Obituary: Pat Francis

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The Independent Culture
PAT FRANCIS was a fine singer and DJ who recorded under various aliases - Jah Lloyd, Jah Lion and Jah Ali - which reflected his Rastafarian beliefs. The original vinyl version of Colombia Colly, the album he cut as Jah Lion in 1976 for the producer Lee Perry, changes hands for pounds 70 and is a steady seller on CD, while his 1970s Jah Lloyd dub collections (Herb Dub, Final Judgement) are sought after by aficionados the world over.

Born in 1947 in St Catherine, Jamaica, Francis had a rather unhappy childhood. His mother died when he was eight and he was subsequently brought up by his farming father in Point Hill, St Catherine. Leaving school in 1959, the teenager ended up in the Trench Town area of Kingston. Influenced by the boogie sound of the pianist Theophilius Beckford and the ska rhythms of the Maytals, Francis formed a duo with Paul Aston Jennings. As the Meditators, they recorded "Darling Here I Stand" and "Look Who a Go Bust", two Studio One singles which made the local charts towards the end of the 1960s.

Ever more involved in the burgeoning Jamaican music scene, Francis became the equivalent of a record plugger, promoting rock-steady 45s to local sound systems. Later, he also sold records in Lee Perry's shack. In 1970, having adopted the Rastafarian faith, he recorded "King of Kings", a song praising Emperor Haile Selassie as the descendant of King David.

By 1974, Francis launched the Teem label with his younger brother Vincent and recorded many self-produced sides at King Tubby's studio in Kingston. He also discovered the Mighty Diamonds vocal trio who went on to great success under the guidance of Ernest and Joseph Hookim at Channel One.

Since the early 1970s, DJs like Big Youth, I-Roy and Dillinger had been rhyming and toasting over backing tracks while producers and engineers such as Lee Perry and King Tubby pushed faders and used echo chambers to create what became known as "dubs" and "versions", prefiguring the emergence of rap and dance remixes in New York by a good seven years.

As Jah Lloyd, Francis cut several takes on the Mighty Diamonds' "Shame and Pride", including "Killer Flour", a biting commentary on the "poison flour" scare which gripped Jamaica in early 1976. Socially aware rather than self-aggrandising, he also took up the pseudonym Jah Ali to toast over "Soldier Round the Corner", originally a Jah Lloyd plate, which metamorphosed into "London Dub".

However, Francis's finest hour came in 1976 when he collaborated with Lee Perry on the excellent Colombia Colly, which was recorded at the Black Ark Studios and gained a worldwide release on Island Records. As Francis told the journalist Michael Turner, Perry (also nicknamed "Scratch" or "the Upsetter") insisted on his ditching the name Jah Lloyd in favour of Jah Lion:

Him say: you move strong. Might be physically or musically strong, but Jah Lion different from Jah Lloyd. We do some great works at Upsetter studio. I like to work for him too, because him had vibes. Most ideas in the studio, it's like we're working together. Is not one person come with an idea, there's a body of people behind the ideas. Nuff songs that people create, them not know where it come from. Scratch always had enough words.

Most notable on the album was a version of Junior Murvin's "Police and Thieves", later covered by The Clash on their debut album. Francis's take on the rhythm, a comment on the violence in the 1976 Jamaican elections entitled "Soldier and Police War", "came very quickly", said Francis:

Bongo Herman was in the studio at that time, so we let him do a part like when somebody running, like out of breath. Scratch laugh and say he running from something, police want him or something. And then I say: a soldierman pass through Jonestown. That was me and Bongo Herman together.

However, Francis found his attempts to establish his own identity away from the producer weren't helped by the fact that the only picture on the sleeve of Colombia Colly was one of a grinning Lee Perry.

Switching to Virgin's Frontline label, Francis issued, as Jah Lloyd, the critically-acclaimed albums The Humble One and Black Moses before collaborating with Prince Jammy on Goldmine Dub, a collection picked up by the Greensleeves label for UK distribution. In the Eighties, ragga took over from the toasting DJs and the skills of Pat Francis were less in demand. He faded away in Kingston, with his wife and three children relocating to the United States.

Because he has seldom been photographed, some reference books claim Jah Lion to be a mythical artist, a figment of Lee Perry's feverish ganja- fuelled imagination. In fact, whether you heard him as Jah Lion, Jah Lloyd or Jah Ali, all Pat Francis wanted to do was pass on the Rastafarian faith and wisdom to the world.

Patrick Lloyd Francis (Jah Lloyd, Jah Lion, Jah Ali), singer and musician: born St Catherine, Jamaica 29 August 1947; married (three children); died Kingston, Jamaica 12 June 1999.