If you don’t look like Nicki Minaj, can’t sing like Marvin Gaye, can’t dance like Chris Brown and aren’t a self-proclaimed God like Kanye West, yet still manage to conquer the global dance floors, you’ve got to be doing something right. R Plus’ Rollo Armstrong was there when House music came to the U.K. and is still standing tall forty years later. Strap in tight, because this man’s got a story to tell.
Born in London to an Irish publisher and English poet, Rollo Armstrong was the guy who charged as little as 300 pounds for producing his first-ever record, Felix’s ‘Don’t U Want Me’, in a garden shed in Packington Street, Islington in 1992. A pretty good deal for a first-timer, if you count out the fact that this particular single ended up dominating the Top 3s of preeminent charts across the globe whilst selling millions of copies. Out was his daytime job as a gardener, in was his career as a music producer. The ‘90s were a glorious decade for dance music lovers, and Rollo was right there in the thick of it, setting up shop at the top of the hill.
Music projects galore ensued, with hits sprouting left and right (as a tongue-in-cheek reference to having a green thumb). There was The O.T. Quartet alongside Rob D with 1994’s main stomper ‘Hold That Sucker Down’, the iconic remix/production duo Rollo & Sister Bliss, countless collabs with the scene’s hottest names, and, of course, electronic act Faithless, formed with Sister Bliss and Maxi Jazz in 1996. The latter, with seven albums between 1996 and 2020 and five #1s overseas in Billboard’s Hot 100, took on whole new forms of success, as did his work with sister, Dido, on her multi-million-selling albums (the latest being the biggest selling album by a UK female in 2019).
And then came R Plus, a project that more than anything captures the soul of Rollo as an artist. The first album, 2019’s ‘The Last Summer’, saw the return of the sibling tandem of Rollo and Dido, charting in the U.K. as a collection of songs that radiate unity both in mood and theme. The notion of doing a series of albums quickly surfaced, to work with different singers on each one. And it is here where the “plus” in R Plus’ second album project enters the equation: Amelia Fox.
Rollo received an e-mail from a teacher at his kids’ school, asking him to come and hear this singer in her final year. It’s the kind of e-mails lots of producers and songwriters get, and most don’t get dealt with at all. But when Rollo and his wife went to a concert at the school, and a young woman walked on stage and started singing, there was an instant connection. The girl on stage was the same one the teacher had e-mailed him about; an amazing voice just up the road, soon to vocally embellish the second-ever R Plus album alongside again Sister Bliss and new keyboardist Chris Cooper.
The music of R Plus is the music you get lost in. Timeless, meant to be enjoyed by both creators and listeners, by long-time admirers and late-to-the-party discoverers. It’s music with feeling, words with meaning and a good splash of Rollo’s special dressing that helped him trade in that North London garden shed for a permanent residence among dance music’s greatest.