Andrew Roachford

by Jess Grant

In 1989, it was practically impossible to turn on a radio without hearing "Cuddly Toy (Feel For Me)" by Roachford blasting from its metallic speakers. A scintillating, synthy thunderclap as led by the inimitable voice of frontman Andrew Roachford, it was in many respects a sonic encapsulation of the shifting times – a liminal space between the electronic sheen of the 1980s and the rockier grit of the decade to come.

"Cuddly Toy" was the beginning of what would turn out to be an illustrious, variegated career for Andrew Roachford. Born in South London to West Indian parents, he was introduced to music from a very young age, learning piano while studying the soulful teachings of Al Green and Stevie Wonder. His uncle, Bill Roachford, was an acclaimed saxophonist, and by the time Andrew turned 14, he was regularly accompanying his relative around the intimate jazz clubs of Soho.

It was a formative experience for Andrew, who, in 1987, founded the band that would bring him so much success with "Cuddly Toy." A run of hit singles followed, with Roachford going on to become the biggest-selling British act on Columbia Records for over a decade. Chaka Khan and Michael Jackson also counted themselves as fans, with the latter famously attempting to sign Andrew to a songwriting publishing deal.

Outside of Roachford, Andrew continued to build himself a reputation as one of the finest soul voices in Britain. In 2010, Mike + the Mechanics invited him on tour – a working relationship that endures to this day – while collaborations with artists such as the French house producer Laurent Wolf allowed him to showcase his limitless artistic range. A man with musicality at his core, Roachford was given the royal seal of approval in January 2020 when he became a Member of the Order of the British Empire – a prestigious honor awarded by the Queen in recognition of services to the arts.

With a brand new album, Twice In A Lifetime, out now, Songfacts caught up with Andrew Roachford to discuss his outstanding three-decade career, as well as what lies ahead for the 55-year-old in these uncertain, tumultuous times of COVID-19. Other topics touched on during our conversation include that Alan Partridge cameo, plus why Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne had a hand in the creation of a Roachford classic.
Jess Grant (Songfacts): Hi, Andrew! Thank you so much for talking with Songfacts today! How are you doing in these unprecedented times of self-isolation? I saw you recently collaborated with Take That's Gary Barlow on his Instagram quarantine series The Crooner Sessions. So joyous!

Andrew Roachford: I'm doing okay. At the beginning of the lockdown it was challenging just getting my head around it, but once I'd done that I started doing a few Zoom sessions, streaming sessions, and Gary Barlow was another session that I did that was actually really good for me because it put me back into making music mode. It's a whole different world because you can't tour and gigging is my main thing – it's what I do. And when you're doing interviews for TV you have to be your own cameraman, your own soundman, and so it's like learning different skills in a way.

Songfacts: I'm going to dive right in and ask you about "Cuddly Toy," which brought you a huge amount of success in the late '80s. It's such an iconic number – that opening synth line never fails to take me back in time. Can you tell me how this song came into existence?

Roachford: So this song came into existence because I finished my album and I was looking – just for my live set – to write another song that was uptempo, so it wasn't really to be recorded. We started playing it at gigs and it was getting a good reaction, especially from the record company, so they asked me to record it, and they took the album off the shelves to repackage everything and accommodate this extra song "Cuddly Toy," which we knew was a good song – when we started playing it live it had that energy – but I didn't think I'd be still talking about it 30 years later, which is great!

Songfacts: "Cuddly Toy" was rather hilariously featured in the opening scene of the 2013 film Alan Partridge. Did Steve Coogan personally reach out to you about using the song?

Roachford: He got his people to speak to my people, and they first said that they wanted to use it at the end credits and then they said, "Actually, Steve Coogan wants to write a whole scene around it – would you be okay with that?" And I was like, "Of course, I'm a big Steve Coogan fan!"

Some people said to me, "Weren't you a bit worried about it being used in the comedic sense," and I said, "Well it's called 'Cuddly Toy,' obviously it doesn't take itself seriously!"

Songfacts: One of my favorite tracks from Roachford, your 1988 debut album, is "Family Man." The lyrics tell a fascinating story:

And now oh, whoa oh oh
Now you're tryin' to be a family man


What was the inspiration behind this song?

