Mel Cooke • Sunday Gleaner Writer
On Friday, November 26, the Fabulous 5 band marks its 40th anniversary in much the same way they began formally - and not too far from their point of origin, at that.
The event in the Gardens of The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, New Kingston later this month will be, as bassist and manager Frankie Campbell, OD, puts it, "a dance as they used to have it", Merritone Music and Gladdy Parker spinning the discs.
The one in November 1970, which launched Fab 5 - as they are more popularly known - into the high school orbit and from there into recording, touring and support-band duties, was at Holy Childhood High School.
"After that event we played at all the school concerts (in the Corporate Area)," Campbell said.
"Plus, Winston (Blake of Merritone) and Derrick Harriot called us to come on the road."
In one of those many quirks of showbiz, Fab 5 actually started out a six-man outfit, with Conroy Cooper (musical director) on keyboards/vocals, Frankie Campbell (bass/vocals), Steve Golding (guitar/vocals), Harold 'Junior' Bailey (lead guitar/vocals), Asley 'Grub' Cooper (drums/vocals/saxophone) and the late Peter Scarlett (lead vocals/percussions/drums).
Campbell says the band got the name at the Kingston Hotel in St Andrew, when a brother of popular radio disc jockey Charlie Babcock asked the name of the band. They could not give an answer and, after doing a quick head count and coming up with five members, he dubbed them Fabulous Five. One member was not there at the time.
"We agonised over the name for a year, then it started to take off and we just say 'cho!'," Campbell said.
Miss lou was 'integral'
Before getting the name, though, the band, which came together through the national programme 'Sing Out Jamaica', had played as The Broncos in Cross Roads. The 1968 Listen To Louise album was also done before they became Fab 5, Campbell saying "Miss Lou played an integral part in the formation of Fab 5".
On the playlist for that kick-off Holy Childhood Concert were Oh Lord, Why Lord and Spirit in The Sky. Inner Circle and U-Roy were also on the line-up. The band was off with a bang, earning three Swing awards for best band in a row and seeing their first recording, Come Back and Stay, which hit the top of the charts.
And they hit the road, as they had planned, and have not stopped since. Campbell said they waited on Golding to finish up at Kingston College and then it was full speed ahead into music.
After Listen To Louise, the full-length recordings kept coming.
In 1970 there was The Reggaes, featuring Marcia Griffiths, My Jamaican Girl (Harry J, 1971), Fab Five Inc (New Dimension, 1971), and FF One (Tit for Tat, 1976). In the 1980s, they started recording for their own Stage Records, those albums including Miles and Miles of Music (1985), Yu Safe (1986), Jamaican Woman (1987) and All Night Party (1989).
The highly successful Christmas In The Sun (as Stage Crew), came in 1990, A Jamaican Christmas Gift following 12 years later. Another hugely popular series started in 1998 with Fab 5 Live - The Ultimate Vintage Jamaican Party Mix, Part 1; four years later they released Fab 5 Live - The Ultimate Vintage Jamaican Party Mix, Part 2. Parts three and four were released in 2004 and 2007 respectively, the four CDs collected in a box set also in 2007.
There were two other compilations in 2002 - Back To Back 1 (with Yu Safe and All Night Party) and Fab 5 Greatest Hits. The band also ventured into Ska Time that year.
Among Fab 5's numerous hit singles are Shaving Cream, Ring Road Jam, Feeling Horny, What The Police High Command Can Do, All Night Party, Mini, Don't Wear None and Good Buddy.
The band played on Guava Jelly with Johnny Nash as backing band and the 80s-television series Oliver Yu Large with Oliver Samuels, as well as Land of My Birth and Sweet Jamaica (Eric Donaldson) and Give Thanks and Praises and Love Fever (Roy Rayon).
Asley 'Grub' Cooper, OD, CD, does not hesitate in claiming Fab 5's place in Jamaican music. "To put it in a nutshell, we are the top band in Jamaican pop-music history. Any way you cut it - records, awards, the esteem in which we are held," he said. "Unquestionably. Not even arguably. It is totally head and shoulders above anyone."
They count their prowess and versatility in three categories - dance band, show band and back-up band.
"You have had instances where names have been bandied about for a few months or as much as a year, then they have faded," Cooper said.
Campbell said "what makes Fab 5 different is that we remain as current as you can expect a band to be". Cooper expands: "It gets a little more difficult as the music is so disposable. You might learn a song today and it fades tomorrow."
Cooper, Campbell and Junior Bailey are founding Fab 5 members still with the band, with Sidney Thorpe (keyboards/vocals), Donovan Palmer (keyboards), Glenroy Samuels (guitar/vocals), Romeo Gray (trombone), Andre Palmer (trumpet ) and Oliver Gordon (vocals).
Campbell reels off an impressive roster of performers who Fab 5 has worked with - Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Sparrow. Arrow, Denyse Plummer, Ben E King, The Drifters, Skeeter Davis, Billy Paul, The Chi-Lites and Ray, Goodman and Brown.
But he also points out that Fab 5 plays all genres of Jamaican music, from mento straight through - and they even play the National Anthem. "You don't have one band in the world that does what we do," Campbell said.