Friday, December 17, 2010

The Jolly Boys @ The HMV Institute, Thursday 16th December 2010

There aren’t many bands around that can trace their history back to the 1940’s (nope, not even The Rolling Stones...although, to be fair, Richards looks like he was around in the 1840’s these days). But, more than 60 years since they first played together (they were Errol Flynn’s party band for a while), The Jolly Boys are, incredibly, still going strong. Okay, to be honest there have been one or two line up changes (blame the grim reaper rather than ‘musical differences’ for most of them) but a fair number of the people on stage tonight have been Jolly Boys for the odd half a century or so. Not bad going eh?

If you’re unfamiliar with the whole Jolly Boys vibe they’re basically a mento group, mento being a form of Jamaican folk music that heavily influenced the ska and reggae scenes back in the day. More recently the Boys have Jolly-ed up some modern classics from the world of pop and roll for their latest album ‘Great Expectation’...hence, no doubt, this short UK tour. As this appears to be only their seventh album in as many decades they’re clearly not a band that likes to hurry things too fact at this rate their next album and tour might pop up sometime in the 22nd century but, given their sheer energy and obvious joy in performing this evening I wouldn’t bet against them doing just that.

It was freezing outside tonight (a fact ruefully acknowledged by dentally challenged lead Jolly Boy, Albert, at the start of the gig), so that might excuse the small but enthusiastic crowd. Nevertheless we gave the band the kind of reception they deserved and they, feeling the love, gave it back to us in bucketloads. To kick off we got a trio of mento masterpieces, ‘Dig Dig’, ‘Iron Bar’ and, my personal favourite, ‘Talking Parrott’. Albert explained that, when he was a young boy, he always wondered why everyone had a talking parrot in a cage outside their porch. They seem to have been employed as some form of ‘guardbird’ against all manner of goings on...possibly in the bedroom department. I wonder how many marriages were confined to the dumper thanks to some loose beaked gossip eh? From the outset the equally loose but rhythmic mento magic got hips swaying (even mine...and that ain’t a pretty sight), with Derrick Henry as the band’s heartbeat, plucking away at his rumba box (a kind of wooden suitcase with metal prongs) and the banjo/guitar player (Donald?) adding some delicate flourishes that really came into their own throughout the cover versions.

Speaking of which the rest of the set consisted of a run through of the band’s new album and, unlike the majority of covers, pretty much every track benefitted from its mento makeover. I guess it’s because the sound is so alien to the originals that old favourites like The Stranglers ‘Golden Brown’ suddenly seem both fresh and familiar at the same time. At times it was actually hard to believe that these tunes weren’t actually mento tracks to begin with, thanks to the ease at which the band played them and some subtle tweaks here and there, take ‘Perfect Day’ for example, where Albert substituted ‘sangria’ for ‘Baileys’ as his park based tipple of choice.

Throughout the set Albert’s vocals continued to impress. You just can’t fake that. All those years, those late night parties, generous tots of rum and (perhaps) just the odd ‘herbal’ cigarette have created something that’s as rich Christmas pudding and as warm as a Jamaican Summer’s day. There’s a term in antique furniture...pattination...where the beauty of something lies in its age and wear. Well, I reckon it’s just as true in voices and when he sings an old favourite like ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ that voice gives it a whole new meaning and emotional intensity that the original now seems to lack. Just beautiful.

As you’ll see from the set list below the Boys played an eclectic mix of tracks this evening (who’d imagine New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ would work, as Albert put it ‘inna mento style’). Whilst it might’ve been nice to have some more ‘true’ mento tracks, that’s a minor quibble. The joy tonight was in hearing a new twist on classic tracks. Of all the covers perhaps the most surprising treat of all was Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’, with Albert gyrating in time to the music like a man half his...hell, scrap that...half my age. There’s something really pleasing about seeing a guy in his seventies singing “They tried to mek me go to rehab , I said no, no, no” with a real twinkle in his eye. After a good hour and a half they finished off with another unusual choice, Lou Reed’s ‘Passenger’, which rapidly developed into a mass la-la-la-along before Albert and Joseph (two of the longest serving members) did little solo jigs before dancing off into the night...anything but passengers. Prove that it really t’is the season to be Jolly.

Set List

Dig Dig / Iron Bar / Talking Parrot / Golden Brown / Perfect Day / Do It Again / Blue Monday / Hanging On the Telephone / Nightclubbing / You Can’t Always Get What You Want / Rehab / Riders On The Storm / Ring Of Fire / Passenger

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