Roachford: Well actually it was partly because I was at a rehearsal place in the canteen and Ozzy Osbourne and his wife and kids were there. Ozzy Osbourne is obviously the wild man of rock – biting heads off of bats and stuff – but there he was with his wife telling him off about something and it completely threw me but it was quite funny to watch. There was the wild man of rock being told off by his wife.

Songfacts: "Only To Be With You," from your 1994 album, Permanent Shade Of Blue, is one of your most popular tracks. It exhibits quite a different side to your sound – very loose and summery. Can you tell me more about this song?

Roachford: Give you a summary of the summery-ness? Well, that song was from the third album which was a big album for me – it got me in a lot of countries around the world including Australia and most of Europe - but "Only To Be With You" was where I was at the time lyrically and musically. I was listening to a lot of Thin Lizzy. I loved Thin Lizzy, and just wanted to write a song that had a little romantic lyric but is slightly tongue-in-cheek on the verses, and it became one of the main live anthems for us. It still is.

Songfacts: How about "Lay Your Love On Me?" I adore the Prince vibes of this song.

Roachford: Yeah, "Lay Your Love On Me" was a song that was written quite quickly. I was writing another song called "This Generation" and then overnight I got this idea for a very simple tune but it just seemed to work so well.

I think the Prince influence was partly because both Prince and I were both John Lennon fans and the actual sound of that echo on the voice I heard first from John Lennon. So I think that was part of the whole thing, but again it's one of my favorites to play live.

Songfacts: "This Generation" was another successful single from Permanent Shade Of Blue. The lyrics feel particularly relevant today in the wake of the recent Black Lives Matter protests:

So you've got to lend an ear
Hear what they've got to say
Maybe you could understand
Your way is not the only way


What made you want to write this song?

Roachford: I think it was probably similar to where we're at now. I just felt like some people at that time were old, stuck in their ways, and they were stunting the growth of society.

Society needs to move forward. I don't know exactly, but there was something on the news that just triggered it and made me think about it. My journey, coming as a kid from Caribbean descent with my experiences, I just felt impassioned to write a song that was positive about the future.

Songfacts: In 2010, you teamed up with the French house producer Laurent Wolf for the hugely popular "Survive." What are your thoughts on that collaboration?

Roachford: I loved that collaboration! I spoke to him not so long ago – it was so much fun. He's such a great producer, DJ, and we hung out together for a few days in Toulouse, his hometown, and the whole experience was lovely.

I was quite shocked when I got to the stage because it wasn't a hit in the UK, so we turned up to a stadium in Paris and it was just full of people. As soon as I walked on the stage and sang that song everyone got up and I was just like, wow – crazy!

Songfacts: At the beginning of the year, you collected an MBE for services to music from Princess Anne at Buckingham Palace. How did it feel to receive such a prestigious title? I'm sure it was a day to remember!

Roachford: Ahh, there's no words. Number one, it was a shock when I got the actual letter to say you've been in the honors list and that was sort of a surreal moment because I never thought about that. I never thought, "Oh, one day I'd like to be MBE." It was not in my mind at all. And when I spoke to my mum, to see how over the moon she was, it really got it into me the enormity of it. Going into Buckingham Palace with my family, with my brother who's pushed my career and has been my manager for years, and my mum, it was just one of those moments I'll never forget.

Songfacts: Speaking of royalty, I've heard the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, was a big fan of your music. Did you ever get to meet Michael?

Roachford: I never got to meet him, and it's weird because I've met the rest of the family in America and around Europe, but never met Michael. I just heard from his agent and his manager that he loved what I did and that some my music reminded him of Sly & the Family Stone. He was a fan, which was another surreal moment, especially when I was in my 20s when I heard that. It was mind blowing.

Songfacts: This September, you returned with a brand new album, Twice In A Lifetime. What prompted you to release an album now after quite some time away from the Roachford project?

