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Issue 1084

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Feature

Andrew Roachford: Soul Provider

Andrew Roachford @bluesandsoul.com
Andrew Roachford @bluesandsoul.com Andrew Roachford @bluesandsoul.com

I can't believe it's been 22 (yes twenty-two!) years since Roachford shock the charts with their epic re-released single 'Cuddly Toy', from their equally impressive self-titled debut. Indeed, this UK #4 chart hit was to prove the springboard which would see the band score with reasonable success across the globe, in particular; Australia, Germany and the US.

But before launch into interview action with ex-Roachford lead singer the now well traveled solo singer/musician/songwriter Andrew Roachford. I must take a minute to mention the importance of Roachford (the band) at the backend of the '80s/through the '90s and their determination to bring their own style to the mainstream, with at the time, a unique brand of rock n' soul which would prove a handful for labels to promote but would endear them to their fans forever - a black man singing rock in his own rich, soul-filled way - well I never!

If we forward to today we find Mr Roachford releasing his third solo album "Addicted," since 2003s resplendent 'Heart Of The Matter.' It may be his third solo album in 8 years, but it's his third major release this year! Errr, how do you work that out? You say. I'll explain⦠Andrew was featured heavily on this year's Mike & the Mechanics album "The Road" (released in April), on which he was lead vocals on half the tracks, he also toured as a featured artist with the band (check out "The Living Years" On You Tube, simply superb!). BUT, so as not to leave his fans thinking he'd run off and joined Mike and the gang for keeps, he also released an E.P. in the same month. Ok, you with me now?

So I catch-up with a slightly jaded Andrew Roachford who has literally just stepped off a plane from Holland after entertaining his faithful fans across Europe. I get stuck in straight away as there's a fair bit to talk about, including; The low-down on the new "Addictive" album, genre hopping, euro success, Glastonbury, Aloe Blacc, Plan B and what does he REALLY think of Beverley Knight's version of the Roachford classic 'Cuddly Toy?' ...Errr and Gary Barlow's version!

LEE: You've had a busy yearâ¦

ANDREW: Yeah it's been a VERY busy year, very busy (laughs) â¦A good one!

LEE: The new album, there's a few of heart wrenching tracks on there⦠what's the influence behind the "Addictive" album, is that where Andrew Roachford is right now?

ANDREW: I think that was the feeling on some of the tracks as I was writing them, some of the songs were written while going through a break-up. But that was over a year ago, (laughs) I'm in a different place now - I find songs can be snapshots of moments, like pictures of your life. But I'm pretty much in a good place at the moment, really good.

LEE: 'Wishing I knew,' was that a natural first release from the album?

ANDREW: Yeah that was definitely a natural because it's kinda got ALL the elements of what is on the album in one song. I thought that was kinda a good cross section and will give people a good idea of where the album is coming from.

LEE: Bit more of a striped back Andrew Roachford as well.

ANDREW: Yeah, it's quite stripped back. It's done in a very back to the roots kinda way - to me it's a bit like getting back to if the songs work, the songs work! Rather than trying to polish them up too much, let them be what they are. VERY honestâ¦

LEE: That's a comment I would make about you, that you are an artist that is "genre crossing." Your uncle for instance (Bill Roachford, virtuoso saxoponist), there must be a jazz influence there...

ANDREW: Yeah, yeah...

LEE: Then 'Cuddly Toy' was quite a rocky sound (he agrees again). You then cite artists, as previously mentioned, who have influenced you from Hip-Hop to Soul, to X,Y,Z⦠So should anyone try to pigeon-hole Andrew Roachford or are you proud that you can genre hop, OR has it held you back?

ANDREW: I think, especially as far as the media, especially as far as the U.K., I think a lot of people want you to stick quite rigidly to one particular genre because it kinda seems that it's kind of a real thing, people can get their heads around it. I always say to people, when I think of Prince I don't really think of genre specific - I think he is Prince! His sound, you don't even question what genre it is, you just say well it's Prince! You don't say yeah it's Prince the soul dude! You just say well that's Prince! I have a lot of respect for his talent, that he can get to that level where he transcends that, and I think of myself that that's what I do. I am actually in my exploration, I'm trying to find a new sound always, trying to find something⦠I'm really happy with what's out there in the music world and the very specific genres, but the only way that music goes forward is that people like me that cross the boundaries and go right I'm gonna do the taboo thing. Which is, I'm gonna go right, I'm gonna have some rock guitar and a bit electro synth in there. Obviously I'm a soul vocalist, if I'm going to put myself in a category as far as vocalist, I am a soul vocalist - that's where I sing from, that's where most of my my influences are coming from. But as far as how I put music together, I have no qualms or no fear in actually taking from different genres.

LEE: I totally agree, if we (B&S) regarded you as rock artist then we wouldn't cover you. I think you are one of those artists that can mix genre because you have shown no fear before - if you want to do it, you go and do it!

