Not entirely unknown especially within Reggae circles, but definitely unappreciated or at least not hailed in the same way as some of his contemporaries, Roy Cousins deserves all the praise for his work as singer, band leader and producer. A run that has been going on for an impressive five decades. Head cornerstone to The Royals which have changed name almost as much as they changed their formation, he has remained the dominate force propelling The Royals to great heights with a string of hit singles and three marvelous albums released during their peak between 1973 and 1978 subsequently; Pick Up The Pieces, Ten Years After and Israel Be Wise. Having recorded for almost all the big time producers and major studio’s at the time, all were reluctant to release or properly market any of the recorded brilliance that was in some cases far ahead of its time. Roy Cousins took matters into his own hands working a daytime job to support his recording ambitions, financing studio time from his own pocket and establishing his own Tamoki, Wambesi and later on Dove labels to make sure his music actually hit the streets.
While the world is still catching up on the groups brilliance, try any of the albums mentioned and you’ll see, one can only be thankful that it hasn’t been lost in obscurity by silly ignorance. I came across a compilation of The Royals work, which for a moment I thought was a late career album release, that put me on the path to write this post in recognition of the group’s sheer talent and hardship throughout their long standing career.
Gish-Abbai, aside from evoking a sense of ancient mystery, opens up the Tamoki-Wambesi-Dove vaults who’s doors otherwise remain closed to ordinary visitors sharing one of the finest close harmony vocals put to tape from between 1970 and 1981. Roy Cousins revisits some of his landmark tunes as well as some lesser known material, adding new arrangements throughout most of the work in a very tasteful manner thus updating or extending the tracks somewhat. The 16 track compilation is a true pleasure to sit through in its entirety, stepping into the different studio’s (Channel One, Randy’s and Dynamic) throughout most of what is now considered Reggae’s golden age. Although the gorgeous harmonies of the group obviously stand-out, you are also treated with some deejay cuts and extended dub mixes. Gish-Abbai opens with a deejay cut by I-Roy, one of the few deejays who can poetically paint a picture how it was to record around tube pre-amps, ribbon mics and tape recorders at the dawn of the 70’s with just one bar. “Homeward Chariot” is an gorgeous 8 minute ode to freedom and freedom fighters adopted from the well-known African-American traditional “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. “Peace On Earth” break the mold set by the first two tracks bringing you an earth shattering dub mix to the classic “Promise Land”. A definitive high-point on the compilation. “Exploitation” is another glorious testament to the close harmony vocals employed by The Royals on so many of their classics. Roy Cousins takes the lead on the emotional “Tears of a Man” supported by Melvin Reid who together with Hal Nicholson replaced original members Errol Wilson and Berthram “Harry” Johnson. “Roots Vibration” makes clear that aside from the deep spiritual side of the group, the Royals were also capable to set any dancefloor ablaze. Shuffle them shoes! The heavy vibrations and guitar licks on “Commandment”’ are the perfect bedding for Roy Cousins to show his talents for Dub poetry. The alternative take on their biggest hit “Pick Of The Pieces” as “Gish Abbai” is just stunning as is the instrumental by pianist maestro Gladstone “Gladdy” Anderson closing the album.
Some of the tracks were only released as a single at the time and are hard to come by these days, which makes this compilation an interesting piece to any collector. The renaming of the titles might make things a little confusing, but in turn adds to the mystery of this wonderful compilation which truly is a joy to listen to from start to finish.