Interview with Professor Haroun Shah 





Interview of Professor Haroun Shah 


The Association of Calypsonians UK (ACUK) Interview of Professor Haroun Shah The London Calypso Tent


8thJanuary 2018

Interviewer Sade Hewitt-Ibru

“My name is Sade.  I am collecting information on the behalf of the Association of the Calypsonian UK HLF project which is the Heritage Lottery Fund.”

“I have with me Haroun Shah.  Thank you for agreeing Haroun to share your stories and memories with the Association of the Calypsonians UK and wider community.”

Interviewee Haroun Shah

“Thank you very much for the opportunity to participate in this Sade.”


“Ok thank you.  So, can you remember the day that you first attended the Calypso Tent?”


“Yes, I first attended the Calypso Tent back at the YAA Asantewaa Centre in 1998”


1998, ok.


I remember it well because it was the year my last daughter, Laila was born.


What made you attend, was it an invite or a special event?


I play with the UK’s oldest steelband, Nostalgia whose panyard is just a short distance from the Yaa Asantewaa. Growing up in Trinidad it was customary to try and listen to original calypsos in the Tent and how arrangers translate their music onto steelpan.  So, I was intrigued to know whether something like this could work in London.  Nostalgia did so in 1999 with a Mighty Tiger’s calypso for Notting Hill carnival but unfortunately this has not been maintained. In the last few years another steel band called St Michael’s and All Angels Steelband (now Phoenix Rising) has been doing this with Alexander D Great with great success.


It quite interesting how you want to put calypso to the pan to enhance the lyrics.


No, this is only novel in the diaspora. In Trinidad this would be seen as normal and is at the heart of the history of calypso itself.  Calypsos were sung for several decades before the steelpan was invented in Trinidad.  However, when steelbands arrived, their arrangers naturally turned to the calypsonians for their music for carnival. The most poignant example of this was when the Grand Master, icon and legendary, Lord Kitchener, domiciled in Trinidad from 1962 after decades in England and devoted this entire period until he passed away on 11thFebruary 2000 to writing calypsos for steelpan. I think this solidified the bond between calypso and steelpan in a way that was never achieved before.


So what was your first personal experience of calypso?


Just as you learn nursery rhymes in this country, in Trinidad we grew up singing calypsos and also nursery rhymes. Nursery rhymes were from England and most of it had no relevance to our lives. Calypsos on the other hand did.  So calypsos such as, ‘Jonah who teef a bake here’, ‘Brown Skin Gal’or the Mighty Spoiler’s funny calypsos resonated with us. Now this didn’t distract us from singing pop songs and rock and roll and all the other things that happened then. But, I think with certain individuals calypso had a greater attachment and I was one of them. I felt closer to it than all this other forms of contemporary music even though I took a very broad interest in music. My mother was a pianist and we had no choice, we had to learn to play piano using classical pieces, not calypso. So up now, calypso in buried in the deepest part of my soul and plays daily in our home!!! My three daughters grew up with calypso and it is very much a part of their daily lives too.


Wonderful, it’s in your blood so to say.


Absolutely. I was so lucky that from five or six years old, my parents took me to the Calypso Tent.  This is quite amazing because at that time calypso was barred in many homes. At that time, calypso music from the Tent was broadcasted live, so I would rush home from school and do my homework (to please my parents) so that I could sit glued to the radio each night to hear each calypsonian. Even when television arrived, radio was still the medium for broadcast. So as I grew up, right through to my early years,  and teens until I left Trinidad, our family would listen to the radio every night and follow all the calypso’s that came out every year.  So it was a natural progression when I came to England to see if this was possible, to follow it and thank God we had people like the Mighty Tiger, Lord Cloak, Admiral Jack, Lucky, Explorer and some of the great early calypsonians who brought calypso alive at the Yaa Asantewaa. Being able to go there, in heart of London and relive my experience of Trinidad is something I look forward to annually.


How did you find the Tent in London, who informed you of it?


Well, it was advertised but in those days such events were known largely by word of mouth. Luckily, because I was in the community and involved with carnival, I knew about it.  We didn’t have the internet or mobile phones then but the Caribbean community were really quite good at transmitting such news.  How did I find it?  An incredible experience and I was truly amazed at the high level of respect given to artists. The Yaa Asantewaa had a wonderful ambience with great audience participation. An evening at the Calypso Tent was not like a  concert; you are much more involved in what’s going on and I was absolutely astonished that the early calypsonians here at the YAA was able to create that environment.  They were of course singing to a very receptive audience because most of the people who were there would have been accustomed to seeing this in Trinidad and the Caribbean.

