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Portland’s Everlasting Sons - The Jolly Boys serving up sweet mento music

Published:Sunday | June 23, 2019 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small - Staff Reporter
The Jolly Boys
Karl Thompson
Noel Howard
Lawrence Christie
Donnovan Miller
Lenford 'Brutus' Richards

A quaint, rustic, small square structure nestled in Devon Bradshaw’s backyard acts as the home base, central meeting spot, rehearsal and hangout spot for The Jolly Boys mento band. This is Axx recording studio in Norridge, Portland.

“There can’t be a Portland without The Jolly Boys –we’re all from Port Antonio. That’s a Portland legacy. That’s history,” band leader Lenford ‘Brutus’ Richards told The Sunday Gleaner.

It is for those reasons that he is adamant that they must put the band back together. The Jolly Boys are beloved as Jamaica’s most eminent mento band. Since their start in the ’40s, they have enjoyed a reputation as the genre’s standard-bearers, and have been praised for sustaining the musical tradition decades later. However, the recent passing of three members in relatively quick succession has put their existence in jeopardy.

In 2014, founding member Joseph ‘Powda’ Bennett passed. The band’s lead singer from 2009, Albert Minott, died in 2017, and in March 2019, rhumba box player Derrick ‘Johnny’ Henry died.

But the current Jolly Boys have sustained their skills and vocals to produce mento’s nostalgic and soothing tunes. The Jolly Boys now comprise ‘Brutus’ on banjo; Donnovan ‘Puss’ Miller on jimbe; Karl Thompson on lead vocals and maracas; Lawrence ‘Larry’ Christie on the rhumba box, and Noel Howard (who played with the band in the ’80s) on guitar. Richards has voluntarily picked up the mantle to let the world know that The Jolly Boys are still quite lively and seeking to become as booked and as busy as they once were.

More than just sustaining the band, Brutus dreams of getting them back on the road. He believes the next step for the band should be to record a new album.

“We need some promotion and we need to get a new album out. The last album, Great Expectation, that has died now,” he said.

Great Expectation is approaching its 10th anniversary, having been released in 2010 by Wall of Sound label.

The Jolly Boys recently recorded a track for a European producer, with the expectation that they would be able to tour the northerly continent.

“We were gonna go on tour this summer – but I’m not really sure what’s going on right now with the bookings. In the beginning, almost every Friday night, sometimes Saturday and Sunday, we used to work regularly,” percussionist Puss told The Sunday Gleaner, as he reminisced on the good old days.

This particular ‘beginning’ was the early 2000s, when Puss was working with Geejam Studios as an engineer. The Jolly Boys were busy as Geejam Hotel’s house band, entertaining high-profile guests like Amy Winehouse, Drake, Beyoncé and the Gorillaz.

Puss continued, “Sometimes we used to go to Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Negril ... all along the north coast to work. Since a couple members died, the whole thing change. So we’re on our own now. There’s not so much work these days. But we try to keep the whole thing alive. But mento music is in my blood now, so we have to keep it going.”

“Mento is still alive,” Brutus added, using Seattle-based musician Davin Michael Stedman as an example. With ­limited knowledge of the island’s ­indigenous music forms, Stedman ended up recording Go Tell It To The Mystics with The Jolly Boys. The song was recorded on Stedman’s second visit to the island.

“People are still interested. So we ­definitely have to keep it going,” Brutus said.