Helpless Dancer

The Endless Note

Cover Story – The Jolly Boys

The Jolly Boys is a mento band from Port Antonio, Jamaica. It was formed in 1955 and had great commercial success in the late 1980s and 1990s among reggae and world music fans. They have a new album due out in autumn 2010 (Great Expectation) and are currently the house band at GeeJam, a hotel in Port Antonio.

The Jolly Boys grew out of a group called the Navy Island Swamp Boys that formed in the late 1940s or early 1950s and often played at Errol Flynn’s parties.

This group included Moses Deans on banjo and guitar, Noel Lynch on Guitar and “Papa” Brown on rumba box. After this group split in 1955, Deans and Brown formed The Jolly Boys (a name Errol Flynn is said to have coined) with Derrick “Johnny” Henry on maracas & drum, Martell Brown on guitar, and David “Sonny” Martin on guitar.

One of the group’s regular substitutes in this period was percussionist Allan Swymmer, who joined the group as a full member in the 1960s. This group was very popular throughout Port Antonio and earned the reputation of being the finest mento band in the parish.

Because several of the Jolly Boys’s original members had died by the end of the 1970s, the group floundered for a short period. However, around 1980 Swymmer moved back to Port Antonio and, together with Deans, reformed the Jolly Boys with Joseph “Powda” Bennett on the rumba box.

The group found quick work at all the major hotels and was in great demand locally. When singer-songwriter and producer Jules Shear saw the band during a visit to the Trident Hotel in 1989, he decided to produce an album of the group’s music. This was the first of four albums the group released between 1989 and 1997. (Many of these albums have been subsequently reissued.)

These recordings led to several world tours, an appearance in the film The Mighty Quinn with Denzil Washington, and a level of international recognition few mento groups ever experience.

After Moses Deans died in 1998, the group carried on, playing mainly in Port Antonio.

In the early 2000s, a rift developed between band members and the group again split into two different “Jolly Boys” bands, one led by Swymmer (which was sometimes called “Allan Swymmer’s Mento Band), and the other led by Bennett.

It was during this time that the Jolly Boys–both groups, depending on availability–were first hired to play at GeeJam–then a residential recording studio–to entertain the artists working there. (Over the years, this list has included No Doubt, the Gorillaz, Drake and Amy Winehouse.)

The rift between the two bands lasted until 2006 or 2007. When GeeJam opened as a hotel in 2008, the again-reunited Jolly Boys became its house band.

The quality of their performances–and particularly the strength and charisma of lead singer Albert Minott–led GeeJam’s co-owner Jon Baker to co-produce an album of rock covers done in a “modern” mento style with in-house studio engineer Dale Virgo. In November 2009, ethnomusicologist Daniel Neely was brought to play banjo and act as the project’s music director.

The album, called Great Expectation was released recently and is followed by an international tour  representing a new stage in Jolly Boys history.

From which here for your enjoyment is their version of The Stranglers “Golden Brown”

“Golden Brown” – The Stranglers

To buy the music of The Jolly Boys click HERE

………………………where’s Ry Cooder!!!!!!!!!


October 7, 2010 - Posted by | Cover Stories, New Music, New Releases | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Does anyone know the name of the dancer in the red dress on the Jolly Boys “Rehab” video? Is she a relative of Patrice and Erroll Flynn; a granddaughter maybe?

    Comment by Jerry | June 29, 2011 | Reply

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