One of the things that I would compliment them on in this very early years of calypso in London is the reverence paid to both new and older calypsonians. In Trinidad if you weren’t a very good calypsonian, you were booed off stage; there was no regard for even newcomers. I can recall seeing some potentially good calypsonians who left the stage in shame and tears.  The most prominent was the appearance of  the very young, new comer, the then unknown ‘Mighty Sniper’ at the Naparima Bowl in San Fernando. Appearing after some of the well-known names such as the Mighty Bomber, Lord Christo etc who had very upbeat and catchy rhythms, Sniper’s calypso ‘Portrait of Trinidad’ was slow and his beautiful, profound lyrics were missed while he was heckled, jeered and booed off stage.  Luckily, he had the courage to stay there, sidestep this dreadful behaviour and finish his calypso.  Interestingly by the time he did other performances and people listened properly to his masterpiece, they realized this was a remarkable calypso and he got a standing ovation at the next level of the competition. He then went on to become Calypso Monarch in 1965 against a powerful field of finalists in 1965.  Today, this calypso, ‘Portrait of Trinidad’ is celebrated like a ‘National Anthem for Trinidad’.  What I found at the YAA is no matter how poor a calypsonian was, they were never given such appalling treatment. The audience there encouraged people and that was the big difference between Trinidad and what I saw at the Yaa  and all credit to all the calypsonians and the organisers who encouraged and fostered such a spirited, pleasant and vibrant atmosphere.


That’s wonderful, so everyone had the opportunity to……


Yes. But what I also applaud in London, especially as we moved from the YAA to the Tabernacle in 2008 is the increased number of female calypsonians who began coming forward; gender was never an issue here. Some such as Akima Paul, were short-lived but created a huge impact and even went on to win the first Extempo competition.  I think we should compliment Alexander D Great and all the other calypsonians in the Tent for maintaining such fantastic race and gender equality and the willingness to promote everybody


What would you say was one of your favourite memories, an artist, an event, because they have done several competitions here haven’t they or Haroun, can you tell me about your favourite performances at the Tent. Any favourite performances, events, competitions etc


It is difficult to single out one particular event, one evening or one calypso over the years because every year you think it’s great, it gets better the next year and so I have memories going back from  the early days of the Mighty Tiger.  He sang a calypso to acknowledge the YAA Asantewaa and that’s used even to this day as a theme tune to open the calypso season.  He also sang a calypso called ‘Little Birdy’ which I absolutely love because the melody is so wonderful and it was also the last calypso I heard him sing sadly before he left the stage and was incapacitated. But, I think one of the nicest traditions that have been maintained in this Calypso Tent is the calypsonian’s ability to relate stories of contemporary life in the UK and around the world and that’s what calypsonians do so well as musical journalist. I remember being struck by the sheer terror of the earthquake in 2010 in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world and the devastation that followed.  And yet the wretchedness of all this situation was beautifully captured in a calypso by Alexander D Great.

Many of the Calpysonians in the Tent have sung very interesting calypsos.  I remember two years ago, G-String, sang and also played an absolutely beautiful calypso on the problems in Nigeria and my daughter was with me as a little kid. We have a copy of his C.D in our car and often play it while driving.  Lord Cloak always amused the audiences and we always look forward to him.

Rev B and De Admiral also produce interesting calypsos.  But as I said earlier I think the women in calypso Tent have been extremely powerful.  I remember a truly amazing female calypsonian by the name of Akima Paul who became Calypso Monarch in 2009. I learnt that she was a law student and never did music before, yet she performed like a professional.  She took on the tent contestants in Extempo and reached the final. She competed against Alexander D Great and won the final.  I think calypsonians such as Helena B, Brown Sugar and Cleopatra are truly amazing.  I feel the women in the Tent have absolutely beautiful voices and all in all I think I’ve had really fantastic experiences, not just in a single year but over many the years.  Over the years, the ABC has brought over many distinguished artists, Lord Explainer singing ‘Lorraine’ is one my most memorable experiences.


And that’s probably the reason you keep coming back.


