Award-winning reggae artist and multi-instrumentalist Finley Quaye emerged in the late-1990s to reshape and breathe new life into time-tested reggae styles. Quaye, not of Jamaican or Caribbean decent but of half-Ghanaian, half-Celtic heritage, excelled in a modern form of music often described as “new roots.” Hard to categorize yet accessible, the Quaye experience starts with a jazz-informed foundation of reggae, topped with a blend of acid-rock, pop, punk, soul, funk, and hip-hop. His 1997 debut, Maverick A Strike, as well as 2000’s Vanguard, did much to revitalize interest in both traditional and contemporary forms of reggae music in Great Britain.
Born in 1974 in Edinburgh, Scotland, Finley (which means “sunshine” in Gaelic) Quaye, the youngest of seven children, spent his childhood surrounded by musical influences. “I’ve been around music since I was a kid,” he said, as quoted by Devon Jackson in Harper’s Bazaar. Although he prefers not to talk about his family ties, Quaye shares an undeniable musical bond with several close relatives. His late father, Cab Quaye, was a jazz composer born in the West African republic of Ghana, while his older half-brother, Caleb Quaye, was a successful session guitarist during the 1970s and 1980s who played with the likes of Elton John, Hookfoot, and Hall & Oates. Quaye’s grandfather, Caleb Qye, was a Ghanaian musician as well.
His most famous relative is nephew Tricky, a popular English-born rap/hip-hop artist and son of Quaye’s much older (Quaye is actually seven years Tricky’s junior) half-sister Maxine Quaye, for whom her son titled his debut album, 1995s Maxinquaye. Despite a connection to Tricky, the two musicians never met until the late-1990s, as Tricky’s mother was often absent, and he was raised primarily by his grandmother in Bristol, England. Thus, perhaps because of their different upbringings, Finley’s reggae-pop-soul-rock style, while just as eclectic and ambitious, seems the polar opposite of his nephew’s. Raised mostly by relatives on his Scottish-born mother’s side of the family, Quaye grew up in various cities throughout the United Kingdom, including Manchester and London, England, and Edinburgh and Aberdeen, Scotland. His family’s varied record collections introduced him to jazz first, and later to rock bands like T. Rex and Black Sabbath.
Quaye, however, also witnessed tragedy and heartache firsthand. For many years during his youth, he watched his now-deceased mother battle heroin addiction. Understandably, the popular media’s promotion of the idea of “heroin chic” and drug use as glamorous in advertising, film, and television deeply angers and haunts Quaye to this day. “I found my mum doing cold turkey, that’s not glamorous,” he recalled in an interview with Melody Maker’s Martin James. “I spent my childhood years watching my mum completely ill in bed, poison pouring out of the scars in her arms. She was a user for 12 years. It’s stuff a young kid shouldn’t see. And that’s the reality of heroin chic.”
Born in 1974 in Edinburgh, Scotland; son of Cab Quaye, a Ghanaian-born jazz composer.
Signed with Epic Records, 1996; released platinum-selling debut album Maverick A Strike, 1997; released Vanguard, 2000.
Awards: Music of Black Origin (MOBO) Award, Best Reggae Act, 1997; Brit Award, Best British Male Artist, 1998.
While living in Edinburgh as a teen, Quaye dropped out of school and took his first job spraying cars in a garage and later worked as a scaffolder, spending nights driving to Newcastle in England with friends and listening to music such as Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” Sasha’s remix of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and 808 State show tapes that he had brought with him from Manchester. Around the same time, Quaye started emceeing at early jungle raves with the like of DJ Top Buzz and spinning records for a pirate radio station, sparking his interest in Bob Marley and the entire reggae lineage.
In 1993, Quaye returned to Manchester, enrolling in a music and sound engineering course. But he was soon drawn to London, where he practiced and hung out with the eco-anarchist drumming group the Donga Rainbow Tribe. “I’ve always been a drummer,” he said, as quoted in a Hip Online biography. “Drumming with my fingers, drumming with knives waiting for toast to pop up, drumming on poles waiting for the train or bus to come—you get a wonderful ring off those poles. Drums are a great foundation. If you then start replacing drums with other instruments, you’ve got the start of a great melody.”
The following year, back in Manchester, Quaye participated in some recording sessions with A Guy Called Gerald mainman Gerald Simpson. Soon after the short-lived sessions, Quaye left town, embarking on a tour abroad with the Rainbow Tribe and not thinking much about the material he had laid down with Simpson. However, upon his return to Britain, Quaye was surprised to find that Simpson had reworked some of the takes into a memorable blend of drum ‘n’ bass and ambience called “Finley’s Rainbow,” which appeared on A Guy Called Gerald’s Black Secret Technology album. The first time Quaye heard the finished track was on the radio. Gaining confidence in his potential as a solo artist, Quaye promptly recorded a three-track demo, featuring an early version of what would become his first hit,” Sunday Shining,” a rewrite of Bob Marley’s “Sun Is Shining,” and circulated it to various major labels. Finally, in September of 1996, Quaye signed a record deal with Sony subsidiary Epic Records.
After the early-1997 release of an EP entitled Ultra Stimulation, a blend of reggae and dub with an ambient element that captured his musical background up to that point, Quaye teamed with Sheffield-based producers Kevin Bacon and Jonathan Quarmby to commence work on his life-affirming debut album. Issued in September of 1997, Maverick A Strike was* both a critical and popular success, entering the United Kingdom album chart at number three, going gold within three weeks of its release, and eventually earning certified platinum status. Quaye’s debut also spawned several hits, including a re-recording of “Sunday Shining,” which rose into the United Kingdom Top 15, and “Even After Al,” which soared into the top ten. In October of that year, Quaye embarked on his first national headlining tour in support of Maverick A Strike, selling out all of his shows.
Quaye received several honors as a result of his debut. At the second annual Music of Black Origin (MOBO) Awards, held on November 10, 1997, at the New Connaught Rooms in London’s Covent Garden, Quaye was voted Best Reggae Act, and earned a nomination as Best Newcomer at the Q Awards. Then in February of 1998, Quaye picked up a Brit Award for Best British Male Artist.
In the spring of 1998, Quaye performed in the United States, then returned to Europe to play in summer music festivals, including the Creamfields festival in May in Winchester, England, alongside Chemical Brothers, Run DMC, Beth Orton, Cornershop, Lion-rock, the Space Raiders, and Monkey Mafia, and with the likes of Catatonia, Madness, and Space at Mad-stock IV at London’s Finsbury Park.
Quaye spent most of 1999 planting the seeds for his follow-up, Vanguard, released in October of 2000. The album’s first single,” Spiritualized,” a rolling song about love, life, and learning, offered somewhat of a departure for Quaye. Other highlights included the epic “The Emperor,” which featured a string section and wrenching lyrics, and the driving, up-tempo “When I Burn Off Into the Distance.”
Maverick A Strike, Epic, 1997.
Vanguard, Epic, 2000.
Buckley, Jonathan and others, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd., 1999.
Billboard, November 8, 1997; November 29, 1997; July 17, 1999.
Harper’s Bazaar, November 1997.
Melody Maker, November 8, 1997; May 9, 1998; June 13, 1998; July 18, 1998; August 15, 1998.
Rolling Stone, January 22, 1998.
Time, November 17, 1997.
Village Voice, November 11, 1997.
Washington Post, March 6, 1998.
Finley Quaye, http://www.finleyquaye.com(September 7, 2000).
Hip Online, http://www.hiponline.com (September 7, 2000).
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