Groove Armada, the electic electronica outfit helmed by deejay-musicians Andy Cato and Tom Findlay, coalesced in the mid-1990s, evolving from a club night begun by Cato and Findlay. In a few short years, they achieved critical acclaim and broke into the United Kingdom top 20. In the process, they established themselves as a worldwide phenomenon. They’ve been lauded by the likes of Madonna and Elton John, with Groove tracks appearing on Madonna’s Next Big Thing soundtrack and performed at the Interview magazine thirtieth anniversary celebration.
Groove Armada traces its origins to the early 1990s, when Yorkshireman Cato was introduced, by his girl-friend, to a group of Cambridge musicians living in London, among them Tom Findlay. Multi-instrument-alist Cato had developed a dual passion for jazz and house music. Findlay, who plays both bass and trumpet, had promoted clubs in Manchester, working the turntables, before relocating to London. The two men joined forces to begin a club night, “Captain Sensual at the Helm of the Groove Armada,” named after a disco night in a Newcastle club. The club began in a two-room venue, with Cato playing house music in one room and Findlay playing funk in another. When the club moved to a single-room venue, the duo took turns manning the tables. This club night evolved, over time, into the Groove Armada project, with Cato and Findlay drawing from their eclectic musical backgrounds to expand the horizons of house/electronica.
In 1997 the group released its first single on the Tummy Touch label of Findlay’s fellow Cambridge exile, Tim “Love” Lee. “At the River,” an early masterwork with a laid-back funk beat, was released as a 7-inch in a limited run of 500 copies. It quickly became a rare, prized item, as aficionados scrambled to snatch the few available copies. It was a sensational start and the attendant buzz assured that there would be a welcoming environment for their debut album, Northern Star, released early in 1998. The album, which included “At the River” and “Captain Sensual” (the remix), was an eclectic blend, mixing house and techno rhythms with jazz and funk. Northern Star has been described by Dean Carlson of All Music Guide as being “what happens when you let George Clinton fans start experimenting with ambient house. True—unlike what their name probably implies, Groove Armada stumble off much more into funk’s flamboyant territory than groove’s hypnotic subtlety. Which actually isn’t so bad. Because here in the band’s debut album…, such genre tweaking works nearly every time.”
In 1998 Groove Armada signed with Jive Electro Records. The duo retreated to the countryside in Cumbria to assemble the tracks that would constitute their second album, Vertigo, released in early 1999. It was a diverse mix of techno beats and laid-back funk that demonstrated Cato and Findlay’s vast repertoire. “If Everybody Looked the Same,” the first single from the album, reached number 25 on the United Kingdom
Members include Andy Cato, deejay, trombones, keyboards, bass;Tom Findlay, deejay, bass, trumpet.
Group formed in London as off-shoot of club night, “Captain Sensual and the Groove Armada,” 1994-95; first album, Northern Star, released on Tummy Touch label, includes single “At the River,” 1997; signed with Jive Electro, 1998; released first U.S. recording, Vertigo, includes “If Everybody Looked the Same,” “At the River,” and “I See You Baby,” 1999; compiled tracks for Back to Mine series, 2000; released Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub), 2001.
charts. “At the River,” the standout cut from the first album, made its way onto Vertigo as well and was rereleased as the second single. It quickly broke the top 20. The third single, “I See You Baby,” which includes vocals by Gram’ma Funk, also broke the top 20 and was later remixed by Norman Cook, also known as Fat Boy Slim. The remix became a club staple and extended the life of the cut while widening Groove Armada’s appeal beyond its faithful core audience. Vertigo was the first Groove Armada album to be released in the United States and the deejays on the club scene quickly embraced the group. David J. Prince, reviewing the album for the Barnes & Noble website, wrote of the album: “From the opening extended funk workout of “Chicago” to the high-energy breakout single “I See You Baby,” Groove Armada’s Vertigo is a respectable attempt to break house music out of its bedroom-bred enclosure.”
Cato and Findlay next lent their talents to Ultra Records’ Back to Mine series, compiling favorite tracks from a diverse array of groups. Released in September of 2000, Groove Armada’s Back to Mine included tracks from A Tribe Called Quest, Tears for Fears, Al Green, and Barry White. Cato and Findlay included a couple of their own cuts, and the selection of tunes added insight to how the duo arrives at their own eclectic concoctions. True to form, the album swings between hip-hop and soul, upping the tempo with house beats. Also in 2000, Tummy Touch reissued Groove Armada’s maiden voyage, Northern Star, without the twice-released “At the River.”
Groove Armada’s third album, Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub), had the unfortunate release date of September 11, 2001. Recorded in the countryside outside of Oxford, the album was produced with a more substantial budget than that of the first two, and it marked a departure in another significant way. While Northern Star and Vertigo were assembled largely from sampled bits, Goodbye Country was created largely with live instrumentation. The recording process included the use of live strings, percussion, and horns. Cato and Findlay solicited the participation of funk-disco guitar stylist and producer Nile Rodgers, who contributed to two of the tracks, “Drifted,” and “Raisin’ the Stakes.” Other contributors include Jeru the Damaja, Tim Hutton, and Richie Havens. The album is more laid-back than their previous efforts, more in tune with their reputation on the club circuit as “chill-out kings.” The album was greeted with high acclaim. While it did not produce standout hits like its predecessor, it helped to more firmly establish Groove Armada as one of the leading proponents of experimentation on the ever-evolving dance scene.
Mark Schwartz, reviewing the album for Barnes & Noble, wrote: “Goodbye Country stakes its claim and works to find the common links between soul jazz, dub, and house, making it that dance music rarity—a set that rewards repeated listening.” Spin magazine, as excerpted at the Barnes & Noble website, rated it eight out of ten. Reviewer Barry Walters, noting the shift away from sample-based tracks, wrote: “Goodbye Country is less an electronica CD than a dub album without any original sources—and it’s all the freer for it.”
Groove Armada toured in support of Goodbye Country, including well-received gigs in the United States, while maintaining a regular club night and producing their own radio show, Fireside Favorites, on London’s Kiss FM.
Northern Star, Tummy Touch, 1998; reissued, 2000.
Vertigo, Jive, 1999.
Back to Mine, Ultra, 2000.
Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub), Jive, 2001.
Billboard, January 22, 2000, p. 42.
Interview, January 2000, p. 73.
Rolling Stone, March 16, 2000, p. 73.
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“Groove Armada,” offitsface.com, http://www.offitsface.com/c-bio-groove_armada.html (July 14, 2002).
“Groove Armada,” Pulse! Magazine, http://pulse.towerrecords.com/contentStory.asp?contentld=1189 (July 14, 2002).
“Groove Armada,” Sing365.com, http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/singerUnid/BBC8EE51F72E4DA0482568E20001F629 (July 14, 2002).
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“Groove Armada: Vertigo,” PopMatters: Music, http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/g/groovearmada-vertigo.html (July 14, 2002).
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