ANDREW: Yeah, as far as soul music is concerned, that to me is not just a fashion or some sort of narrow genre. It's actually A FEELING you know. It's always a feeling, it's like when the music is coming from a part of you, I grew up with it - my family are from the Caribbean and there are influences from the '70s and the '60s, mostly either reggae or Caribbean soul moves and it's part of my makeup. My uncle always said to me "you gotta be open with music and try and do things." The only way you can do that is to come out of some of the boundaries that people say that you should stick to, I'm just not that kind of person.

LEE: Good advice. I spoke to Aloe Blacc recently, he is obviously a hip-hop artist turned soul artistâ¦

ANDREW: Good exampleâ¦

LEE: I asked him what was the reason for the change in genre? He said, he could convey a story a lot easier with soul music, more than he could with hip-hop - for him hip-hop was more about the message rather than the story. Do you find, with you being able to move genre in this manor, that you are able to express yourself in a different ways within each genre?

ANDREW: Yeah, it does open you up to all kinds of different things. When you open yourself up genre-wise it definitely gives a whole new meaning and a different feel. I definitely agree with Aloe Blacc - he's an artist that I really love, apart from the fact I think he's really talented as an artist, I like his message - his message seems very universal. He's an individual and people like him for that, he aspires me to bring my individualism, not being part of the mob if you know what I mean. To be actually sat up there on your own - it takes guts because you will get knocked down for it, but I respect what he's done and I think the leap from hip-hop to soul is in some peoples eyes a massive leap. If you speak to Common for example I think he is somewhere in between because he is a rapper and he is doing hip-hop music but his music is⦠a lot of the samples and the beats that he is uses, and the musicians that he uses, its soul music that he's doing and he's rapping on it. Kanye to me is the sameâ¦

LEE: Plan B another oneâ¦

ANDREW: Plan B exactly. Everyone else jumps on the bandwagon because people like Plan B and those make it OK to do, then everyone else jumps on. In my mind you're either a leader in a sense or you're just a follower. I don't want to be the sort of person that waits for everyone else to say it's ok to put a bit of guitar in a soul tune - if I feel in my heart that it works then thats what I have to go by.

LEE: I have to ask, what do you think of, you're not going to say it rubbish obviously (both laugh), of Beverley Knight's (Cuddly Toy) cover?

ANDREW: I loved it when I heard it because she did it in her own way, she wasn't trying to do a 'Roachford part two' with it, she did her own thing - respect to that. The whole concept of the album, she is showcasing the people who influenced her and is actually giving back some kind of respect on some level you know. so I've got nothing bad to say about that really.

LEE: My favourite cover on her album is the Princess track, I think it's a stunning rendition, delivered beautifully.

ANDREW: "Number 1," yeah - yeah, yeah yeah. I think it's good timing for it, people starting to look back into the '80s era as well - perfect timing.

LEE: Talking of covers, did you ever see Gary Barlow cover "Cuddly Toy"?

ANDREW: I heard about it, I heard that certain people around him said that maybe he shouldn't tackle it! (laughs)

LEE: Oh really?

ANDREW: Well, Beverley Knight has got that kind of voice. Certain songs you kinda don't cover, you're not gonna cover "Sex Machine" because that actual song is much about the performance as about the song. I thought that the idea, the fact that he did it, left me with a warm feeling. You see people coming up and again it's like a little mark of respect - Gary's a nice guy and I'm really happy that the Take That whole thing kicked off again. It showed people again, never count anyone out, at the end of the day it's music and if you've got a good tune people want to hear it. People only get very judgemental when they're squabbling and not really feeling the tune, but if they're feeling it, they're feeling it! You can't stop that.

LEE: Taking of good tunes and you crossing genres, the funk/dance side of you came out a little while ago on a dance track then the Dr Rubberfunk album hit my desk. Is that you dabbling or were you approached, or...

ANDREW: From people approaching me. I think one of the things that kicked it off was, a DJ did a remix of one of my old songs, a song called 'Ride The Storm.'

LEE: Yeah, I heard that on a Hed Kandi albumâ¦

ANDREW: And he did it because he thought you know what he loved the song and it was something he felt lyrically he just felt that he wanted to put out there again. When I heard it I thought wow! Because I never would have thought that song would work as an electro-house track, you know uptempo, because the original was so slow. It started to get played all over the place and I started getting calls from Ibiza saying "would you come over and just sing this vocal because we want to hear you sing it!" I went over to Ibiza and it was really weird grabbing the mic, I don't really do the playback thing, but in that world its⦠and I'm standing on stage in front of a generation of people who didn't know my music from when I started out, they weren't even around, AND they just loved the tune! It was almost like a whole other world to me and I just thought you know what, it was like getting to a whole new crowd of people. And if I can do that, if it leads them into checking out some of my old stuff and checking-out what I'm doing now⦠When I go out I don't just listen to live music, I love going out and hearing club music - I like to dance, I like to get down (laughs), so I'm open to that man. It's been good⦠Rubberfunk was another guy who I thought was really good, I wanted to work with him.

LEE: I thought the whole album was good.

