The names Francis and Franklin might be new to you but over the past three and a half decades these two artists - together and individually - have helped to shape the course of Reggae and also dented the Pop world on several occasions in various guises. Among reggae connoisseurs and long time reggae fans these singers are probably better known as Winston "Mr. Fix It" Francis and A.J. Franklin.
Born in Kingston Jamaica on the 25th May 1948, Winston Francis was destined to be a consummate performer, a singer of extraordinary talent. Winston was already active in music business in Jamaica and the USA for quite some years when his old school friend Jackie Estick introduced him to Coxsone Dodd of the famed Studio One in 1968. It was there that he recorded over twenty tracks of which "California Dreaming" and "Mr Fix It" became two big hits for Winston in just two years. Then, in 1971, UK radio discjockey Tony Blackburn made "California Dreaming" his 'hit pick of the week' on Radio One for two consecutive weeks and from that moment Winston Francis' musical career really took off. The rest is history.
Born Franklin Spence in Westmoreland, but growing up in Kingston, Jamaica, A.J. began his musical career in 1969 as one third of The Federals. The band was regular club performers around Kingston and were soon picked up by local musical entrepreneur Derrick Harriot and showcased as part of 'Derrick Harriott's Musical Chariot'. Harriott also put them in the recording studio and a couple of minor hits followed with "Penny For Your Song" being the most notable. The Federals evolved into The Chosen Few the following year in 1970, with a change of line up. Working with Derrick Harriott more hits like "Ebony Eyes" and "Everybody Plays The Fool" soon followed. It was during this period that the group's trademark melodic vocals developed. Through the late '70's and '80's The Chosen Few enhanced their reputation as one of the best live shows around playing most of the big UK venues and making several appearances on UK's National TV. At the end of the 80's A.J. felt that the time was right to pursue a more personal route. From then A.J. Franklin recorded his own material, and also produced other artists for his own "Silver Edge Records".
At the beginning of the new millennium the old friends Winston Francis and A.J. Franklin teamed up and worked together on a brand new album. This album, entitled "Stand Firm", has now hit the streets. From beginning to end the production of the music is crisp and clear. The riddim tracks, all originals written and produced by Terry Devine-King, take you right back to the foundation : live instruments, solid brass arrangements and most importantly musicians who simply exude excellence. These musicians include Winston "Horseman" Williams (drums), Earl "Broadfinger" Francis (bass), Black Steel (guitar), Mark T. Johns (guitar), Steve Sidwell (trumpet), Neil Sidwell (trombone), Chris White (tenor/alto sax), Tim Garland (alto sax) and Dave Bishop (sax).
After "Alton Ellis Intro" one of the album's best tracks drops, the funky groovin' "I Shoulda Listened - Mama Woi", which is followed by the solid "Zion Train Is Coming" and the matching cut "Jah Deliver Us". Next tune is the title track "Standing Firm". Rocking steady rhythmically this effort is another highlight of this truly entertaining set. "Life Is A Hard Struggle" is another solid effort worth of hearing, before we're treated to the wonderful, ska flavored "No More Warriors". "Easy Now" (co-written by Ambelique) is a nice tune, bringing you a 'feel good' reggae vibe. Classic "roots and culture" is also presented here with the outstanding "Back To Ethiopia", which is delivered across an appealing riddim track with a blazing horn section, bringing to mind Third World's hit tune "Now That We've Found Love". The mood changes with the lover's tune "Take A Chance", which is delivered across another ska influenced backdrop. The poppy "Too Chatty Chatty" fails the make a strong impression, so let's turn over to some real good ska music with a wicked bass line. "Jammin' 2 Ska Music" not only brings back memories, but it also makes clear that Ska music is still very enjoyable to hear when it is delivered in such an excellent way. "Mama Dub" rounds off the musical part of the album in fine style.
"Stand Firm" fully shows that Francis, Franklin and producer Terry Devine-King are a winning team. So, do check it out!!
Available to buy at: www.definiterecords.net and at all good
Teacher & Mr. T.