This preview of Harry Collier and Friends (Pheasantry, 30th September) has been prepared by his wife Catherine (Bell). Thank you Grace Yee for the introduction
Harry Collier was born in Liverpool to a British father and West Indian mother. The family relocated to his mother’s homeland, Tobago, when Harry was four. “My love of music began in Tobago,” recalls Collier. “I played recorder, clarinet and classical guitar in a wind band as well as steel pan.” Harry moved back to England when he was 16, to the sleepy Cornish costal village of Gorran Haven and founded his of first proper band, Rootjoose when still a teenager. Rootjoose purveyed a lively style of music reminiscent of surf rock bands such as contemporaries Reef, but came unstuck in the late 90s when their record label, Rage, went bankrupt.
Rootjoose disbanded in 2001 and Collier moved to London where he began working as waiter in a north London restaurant. It was there that, one evening when Rollo Armstrong (producer of Faithless/Dido fame) was in for a birthday meal, Harry was deputised by the other staff to sing Happy Birthday to the celebrant. Instantly impressed, Rollo invited Harry round to his Highbury studio, and also introduced him to songwriters Jeff Paterson and Ben Langmaid (one half of electro-pop duo La Roux).
In 2010 Faithless invited Harry to join them as a featured vocalist on their final world tour. The tour lasted just over 12 months, taking Collier to all four corners of the globe, singing to audiences of up to 100,000 people at a time. “I think doing the tour encouraged me to push my own boundaries, to approach being a singer in my own style.”
It was around this time, in 2011, that Harry Collier & Friends was born.
2) HARRY COLLIER WRITES:
I’m most looking forward to performing Strange Fruit. It speaks to me personally. Even though I’m half black West Indian and half white I don’t really feel connected to my black roots, but I do when I sing that song. I was never accepted fully into the Afro-Caribbean culture but at the same time its half of me, so I really love it, but feel rejected by it. I guess I live most of my life feeling like I’m outside of it because of the rejection I felt but singing that song makes me feel more connected to those roots that I don’t feel connected to every day. It’s probably my favourite song of our set for that reason.
I’m also excited about playing our new song – Make Love – which I’ve just finished writing. It’s pretty much about the dichotomy of life – the irony of being alive – where, if you’re going to stay sane, and be alive, and not go crazy, you have to hold opposite ideas in your mind, and accept that both those opposing things can be true at the same time. It’s about loving someone – wanting to make love to them – while at the same time being repelled by the things about that person that annoy you.
As far as the audience reaction to the gigs we’ve played so far – I never dreamed the reaction would have been as good as it has…. playing with Faithless in Amsterdam on my birthday and having 40,000 people sing Happy Birthday to me was really moving – but its not as intense as playing to a room of maybe 80 people where you can hear a pin drop in the quiet bits.
I’ve had people come up to me afterwards crying, saying how much they loved it and how moved they were… I guess I’ve always taken praise after gigs with a pinch of salt because – well, I never believe praise – but when people come up and they’re actually crying, you kind of have to go, oh maybe they do mean it…”