Exclusive interview with the Groove Armada legend on the release of his brand new album ‘Times & Places’
Words : Dan Prince
Andy welcome back to DMCWORLD, very exciting times for you with a brand new album just weeks away – ‘Times & Places’. This fascinating album is 20 years in the making and stretches right back to your days jumping around squat parties and big warehouse raves, through 100,000 stadium gigs to the modern era signing to underground house label Hypercolour . The first question is the obvious one, has this solo always been on your mind for these past few decades with stuff methodically stored away for when the time was right for creation or have you had a real adventure putting this together?
“I’m not a methodical person. Sadly really as most of the on the road stuff is lost. Either left behind, stored on rusty floppy disks or damp super 8. It was when I realised the Super 8 had gone that I set about trying to find the archives that remained before it was too late. I found at least a handful of the Times and Places…”
Talk us through the album and give us a few words on each tune explaining where and when this music was part of your life…
South Of Mexico City
“You travel all over the world and everything feels familiar in some way. Until you get to places like Tokyo and it’s like landing on Mars. The streets of Mexico City had the same effect, though there it was because of the madness rather than the Neon. We did a gig up on a hill overlooking the city, then had a tour of the town in the back of a Beetle with half a windscreen. I took a load of Super8 through the broken glass, sadly lost. This tune was the soundtrack.”
Abbey Road Jam
“We were recording in Studio 2, amazing in itself given what’s gone on there before. I was kicking about waiting for the string players to arrive, there was a nice vibe there, everything was mic-ed up and I put this groove down. Ever since then I’ve always meant to turn it into a proper song, but never did. So it’s still just a jam, but with enough of the Abbey Road vibe to carry it through.”
The Coastal Path
“Australia has been the scene for the best of times. We’ve done lots of tours there, but there was one in particular where everything seemed to come together. Even more than normal. The Groove Armada travelling crew – not just the musicians, but everybody, was a pretty unique gang. Looking back on those two weeks on the road, I wonder if I’m mixing memories and dreams. There’s a little path that goes from Bondi behind the rocks to the beach round the corner. I found myself there one morning, in the silence, with enough time to realise that you’re having the best time of your life.”
Florence to Rome
“We used to do a lot of parties in Italy. Up near Florence was the Tenax crew. Either side of the gigs, things used to roll on for a while either at a studio down by the river or up around the vineyards and open spaces. After an after party at a house in the hills, there was no one awake and the clock was ticking. I had a flight from Rome. There was a hire car in the drive with the keys in the ignition. In the end I had no choice. I left a note…”
Sunrise Sant Agnes
“I had to get Ibiza in there somewhere. I’ve not missed a season since 1989, whether it’s the early days giving out flyers and living on an Ostrich farm, or later on in most of the islands DJ booths. There’s a guy who runs a café in St Agnes called Tony Sonrisas. Cross the hills going north, down a long, straight road and there’s his café at the end of it. I found myself there quite often. From there, you can see a weird white carbuncle on top of the hill that was built by the guy from Enigma. It must’ve been working on my tired brain. You can hear it in the beats.”
Moscow To St Petersburg By Train
“It was a memorable night, a basement party in Moscow. It was when the dwarves came around with bowls on their heads full of powders and the swordsmen came onstage behind the booth that I realised I was moving in shady company. The trouble with people fencing next to a DJ booth is that it makes the records jump. After a while it was skipping around so much I told the boss it was the swordsmen or me. He reached inside his jacket, pulled out a small firearm, and told me to ‘play the music’. I did. The day after I took the train to St Petersburg. They gave out headphones that weren’t long enough to reach the overhead sockets. Inside the train, city slickers half standing, one ear stretched towards the roof, outside, fields being ploughed by oxen. Plus the memories of the night before. As so often on the road, worlds collide.”
Together Is The Word
“We’ve only done the proper US bus tour once. Maybe it’s enough. You can spend 23 hours on the road getting to the next gig, only seeing a lunar landscape and once-in-500 mile garages where mom is cooking up burgers while the daughter’s trying to get married off to a trucker. There were lots of tunes made on that bus ride, but most got lost. This one only survived because someone in San Fran asked for a tape recording and I took a C60 home myself.”