Yes! Because it keeps getting better every year and from time to time you see new calypsonians making their mark.  I recollect in 2013 when a white youngster made his debut and was introduced in a very circumspect, offhand manner. But this youngster came on stage and brought down the house. I was particularly overwhelmed by his performance, humour, ability to adapt so well to the Tent and connect with the audience. I remember speaking to people like Alexander D Great later on and saying, I hope we are going to see that guy back in the Tent.  Three years later he won the Groovy Soca Competition and up to last year 2017 he performed again to a house that was screaming their support for him – his sobriquet is Santiago. One of my own colleagues from Nostalgia steelband entered for the first time last year under the name ‘Muffinman’ and has already made his mark with the audience. We see new talent coming in the Tent regularly and it’s interesting to see how the more experienced calypsonians nurture and inspire them.


It’s good because they are very diverse, it’s a very diverse community it’s not secluded.  So what do you look for then in a good calypso Tent performance, how do you spot talent, say you have the younger generation coming up.


With calypso, the lyrics are extremely important because it charts a particular event at a specific time. If we listen to early calypsos by the Lord Kitchener in London  it’s like listening to a documentary on life in London; about his landlady, about cricket when the West Indies team was aspiring to become a superpower in the world of cricket.  Others tells his experience on travelling on the underground, the Coronation of the Queen, life in early London and many more. It is wonderful that calypso today continues to maintain that theme; eg in the Tent you will now hear calypsos on ‘Brexit’, War in the Middle East, Crime in London, the USA president etc.

But beyond the lyrics, the calypsonian also has to have an accompanying striking original melody to get the attention of the audience and beyond the Tent, the Steelbands. Annually, there is a lot of anticipation and eagerness to see who achieves this interface between good lyrics, good melody and also being able to deliver their composition best in the Tent. I feel this must be a monumental task but I can’t gauge it as I’ve never sang a calypso in public. But siting in the audience, you feel the mood intensifying and people getting excited when that message begins coming across very clear and appealing.

If we go back to Trinidad and look at the way one at the superlative maestros of all time, the Mighty Sparrow’s you can see that he went beyond the Tent and interacted with the whole population of Trinidad and Tobago. It was as if Sparrow carried on a dialogue with the whole country and specifically with Prime Minster Eric Williams. His calypsos had a profound effect, influencing major political and social changes in Trinidad and Tobago. Sparrow’s calypsos even caused dramatic changes to the British educations system that was embedded there. Roy Cape, a brass musician and whose brass band backed up the Mighty Sparrow for decades gives deep insight into the life of this incredible man. Cape’s states that Sparrow dedicates his whole life to calypso, he walks with dictionaries and books to improve his lyrics. Calypsonians here in the Tent do likewise with minimal remuneration.

In my view, one of the most poignant statements on this topic is that of C.L.R James’s. The West Indies, just prior to Independence of Jamaica and Trinidad, were part of a West Indian federation.  The federation was short-lived and there is a complex story of why it did not work and books have been written on it. When CLR James was asked in a public meeting about the complex situation of the federation of why it broke up, he said “listen to Sparrow’s calypso, you will learn everything you need to learn in that one calypso.”  It emphasises the power of the medium of calypso and to me to be able, in three to four verses, to compact so much information into a melody, make it coherent, humorous, clear and lucid to that population is equivalent to what we get in the highest form of literature.  One of the most powerful statements on this topic in my view is the book called the The Political Calypso;True Opposition in Trinidad and Tobago 1962 – 1987 byLouis Regis.In Britain, we have literary giants such as Shakespeare, Tennyson, Byron, Wordsworth etc who chart the history of this country;  in Trinidad and now here in the UK, the Caribbean community has calypso which is our literature and a powerful medium for recording our history in song.


Yes it’s historical, political and reaches the wider community.


I don’t think that we should ever loose the pivotal role of calypso in the history of the Caribbean and how it was born and evolved. If I had to name one or two calypsos to illustrate this, it would be Sparrow’s “Slave” and the Mighty Terror’s “Heading North”. I would love our entire community to listen to these powerful lyrics. I have played these frequently for my three daughters as they grew up and even today they also play them and many others to their own kids. Slave vividly translates the torture, the pain delivered by the slave masters, humiliation, the agony of the plantations, the dismay and horror of their lives. This is not even a very popular calypso yet in my view it should be played in every school as part of the history of slavery. In the Mighty Terror’s  “Heading North” he charts the reasons for the vast moment of African-Americans moving to the north of the USA to escape the racist politics and their abysmal treatment in the south. In my opinion what make this calypso so powerful is that Terror was courageous enough to sing this calypso at a time when the Civil Right movement was not even born and to even question the system was tantamount to a crime. At that time, Trinidadian-born Claudia Jones faced the ultimate penalty for speaking out and was imprisoned and eventually expelled from the USA for such views. You can’t help speculating, if she had conveyed her messages for equality in calypso, would the authorities have responded in the same way?


