The Royals - Pick Up The Pieces

Pick Up The Pieces
Ghetto Man
Heart In Pain
Only Jah Knows
Sufferer Of The Ghetto
If I Were You
When You Are Wrong (Version 1)
When You Are Wrong (Version 2)
Promised Land
Only For A Time
Genuine Way
Blacker Black
Peace And Love
Facts Of Life
If You Want Good
Make Believe (Version 1)
Make Believe (Version 2)
Leave Out Of Babylon
Down Comes The Rain

The Royals seem somehow to have remained as the last great unsung Jamaican vocal groups from reggae's 'golden age' in the sixties and seventies and their work is still relatively unknown outside of a small coterie of serious reggae students despite their having made some of the most sublime and enduring music of the genre. The story of the Royals is, in effect, Roy Cousins' story with an ever-changing line up of harmony singers and his struggle for survival and artistic freedom in a sometimes viciously competitive world. The membership of the group has always been fluid with Roy Cousins, one of the most fiercely independent and dedicated men to ever enter the reggae business, as the only constant. His spirit has been untouched by his manifold tribulations and it is echoed in his beautiful, close harmony songs that brim over with a love and concern for his fellow man that transcend mere sloganeering or glib sentimentality. His work is concerned with obvious truths put simply in a sincere and heartfelt manner that uplift the spirit and the soul in a way that only great art ever can. It could never be described as 'fashionable' as Roy has never jumped on any passing bandwagons and The Royals' music has always stayed aloof from the myriad vagaries of styles and fashions in reggae music. They have only ever created the type of music that he truly believed in for those that are denied other means of expression have to sing in order for their voices to be heard.

Roy Anthony Cousins was born on the 25th of August 1949 in Kingston, Jamaica and he lists amongst his earliest memories being encouraged to sing by his late aunt, Melva Brown, who sadly died on the 11th October 1998. His mother had to go out to work to support Roy and his sister: "My mother told me that from she was three months pregnant she never saw my father again. She alone grow me. I never call a man 'Dad' from the day I was born" and she would leave the children with their Aunt Melva while she was at work and his aunt proved to be a major formative influence on Roy. She would always take Roy to her local 'Church of God' run by Bishop French on Waltham Park Road in Kingston 11 to sing with the Junior Choir. Roy's first duet was with a friend named Dennis at a Church Concert "It was the most frightening experience I will always remember." Aunt Melva later became a member of Reverend Claudius Henry's Back to Africa Church on Rosalie Avenue where Roy was taught African history at the Church School for about six months but he was sent there without his mother's knowledge and when she found out about it "there was a big argument."

Roy began his formal education at Mrs. Scott's Infant School on the corner of Waltham Park Road and Campbell Boulevard and in 1954 moved to Rousseau Primary School on Ricketts Avenue where his classmates included future musical luminaries such as Bernard Collins of The Abyssinians, Lloyd Parks of The Termites (and later We The People band), Dolphin 'Naggo' Morris of The Heptones, keyboard players Ansel Collins and Earl 'Wire' Lindo, drummer Eric 'Fish' Clarke, Vic Taylor who would later sing for Byron Lee's Dragonaires and trombonist Uriah 'Peashead' Johnson who would also work with The Dragonaires. Five years later Roy moved to Tarrant Senior School on Molynes Road where he joined his first vocal group with some friends from his class, Garth Forbes, Granville Green and Eileen Burnett and together they entered the Junior Festival Song Contest at The Little Theatre on Tom Redcam Avenue, Kingston 5. They were not selected and "the whole thing ended in disappointment". At this time (1964) Roy was living at 11 Finch Crescent and behind him on Canary Avenue lived Winston 'Cobra' Francis who had a four man group known as The Sheradons that included Pat Kelly in their line-up. Roy "used to listen to their harmony most evenings". He also used to love listening to American harmony groups such as The Drifters and The Temptations: "In those days you had a lot of harmony but there was very limited listening because there was only one radio station in Jamaica - RJR".

Roy left school in 1968 and his first job was at the New Yorker Garment Factory on Plantain Avenue where he met up with two good harmonisers who "taught him a lot about harmony" Keith Smith and Trevor McFarlane whose sister Yevonne married Cedric Myton of the Congos. The story of the Royals is inseparable from the close-knit community of Kingston 11 where the power and strength of singing was always recognised and seen as one of the few legitimate ways out of the ghetto. Roy was always aware of the direction he wished to travel in and he soon linked up with "the only youth in the area with a guitar" Berthram 'Harry' Johnson and his good friend Lloydie and together they formed Roy's first serious group although "they were older guys than me... funnily enough the group never had a name".