ANDREW: Yeah, he played me the album he did previously and I was quite shocked, I just thought you don't really hear that kind of⦠someone who had put that much work into that kind of⦠because it was almost kind of 'lounge' but then he'd done this retro kind of thing - he used real brass and played himself. He really put a lot of time an effort into it, it was something special, so I was up for that man.

LEE: One of the things I find fascinating about you is your fame in other countries, namely Germany and Scandinavia.

ANDREW: Yeah I've just got back from Holland, did some stuff out there. Australia, I mean you know there's some way out there places.

LEE: Are you surprised what countries have taken a shine to you - do you think certain countries should have and didn't?

ANDREW: What surprises me is that you have one song that you put out in one country, like 'Cuddly Toy' was obviously massive in the U.K. but then you go to other countries and they just don't get it!? But they'll get another track from another album and that will be, in their minds, your flagship tune. So it's completely different from place to place, peoples idea of who I am is different. My biggest selling album is not the album with "Cuddly Toy" on, but my first album. As far as worldwide.

LEE: Really? (sounding surprised in an almost Scooby Doo fashion)

ANDREW: I would like to do more stuff in America, but I don't look at it like well they should like my music or they shouldn't. If I do the right business there and they are feeling it then that's all great. A lot of my influences are American as well as British, there is a place for me there and it's something I'm still looking to pursue.

LEE: I totally agree with that comment. Do you feel that because people are now open to excepting artists who 'genre hop', due to us being exposed it more regulary now, do you think you have more of a chance to make it in the America now - more than you would have back then maybe?

ANDREW: I think definitely. Sometimes when I have gone to jam sessions/open mic sessions around London, it's interesting how now, especially in the urban scene how people won't frown when they see someone pick up an acoustic guitar to sing a song. Whereas maybe 10 years ago they would say "that's not urban, urban is you've got to have a DJ." It was a lot narrower. However, now you've got people like Kanye sampling Otis Redding and then a rock track from the 20th Century/21st Century. There's a generation that are now a little more open because their ears have a bit more tailored to cross genre stuff and they're not like "what's that all about!" They are now a bit more open to it, so now is a good time for that. When I did 'Cuddly Toy' in America, it did well in America it was in the Billboard Top 20 and everything, but still with my album the record company said to me straight "you're a black artist, if you keep putting guitar in your music we won't be able to market it!" That was told to me straight and I understood that they didn't just say that for any other reasons, then maybe it was the truth, they wouldn't know how to market it! This was surprising to me because I loved Jimmy Hendrix and of course Living Colour were around, Lenny Kravitz and Terrence Trent Darby⦠It was still very fresh but people still expected black artists to only be making music for clubs and here was me coming along with this live thing. I still find it very surprising and a bit disappointing that still there is not enough black artists playing at festivals - it's changing because we got Tinie and we've got those, but like bands that are actually playing music. It's taken up to the last couple of years to actually hear any black artists at Glastonbury you know - apart from in the dance tent!?

LEE: I totally agree, years ago B&S wouldn't have been admitted to Glasto, mainly because there was not a lot for us to cover music-wise - now unfortunately due to that fact, its now almost a closed shop as far as coverage goes from a black perspective. We asked if we could cover Glastonbury this year (as we did last year) and were pretty much shooed away because they (in my view) don't see the importance of journalism form a black music perspective (please don't get that comment mixed up with a 'young perspective' Glastonbury). Jay has opened this once 'permanently closed door' for Beyonce and other black artists to walk proudly through - how brave was that? In my view it didn't matter what they thought of him at the time, it was all about his attendance AND then the music. Previously they were so used to the Oasis 'guitar type bands' etc⦠So there was bound to be flack for putting a black rapper on stage. It has now opened the floodgates, HOPEFULLY, for it to be more accepted.

ANDREW: It's definitely changing and I think it's a good thing because out of that there will some more great artists now appearing that have been out there trying to get a look in and couldn't till now - we need that! Motown was always about that, Motown was a crossover kind of project. Berry Gordy was very shrewd in how he approached it and no matter what people thought about it, it showcased a lot of artists that we may never of heard of. We may never have heard of Marvin Gaye if it had not been for Berry Gordy's shrewd mind about "we need to make this acceptable as well and get out there on a mainstream stage." Why not you know?

LEE: Even Marvin went against the grain?

ANDREW: Yeah Marvin went against the grainâ¦

LEE: With some of his material, which ended up being iconic materialâ¦

ANDREW: Yeah, 'What's Going On''⦠yeah. However at that point he had established himself to a household name status. I think the timing was very shrewd.

Andrew Roachford's new album "Addictive" is out now on M3 Records. You can also catch the man himself in live action through October in Oxford, Cardiff and Brighton. Plus a very special set of live dates at London's Jazz Café on December 15/16/17.

YOU CAN READ MORE FROM THIS INTERVIEW, INCLUDING ANDREW'S MEMORIES OF BEING IN ROACHFORD (THE BAND) AND HIS TIME AS A MEMBER OF MIKE AND THE MECHANICS - BUY YOUR COPY OF OCTOBER/NOVEMBER (AUTUMN) PRINTED EDITION OF BLUES & SOUL BELOW.
Words LEE TYLER

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