THE MUSIC WILL ALWAYS BE PLAYING

By Clayton Goodwin

Sounds of the Sixties:
The Links and the Dimplettes as photographed by David Cole

Tony Tribe (centre) is with Robert Duthie (left) and Clayton Goodwin (right) at the latter’s wedding to Hopelyn at Longfield, Kent in 1967 as photographed by George Francis

When Count Prince Miller died on 16th August 2018 my hands-on connection with Jamaican music, which had started almost sixty years earlier, came to an abrupt end. All the while we could meet and chat, usually at his favourite Chinese restaurant adjoining Fulham Broadway underground station, the friends and entertainers, about whom we exchanged current news, or our departed acquaintances whose memory we recalled, continued to live for us in true reality. Now the Count has gone – and so, too, for me, has the personal world of Jamaican entertainment. All that is left are their discs and video-film, the written record of their performances and interviews, and, for those still happily with us in this world, the occasional Facebook quip and comment. It was once so very different, and alive.

My knowledge of music, like most things Jamaican, began with the weekend I spent with the wonderful Blair family in Harehills, Leeds in September 1961. From them I picked up knowledge of the small record companies, and their unconventional outlets, and of house-parties and town hall shows. That was when Laurel Aitken ruled the roost in South-east London. The embryonic West Indian press published some of my reports of these events, and my mail-box was flooded with requests from young ladies who hoped that a few words on their vocal ability in the right place would lift them from their dead-end jobs. Then Hector Karam, editor of WINA magazine, asked me to review the performance at the Bromley Court Hotel in Bromley of one such singer who was said to be out of the ordinary.

Indeed, she was. That was how I came to meet Millie Small and preview her new record My Boy Lollipop barely weeks/days before it became a world-wide hit. Through Millie I was introduced to Wilfred/Jackie Edwards, an outstanding singing talent, and song-writer, who, if he had been American, would have become a major household name. Then on to Count Prince Miller, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds, and so on. Often on Thursdays I met at Wilfred’s house on Gaddesden Avenue, Wembley with himself , Count and other “legends” of the genre. They talked – while I sat back and listened to their stories, their advice, their experience. It was better than any university crash course in Jamaican entertainment.

Everybody “that was everybody” went to the dances at the West Indian Student Centre at Collingham Gardens, Earl’s Court. There in 1965 I acquired the management of the Links when their outgoing manager, having asked for my view of their performance and receiving a favourable reply, handed them over to me before I realised quite what was happening. The Links were an exceptionally able group who backed several of the top African American singers, including Wilson Pickett and Lee Dorsey, on their British tours. Their most flamboyant member, though not the leader, was Buster Pearson, father and manager of the very successful Five Star ensemble.

During the mid-1960s I managed/promoted the Dimplettes vocal group of talented and attractive schoolgirls from East Dulwich / Camberwell. An enthusiastic agent described them on the front page of the national musical press as being “Britain’s Supremes”. In another time and place they may well have justified that judgement, but school priority precluded them from going further. I put on a number of promotions to boost the profile of the Links and the Dimplettes, including a brief Thursday night spell at the legendary Flamingo club on Wardour Street, Dandy Livingston and Rico Rodriguez were among the guests. Towards the end of the decade I formed a close personal and professional friendship with Tony Mossop when he was vocalist with the Soul Seekers gospel group. He achieved international acclaim – as Tony Tribe – with Red, Red Wine shortly before losing is life in a road accident in Canada.

Coming towards the 1970s the club in Effra Road, Brixton, home-base of the Jamaica Jubilee Stompers, attracted leading performers, such as Derrick Morgan, to their rehearsals. It was a golden age for big bands and the Stompers were often in competition with trumpeter Eric Clarke and the Debonairs. Their joint performance at Wandsworth Town Hall on 3rd July 1971 was a “stand out” occasion. Across the River Thames, the Apollo club in Harlesden, was home to singers from Jamaica and the U.S.A.  It all came to end for me when West Indies won the cricket World up in June 1975. The media demand for reports on cricket – and all sports – required me to specialise and bid farewell to the clubs, the singers, and the musicians. Yet for another four decades there were always those chats with Count Prince Miller to keep my enthusiasm going.

Now Count Prince Miller has passed over, and so has Wilfred Edwards, Millie Small, Tony Mossop …. and so many more …. but the memories still linger on.

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