The Jolly Boys, Birmingham (16/12/10)

Tagged with: Jolly Boys mento reggae Jamaica Port Antonio Great Expectation Glyn Phillips Amy Winehouse Rehab Jon Baker Virgo Dale GeeJam Calypso ska reggae Golden Brown Riders on the Storm Passenger Perfect Day Rick Elgood

The Jolly Boys - HMV Institute, Birmingham - 16/12/10
On a bitterly cold night in Birmingham, when I even had to remove ice from the inside of my windscreen before I could get out, four Senior Citizens from Jamaica brought the warmth of the Caribbean to the HMV Institute.

The Jolly Boys have been around in one loose form or another since the 1950s when they formed in Port Antonio, Jamaica. The music they play is little known outside of Jamaica, overshadowed as it is by its big cousin, Calypso, its boisterous child Ska, its proud grandchild Reggae and its swaggering great-grandchild Dancehall. But trust me Mento was there first, and in the form of The Jolly Boys it’s assured itself a place not just as a musical footnote in the Jamaican family tree but as a valid 21st century artform. In that sense, the Jolly Boys are the Buena Vista of Jamaica.

"This is Rebel Mento: delivered with all the ‘swagga’ of today’s dancehall kings."

Through their association with ex-Island A&R man Jon Baker and Producer and drummer Dale Virgo, the Jollies have taken some musical icons of the past few decades, stripped them back and redone them mento style. Try and imagine The Stranglers’ “Golden Brown”, The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm”, New Order’s “Blue Monday” and Iggy Pop’s “Passenger” performed on banjo and marumba box; or better still their show-stopping version of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” sung as if it had been written just for them. Amy? A who dat?

"With the Jolly Boys you’re in the presence of the mento monarchy."

Don’t expect the sort of quaint show put on for tourist hotels (although these hotels have arguably been the saviour of the music and musicians in putting bread on the table) - this is Rebel Mento: delivered with all the ‘swagga’ of today’s dancehall kings. But with the Jolly Boys you’re in the presence of the mento monarchy.

The five guys on stage that night weren’t the full complement of Jolly Boys since the older octagenarian members don’t travel so well these days, but the spritely septuagenarians were ready to rock Birmingham, no matter how freezing the hall was: the dapper Joseph “Powda” Bennett on maracas and backing vocals - with his jaunty quasi-bowler hat perched on his head and his shirt tucked carefully into his trousers, delighting us and himself with his lovely flowing dance moves and neat, precise steps; founder member Derrick “Johnny” Henry hunched over his marumba box (like a cross between a cajon and a giant thumb piano) plucking away at the big metal strips to form the bass lines; Lenford “Brutus” Richards in his diamond patterned tank top on guitar and banjo quietly holding it all down; at the back the ‘youngster’ of the band Dale Virgo on kitdrums and, of course, ‘cock of the walk’, centrestage in loud check trousers and waistcoat, posing up the house with his skinny ‘marga’ self and hilarious one-liners, the unforgettable frontman, vocalist and sex symbol extraordinaire that is Albert!

"Albert Minott is the Mick Jagger of Mento"

I don’t know any other way to put it but that Albert Minott is the Mick Jagger of Mento (or maybe Mick’s the Albert Minott of Rock’n’Roll, I’m not sure). He’s easily got the same stage presence - loose, self-assured, slightly dangerous and well, yes, dammit, even sexy! (Mick’s probably in the same age range now as well!). And the man’s a poser through and through, but for once in my life that’s not meant as a criticism. Hands in the air, arm outstretched, chin jutting out and a running commentary between songs that just had everyone howling. “Yes, baby, yes! Jolly Boys coming up the road.” ‘Yeah, movin’ down the line, we gonna catch up pon yu.” “Yeah Mon, The Jolly Boys, The Jolly Boys - Jamaican styleeeee!”

“Yes, baby, yes! Jolly Boys coming up the road.”

You cannot help but like this guy! His enthusiasm for what he does is totally infectious. No wonder TVs Adrian Chiles said he wanted him as his grandad! But also very professional: sadly the newly opened HMV was for whatever reason, devoid of people that night (The Jolly Boys deserved a lot more than this) - however Albert and the boys played as if they were in front of huge festival crowd. It was freezing inside the hall (I, like everyone else, kept all my many layers on including scarf and wooly hat the whole night!) and it was absolutely treacherous outside - but inside these ‘old guys from a forgotten era’ brought the Caribbean with them and rocked the house every second they were on stage, showing us all what it takes to be a real musician. If you ever get the chance: go and see the Jolly Boys. You won’t regret it!

"If you ever get the chance: go and see the Jolly Boys. You won’t regret it!"

In the meantime their new album is worth searching out. “Great Expectation” contains - along with the tunes mentioned above - their versions of “Perfect Day”, “Nightclubbing”, Blondie’s “Telephone”, Steely Dan’s “Do It Again”, “I Fought The Law”, “Ring of Fire”, and the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.

Also check their video for “Rehab” (with a cameo appearance by Errol Flynn’s wife, Patrice), filmed by Rick Elgood who is currently on tour with the Jolly Boys, making a documentary film about them. Watch this space for more details when it’s released.

The Jolly Boys! - they certainly made me happy.

Glyn Phillips