At the Tent


At the Tent, all of this comes alive. On the final nights of the Tent, the Calypso Monarch and Groovy Soca Monarch competitions take place.  Calypsonians use every means possible to convey their meaning and sometimes use very wacky and amusing props to enhance their message.


Thank you Haroun. So what is the role of the Calypsonian to you?


In most societies, stories of peoples’ lives and experiences are narrated through folklore. In the Caribbean, calypsonian narrate interesting stories through song and they survive for decades – who can forget Sparrow’s Jean and Dinah of 1956 that is frequently sung today.  In Kitchener’s early days in London he was the spokesman for the first 5,000 immigrants of the West Indies and kept people entertained with stories from home. But he soon switched his calypsos to stories around him in London. One of best remembered is his cricket victory calypso called “Cricket Lovely Cricket” which was written to celebrate the West Indies first victory over England in the 2ndtest match at Lords in 1950.

I remember when my daughter was just 10 years, she entered a school quiz and one of the questions was, “What is the date of Ghana’s independence?”  without her thinking she blared out “6thMarch 1957” because she knew Kitchener’s calypso ‘Birth of Ghana’.

This year I heard a fantastic calypso by Tobago Crusoe about Teresa May at the time of the general elections, about his opinions on Brexit and Donald Trump and while they are highly amusing calypsos they are also very topical.  So like the past, even though we are very far away from home, Calypsonians have kept the tradition very much alive here.

Calypsos are often documentaries of legendary figures while many, such as David Rudder’s ‘Sweet TnT’ reminds us of home. Alexander D Great’s tribute to the icon Russell Henderson or Cyril Khamai’s 84’s birthday are outstanding examples from the Tent.  In 2017 Brown Sugar’s calypso dealt with gender issues at home and women’s rights which won her the Calypso Monarch.


What is the role of Calypsonians, how can the Tent be improved, what would you like to see, how would you like to see the generations moving forward in the Tent?


I believe that over the years the Calypso Tent has largely catered to an audience who knows about calypso and it depends very much on people bringing others to experience the events. Part of the reason for this is that it only happens during a very short period in the summer leading up to the Notting Hill Carnival and its literally about four evenings when all of this happens. Something that sprung out of all of this has been organised by Michael La Rose, Alexander D Great and others is the ‘Kaiso Lime’. Annually, this starts May and ends in November and this is regarded by many as an extension of the Calypso Tent.  I would like to see the Calypso Tent activities spread throughout the whole year.  I think we can focus it very strongly during the Notting Hill Carnival but I would like to see it also taken out of the Tabernacle to venues such as the Festival Hall and various theatres where wider audience can experience this prodigious artform. Of course this will need massive funding but I believe it would pay for itself in the long run.

A few calypsonians such as Alexander D Great, D’Alberto and Tobago Crusoe go directly into schools and work with youngsters. I would like to see more youngsters coming in and experiencing this artform. I feel part of the role of the Calypso Tent is to try to reach further outside the Caribbean community, let them know we have this amazing talent and music. I feel it would also be nice to have some workshops in which we analyse some calypsos and the impact of these on peoples’ lives.

I already mentioned Sparrow. I can remember him singing about the “Russian Satellite”and a calypso in 1958 called ‘Pay as you earn’ about income tax rises in Trinidad and Tobago.  What do these sorts of calypsos mean in the context of life?  It would be interesting to explore this perhaps even by interaction with an audience.

I have been fortunate to work with Alexander D Great through our biennial steelpan conferences from 2006 and this has extended my understanding of this art form even more. We incorporate one session of the conference on Calypso which allows us to ‘get behind the scene’ and search deeper into the history of calypso by the people who bring this music to us annually.


Haroun, can you see the Tent taking calypso more globally?


