The Fabulous Five

On the album ‘The Fabulous Five Inc.’, the liner notes refer to those who ‘have’ to be told that the group famously provided a reggae backing to Johnny Nash and have been voted ‘Best Band In The Land’ for three consecutive years which is ‘further testament to the fact that they are doing what they are doing better than anyone else’.

The Fabulous Five Inc. were actually a six-man outfit when they embarked on a musical career. The line-up featured drummer Asley ‘Grub’ Cooper alongside bassist Frankie Campbell, rhythm guitarist Steve Golding, lead guitarist Harold ‘Junior’ Bailey and keyboard player Conroy Cooper while on percussion was the late Peter Scarlett. Each member of the band would also take on vocal duties whether it be lead or backing as well as in a DJ style.

Legend has it that when asked the name of the band the group hadn’t thought of one but after a quick head count came up with the Fabulous Five. This inaccurate tally was due to the fact that one member was not present. Inspired by this faux pas the group then added the ‘Inc.’ so as to include everyone in the line-up. But before this time, the group came together to perform in a national programme called ‘Sing Out Jamaica’, appearing alongside the Inner Circle and U Roy.

The group had previously performed as The Broncos and were subsequently recruited as session musicians for the 1968 Federal compilation from Louise Bennett named ‘Listen To Louise’, playing all styles from mento to rock steady, with tracks including ‘De Buggy Bruk’ and ‘Heel And Toe’. Soon after the group were in demand for session work as well as in their own right having won those three previously mentioned Swing awards for best band .

Their first solo recording with Harry Johnson, ‘Come Back And Stay’, topped the Jamaican charts and led their first taste of international exposure. Other hits followed, including ‘Guava Jelly,’ ‘Oh, Dad’ and with U Roy, ‘Arab/Nanny Skank’, which featured on their aforementioned album d??but.

The hit-rate continuued unabated with ‘My Jamaican Girl,’ ‘Shaving Cream’ and ‘Love Me For A Reason’, which led to their second album, ‘My Jamaican Girl’,  featuring eight tracks and released through Trojan in the UK and Harry J’s own Jaywax imprint in Jamaica. In addition to their successful run of local hits, they also scored internationally with Johnny Nash, providing backing for the reggae cuts on the singer’s platinum album, ‘I Can See Clearly Now’. It is widely acknowledged that Nash’s covers of ‘Guava Jelly’ and `Stir It Up’ helped establish Bob Marley through the singer’s JAD management company and the Wailers resultant signing with Island Records.

Meanwhile the fabulous Five Inc. became involved in the Jamaican Song Festival when they supported the celebration’s most successful performer Eric Donaldson. The group provided backing on his notable victories ‘Land Of my Birth’ and ‘Sweet Jamaica’ and later provided the music to Oliver Samuels‘ TV series suitably titled, ‘Oliver At Large’.

Over the years since they have maintained a high profile with hits such as ‘Yu Safe’, ‘Ring Road Jam’, ‘One Man Woman’, ‘Play Mi Selector’, ‘What The Police High Command Can Do’, ‘Jamaican Woman’ and a series of albums highlighting their much acclaimed live performances.

 Through their first live recording the group discovered a winning formula when they released ‘Fab 5 Live (The Ultimate Vintage Jamaican Party Mix)’ that featured covers of then current hits such as ‘Under Mi Sleng Teng’ and ‘Greetings’ alongside older hits such as ‘Skylarking’, ‘S90 Skank’ and a remake of ‘Shaving Cream’. The equally popular ‘Parts Two and Three’ found the group covering songs in a medley style and diversely Buju Banton‘s ‘Bogle’ through to the Jamaican National Anthem.

Throughout their career they have released a succession of albums that have been as popular as those previously mentioned singles. The group remained in constant demand at live performances and additionally diversified into the advertising world where they provided commercial jingles for radio and television. This led to a series of prestigious awards in this field, which culminated with four golden microphones, which helped them set up their own Stage recording studio and record label of the same name.

Their professionalism resulted in them being selected to perform at every national and state occasion since the mid ’70s. A fact that was acknowledged in 2003 when the group received the then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson’s Award for Excellence in The Performing Arts for their services to Jamaican music.

Grub and Frankie have since been honoured in Jamaica with the Order of Distinction and alongside Junior still perform in the band. Since their inauguration the line-up has featured artists such as Sidney Thorpe, Romeo Gray, Donovan Palmer, Andre Palmer, Glenroy Samuels and Oliver Gordon.

Stephen Nye