Kings of Friday Night
Jay Johnston was four pages into a novel he was writing about growing up in Truro and his memories of dances led by the popular rock and roll and R&B band The Lincolns, when he got an unexpected call from the band’s former drummer asking if he was interested in telling their story.
He set aside his novel and said yes.
“We were so lucky to have this powerful, legendary band,” said Johnston, also known by his writing name, A.J.B. Johnston, in a recent phone interview from his home in Halifax. “People came from far away to experience a Lincoln dance.”
In Kings of Friday Night: The Lincolns (Nimbus Publishing), Johnston, a prolific author best known for his books related to Louisbourg, brings together his personal recollections, photos and interviews with loyal fans, band members and those close to them, to paint a portrait of the band that hit its peak in the 1960s. He also tries to show what life was like in Truro in the late 1950s and 1960s; a time when segregation, racism, sexism and homophobia permeated the province.
In the early 1960s, Truro was a town divided: East/ West, Protestant/catholic, black/white. One thing brought everyone together: a Lincolns dance.
“It was the only place where everyone went and you could see each other,” said Johnston. “It was the one and only mixer in Truro at the time.”
An all-white band playing largely African-american music, The Lincolns had their own unique sound and became known as Truro’s “kings of Friday night.” They dedicated that night of the week to playing in their hometown but travelled to halls and campuses across Nova Scotia and into New Brunswick.
“They were really charismatic performers,” he said.
Johnston remembers the first time he paid 75 cents to attend a dance in Truro. He doesn’t remember the details, like whether it was 1965 or 1966, or whether he was in Grade 10 or Grade 11, but he does remember the feeling he had that night.
“There was something much bigger at play that night: a life force I had never before heard, seen, or felt. Its intensity illuminated the hall and everyone in it,” he writes in his book.
Dancing to live music and connecting not only with the sounds the musicians created, but with the hundreds of people, black and white, moving in the hall with you, was an unforgettable experience, said Johnston.
“It was so electric,” he said. In the summer of 1958, young musicians Peter Harris, Frank Mumford, and Brian Chisholm decided to form a band with their piano and two guitars. They asked Rod Norrie to join them on drums. Their first gig was at an Allied Youth Club dance at Truro Junior High. They were paid a total of $30. Soon they realized they needed Frank Mackay’s energetic and
stirring vocals to complete them as a band.
By playing to large audiences across the region The Lincolns helped to “open the door to what has become the Nova Scotia music scene,” longtime fan and former MP Mary Clancy told Johnston.
“The Lincolns were the best band I ever heard in Halifax and one of the best bands, period,” said Clancy. “They had an incredible chemistry. They took American rock ’n’ roll and made it their own. It made them unique. They had something nobody else had. A totally one-of-a-kind band.”
The Lincolns held their final concert in 1969 before getting back together for several reunions. The first of many reunions was in 1978. It was a fundraiser for minor football and was held in Truro. Between reunions, the band lived on through John Maclachlan Gray. The band’s organist for two years, the writer and composer later drew on the experience for his musical, Rock and Roll, which premiered in 1981 at the National Arts Centre. It was adapted for CBC TV in 1985 as The King of Friday Night.
To celebrate the launch of Johnston’s book, a concert was planned for May 9 at Truro’s Marigold Cultural Centre. Charlie A’court was to replace Mackay on vocals. Mackay died in 2019 following heart surgery. But the concert has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis. Johnston is hopeful it will take place later, when Nova Scotians are allowed to gather and enjoy live music again.
“The Lincolns represent the affirmation of life and deep-seated affection and joy and fun,” he said.
MORE BOOKS ON THE SHELF
Halifax author Anne Emery has published the 11th book in her popular mystery series that follows two unlikely colleagues: Monty Collins, a sharp-tongued public defender, and Father Brennan Burke, an Irish Catholic priest with some darker secrets.
Postmark Berlin (ECW Press), the latest book in the series, opens with the body of one of Father Burke’s parishioners washing up in Halifax.
“It was a chilly, grey morning in Halifax when Detective Sergeant Piet Van den Brink had stood on the shore looking out at the Atlantic Ocean, as if the rolling surf could bring in the answers he needed to explain the presence of the body lying at his feet,” Emery writes.
Meika Keller came to Canada after escaping through a checkpoint in the Berlin Wall. An army colonel is charged with her murder, but Collins argues that her death was a suicide. Guilty of neglecting his duties as a priest when Keller needed him most, Father Brennan needs to uncover what led to her death. The novel takes readers from Halifax to Berlin, where Father Brennan searches for what, or who, is responsible for Keller’s death.
Emery’s Collins-burke Mysteries series started with her 2006 book Sign of the Cross.
Halifax-based author and artist Veronica Post has published her debut graphic novel, Langosh and Peppi: Fugitive Days (Conundrum Press). The black and white paperback opens in Budapest, Hungary in the midst of the migrant crisis and is loosely based on a fictionalized version of Post’s diaries between 2012 and 2015.
Seen through the perspective of a vagabond named Langosh and his faithful dog, Peppi, the pair stumble on the remains of the country’s war-torn past. Readers follow them through alleys, tunnels, train stations, abandoned buildings and the countryside, where they discover the difference between someone who has the choice to live a transient lifestyle, and someone who has been forced from their home and country.
Post grew up in Halifax and teaches furniture-making and drawing comics in the city.
A.J.B. Johnston, author of Kings of Friday Night: The Lincolns.
Nova Scotia's original rock and soul revue The Lincolns.