I think this is a really very interesting question.  Calypso started in the very small island of Trinidad and has now spread to other Caribbean islands. Harry Belafonte popularised it in the USA and this then brought in a lot of well-known Americans artists. Another American, a contemporary writer and journalist, Ray Funk has been documenting many of these events and has shown clippings at the Tabernacle. Renowned artists such as Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Robert Mitchum and even the great Louis Armstrong were shown singing calypso around the 1950’s and 60’s.  This was a great period for calypso but paradoxically it was also a difficult time for calypso because it could have been taken over by the USA and lost from the Caribbean for good.

Here in England, we had calypsos being sung by various pop groups.  I remember a calypso called ‘Last Train to San Fernando’ being sung by Johnny Duncan that reached number two in the UK charts. This was very personal for me as I was born and grew up in San Fernando.  We now know that groups such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones etc also had a deep-routed interest in calypso. The Beatles were actually mentored by a calypsonian called Lord Woodbine who was also on the Empire Windrush in 1948 with Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner, but whose work was largely obliterated from history until the awe-inspiring work of James McGrath at Leeds Beckett University. Woodbine was an accomplished pannist and a calypsonian who took the Beatles from obscurity to fame under Brian Epstein. So with all these groundbreaking activities one would have expected that calypso would have gone more global by now.  But it was superseded by the more commercial music that was coming out of Jamaica in the 1960s, largely driven by another Trinidadian, Nerlin Tait. Great singers such as Millie Small, Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Mytals, Lee Perry and many more drove the reggae movement into it becoming more acceptable and more commercial. For the large Jamaican population living in London it was more commercial and this took precedence over from calypso and went global, especially with the arrival of Bob Marley in London in1972. Calypso stayed inaudible in the meantime but luckily was never lost and continues to maintain a strong presence while other genres slowly declined.

One of the things that I think you have to compliment the Calypso Tent here in London is in fostering more global connections.  Under the Mighty Tiger a programme started that brought up the Junior Monarchs from Trinidad to perform at the Calypso Tent.  They also brought up well known calypsonians such as Lord Explainer, Sparrow, David Rudder, Mighty Chalkdust and others. There is an exchange programme between the calypso tent in Toronto and the ABC here.  The winner of the Monarch here goes to Toronto and vice versa and hopefully that can extend to other cities such as New York and other parts of the world where there are calypso tents.

I am an optimist and believe that the programme which was started by the ABC 25 years ago will continue under the ACUK and will foster more globally interactions. Newer forms of calypso such as Soca are more commercial and appearing in dance halls and keep-fit classes such as Zumba in gyms across the UK and North America. Calypsonians such as Machel Montanocan be heard daily in these classes and is now a global phenomenon. So this might be another avenue through which calypso might gain a more global arena.  But the traditional calypso hopefully will always stay because that is its roots that perpetuated it through generations.  I am confident that the great calypsonian of the Tent will ensure its long term future.


Just to round up, of the many Calypsonians and the amazing songs that they have sung, which one would you say is one of your favourites.


In the Calypso Tent here I would have to choose Alexander D Great’s ‘Russell Henderson, the Panman because of its powerful lyrics, beautiful melody and the expressiveness of this tribute to the late legend. However, I grew up in Trinidad with calypso in my daily life. There were of course the mythical figures such as Lord Kitchener, Mighty Sparrow, Mighty Spoiler, Lord Christo, Mighty Bomber, Lord Melody, Mighty Terror, Lord Shorty, Mighty Composer, Mighty Sniper, Lord Blakie etc. I loved the originality and wit of Spoiler and Christo and the immense fun, shrewdness and music of Lord Melody. Sparrow’sJean and Dinah of 1956 was so special and even at that age (10 years), I had the feeling a new type of calypso had arrived. And sure it did, as Sparrow just kept going without a serious rival except perhaps Melody. When Kitchener burst in on the scene in Trinidad from the UK in 1963 and sang “The Road”, he not only won the Road March but a real dual ensued between the two giants of calypso for the next two decades. So powerful were the melodies of Kitchener that steelbands began to grow is size and the age of the “Big Band” arose in the 60s with the start of Panorama in 1963. The sky was now the limit and this glorious era of calypso, led the grandmaster to win the Road March competitions eleven times; the last being ‘Flag Woman’ in 1976.  During this period, it would be difficult to select a single calypso as there were so many great calypsos.  But I left home in 1967 and that year Kitchener sang a calypso called “67”. Our family band, Guinness Cavaliers under the helm of the legendary Bobby Mohammed also won Panorama for a second time with this calypso and established them as a tour de force in the highly competitive world of steelpan. In a few week’s time, Nostalgia will be participating in its first carnival in Trinidad in February 2018. We are teaming up with Southern All Stars and will play “67” on the road.  So for all these reasons, if I had to name a favorite and special calypso, it would have to be “67” as it was such a memorable year for me. But this also emphasises how indelible and visible calypso can mark out the footsteps of one’s life. Thank you Lord Kitchener this great calypso but also thanks to all the calypsonians in Trinidad and Tobago and here at the London Tent for enriching our lives immeasurably.