Not long after he moved to 14 Grass-Quit Glade in Cockburn Pen where he lived alongside the Maytals, Froggy (also known as U-Roy Junior), Fitzroy 'Fitzy' Sterling who, after making a number of records for the Pama label at the end of the sixties, moved on to become owner of the Body Music Record shops in London. The Tartans, Cedric Myton, Prince Lincoln Thompson, Lindberg 'Preps' Lewis and Devon Russell also lived close by and 14 Grass-Quit Glade was the rehearsal yard for most of the singers in the area. The Tartans big hit for Federal 'Dance All Night' was rehearsed at Roy's yard. "We used to sing by timing. One, two, three, four then sing. The Tartans came up because of Berthram's guitar." Prince Lincoln would later merge their groups for a brief time and rehearse with a view to recording together but sadly this incredible combination never reached as far as the studio.

The Royals had been formed in 1964 with Errol Green, Berthram 'Harry' Johnson, Trevor McFarlane (who used to sing with Hopeton Lewis), Maurice 'Professor' Johnson and Roy Cousins. Maurice soon left to form The Tennors but was tragically killed in a car crash not long after recording the groundbreaking and defining 'Pressure And Slide' for Studio One. The Royals' first recording was for Federal Records in 1965, a track called 'House On The Hill', and from Federal they moved onto Duke Reid's Treasure Isle studio and recorded 'We Are In The Mood' and "about four other songs but that was the only one that was ever released". They had been auditioned by Gladstone 'Gladdy' Anderson who used to run Duke Reid's auditions and "we were selected to go upstairs and record at the same sessions as The Paragons and The Melodians". looking to changes their fortunes The Royals changed their name to The Tempests in 1967 and recorded eight tracks for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One. They had called themselves The Tempests after The Temptations as "our singing was closer to the US sound but the Jamaican producers were not ready. If it wasn't gimmicks you never stand a chance".

Lee Perry had turned them down at their first audition for Studio One and on their second audition BB Seaton also turned them down but for their third time Coxsone himself was in charge and this time they passed! They recorded eight songs for Studio One but none were released at the the time. Years later Larry Marshall found the tape and released 'Pick Up The Pieces' after The Royals' own version had become a hit and the rhythm has subsequently become one of reggae's endlessly versioned foundation rhythms. The first release credited The Tempests but later pressings had the name changed to The Royals. "We asked Coxsone if he could change the name and he allowed it. It was the only thing he ever gave us". Also on the same tape were 'Where It's At' by Lloyd Forrest and 'Live Up To Your Name' by Prince Lincoln and they too gained a somewhat belated release.

Then Errol Green and Trevor McFarlane left to be replaced by Errol Wilson (also known as Errol Nelson), Keith Smith and Ivan Renee, all from the Waterhouse district, but Ivan was tragically stabbed to death and Keith Smith emigrated to Canada. Berthram Johnson left to play bass in the RHT Invincible Band with Lloyd Parks, 'Sly' Dunbar and 'Ranchie' McLean "It was a ghetto band but connected with the church. The church supplied the instruments and whoever had instruments man would turn up".  Errol Wilson left to become a member of Black Uhuru in 1978 and The Royals remained a four man group from 1967 until 1978. They recorded an early version of 'Only For A Time' for Joe Gibbs that was never released but their 'Never See Come See' for the same producer, which was a version to the popular 'Nanny Goat' rhythm, musically mocked fellow harmonisers The Pioneers and was a big hit. The Pioneers replied with a disparaging answer version 'Easy Come Easy Go' although, sadly, nothing would ever come easy for The Royals throughout their long career.

Roy started work for the Jamaican Post Office in 1967 for the parcel post division working alongside Barry Llewellyn from The Heptones, Tommy Thomas from The Chantells and Don Carlos. While working at the Post Office he also met Winston Edwards who used to promote shows sponsored by Canada Dry. The Royals appeared on some of these shows and also recorded two or three songs for Winston that were never released. Winston would go on to run the very successful Fay Music in London. Another fellow worker at the Post Office, Carl Bradshaw, later became an actor but not before he saved Roy's life one evening as they were returning home from  work. Running to catch the bus, Roy slipped and Carl had to drag him from under the wheel of the bus. "If it wasn't for him I would have gone long time". Roy's co-workers, Lloyd Forrest and Errol Davis sang with the Royals along with Carl Green and they were replaced in their turn by Melvin Reid of The Ethiopians and Hal Nicholson.

