Andy Fairley

In the early 1980s when freaks, musicians, poets, dreamers and others on the margins of society were still supported and patronised by the state in the form of the dole, art school dropouts Howard Purse and Doug White landed in Bristol, UK and masterminded the creation of the band Fish Food. Joined by local drummer Dan Swan, ex of the Cortinas, and poet Andy Fairley, the group began cooking up their fractured slices of surreal beat.

Always on the fringe of the Bristol scene, the four rehearsed in their squat, a haunt for the likes of The Pop Group, Pig Bag and Scream & Dance, and played supporting local groups such as The Electric Guitars and The Art Objects, as well as touring bands that came to town such as The Slits.

Lurking in the Bristol music scene of the time, several of the bands lending the fledgling On-U Sound some of its first generation ‘crew’, the somewhat mysterious Fairley unsuprisingly came to the attention of Adrian Sherwood through the mutual contact of Mark Stewart.

Andy Fairley was a modern-day poet; a shrewd observer of the injustices and insanities of the modern world, his prose often tackled head-on issues of the moment such as the state of politics, privatisation and the plight of the underclasses. His raw style of vocal delivery perfectly and powerfully complimented the reality issues he often addressed.

During the 1989-1993 period his voice was a familiar feature of Sherwood productions, particularly for Gary Clail, Dub Syndicate and Keith LeBlanc. When not reciting his own verse in full, he was often sampled for use in-the-mix, regaling the sonic qualities of the recording or giving a MC-like shout to the artist, On-U Sound or Sherwood personally.

“This sound system comes to you with fuel injection”
“Your head will become a crazy bulbous punch bag of sound”
“Targeting your brain with sonic thrust”
“This is the precinct of system. This is the precinct of sound”

The Japanese radio station J-Wave 81.3 used to broadcast an exclusively On-U Sound show once a month that the label was obviously very supportive of. Sherwood and the On-U crew of the time consequently became very involved with providing fresh content and guest presenters, and it was often the place of first airing for new material and exclusive mixes.

Fairley provided a whole series of samples exclusively for use on the show, and some of these went on to appear as linking sequences on the eternally hard-to-find 1993 spin-off Tunes From The Missing Channel compilation released only in Japan and named after the show, which in turn was the name of an early Dub Syndicate album.

Andy’s only credited ‘solo’ album was the underrated System Vertigo (1992) – essentially a collection of his writings set to solid rhythms built by Sherwood  at On-U Sound. Other offerings included the exclusive tracks for volumes 3 and 4 of the long-running Pay It All Back series – respectively, “Segue” and “Jack The Biscuit”.

Like so many On-U contributors before him, Fairley left the fold in the mid-1990s and vanished back into the Bristolian ether from which he had emerged. Sadly little else was heard from or about him until news of his death seeped out in 1999. An unmistakable, irreplaceable and much missed wordsmith had taken his last breath of the as yet unprivatised air.

Fondly remembered, his unmistakable vocal pronouncements were used to great effect on “Precinct Of Sound”, a tribute track of sorts on the 2015 Sherwood & Pinch album Late Night Endless.

Bio excerpted from the essential Skysaw On-U website and Bristol Archive Records.

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