Lake of Stars
“Will you play a gig in Malawi to raise money for local schools? It should be a crack, the Liverpool crew are involved.” “Ok” I said. That’s how it started. The flight to Nairobi was easy enough. But as I came off the plane, I saw the flight to Malawi taking off. It was leaving 30 minutes early. I asked why. “It’s the captains’ brother’s birthday, he wants to get back.” No option but to stay overnight in town. I found a bar with a tony allen style drummer, but a local told me that staying there would be ‘insane’. The day after, still no flight to Malawi. So they dropped me in Johannesburg instead. I couldn’t get out of the airport because I didn’t have a yellow fever certificate. The staff went home. I was stuck between two sets of barriers. The only way out was to ring the alarm chord in the disabled toilet. Once out of there, via this and that I ran into an old raver who flew a Cessna around the outback. Navigating by the smoke of bush fires, he took me up to the Lake of Stars. 3 days after leaving home, I was looking out at the thousands of candle lit fishing boats that give the lake it’s name. Alongside was a stand selling home made T Shirts with the slogan ‘Where the F*** is Andy Cato’. A bit tough given the journey.”
8 track Jam at Marks
“We setup in Camden with an 8 track and mixer Mark had made out of BBC volume pots screwed into a wardrobe door. There was George and Stan, the GA Live guitar and bass players, and Andy on the drums before he went on the road with Faithless. We’d had a weekend on the road doing festivals, followed by a Sunday night with Richie Havens at the Jazz Cafe over the road. Monday evening, the air around the 8 track was heavy and this groove went down in one take. Later I recorded a vocal in the neighbours bathroom. Only the instrumental survived…”
“This is one of the most recent. The co-writer on this is Mike Monday, who was originally in Beat Foundation with me right at the beginning. Having toured the UK and Ibiza in our rave ambulance we found ourselves 20 years later sat in a cowshed studio outside Toulouse with the rain pouring down. Nostalgia in the air.”
Back from Castlemorton
“Me and a friend drove over the Pennines in a Hillman Imp that somehow got me to a lot of free parties in the four corners of the UK. I remember coming over a hill, down into Castlemorton, and you were just aware, even then, that you were part of something that was going to become folklore. A few days later I ended up in a studio in Acton doing a session with a guy who wanted some big Italo-rave piano lines. While he wasn’t there I got this 8-bar groove going, which is why it doesn’t change much. I wanted it on there because it takes me back to a life changing weekend.”
Palmero By Night
“Our time in LA began brilliantly when we did our best ever DJ set at a place called Fay Dodo’s Ballroom. We did an unplanned history of hip hop, disco and house then carried on down the road until the long arm of the LA law put his hand on my shoulder saying “that, son, is your last record”. From there we were quite feted in LA. If we wanted to go more than 10 yards we had to take a limo. We did a gig at the Museum of Flying and went along with the promoters ‘great idea’ to arrive in a Sopwith Camel. Walking across the dancefloor to the booth in scarf and goggles the idea was feeling less great. But there’s something poignant about LA, because everyone’s a wannabe of some sort. I remember working on this tune whilst overlooking sunset strip watching a waitress in the Palmero arranging her hair in the empty window, waiting for her big break.”
“Mark managed us for a while and he had a place up in Woodstock. Italian American, he knew how to cook. We spent a few days up there, went to a few blues jams, and you get into this frame of mind where you only want to listen to Blonde On Blonde. I got a recording of a couple of chords on the grand piano. As we headed back to NYC along the river it turned into a soundtrack for the wide open spaces.”
“We’d had a long night in a club in Montreal. Driving down to the border with the States, heading towards Boston,we got the full dogs treatment from the American border guards. It was the moment when the lawless tour bus bubble almost got burst. When it had quietened down, there was just the bus driver, Noof he was called, and me, miles and miles of dark road and the lost faces of the night before.”
“This is track done with Tom (GA). We did a Creamfields DJ gig to maybe 100,000 people or more. The morning after, there was a problem with flights and itineraries and we ended up staying in Buenos Aires for a week. In exchange for a couple of DJ sets, someone gave us an apartment with a terrace overlooking the town. We got out the deck chairs, laptop, speakers and created a 24 hour rooftop studio. Opposite was an apartment block with all of life on display. Pure Hitchcock.”
North From Montparnasse
“It was on one of the early transit-van-in-Europe tours. There was some time off to go up the mountains. We ran into a party crew up there. A couple of days later, the drive back to the tour bus, a full moon and the flashing lights of the workmen on the peaks, took on a Blade Runner-on-ice feel. There was a Tangerine Dream tune playing. This track is a tripped out version of that idea.”
