After being a backing vocalist with UK soul group Linx between 1980 and 1982, it was somewhat ironic that Junior Giscombe’s career as a soul singer was launched after he sang on two tracks for reggae label Pressure Sounds. Soon, Get Up and Dance was getting played on radio in the UK, while the other track Hot Up and Heat, was released as a single by Fireside Records in America. When Phonograph Records A&R executive Roger Ames heard Get Up and Dance, he started trying to track down Junior Giscombe. When Roger did find Junior, Junior was staying at his cousin’s house in…America. Junior was performing in America, after the popularity of Hot Up and Heat. Luckily for Junior, Roger Ames was also in the America, so a meeting was arranged at Mercury Records’ New York office. A deal was agreed and soon, Junior recorded two tracks for Phonograph. Of these two tracks, Roger chose to release Mama Used To Say. It reached number seven in the UK, but surpassed this in the US, reaching number two in the US R&B Charts, number thirty in the US Billboard 100 and number four in the US Dance Charts. This lead to Junior becoming only the second UK artist to appear on Don Cornelius’ legendary TV program Soul Train. Following the success of Mama Used To Say in the US and UK, Junior finished recording his debut album Ji which will be rereleased by SoulMusic Records on 24th September 2012. Would Ji build on the success of Mama Used To Say and would Junior become one of a small number of British R&B artists to breakthrough in America?
Following the success of Mama Used To Say, Junior returned to the recording studios to finish recording what would become his debut album Ji. Joining Junior were his former bandmates from Lynx David Grant and Vera Haine. Having released such a successful single, it was important to build on the momentum created by the single. So, Junior and his producer Bob Carter, who’d penned Mama Used To Say penned six tracks. These new tracks had been written while Junior was tourning. They would be recorded in two studios in London.
Recording of Ji would take place at Good Earth Studios in Soho and Scorpion Studios in Marylebone. For the recording of Ji, Junior was joined by a rhythm section of Andy Duncan on drums and percussion, bassist Keith Wilkinson and guitarist A.T. Winthurst. Producer Bob Carter played keyboards and added backing vocals, Guy Barker played trumpet and flugelhorn and Chris Hunter alto and tenor saxophone. Adding backing vocals were David Grant and Vera Haine from Junior’s days with Lynx. Tee Scott was brought in to remix Mama Used To Say and Too Late. Once the new tracks were recorded, Ji was ready for release in 1982.
When Ji was released in the UK in 1982, it reached number twenty-eight in the UK, but fared better in the US, reaching number seventy-one in the US Billboard 200 and number fifteen in the US R&B Charts. Too Late the only single released from Ji would also fare better in the US While Too Late reached number twenty in the UK, it reached number eight in the US R&B Charts and number sixty-seven in the US Dance Charts. However, why was Junior’s debut album Ji a bigger commercial success in the US than the UK? That’s what I’ll tell you, once I’ve told you about the music on Ji.
Opening Ji is the song that launched Junior’s career Mama Used To Say. As percussion combines with stabs of synths Junior has your attention. He’s almost toying with you, teasing you, until a flourish of synths gives way to his feisty, sassy vocal. Behind him keyboards, synths and percussion are at the heart of the arrangement, with the rhythm section creating the arrangement heartbeat. For the next seven minutes, it’s Junior’s vocal that makes the song. He takes charge, delivering an impassioned, powerhouse of a vocal. Not only does it leave a lasting impression, but it proves that sometimes, Britain could produce R&B that could rival America’s.
As Love Dies begins to reveal its secrets, you begin to hear a quite different side of Junior. The tempo drops, keyboards and slow, spacious drums creating an emotive backdrop before synths and guitars build the drama. Then as Junior’s heartfelt vocal enters, the tempo builds and so too does the emotion and frustration in his voice. Reflecting this drama and hurt is an arrangement driven along by the rhythm section while stabs of keyboards add to the drama. Soon, the emotion and frustration turns to anger, with Junior’s vocal growing in power as he reflects and remembers the feeling of love lost for the first time. Of the eight tracks on Ji, this is one of the most emotive and moving, and features one of Junior’s best vocals and some of the best lyrics on Ji.
Bouncy, stabs of synths and drums open Too Late, as the track heads in the direction of the dance-floor. A guitar riff gives way to keyboards and synths before Junior’s near falsetto vocal enters. His vocal is tinged with sadness and regret as he sings the lyric “too late, goodbye.” The guitar responds to his vocal, while backing vocals augment his vocal as this hooky track starts to swing. You realize just why this track was chosen as the single, with its radio and dance-floor friendly sound, as this seven minute epic unfolds. Given its hook-laden sound, Too Late is one of Ji’s real highlights.
