Winston Francis fixes sights on Geel
Winston Francis in a royal ensemble

Today, Winston Francis takes the stage at Reggae Geel in Belgium. A sprightly 79-year-old, he performs at one of the marquee festivals on the European summer reggae circuit, one day before Jamaica celebrates its 60th year of Independence.

For the past 50 years, Francis has lived in the United Kingdom, which has the most receptive market for so-called vintage reggae music. Best known for the 1968 hit Mr Fix It, Francis has appeared at Reggae Geel before and is overwhelmed by the appreciation people there have for Jamaica and its culture.

"Geel transforms into Jamaica every August 6. You cannot believe how much these people appreciate Jamaica," he said. "The whole town is covered in Jamaican flags…at the roundabout, the street corners, the street lights, the bars, the clubs. It's Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica!"

Francis performs on opening night of live action, alongside Samory I, Mortimer, Christopher Ellis, Romain Virgo, Christopher Martin, and Luciano. Reggae Geel is his second round in Belgium in less than one month; in July, he also did gigs in Argentina, Luxembourg and Germany.

The UK and mainland Europe are the biggest markets for him and his contemporaries.

"Europe has supported reggae from as long as I can remember. The first place I performed outside of England was Czechoslovakia in 1973 and I did several shows in Communist Germany before the Berlin Wall came down," Francis disclosed.

Winston Francis was born in downtown Kingston. He started his entertainment career as a contortionist known as Cobra Boy with Bim and Bam's variety show, before evolving as a singer on Vere Johns' Opportunity Hour talent events.

Francis first recorded for Clement "Coxson" Dodd's Studio One label in the early 1960s. He also did sessions for West Indies Records Limited (WIRL) and Duke Reid's Treasure Isle label.

After a stint with harmony quartet, The Sheridans, Francis returned to Studio One where he cut his best known song, Mr Fix It. It has been covered by elite acts such as John Holt, Freddie McGregor, Beres Hammond and UB40.

In the UK, Francis is part of a senior reggae community that includes fellow singers Owen Gray, Jimmy James and Tony Washington and deejay Dennis Alcapone. Many of their colleagues who went to that country during the 1960s and early 1970s, such as Millie Small, Jackie Edwards and Alton Ellis, have died.

He last visited Jamaica in 2015 when he received an award from Kingsley Goodison's Tribute To The Greats organisation. His memories of living in Jamaica are grand.

"We used to go to shows at places like Silver Slipper and Glass Bucket and walk back home. I used to live in the Waltham Park area at the time and my friends and I would walk to Waterhouse, all over. No one troubled you. Jamaica was a paradise. We had great times," he said.

Winston Francis

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