By Arley Gill
The Jolly Boys is a unique musical band in the cultural history of Grenada. They can be seen performing for tourists, at “Happy Hour’’ in funerals and at other social gatherings. But how, you may ask, is the history of the Jolly Boys — now an established band — part of the cultural landscape of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique?
The name “Jolly Boys’’ came about, because there was a steelband in Belmont, St George, also called “Jolly boys’’ led by Freddy Thomas. When Freddy’s band collapsed, a new outfit was started using the same Jolly Boys’ name. The word “Jolly’’, of course, connotes happiness and joyfulness which, I submit, characterize the band.
This group achieved their fame as “Gairy Jolly Boys’’. They were introduced to Sir Eric Gairy — the Father of Grenada’s Independence — by the same Freddy Thomas, a founding member of the band. Once the introduction was made they played all over the state of Grenada, including in Carriacou, at official state functions and at GULP party events. And, from 1970 onwards, they performed for Sir Eric personally.
Sir Eric was well known for his class and guile, and an appreciation for the finer things in life. So, of course, having his special band of musicians and singers, must have been an important piece of the glamour.
The Jolly Boys were Gairyites, first and foremost. They confessed their love for Uncle; they felt that Gairy loved and appreciated them as well, since he assisted them personally when they needed his help. They played for Gairy even when he returned from exile, after the collapse of the Grenada Revolution in 1983 and right up until the death of the former Prime Minister.
The original Belmont band comprised Freddy Thomas who played Ping Pong; Leslie Patterson who played cuatro; Tanil Campbell on drums; Yvonne Ross who played guitar; and Cephus Felix — “The Upsetter’’ — the cuatro man and lead vocalist.
Two of the original members have since died and one is experiencing poor health. The majority of members, for the last two years or so, hails from the community of Lamode in St George’s, with the indisputable leader, “The Upsetter’’, still at the helm.
The original members stayed together for about 40 years. They began playing for a drink of rum by “Love Boat’’, the area now known as Port Louis on Kirani James Boulevard. As the story goes, a white couple who admired their music, and was thoroughly entertained by them, told the Jolly Boys in no uncertain terms that they were wasting their talent.
The next day, said Upsetter, he woke up and went straight to Sir Royston Hopkin at Blue Horizon; Sir Royston inquired whether the band could play music and on how good they were. After the third song, according to Upsetter, the Jolly Boys were hired. Up to this day, the Jolly Boys are still employed by Sir Royston at Spice Inn. No doubt, they are filled with love and admiration for Sir Royston; maybe, only second to the love they had for Sir Eric.
The Jolly Boys are well-known for playing all genre of music, especially Caribbean reggae and calypso songs as well as folk songs. They do not play much pop and Jazz, but they can render almost any music. Their staples — the songs first learnt as the Jolly Boys’ band — are “Yellow Bird’’, “Island in the Sun’’, and “Welcome, My Lady, Welcome’’.
It is important to say a word about Mr Cephus Felix, “The Upsetter’’, whom I first came to know as a calypsonian. His biggest hit was, “Jakula in the House’’; he credits the once popular radio personality and soca Deejay pioneer, Troy Garvey, for that song’s popularity.
Upsetter notes, with pride, that for years Troy played the “Jakula’’ song every morning when he began his program. He complains about his treatment as a calypsonian. However, it is fair to say that Upsetter has made a worthwhile contribution to the calypso artform in Grenada. The Jolly Boys, under his leadership, is now a registered business and they can be contracted through La Qua Brothers for “Happy Hour’’ for the princely sum of $200.00.
The current members of the band are Upsetter on cuatro and as lead vocalist; Abre on guitar; Sancho on scratcher; Sharon, Alban and Macock on drums. Ricky plays a PVC pipe and the way he plays this unconventional musical instrument is well appreciated by visitors. These are the stable members of the band, with other persons performing now and again with them. It is not uncommon to see non-members temporarily and spontaneously joining the band, beating a drum and singing along.
The band is very much appreciated by the Grenadian public. It is unique. It is a band that does not need a sound system or any sort of amplifier. They just simply play their instruments and start singing. People, who are in earshot, will usually come close by and witness what, more than usually, is a free live performance.
The Jolly Boys, no doubt, are authentic Grenadian. They bring a special flavour to our tourism product and our cultural landscape.
In whatever we are doing, we should always encourage and promote our Jolly Boys.
PS: In writing this article, I was ably assisted with research done by Sekou Johnson, a New York-based state licensed funeral director; and Anika Edwards, a teacher in Grenada.