Finley Quaye. Seven Magazine 2000

words: Dan Gennoe


Finley Quaye has a reputation for being both mad and a character. Of the two descriptions- one being a damning judgement that a person is without sound mind, the other a polite way of saying the same thing about someone you like- it’s the former that is outwardly most appropriate. Coming to the end an interview about Prada, suits and other style issues with an internationally respected gentleman’s quarterly, the scruffy Quaye, whose jeans and jumper have seen many better days, looks uncomfortable. His attention starts to wander to the beautiful people, or more specifically the beautiful woman he can see for the balcony of the Primrose Hill pub where he is holding court. He clambers like a small child over his chair to get a better look. This is a sign. The interview is over. Not only is he not looking at the source of the questions, he’s not listening.

Having been by far the coolest thing to have happened to 1997- winning the 1998 Brit Award for Best Male Artist to prove it- with the release of the double platinum debut Maverick A Strike, it would be logical to assume that his switching off is Finley simply exercising his right to exhibit superstar attitude. A look at his face says something different. He is hoping that ignoring the interview will make it go away. And it works. Jumping to his feet, he cracks a smile to the now resigned journalist. “Right, who’s hungry?”, he enquires with a mile wide grin. Consulting all present he establishes that everyone is. With a shout of “Great, let’s get some food,” he disappears. Finley Quaye has resumed control, and is happy again.

An hour later Finley is polite, courteous and happily munching on an exotic toasted sandwich by the road side. Eyeing 7 suspiciously, he winks and laughs. The interview is running the best part of two hours late and there’s no sign of it starting any time soon. Wandering between two bollards, finishing his sandwich, he talks covertly on his mobile. “It’ll be here soon,” he informs, referring to the special delivery that is being biked to him. He is twitchy, and clearly keen for it’s arrival. “It’ll be here soon,” he reiterates staring up at the beating midday sun. “This sun makes me want to do kung-fu,” he laughs illustrating his words with some slo-mo moves, adding “saw Scarface last night…it was good”. Slightly confused, his press officer and 7 smile and nod politely. A spilt second later his face changes and he’s laying down the law about our interview. He dictates the place, duration and reasons “it’s too hot to do interviews” with a look and tone that says the matter is not up for debate. 7 agrees. He and his relieved press officer smile, nod and smile some more. Finley Quaye has spoken, he’s taken control and is happy again.

Sensing that the bike and its precious cargo may actually not be on its way, Finley gives up his hyperactive vigil, and into the inevitable, leading the way to the studio where he recorded new album Vanguard arguably his best yet. A suitable setting to discuss all things musical this may be, but Finley is looking uncomfortable again, nervously shifting in his seat and taking reassuring drags on numerous cigarettes. The source of his widely reported arrogance suddenly becomes apparent. Finley Quaye hates interviews. He fears every question, and for fear of not being able to deliver, can’t wait to leave.

The only thing he dislikes more than questions, are questions about his music. Ask about new single Spiritualized, an instantly catchy slice of summer, and there’s along pause. Ask if updating his chilled dub grooves and sunshine reggae with rock guitars was a conscious decision to do something different and he quizzically answers, “It’s not different,” followed by another thoughtful pause. “Errrrr. Mmmmm. To the last album? Yeahhhh, yeah, yeah,” he continues before launching into a winding and seemingly unrelated story about The Beatles in Hamburg.

With regard to Spiritualized’s lyrical content; a long and eccentric list of life changes, including a period managing himself and the birth of his child (“singing songs/cutting deals/looking for a buggy with three wheels”) and his stay at celebrity clinic of choice The Priory (“stop the drinking/stop the drugs/love”), he’s equally confused as to the possible relevance of any answer he might give and reclaims control by giving another detailed and insightful answer to a question that hasn’t been asked. 

“They’re just songs. Songs written from experience,” he muses. “Some experiences don’t last forever, you know. Some of the responsibilities or burdens never go away. Your experiences, can be like Aborigine paintings in the sand. You draw a painting in the sand, and then the sea washes it away. Or chalk paintings on the pavement, they get washed away by rain. You know what I’m saying?” Errr, not really. “I record songs to the contrary of that type of art. I want to make art you can’t delete. Indelible.” He nods thoughtfully, as if checking he’s covered everything he wanted to say. “You can’t delete that music, it’s got too much distribution.”

Finley has said all he wants to about music. He’s an artist, he creates and he knows not where it comes from. He can’t explain it. If he could dissect what makes his music work, it would probably kill off his knack for effortless tunes, putting conscious pressure on him to re-perform the same miracle. For the moment he feels no such pressures; left alone by a record company acutely aware of the prize they have in his universally loved grooves and chillout tunes. “I don’t need anyone hassling me to write. My A&R man doesn’t come to the studio, he just listens to the demos or finished product. I dictate how I go in the future. God loves a tryer, and I love God. That’s about the Roni Size of it.” For the first time today, he’s relaxed, engrossed in conversation. 

“You know, you just got to keep tryin’ and practising, or nothing comes off. You can get rusty at anything, darts, pool… you practise what you love, practise what you’re good at and in this world you gotta practise something that makes you money. To have a wholesome and healthy lifestyle, then one has to earn money, one has to be responsible.” Finley pauses. He is about to deliver the key to his personality, success and reason why he’s a misunderstood soul. 

