audience drifted out into the warm night air.
Text: John Masouri. Photos: Catherine Gillo