The Kingstonians – Sufferer
Doctor Bird / Cherry Red Records, CD & Download
I do find stories about musicians who achieve critical and commercial recognition after their death rather sad. Going to your grave, often in poverty, with little to show for the hard work you put into a musical career feels a cruel way to end things. I suppose the positives are that appreciation, even after death is better than nothing. At least future generations will know your name and understand your influence. The focus of this review is on one such vocal trio called ‘The Kingstonians’, whose one and only album ‘Sufferer’ has just received an expanded CD release on the Cherry Red Records revived Doctor Bird label. Their story is a frustrating one, despite a number of hits and a critically acclaimed album, real success alluded them and their name is seldom mentioned alongside some of the greats of the era.
My own brush with The Kingstonians music began a few months ago when I picked up a 7” re-issue of ‘Out There’ on the Songbird label. Anyone who is familiar with my blog will know I have a love for the melancholic side of music and Out There is certainly in that bracket. Stories of lost love are bread and butter for good downbeat tracks, the simple lyrics coupled with the longing in Jackie Bernard’s voice make this a beautifully expressive song. Although not part of the original Sufferers album, thankfully two versions of Out There are included on the CD.
The Kingstonians were Jackie Bernard, his brother Lloyd aka ‘Footy’, cousin Radcliff Kerr and for a short time Seaford Campbell. Their career started with winning a pop & mento competition where they performed under the name Jack Lord & The Apostles. The prize was a recording session at Studio One with producer Coxone Dodd. Unfortunately the fruits of these sessions, two singles, didn’t click with the public. More studio time followed with Derrick Harriott and Sonia Pottinger, but again the results were largely ignored. Some success finally came in 1967 when the Karl ‘JJ’ Johnson produced song ‘Whiney Whiney’ became one of the rocksteady hits of the year. Things went quiet again until the single ‘Mix It Up’ became a hit in the UK as well as Jamaica, it was even included on the Trojan Records first Tighten Up collection. This purple patch continued with the release of popular singles ‘Sufferer’ and the incredibly catchy ‘Singer Man’. In 1971 the excellent Sufferer LP was released and offered a glimpse of what the group was capable of.
Unfortunately these great songs marked the beginning of the end for Jackie Bernard and The Kingstonians sporadic career. Despite working with Coxson, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Harry Johnson, follow up hits were hard to come by and the group split in 1978. The 80s saw a change in direction for Jamaican music, but this hugely popular digital sound didn’t suit Jackie’s style. Tragically over the next couple of decades all three members really fell on hard times. Kerr was in prison, Jackie’s brother was on the street and Jackie himself was struggling to scrape by. In 2014 aged just 66 Jackie passed away and The Kingstonians came to a final end.
I think it is a big shame that Jackie and the group are not around now to reap the benefits of the nostalgia that we go in for nowadays. I would pay to go and see The Kingstonians in concert and hear those great songs live. Jackie’s voice would work so well on the new crop of singles being released on the small independent reggae labels. I am sure he would be much in demand on the dubplate circuit. But at least we have a decent reissue that captures all that was good about The Kingstonians. I for one will remember them every time I put on Out There and will raise a glass to Jackie, Lloyd and Radcliff, three very talented guys who left their mark on the world.
The expanded Sufferer is available now on CD from the Cherry Red website and all good retailers. There are so many quality songs on there, pick it up if you can. Please share this piece and help to get The Kingstonians name spread as far and wide as possible.
Bless, Paper Lion
Thanks to Laurence Cane-Honeysett for his great sleeve notes, they were invaluable in understanding the history of the group.