Former Hibs ballboy and Brit award winner Finley Quaye is back on the road in support of his ‘best of’ collection and the forthcoming album ‘Straight From The Country’. The tour will include dates in Ireland, Senegal, South Africa and the UAE. Dates and ticket information below.

Much has been written about the Edinburgh born singer and his off-field troubles, but it appears that musically Finley Quaye is now back to his best. Aiden Smith sat down with Finley last summer to talk about his return, growing up in Scotland and doing a “Les Dawson”.

Darkness and light, darkness and light – Finley Quaye has flitted between the two since forsaking the gloom of Leith’s snooker halls for the feelgood hit of the summer of 1997 and instant pop fame. And here he is hiding behind Dior sunglasses to explain why, four years ago, the multi-platinum reggae superstar slipped from view: “I got fed up answering the same questions – about the death of my mum, the death of my dad and the death of Paula Yates. That required me to bear my soul emotionally, which is quite a dangerous thing to do, and I’d always end up feeling drained and pained. So I moved to Berlin where no one is interested in that stuff.”
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Just then, he stops talking and points a finger upwards as the laidback lilt of ‘Sun Is Shining’ wafts round the hotel bar. It’s the Bob Marley original, not Quaye’s restyling – the Scots-Ghanaian mix. That would be too cute, and Quaye’s life has rarely been that. But it’s a reminder of happier days, before he crashed and burned.
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This is the first time Quaye, now 34, has spoken in these four years and I’m not sure which incarnation is going to turn up today. Darkness or light? It’s long enough since any of us has glimpsed the latter. Even the reviews in serious newspapers of the last of his three albums were itemising the boozing, the drugs, Paula, the Priory, his failure to meet child maintenance payments and a charge of assaulting the mother of his second son – all of that before a discussion on the merits of the music. Quaye has done things of which he’s not proud, but you can sort of understand his disillusionment.
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But I think I’ve got the light version, despite the sunglasses staying on the rest of the afternoon. Dressed in blazer and jeans, he arrives at our Manchester rendezvous bang on time and flashing broad smiles. He’s happy to talk – about everything. Indeed, he wants to go all the way back to 1910, when the Quayes first arrived in Britain from Ghana. “My grandfather, Caleb Jonas Quaye, formed the Five Musical Dragons who played hi-life in London, so 2010 will be the centenary of my family making music here.” He’s thinking about writing a book commemorating this, and he should. The story is chaotic, tragic, vivid and, still for him, hugely inspirational.
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Before we delve back into the past, though, some more about Quaye’s recent history. “I went to Berlin because I wanted some of that bohemian lifestyle,” he explains in a cockneyesque accent that’s lost all trace of Edinburgh, where he grew up. “It was artists and artisans with everyone free to do what they wanted. There were cellists from Russia who didn’t want to play in orchestras anymore and dudes like me who for once thought they’d really behaved themselves and made a good commercial record…”
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Quaye is talking about that third album which he says got lost amid record company restructuring and wasn’t properly promoted. He split from that label but, when he was ready to record again, couldn’t get a new deal. Maybe his temperamental, troublesome reputation had gone before him. “My ego got in the way,” he admits. Perhaps the industry thought he was beyond turning out hits like ‘Sunday Shining’ and ‘Even After All’ from the time when he beat Robbie Williams to a Brit Award.
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“But I did a Les Dawson and it worked.” Come again? “Early on Les was getting nowhere as a comedian so he decided: ‘Bugger Britain.’ He went off to Paris to become a poet, failed at that as well, but the experience did him good. Berlin was good for me and now I’ve come back to set up Finley Quaye Music Ltd, which will release my records. I’ve got three albums good to go and the company HQ is a cottage in the middle of nowhere in Powys, where I now live.”
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Quaye’s conversation often fires off at tangents. One minute he’s talking about his football team Hibs, for whom he was a once a ballboy paid in pies – the next it’s 9/11 and how we should all be a little less paranoid. A chat with him is also an audio-link to pop’s more cobwebbed corners – who else references Badfinger, Medicine Head and Hookfoot these days? Then when I ask him about his current relationship with drugs, he suddenly starts blaming himself for the escalation in knife attacks.
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“I sent out the wrong message when I smoked weed so blatantly,” he admits. “I see kids up and down the country smoking like I smoked, dressing like I dressed and they’re scaring the shit out of people. I made those early records when I was high. There was a time when I thought good music and drugs were inseparable. But weed also made me paranoid and affected my memory.” So has he quit? “Pretty much.”
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With a name like Finley Ellington Quaye, he was always going to be a musician – The Duke was his godfather. His father was a jazzer, too, but Augustus “Cab” Quaye split from his mother when he was a baby. Dad and son were finally reunited in Amsterdam, shortly before the old man’s death. “I was so lucky to get to know him for a few years,” he says. “What a blessing that was.”
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His mother, Sharon McGowan, died of a heroin overdose when Quaye was 11. For a long time he was a secret to her “Wee Free” relatives in Glencoe. “Mum had me out of wedlock – by a black man.” After Sharon’s death, he was shuttled between relatives in Edinburgh and Manchester until the day an uncle struck him around the head with a belt and, still in school uniform, he boarded a train back north.
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So, what kind of grounding was all of that for a pop life? “Well, I enjoyed a tremendous amount of freedom. My Edinburgh was hot-rod racing, CB radio and of course music. Was I wild then? Not really. I was the most courteous snooker player. But while I didn’t have my parents around to moan at me, they also couldn’t give me advice.”
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Quaye, whose own sons by different women are now 15 and nine, admits such guidance has been badly needed in his personal life. “Maybe I would have learned how to treat a girlfriend and how to deal with jealousy and possessiveness.”
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Quaye met and got involved with Paula Yates at the Priory, just before he was thrown out of the celebrity detox centre, and he talks tenderly of her. “Beautiful, stylish, intelligent, unique and lonely, that was Paula, and she just needed a bit of care and love. She reminded me a lot of my mum.”
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While his father’s ashes were scattered at sea, his mum’s last resting place is here in Manchester and he makes regular visits to the cemetery. He can seem harsh when he says he’s glad his mother hasn’t been around all these years to moan at him. But then he adds: “Of course I miss her in so many ways and wonder what she’d be like now.”
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Of all the relationships and non-relationships in Quaye’s far-flung family – which doesn’t after all include trip-hop pioneer Tricky as a nephew – you guess this one has been the most difficult to reconcile. But he’s getting there. “I was back in Edinburgh recently to meet a couple of mum’s friends who confirmed her to be this amazing character. I’m very proud of Edinburgh and I’m very proud of her.”
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So who is Finley Quaye now? “A less aggressive, more professional, mellower, happier person,” he says. A decade ago he was big. He knows he could have been bigger but maybe that would have tipped the light-darkness balance too far in the latter direction. Not that he’s totally finished with the other side. “I gave up snooker because it was dour and hard work and there wasn’t enough sunshine. But if you know of any snooker-based celeb-reality shows…”
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Finley Quaye was speaking to Aiden Smith in the Scotsman, July 6, 2008

Listen to new music from Finley Quaye here and get The Best of the Epic Years here.

www.myspace.com/finleyquayeuk