Junior English, the smooth-talking reggae icon with a magical aura
RPopular reggae singer Junior English passed away last week at the age of 71, sparking an outpouring of grief from fans, friends and family far and wide – particularly in the UK’s Black Caribbean communities.
Widely regarded as the UK’s first ‘King of Love Rock’, English has released more than 13 studio albums in his six-decade career, collaborating with well-known reggae producers and labels including Clement Bushay, the Pama brothers at Jet Star Records, Count Shelly and Trojan Records.
With the ability to wow listeners with his deep baritone and wow them with a distinctive falsetto, the London-based singer rose to become one of the most in-demand reggae artists of his generation.
English was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1951, the youngest of three children. He began performing as a teenager and recorded two songs, “Fay is Gone” and “My Queen” (a duet with Errol Dunkley) for producer Prince Buster in the 1960s.
He then emigrated to England in 1964 at the age of 13 to join his Windrush parents and lived with them in Lancashire before moving to London where he stayed with his aunt.
“I found Preston really boring,” English said during a documentary released in 2021. “So I said to my sister, ‘Where are all the black people?’ I had no friends or anything like that. My sister says, “Well, everyone is in London”. I said, ‘Where’s London?’”
English was educated at the John Kelly Boys School in Neasden, north west London, now The Crest Boys’ Academy. It was around this time that he met his friend and broadcaster “Daddy Ernie” Harriott when they were both teenagers and rapping around the Harlesden area. Harriot affectionately describes him as The Independent as “sweet bwoy” or “ladies’ man” because “the girls loved him”.
At the time, English was looking to break into the music industry, following local record store People’s Sound, which played his early recordings anniversary And Dad is at home.
“I never knew Junior got into fights; he was a smooth, laid back character,” said Harriott. “Junior was a womanizer. Well put together. Sharp. When he was around everyone knew because he had an aura around him like one of those people who owns the room when they enter the room.
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“As the first generation of Windrush kids, we all grew up around the likes of Dennis Brown and Junior English. He was among the group of artists like Gregory Isaacs and Sugar Minnott who made reggae in Britain.
“But Junior was ahead of the other male singers doing amateur rock music at the time. He did it his way. Undoubtedly he was instrumental in the early love rock era and was the king of love rock. I can’t remember a single artist from that time who had what Junior had. From his aura to his sound, he was special and I hope people don’t forget him.”
After entering and winning a talent contest organized by the Palmer brothers (of Pama Records), English joined The Magnets and toured Europe with them. He then joined The Nighthawks and released the album Man it’s reggae with the group in 1969 before launching his solo career that same year.
A string of consistently brilliant albums cemented English’s reputation as a popular entertainer. The dynamic junior Englishhis debut, was released in 1974, followed by records includingThe great youth English (1976) and some win, some lose (1978). The latter spawned a megahit with “In Loving You,” a cover of US singer Curtis Mayfields’ “Love To Keep You In My Mind,” which spent seven weeks at number one in the UK Reggae Charts. It was also the biggest lover’s rock song by a solo male artist of the decade.
For many, “In Loving You” and its follow-up single “Never Win, Never Lose” embodied the rock era of early lovers, with both songs proving popular at house parties and blues dance events.
“Never Win, Never Lose” was a cover of “Never Lose, Never Win” by US soul group Chain Reaction. According to legend, the difference in titles in the English rendition was due to a simple error on the part of the printers.
“Both songs were sound system favorites and are now classified as ‘peel-off wallpaper’ songs, or in other words slow jams,” said reggae expert and DJ Colin Brown The Independent.
“Junior seemed to sing effortlessly, had a wonderful intonation and was able to sing love songs with sensitivity and control,” continued Brown, who recently curated an English-titled exhibition, 1970’s Lovers Rock UK.
“His music had more of a Jamaican sound which made him popular with the hardcore sound males and his sweet vocals were very appealing to the ladies.
“Junior was a serious artist who kept writing songs. I admired him for adapting and changing with the music industry over the decades. He was possibly the first king of love rocks.”
BBC Radio London presenter Eddie Nestor t The Independent: “When ‘In Loving You’ comes on and I dance, it reminds me of what I used to be able to do to his music on that wall.”
Nestor, a married father of two, quipped, “I can’t do that anymore!”
“In dance, the reactions to Junior English’s music are always good,” he continued. “His work is amazing.”
In 1976, the singer was awarded Best Male Reggae Singer at the British Reggae Industry Awards by reggae pioneer DJ Tony Williams, formerly of BBC Radio.
His other hits include “Be Thankful For What You’ve Got” (1977), which peaked at #24 on the reggae chart, “Love And Key” (1979) and “I’m The One Who Loves You” ( 1979). ).
Former BBC Radio One DJs David Symonds, Tony Blackburn and Emperor Rosko were among the high-profile figures championing English. Rosko in particular was a big fan, often requesting English to be sung at his events in the 1970s and 1980s.
The singer’s success continued through the 1980s and he set up his own international English label for many of his later releases. In 1985 he contributed to the single “Let’s Make Africa Green Again” by the British reggae artists Famine Appeal.
Despite these successes, English was eager to explore a change in sound. In the late 1980s he tried his hand at soul music, again under his own label, with songs like “Hey Baby” (1986) and “Say That You’ll Stay,” both of which had moderate success. However, English struggled to promote both songs due to funding issues.
It was around this time that he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and his health began to steadily deteriorate. He began using a wheelchair in 2020, with his health issues prompting a late career move into gospel music.
“It knocked me down for a while, so my mobility was very limited and I was in the hospital for a while. Then it petered out and left me for about ten years,” English said in his documentary.
“But in between I tried to get back into show business (…) but I couldn’t keep up because it was a bit exhausting. Then it came back more seriously, so I had to focus mostly on making records.
“After the experience of being very ill in the hospital, I decided to change my style. I decided to sing songs that praise God for really keeping me and getting me through this illness.”
English’s last major concert was at the annual Giants of Lovers Rock Show in 2012. Festival creator Orlando Gittins explained that English would “tear the roof down” with his performance.
“He wasn’t very mobile at the time, but he said at the time that he at least had the opportunity to sing at O2,” Gittens wrote. “I felt honored!”
Shortly after this event, English was forced to retire from live performances. But he never stopped recording, releasing a gospel collaboration with Donna Hinds titled Another chance just three months before his death.
On March 10, 2023, English died “peacefully” surrounded by his loved ones after a long illness.
Fellow reggae artist and friend Winston Francis said English’s “wonderful” talent would be missed, but his legacy would live on forever.
“Even though Junior was ill for a long time, he still struggled to do what he loved most: writing beautiful songs and recording them,” he said.
Angie Greaves, presenter at Smooth Radio, added: “Junior English was one of those artists where going to a club, especially a house party, was like a whole event. As soon as one of these tunes fell, a feeling engulfed you: the sweetness of reggae music was beautiful.
“I can tell you about my amazing days with Junior English’s music…when I heard ‘In Loving You’ it didn’t matter how badly my foot burned me, I went back to the house party and held someone dancing.”
She continued: “It’s a shame that we [only] Highlight these artists when they’re gone. There is a saying: “Give people flowers when they are alive”. This is something we still need to do a lot more.”
Junior English is survived by his sister, brother, five children whom he has described as “the apple of his eye” and six grandchildren.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/junior-english-death-reggae-lovers-rock-b2301032.html Junior English, the smooth-talking reggae icon with a magical aura