Ok, thank you Haroun for sharing your treasured memories of the Tent with us and the Calypsonians, the music, the art for the wider community and on behalf of the Heritage Lottery Fund.  We thank you and we appreciate your generosity in sharing today.  Thank you.


Thank you very much Sade for your time and patience.  I enjoyed the experience and look forward to seeing the end product. Thanks again for the opportunity and to the Heritage Lottery Fund for making this possible.


Thank you.


TJ Johnson interview by Jo Kilner



TJ Johnson interview by Jo Kilner



ACUK Interview 09/02/2018


TJ: My name is TJ Johnson, guitar player for ABC. The date today is Friday the ninth of February 2018.

J: So, twenty years of playing guitar for . . .

TJ: The ABC band

J: when?

TJ: That’s what it was called before they changed it to

J: oh yeah

TJ: which I don’t agree with

J: No? Why not?

TJ: it’s elongated, it’s rubbish

J: Yeah, ABC is good

TJ: Its perfect fine, Association of British Calypsonians, what more do you want? Political correctness come in to it and just spoiled it

J: People still call it that though

TJ: Of course, that’s the real name, the other as I say last year I told Alex that its rubbish and I mean that

J: When did you start playing? Guitar

TJ: Guitar?

J: Yeah

TJ: When I was about twelve/thirteen in the last century

J: Last century god


J: Did you start playing calypso?

TJ: The truth is I would say yes because my parents are from the Caribbean, my Dad used to play guitar and when we jammed in my house we always played calypso that’s what he knew and calypso and a thing called merengue, have you heard of merengue? Merengue is an offshoot of calypso, like played out in places like Aruba, have you heard of Aruba?

J: Just about

TJ: That’s one island in the Caribbean. I was born there, Aruba because my Dad used to work on the oil refinery. Most of the people from that part of the Caribbean went to Aruba for work because basically there are very few places you can get regular work so they had like a community of Caribbean people in Aruba that worked in the oil refinery and so me and my brother were born there. So he got, yeah, he was very musical my Dad and he played violin, guitar, so that’s why I started playing from.

J: And when did you move over to the UK?

TJ: About ’65, very, very young started here, and started going to school and all that stuff and got pretty involved in British culture and learning all about it and all that

J: What, what about British culture, what kind of stuff did you learn about?

TJ: well, British attitude to everything from, from race to food to education to religion everything that was different to the Caribbean completely, the climate, weather and funnily enough the topic of conversation in England was the weather, cause the weather is so bad everybody talked about it all the time which was, yeah so by going to school I learned everything, most things you need to know about, attitudes and stuff, because as you know everything happens at school as you, you learn a lot about people’s attitude to different cultures to food to whatever. I learnt a lot at school.

J: Did you, are you influenced by any British music? Or is it mainly Caribbean music?

TJ: Well the thing is, I was very influenced by pop music especially the Beatles, when I heard the Beatles for the first time I was blown over by them, really blown away. When you’re that young your mind is open to anything, there is no sort of barriers as to say, you shouldn’t like this politically because they’re white or because they are black or whatever who isn’t. you’re young your mind is completely open my ears just heard the Beatles and they thought yeah just awesome and I’ve felt like that ever since.


TJ: Yeah and as I say, ever since that day I heard the Beatles they’ve been my number one group, still, after all these years my number one group cause I found that my ears are very attuned to melody and they were great melodic writers, great. The words was not that important because, if you transcribe, because melody is the music its awesome, just awesome, just listen to that, the classical, they have turned the music into classical concept, just the melodies, that’s all you need and that alone tells you what great writers they were because the first thing you need as a great writer is a great melody line, top line. Words can always come, by, like for example when Paul McCartney.