Roachford: Well, the album was supposed to come out this year and the COVID thing put it back, but beyond that it's been a crazy, crazy few years for me because I've also been working with Mike + the Mechanics. I've been singing and releasing albums with them as well, so it was just a matter of having enough time to get the right songs together because I didn't want to just record any old song. I wanted them to be something special – I wanted it to be a special album where there's not just fillers in there, every song is a big song with a big meaning, so that took time to get together. I'm really excited about how it's going to be received and the result I'm really proud of.

Songfacts: I can't stop listening to "Love Remedy." It's such a vibrant, effortless comeback single. Can you tell me more about this song?

Roachford: "Love Remedy" was the last song written for the album. I wanted a kick-off song that was uplifting yet had the depth and soul of the rest of the album. We put it together quite quickly, but I insisted it be played live like the rest of the album.

We put in the horns because this is my first album with a real horns section on it – that's ongoing throughout the album. We used the guys that used to tour with Amy Winehouse, and as a matter of fact, the drummer used to be my drummer and then he left – started working with Amy Winehouse after me and now he's back with me, so it's kind of full circle but it was great. "Love Remedy" felt like it encompassed everything of what the album is about all in one song.

Songfacts: How about "High On Love?" It showcases a delightfully gritty side to your voice, along with the rest of the Twice In A Lifetime singles.

Roachford: "High On Love" was so much fun to make. When we were in the studio doing it, every time we pressed play to work on it was fun – just fun. It reminded me of the "Cuddly Toy" feeling of where you could listen to it all day and not actually get bored of it.

At the time I wanted to write a song that had the same uplift as "Teardrops" by Womack & Womack. The lyric is quite sad but the song is so uplifting but without being twee – it still has some kind of depth to it and that was my challenge there to fulfill.

Songfacts: You collaborate with the British soul singer Beverley Knight on "What We Had." Your voices complement each other perfectly. How was it working alongside Beverley?

Roachford: We've bumped into each other over the years at live gigs and stuff, and I think it was always in the cards – I just was waiting for the right song. When I'd written "What We Had" I thought, "Yeah this is it, we've got to get in touch with Beverley and hopefully she'll say yes." So we played it for her and she instantly got back and was just like, "Yeah, I'm up for it," and she came down to the studio and really just blew us all away. Even though we know she's good, she took it to the next level and really brought a lot to that song. I can't imagine it without her now.

Songfacts: I mentioned earlier how Twice In A Lifetime displays a really rich, soulful texture to your voice. In 2018, you had surgery to remove lesions from your vocal cords. Do you think this changed or affected your voice at all?

Roachford: I'd say there's a slightly different character to it, but I quite like the new character. I'm a soul singer, so it's also about the feeling that you put into the music and not just about the voice. The feeling is what partly creates the sound, and you know I'll always be me, so I'll always have that feeling that I put into it. I actually prefer my voice now, which is weird, but I do.

Songfacts: Is there a song in your discography you're particularly proud of that hasn't been discussed yet? I'm always fascinated to hear what artists themselves regard as their finest work!

Roachford: There's a few songs that you just don't do a gig without doing. One of those songs is called "Ride The Storm," which is from the Permanent Shade Of Blue album, but then it became remixed years later as a big Ibiza dance anthem and it still worked. What I like about that song is the amount of people that came up to me and say it kind of saved their lives. The lyric is about getting through a hard time, and people come up to me and say they were in dire straits and the song brought them back. You don't get a bigger compliment than that really.

Songfacts: Thank you so much for talking with Songfacts today, Andrew! Can I wrap up by asking you about your plans for the future? Obviously we're living in unpredictable times, but do you hope to tour eventually? Can we expect more new music in the years to come?

Roachford: Touring, as far as I'm concerned, is not just what I do, it's who I am, so that better come back. I'm planning to go out next year around Europe and the UK, which starts at the end of May through June. I'll also be opening for Lionel Richie in June, which is going to be surreal and wonderful. I've not met him so I'm hoping to meet the guy. At some point I'll have to think about some new music because I've got a lot more fans over recent times with the new record, so I think I need to keep growing on it!

October 1, 2020
For more from Andrew Roachford, follow him on Instagram or visit roachford.co.uk.
Here's our interview with Mike Rutherford

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