Roy realised by now that the only way he could stay properly independent and still survive in the music business was to finance and produce his own recordings through his work at the Post Office. He stepped back for a period of self-imposed exile from the business in order to give himself time to think and to save enough money to record for himself. The Royals' had by now recorded for Lloyd 'Matador' Daley 'Can't Catch Quako' backed with '100lbs Of Clay', with Bunny Lee 'Country Boy' with "a brother up in Waterhouse. I can't remember his name" 'Pick Out Me Eye' and for Byron Baron Smith "too many to remember... quite a lot of tracks" but only one 'Never Gonna Give You Up' was ever released. It seemed to Roy that "whoever he record for they never release" so the obvious next step was to "do it yourself". The work at the Post Office was not easy and made Roy painfully aware of the importance of paying attention to all the details when it came to financing his own work in the studio. Consequently his musical pleas for tolerance, love and understanding were always lovingly assembled and painstakingly crafted. Roy's first self-production was made with the financial assistance of David Robinson, his partner from the Post Office, was a new version of the song that he had first recorded for Studio One 'Pick Up The Pieces' which they released on the Uhuru label in 1973. Roy had saved forty Jamaican dollars to finance the session (where they also recorded the beautiful 'Down Comes The Rain' and "a next song with Devon Russell") which was not enough to pay the musicians and so on Friday they would come down to the Post Office to meet Roy coming out of work with his wages! It was the only record that he ever released on the Uhuru label and the next release came out on Tamoki, an I-Roy version to 'Pick Up The Pieces' entitled 'Monkey Fashion'/'Fashion Monkey', and after this he released 'Down Comes The Rain' on Tamoki. All The Royals subsequent recordings came out on the Wambesi label a name that Roy had discovered in Phantom Comics. The Wambesi were a peaceful African tribe and this should have been the name of the group but instead their Cuban manager gave them the name The Royals as "every time we change the name it just wouldn't work".

By now Roy was living at 9 Savitri Road in the Waterhouse district of Kingston just down the road from King Tubby's studio on Dromhilly Avenue and this became another rehearsal yard for many of the artists in the area including Don Carlos and Vivian 'Yabby You' Jackson. The Royals provided the backing vocals for Yabby You's early Prophets' classics 'Carnal Mind' and 'Run Come Rally' and both were recorded at Lee Perry's Black Ark Studio. Roy had first met Lee Perry when he had auditioned The Royals for Studio One and he now asked them to sing backing harmony for him at the Black Ark. During this time they also provided the same harmonising service for Joe Gibbs and Bunny Lee. Jack Ruby had written 'Make Believe' for Burning Spear but he called for The Royals to sing it accompanied by The Black Disciples Band but this version was never released and The Royals later re-recorded it for Wambesi. These times proved to be a peak of artistic creativity for The Royals and with releases on Wambesi such as 'Ghetto Man', 'Promised Land' and 'Only For A Time' they established a body of work that few could ever hope to match : "We only deal with good vibes... with peace and happiness". Their songs were collected together for the 'Pick Up The Pieces' album in Spring 1977 which was released in Jamaica on Wambesi through the assistance of Gussie Clarke's 'Gussie Exposure' initiative. The album proved to be a definitive high point in Jamaican close harmony singing and, at last, The Royals finally began to achieve a measure of recognition.

Roy's good friend Davis Mohammed, lived in the same yard as Roy and would always come along and listen to them sing. He carried the tape of the 'Pick Up The Pieces' album to the UK and gave it to Militant Barry who took it to Mojo Records. Mo Claridge at Mojo loved the album and released it on his Magnum label and in 1978 Roy came to England for the first time to work closely with Mojo. They released The Royals' 'Ten Years After' album the next year but Mojo also began to record and promote Prince Lincoln and The Royal Rasses at the same time. Roy had taken Mo to Jamaica to meet Prince Lincoln after Mo had heard and been very impressed with the 'Love The Way It Should Be' single. To this day many people still think that The Royals and the Royal Rasses are one and the same and the conflict of interest between the two similarly named groups both working for the same label resulted in neither of them getting the breaks that they rightly deserved and consequently they continued to struggle. After this disappointing and dispiriting ecperience Roy left The Royals and was replaced by Lloyd 'Scunna' Ruddock (King Tubby's brother) who had sung the moving 'Genuine Way' as a solo artist for Roy and the group changed their name to The Jayes.

Throughout the eighties Roy concentrated on producing records rather than singing: "Me neglect myself. I just get tied up with producing people". He worked with an impressive amount of singers and deejays and also released a number of dub sets that helped to establish an extensive Tamoki Wambesi Dove catalogue that included many of his long time associates such as Winston Jarrett, Devon Russell, Cornell Campbell, Don Carlos, Winston Francis and The Gaylads from his neighbourhood and many up and coming stars of reggae music including Sturgav deejay Charlie Chaplin and singer Earl Sixteen. Roy was finally in a position to be able to do something for his fellow artists and, unlike many others who talk about their ideals but very seldom live them out, Roy actually did it. Roy's next move was to Liverpool, England to be with his second wife and, although they are no longer together, he has made the city his home. He continues to market his back catalogue and is still very active in a business that has never fully realised or appreciated the genuine quality of his highly polished output. If he had never made another record after 'Pick Up The Pieces' his place in the hearts and minds of reggae fans would be assured forever for, in a business overloaded with unnecessary and needless superlatives, this song really does merit the much over used term 'classic'. The music of The Royals deserves to be known and revered far outside the confines of reggae historians as it contains truths and insights that anyone and everyone can learn from but Roy's steadfast refusal to play the music business game and his self-effacing character have always denied him what is rightfully his. We sincerely hope that this release will lead to a far wider knowledge and greater acceptance of his wonderful work for up until now "No-one ever knows the proper story of The Royals".

Harry Hawke - May 2002

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