By Debbie Golt (aka DJ Debbie Outerglobe)
The Jolly Boys at 100 Club in London (UK), 4 August 2010
The Jolly Boys original band were given their name in the 1950s by Errol Flynn, for whom they often played, in Port Antonio, Jamaica where they are still based. The veteran House Band for the Gee Jam luxury hotel and studios, they are leaping into the 21st Century playing the meanest U.K. Festivals (Secret Garden, Big Chill) and added a second last minute 100 Club gig to the London leg of their tour to accommodate demand.
I knew Albert Minott would be wearing good shoes the instant I saw his tall behatted lean figure in a red bomber jacket / flared suit throw a serious shape as I entered the 100 Club. Natty cream loafers – perfect for high stepping or Jamdown jigs. At 73, with searing wells of eyes in a sharp boned face, he commands the stage and makes each gravelly word shimmer despite having no front teeth. And owns each ‘modern mento’ song ferociously and dangerously as if he created them and the rock gods were the newcomers to the tracks.
Most of The Jolly Boys set is covers in the best reggae style – or rather mento in their case – of the down and dirtiest songs in rock history delivered with pure intensity. When Albert sings ‘You can’t always get what you want …. but sometime you just might get what you need’ it’s the absolute law and even Mick Jagger would be toeing the line…. And there’s absolutely No Way Minott, Powda Bennett (72, maracas/vox) or Derrick ‘Johnny Henry (71, Rumba Box aka Sitting Bass) are going to ‘Rehab’ whilst their ‘Riders of the Storm’ chills the bone marrow whilst being very tender at the same time. They began their set with a handful of their original mento songs where their voices took on the eerie many layered vocals Bob Marley perfected.
Producer/Manager Jon Baker of GeeJam/Live Nation, who are touring the band and releasing ‘Great Expectation’ in September, deliberately chose sex’n’drugs songs for the band to echo earlier Jamaican product, and indeed the original mento songs, when directing them for their new reincarnation and recording. Jollyboysmusic.com and a comprehensive Wikipedia entry will tell you all you need to know about their past and the current plan so I won’t waste space here …. suffice it to say that a very clever marketing move.
“I didn’t think audiences were ready for full on mento” (Baker) has really worked. I go to a lot of music events in the way of my radio/journalist persona – as well as pure pleasure and it’s a long time since I’ve beamed so heartily or watched a band’s every move so intensely. (The other act that really intrigued and delighted me in same way recently was also older musicians – the infectiously joyous Sudanese Sufis Rango at WOMAD).
Mento is the loosebeat, African originated early root of reggae which went one way to ska and bluebeat and another way to reggae. The backbone of today’s Jamaican sounds. The Jolly Boys line up was drums, carrying a melody as well as beat in a way; banjo, which added a welcome treble sound as well as the swing, guitar again more lyrical than staccato; maracas, lead vox and… the rumba box (a.k.a. sitting bass) which the player sits astride like a very large gatto box – with large tongues like a mbira which resonate bass style. The Jolly Boys’ rumba box is brightly painted and cleverly mic’ed. Two original band members who did not travel are in their mid 80’s and still playing.
The band are at Big Chill ( 5-8 aug) – still selling and other dates are on their website. There’s also a BBC Radio 4 interview with Peter Curran you can still listen to until 7 August http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00t5yft.
The album ‘Great Expectation (GeeJam Records) is out 20 September.