“This album is the taken from the moments in between the dancefloors. So this last track is the only bit of house music on here, and is an extract from a 12” I put out on the PackUpAndDance label me and a mate had going in Barcelona. It’s DiY (sound system) inspired. I came home from one of their parties with a bassline in my head and to this day I don’t know whether it’s one I heard that night or one I wrote. If it’s stolen, I’ll give you one back.”
The release also comes with some extensive sleevenotes and still imagery in an accompanying hardbook CD package. A real rarity in today’s emotionless, digital only release world. How did you feel looking back at a remarkable career…does your career seemed to have absolutely flashed by or have you managed to enjoy it…?
“Definitely enjoyed it, as one too many people might tell you. We’ve never had a master plan, but what we’ve managed to create over the last 15 or so years is a crew of people to tour the world with who are brilliant at what they do but who have also become a special group of mates. So as a group we’ve spent a lot of time on the road playing amazing gigs and taking full advantage of the after party. That’s a pretty good combination. For me and Tom, together in the studio, with the live band, in the DJ booth, battling the majors, running London’s first and biggest festival on the back of an envelope – we’ve been through things that can never really be explained. Either you were there in the madness or you weren’t.”
Did the emotions get the better of you or anyone else who has heard any of the tracks?
“These tunes are only rooted in memories for me and a couple of other writers who were involved on two of the tunes. Listening to them whilst editing together some surviving footage and photos from the road was pretty overwhelming at times. Some of the images look like they’re from a different world, and, in lots of ways, they are.”
What did Tom make of the album?
“I haven’t asked him yet.”
How much more material is there still boxed up somewhere or logged away on a computer? Any chance of a follow up…Sunday Times & Old Faces perhaps?!?
“I’ve found enough for Times&Places 2 and have found a wizard who claims he can restore the super 8, which would be cool. The thing is that I have to be sure the music is good enough to stand alone. It’s no use expecting it to mean to others what it means to me.”
You did an interview with an Australian publication a few years ago where whilst showing your daughter places in the world you were travelling to, you were struck by an image of her “as a young woman in a frightening world. A world of food shortages, refugees, storms, drought and floods. And when she despaired of it all and asked me what had I done as the ice melted, what would I say? Have you figured out the answer to that one yet?
“One of the reasons why you don’t see GA live on the road anymore, or doing DJ gigs all over the place is that I’m trying to do the little I can in answer to that question. Tragically, for the moment a well protected house on a hill looks like the best option.”
DMC are of course the proud owners of the much loved Back To Mine series, your Groove Armada is many people’s favourite release. We’d be interested to know now all of these years later, if we came back to yours after a gig, what the Andy Cato Back To Mine 10 you spin us would be…
“I’d be pretty happy to stick on our Back To Mine. We’re proud of that one, done overnight on Brick Lane through a minijack and finished the morning after just before we got a call from Madonna’s people saying she was coming over.”
What are the next studio plans for Andy Cato…
“GA House Music for Hypercolour and a new rock n roll band called Days Of May I’m doing down here in France. Politically charged business.”
And finally Andy, a question I have always wanted to ask you. You’re a proud Barnsley lad who can play the trombone. Have you ever played with the Grimethorpe Colliery Band…?
“I have Dan. The best musicians I ever met.”
ANDY CATO ‘TIMES & PLACES’ – ON APOLLO RECORDS IS RELEASED APRIL 29TH
ANDY CATO ‘TIMES & PLACES’ EXHIBITION
25th April 2013 – 25th June 2013
The Book Club, 100 Leonard Street, EC2A 4RH, London
The ‘Times & Places’ exhibition will be housed in The Book Club’s basement and will feature the short films and photography that are intrinsic to the album. Each of the exhibited works is a visual document of the past 20 years of British dance music culture, viewed through the lens of someone who’s seen first hand its many twists, reconfigurations and rebirths.
“The first spark for Times & Places came in 2011. It was daybreak in an East European republic on top of a Greek temple, with a micro light dropping confetti on the crowd and the country’s defence minister in the booth with sausage dog balloons around his head. Driving back through the desert-like fields and potholes, memories from the road merged, flashed and disappeared. Fragments of a kind of audio diary began to appear. Soundtracks to those long moments in between gigs, where a 4 track, computer or piano was to hand. This album and exhibition represents a handful, at least, of these times and places.” Andy Cato