Jamaica’s Jolly Boys have been in the game for an incredible 64 years, and they’re now enjoying a resurgence in popularity via their album of songs by the Stones, Amy Winehouse, Iggy Pop and others, covered in their trademark ‘mento’ style. Singer Albert Minott – at 71 years old, he’s the baby of the band (the oldest is 84) – recently led The Jolly Boys through a performance at London’s colourful Notting Hill Carnival.
His love of mento music sprung from his childhood appreciation of crinoline skirts.
‘I remember as a boy my grandparents going to dances in Jamaica. I was too young to go, but I’d sneak out and see what was going on over the fence. I’d watch the girls dancing in stiff, starched crinoline skirts, which would twirl when the boys spun them. The music they played was mento, but it was a lot faster back then. We’ve slowed it down over time.’
He knows that mento songs can be about a lot of different things.
‘Some old mento songs might be about roosters, for example, or a cheeky mongoose. Or even a donkey braying, like ‘Donkey Want Water’. A lot of the time, though, they’re sexy songs that the kids don’t totally understand until they get older.’
Mento predated modern Jamaican music, and Albert is not about to switch styles any time soon.
‘I never tried to write a reggae song. I prefer the classics, the romantics like Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra. I don’t like all this “lover lover” business, where people can’t really hear what’s being said. I prefer to take things much more cool.’
He’s met Errol Flynn, who gave The Jolly Boys their name, in 1946.
‘Mr Flynn and his guests would come down, eat a juicy little pig, make a party and listen to the mento, y’know. They’d never have a party without a mento band. He was a wonderful man.’
And Amy Winehouse.
‘We met her once at the Geejam studios in Jamaica, where we’d been performing. She came up to us at the hotel with a big smile, said hello, and went back to the bar. I respect her for saying hello – she’s a sweet lady. When I was choosing songs to do on this album, I knew we had to do “Rehab”.’
He used to be a fire eater.
‘When I was younger, there was a big market for all types of acrobatics. I would do fire eating and fire dancing, but you need a lot of energy. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can easily smoke the place up. I used to be known for walking on my hands. I can still do it every now and again, but these days I just stick to the music. It’s safer, and it feels like my own unique thing.'
The Jolly Boys album is called Great Expectations, but Albert has just one very sweet desire.
‘I really want to bring happiness to all the people that listen to the record. Playing at some of the festivals in England this summer was wonderful. We loved making the people happy. But we kept things clean, though. We don’t want to do the dirty songs while we’re over there.’