When Is This Love slowly dramatically unfolds, you’re anticipating something special after the opening bars. There’s a dramatic, thoughtful, sometimes moody sound, with the keyboards, eighties synths and rhythm section combine with Junior’s questioning, dramatic vocal. It’s another song about relationships breaking out, and both Junior’s vocal and moody, broody arrangement sit well together. This resulting in a song that many people will be able to relate to, especially Junior’s questioning vocal full of confusion and sadness.
The meandering synths and cracking drums that open Let Me Know have a real early eighties sound. That’s just a teasing curveball though. Things change as the song almost bursts into life. With the rhythm section driving the track along, with bursts of pounding drums and keyboards punctuating the arrangement dramatically. Junior’s vocal is a mixture of power and passion, with a harmonica accompanying him, as he delivers some personal lyrics with feeling. As the song progresses, the arrangement becomes a musical juggernaut, where power and drama are ever-present. It’s a combination of synths, keyboards, guitars and the pounding rhythm section that are responsible for this. Add in Junior’s powerful and impassioned vocal, and the result is a song that legendary producer Arif Mardin loved.
Down Down is another autobiographical song from Junior, about being in love for the first time. He confesses to be feeling down when he wrote the track. This is caused by his relationships heading for the rocks. As a result, his voice is filled with sadness, longing and confusion. Reflecting such a tumultuous time in his life, the arrangement big, bold and steeped in drama. Bursts of blazing horns, buzzing synths, percussion and the rhythm section help create the soundtrack to this tale of adolescent angst. They play their part in a track that fuses eighties electronic music with funk and R&B. Again, Junior delivers a vocal that brings life to the lyrics and makes them sound like a mini-soap opera, albeit one filled with teenage angst.
I Can’t Help It is another uptempo track, where Junior delivers a joyous vocal at being in love. He’s in love and wants to spend his life with her. With rasping horns, synths, the rhythm section and Vera Haine’s soaring, soulful backing vocals accompanying Junior, the catchiest track on the album unfolds. Just when you’re enjoying this joyful slice of pop-tinged R&B, the track heads to a breakdown. Never fear, the song rebuilds and Junior goes on to deliver a heartfelt, joyous vocal on what is a hook-laden slice of pop-tinged R&B.
Closing Ji is Darling You (Don’t You Know), where the tempo drops and soon, a very beautiful track unfolds. This is something I’d have liked to have heard more of from Junior. Just a lone piano played deliberately opens the song, before drums and keyboards play equally deliberately and thoughtfully. Keyboards play an important part in the track, while Junior’s vocal is impassioned and full of sadness and regret. The song reveals a very different side to Junior, it’s almost a more grownup, mature sounding song. Later, the clincher is a riffing guitar solo which is added at just the right time. It’s addition is almost a masterstroke and makes the track. However, Bob Carter’s production and some of the finest lyrics on Ji, play their part in making this the best track on Ji.
Having released such a commercially successful and accomplished debut album in Ji, Junior went on to release a further eight albums. His most recent album 2011s Prisoner of Hope. Of the nine albums Junior released, his most successful album, was the album that launched his career Ji. On Ji was Junior’s most successful solo single Mama Used To Say, which gave Junior a huge hit in America and resulted in Junior becoming only the second British artist to perform on Don Cornelius’ Soul Train. He also received Billboard magazines best newcomer award. By 1982, it looked as if Junior was about to embark upon a hugely successful career and become the next soul superstar. Sadly that wasn’t to be. While Junior’s career continued throughout the next thirty years, he never enjoyed the same success in Britain or America as he enjoyed with Ji. However, Ji which will be rereleased by SoulMusic Records on 24th September 2012, is an important album. Ji was one of the albums that launched a new wave of UK R&B acts, including later Loose Ends and Soul II Soul. So in the history of British soul and R&B, Junior was something of a pioneer and innovator. For lovers of eighties music and UK R&B, then SoulMusic Records’ rerelease of Ji will be a welcome reminder of the early eighties, when Britain was producing some quality soul and R&B music, when it looked like Junior was going to give Britain something it had never had before, its own soul superstar. Standout Tracks: Mama Used To Say, Love Dies, Too Late and Darling You (Don’t You Know).