The Music Diaries | The Clarendonians take music biz by storm
The generally accepted view that the Clarendonians, a popular Jamaican recording duo of the 1960s, first recorded for Clement Dodd's Studio 1 label, runs contrary to a story related to me by Peter Austin, one half of the duo, during an interview with him a few weeks ago. According to Austin, the duo recorded for at least two other producers before entering the gates of Studio 1 at 13 Brentford Road (now Studio 1 Boulevard) in Kingston.
Austin and his partner, Ernest Wilson, some seven years his junior, both hail from Hayes in Clarendon, but came to public attention in Kingston while recording for a number of producers. Understandably, the groundwork for the establishment of the group was laid by Austin in 1963 at a time when Wilson was 10 or 11 years old.
It all began on a day like none other in Hayes when Austin was approached by a young boy, who, no doubt, having knowledge of Austin's vocal talent, asked him to sing a song. Austin obliged, and in turn asked the boy, who turned out to be Wilson, to do the same for him. Austin was so blown away by the boy's immaculate timing and crystalline vocal delivery that he immediately asked him to seek permission from his mother to join the band he was singing with. Austin at the time was a vocalist with the Clarendon-based band, The Mercuries. With the permission of his mother, Wilson began to go around with the band, although not yet singing in duet with Austin.
The formation of the duo was born out of an extemporaneous occurrence, as Austin described it.
"He sang alone and I sang alone, but as destiny would have it, one day while I was at home, he came around as I was singing and he began to sing along, and I was shocked by the harmony that was coming out," Austin recalled.
With the cooperation of Wilson's mother, an agreement was reached for both singers to come together as a singing duo, and immediately, they began rehearsing almost every day. Austin then began writing songs for the duo to record. The first was a ska piece titled, A Day Will Come, which they recorded for producer Leslie Kong's Beverley's label in 1963. Their effort earned for them 10 pounds, but according to Austin, money wasn't their main concern. They were more interested in hearing their song on the radio. Returning to Clarendon two days later, they heard it, and their entire community was ecstatic as they shouted, "Clarendonians! Clarendonians!" Somehow, the name seemed to have stuck.
Returning to Kingston, the duo made a stop at producer Duke Reid. "Pure excitement" were the words Austin used to describe their stay there. They recorded two songs for the Duke - You Are a Fool and Muey Bien in 1964 - but on their return to collect their payment, they were greeted with hostility. According to Austin, Reid refused to pay, and in the ensuing fracas, he was manhandled by Reid and had to seek medical attention at the Kingston Public Hospital. A compensation of 5 pounds from Reid, with an emphatic "Don't come back, but the little one can come back", was hardly any comfort for Austin after he made reports to the Central Police Station and Denham Town police, Reid himself having been an ex-policeman with credible claims to toughness.
NUMBER ONE SONGS
Wilson obviously didn't heed Reid's call and left his stables along with Austin to record for Studio 1 - the undistinguished cut - After He Breaks Your Heart.
In early 1965, they entered Byron Lee's pop and mento talent shows around the island and won with the Peter Austin composition, Hurt By Love, and then went on to win the regional finals. When the then deputy mayor of May Pen, Basil Lindsay, asked Austin in the latter part of the year to record the song for him to produce, it may well have been the catalyst to the majestic rise of the duo to the pinnacle of popularity.
Done at Studio 1 with head honcho Clement Dodd in attendance, the recording, along with another titled How Long, created such an impact that Dodd immediately requested a 10-year contract with the duo, which they accepted.
What followed was nothing short of a musical firestorm, which saw the duo placing six consecutive number-one songs on the Jamaican charts - You Can't Keep a Good Man Down, Shu-Be-Du-Bi I Love You, Rude Boy Gone A Jail, Rudie Bam Bam, You Won't See Me, and You Cant Be Happy Until You Love Someone. Coming at a time when the mood of the music was changing from ska to rocksteady, the last cut had ardent music fans singing along to the lyrics:
"You can't be happy until you love someone
You can't be happy until you need someone
Well I must be the happiest boy in all this world
Cause I love you girl like the breath of life
Cause I need you girl, a new delight."
While Austin sang lead on most of the songs, Wilson figured prominently with his backup slurs, catchy phrases, and intonations that belied his age as they sang their parts separately and in unison. In one unforgettable performance, Wilson can be heard singing most of the lead parts on Shu-Be-Du:
"No I can't love another, ooh, ooh, ooh,
cause my heart tells me so
No I can't leave you darling, ooh, ooh, ooh,
cause my heart won't let me go".
Towards the end of the 1960s, Austin left Coxson to record for producer Ken Lack, announcing his departure with Bye, Bye, Bye, while having the monster hit Lonely Heartaches for the new producer.
In the meantime, Wilson continued at Coxson with the hits Storybook Children, If I Were A Carpenter, Undying Love, and Money Worries.
Still retaining the name Clarendonians, Austin sang in duet with Hubert Lee on two top recordings - Night Owl and Darling Forever - in the early 1970s, while Wilson proved himself a class act with Let True Love Be.