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Interview: Hal Lewinson from The Fantels

Interview: Hal Lewinson from The Fantels

Interview: Hal Lewinson from The Fantels

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"We liked the sound that Joe Gibbs had at that time"


Some gwaan like hooligan, some act like maffia and some follow their path as a musician. In the case of Hal Anthony Lewinson this choice must not have been a hard one to make. Born into a musical family; Jimmy Cliff is his cousin and the Jamaicans' Norris Weir is his uncle; it seems only logical Hal Lewinson ended up as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. Like Ken Boothe once sung, it's the way nature planned it. And nature plotted it correct alright, because anno 2013 Mr. Lewinson is still going strong.

Hal Lewinson

From the minute he picks up the phone, Hal proofs himself a charismatic, enthusiastic and eager spokesman for reggae. Born in Frankfield, Jamaica (Clarendon), he joined his first group called The Beltones, who scored a major hit with "No More Heartaches" for Harry J in 1968. Whether or not this was the first ever reggae tune shall forever be open to debate, but the group - comprising Trevor Shields, Hal Lewinson and Leon Brown - did create a template for what was to come. The Beltones disbanded in the early 70's due to financial discontentment. Trevor went solo and The Beltones became The Fantels. Or did they? Hal explains:

"In the Fantels you have Hal Lewinson, you have Leon Brown (lead singer) and you have… I can't remember his first name! I think it's Locksley or Leonard or something."

Lennox? Do you mean Lennox Brown?

No, I don't think it's any Lennox. It's either Locksley or Leonard. One of the two. Locksley Brown... We recorded for Tubby's, for Jammy's, we record for Bunny Lee. We recorded for a lot of people.

You recorded just one song for Joe Gibbs - Hooligan. 

Yes, that's the only song we did for Joe Gibbs, it was a big hit in Jamaica. We liked the sound that Joe Gibbs had at that time. Leon Brown lead it when we did it for Gibbs, but on my album I lead sing it. Me and Leon Brown came up with the lyrics and the musicians that played on the Gibbs version is Sly on drums, Lloyd Parks on bass, Tarzan on keyboard, also Frankie Bubbler Waul on keyboard too, Bo Peep on guitar. The engineer was Errol Thompson. We were planning to do an album but it never worked out.

How come? Joe Gibbs didn't want more hit material?

No, it's not that. It's because we were reluctantly. He was looking for something else […] and he wants to see money. He's not like us. What we see, we are farmers. We believe in sowing and what you sow is what you reap. So you can't reap without you sow, so we never get our chance to do our thing because in a matter of time we just sing out and get no money.

Right, so you were thinking long-term and he was thinking short-term?

Hal LewinsonShort-term, yeah! So we just forget him and bring in Trevor Shields. After Locksley Brown had left we change the name to The Beltones.

The Beltones? That was the name of the group before the the Fantels, right?

Oh yes, but we went back to The Beltones with Trevor Shields. We all do lead. And then we did a show in Kingston. And the MC went to introduce us as The Beltones and there was a posse from Jungle, from downtown, and when the mc said "Ladies and gentleman, we present to you The Beltones!" The crowd said "No bell on stage! Because, you know, in Jamaica we have two politicians, we have the PNP and the JLP. And JLP is for the bell. So, the guys that were there, they were from the PNP! And when they hear 'bell" them say they don't want to Beltones on the stage. And that's when we changed the name back to Fantels.

We did some tours, and lots of shows on the north coast in Jamaica, but as you know only salvation last forever. But I am still doing my thing. I have my own band called Hal Anthony & The Millennium Band and we toured Europe, Japan, South America and the Caribbean working with Freddie McGregor, Fab Five, Ken Boothe, Melodians and many more. I have three albums out, and I am in the studio right now working on a cover album plus also an original album.

I checked your albums. You still sound very strong. Even when you re-record an old song, it sounds fresh. You're a nowadays artist.

[laughs] Yes, I am. Thank you! I am one of them, it's because of the love I do music.

After which Hal bursts into Carl Malcolm's "Miss Wire Waist". A favourite of both him and me.

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