“When I was eighteen or nineteen, I thought I could handle anything that came my way, any given thing. I thought I could handle being the Prime Minister, I thought ‘Anything you throw my way, I’ll handle it’. So with a realisation that I can handle anything, or with the right attitude learn to do anything, I decided to choose what I was going to go into.” He nods, hurriedly lighting a smoke. “So even though I was young and naive, I was still very intelligent and knew that it was possible to make a pathway and a career and direction, and to accomplish anything. So I went for it.” Self-belief and single minded determination drives Finley Quaye, and is in part the cause of him being labelled, unfairly, arrogant and difficult. 

The easy flow and organic beats of Maverick A Strike made it an essential ingredient to the summer of ‘97. But he’s adamant that it’s success didn’t change who he is or how he lives. “Life isn’t that different. I was living in an aristocratic circus, on the first circular street in Edinburgh, the first in Europe I believe, when I made the first album, with Lord and lady somebody downstairs, a QC above…I looked a little different to them, coming in and out with African drums, or rasta’s showing up in a Volkswagen camper van, but life hasn’t really changed. Haggis has changed to Jellied Eels but that’s about it.” 

Unlike some of his peers, Finley is humble enough to admit that, as well as vindicating his self-belief, the Brit Award was a nice touch. “People congratulate me in the street, taxi drivers congratulate me because I won a Brit Award, and that’s inspirational. I wouldn’t say it’s an indication of my success, that’s in the happiness or hope music gives people, and the fact that there’s bloody culture back on the television, and it’s not sterile.”

For Finley though Maverick A Strike was a bitter sweet release. “I love to listen to this second album from beginning to end, as if I was listening to someone else’s music, where as with the first album I don’t have that pleasure. I hardly ever listen to it. There’s one track that I really don’t like on it and that’s Your Love Gets Sweeter. That’s the one that messes with me.” His frustration with the track is well founded. “Somebody brought the wrong mix of it to the cut in New York. Simple as that, and we couldn’t do anything about it, and I was left with this pedal pumped, fuckin’ harmonium, clattering out of time. So when I get to that track, I’m like hit with a brick. I do listen to it, but it’s taken a bloody long time for me to listen to that album and actually enjoy it. I got talked into keeping it [the harmonium], saying ‘Oh it sounds alright. It sounds organic and you’re organic’. And I listened to it and thought, well it’s not that out of time, it is a nice little 18th Century harmonium pumping away there, and I thought, give the guys a break. Everyone was like, ‘Don’t be a megalomaniac, don’t be a control freak, people want to help you Finley’.”

Being a megalomaniac control freak is something his former managers, both of them, would probably testify to. Having dispensed with their services, he spent a year managing himself. Ask why and his answer is typically blunt. “There was no body competent enough to manage me.” A bold statement but not one without merit. “There was nobody in Britain that I had been introduced to that could take a band on a tour around the world. It seemed to be old-hat. ‘No son, you’re tripping, those things stopped in the seventies’, everyone said. I couldn’t find anyone competent enough, who believed that a nine piece band could make money. I was constantly told, the band’s too big, can’t afford to run it…just nobody believed in it.” So taking matters into his own hands, he was once again proved right, touring the UK five times. But he concedes that realistically, it wasn’t feasible to sustain, which is why he’s now enlisted the services of Neil Young’s US manager. “It was too stressful. Too stressful, trying to be a father and carry on with the work I’m doing creatively, and manage myself was too much.”

According to many tabloid reports, in association with drink, drugs and issues of celebrity, it was this stress that saw Finley check into The Priory. Bizarrely, after his reluctance to discuss music, it’s this most sensitive of subjects that he’s most open about. “I turned up with £15,000 in the boot of my car, in cash and checked myself in, just to clean up, to detox. I knew how much I had to pay them, I went there with cash, and paid them in cash, and that’s the difference. There’s people wandering round Primrose Hill right now who need that treatment and don’t know it.” He continues with a new, self-assured tone. “I went there to sort out, clean out, and become puritanical. To become a bastard of a fuckin’ winner.” So there’s no truth in the rumour that he’d lost his marbles. “You can go in there and have a good old chat, but I think you quickly realise you’re okay. It’s like watching Scarface, and  realising, ‘Actually I am alright’. There were some serious cases in there and it’s very, very interesting. I’m going back there this week for an out patients visit. I go there and talk to a shrink about how things are going because he’s equipped to talk to me about such things. My friends don’t deserve that.” 

Finley Quaye is shy and easily unsettled, which by default makes him evasive, but he’s not mad. A character, definitely, but not mad. If anything his unwavering belief that anything’s possible, is to be admired. As he ponders his Priory days, the source of his music’s spirit lifting positivity surfaces. Finley Quaye may not understand is own creativity, but he understands life and how to get to it. “It’s good to unload,” he offers as a parting gift. “You carry problems around with you all the time, but if you ignore them your life becomes empty. That’s not healthy. There’s nice things to appreciate in life…some many nice things to appreciate.”

Finley Quaye’s single Spiritualized is released September 11, followed by the album, Vanguard on October 2, both through Epic Records.


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Dan Gennoe

Dan Gennoe is a London based freelance journalist & author. He's written features, interviews and reviews for the likes of Esquire, GQ, Arena, FHM, Q Magazine, Mojo, Red, Time Out, The Independent and The Mail On Sunday. Dan also writes books, both fiction and non-fiction, and has ghost written the odd celebrity biography.

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