J: Yes, so sorry you were talking about music and melody

TJ: Yes, the Beatles particularly I was talking about, the melody is so strong that, just listen to the melodies without the words it’s just enough, like for example Paul McCartney was writing Yesterday , the melody came to him in his sleep, and, he realised that the melody was good that he did some research to find out if there is another song that went like that and there wasn’t so he put some rubbish melodies to it, rubbish words to it, just to, just to hold it in the mean time until he was sure that that melody was original and then he wrote proper words to it. So just to prove my point that the melody is what carries the song. Once you have a great melody, you can work on the words in the next six months if you want, but once that melody is there, you know you got a good song so to go back to my point is that the Beatles are great, great writers and so they influenced me greatly and from there on most of the bands of the sixties have influenced my ears because, pop music from the sixties is all about melodies, great melodies from all the bands from the Hollies to the Trocks to the Small Faces go on and on and on and on that’s way before your time of course but that’s okay. so those times were the beginning for me of, the spread of pop culture, you know, the sixties were such a good decade for music. Everything came from that era, in the sense that it spread throughout the world, a big part of that was also British pop bands, I’ve always loved British music, that’s it.

J: Did you, have you got any similar influences on, your Dad playing calypso, can you remember any names of calypso artists?

TJ: Of course, of course, the biggest name from ever, from before I was born is a guy called the Mighty Sparrow, you know, he’s the absolute legend, the biggest name calypso has ever had and still alive, and I’ve played with him thankfully. I performed with him, one of my greatest joy. But he, from the time I’ve known myself he’s been number one calypso singer in the world, after he, a guy called Lord Kitchener, another master, have you heard of him? He’s a master calypsonian, master lyricist, master orchestrator, master of everything. Lord Kitchener. He was absolutely awesome, then you have people like Shadow, another legend, great, great entertainer and singer, I’ve played with him. Baron, Mighty Baron, sweetest voice in the Caribbean, sweet, sweet melodic voice and, totally different from Shadow, Shadow is a very, ruff and gruff, very down to earth gravelly voice, you know, but the Baron, melodic, sweet, great, both great, again I’ve worked with him also , yeah so I’ve worked with most of the legends in calypso so, go on.

J: I was just going to say, when did you first get involved in the tent and the ABC and all that?

TJ: I would say twenty years ago

J: Twenty years ago

TJ: At least that, twenty years, and I’ve maybe missed one year

J: Only one?

TJ: Maybe just one year from that time because I, I love doing it because all the other things I do in music is totally away from calypso and soca so that I look forward to that, that’s the only time, well especially now, calypso singers don’t come over to England as much as they used to cause of financial restraint, you know what I’m saying, that’s why I’ve played with all these guys in the past, they don’t come anymore because again it’s too expensive, not enough money blah blah blah blah blah musicians. So the amount of calypso I do is very limited so that’s why I look forward to the tent every year, it’s a good release and freedom for me because I don’t have to arrange anything, cause I run my own bands, two three or four bands, I do all the arrangements, take care of all the bookings, all that nonsense, when I play here, I just put the music in front of me and just play it, no questions, no hassle and that’s it so it’s great release for me. Yeah, that’s why I do it.

J: Is that because, you don’t get well paid for it or anything? Alex was saying

TJ: we don’t get well paid for anything, trust me on that but we love it. Yeah musicians, most professional musicians love what they do, most not all, some musicians do it for money just chasing money, chasing money, those people for me they came into music for the wrong reasons, when I say wrong reasons, someone like myself came into the music industry purely for the love of playing, money never ever entered my thoughts of why I played music, I loved to play, just loved to play, most musicians are like that, you know, I, the amount of times I’ve been abroad and come back with less money than I went with, you would not believe it but I was saying to someone the other day, only this week actually, that my family never understood what that meant. They never understood that the money was to me as irrelevant. To them, going abroad and coming back without money was a, a travesty, a tragedy, how can you do that, are you crazy? What are you doing it for then? My siblings, my brothers couldn’t understand that, they don’t know what that meant over passion, nobody had a passion in my family except me, at a very young age, so I was following that but they didn’t understand why I was doing it, I came back without money and two weeks later you get on a plane and you go again and the same thing happens, no money and that was irrelevant to me, that meant nothings, trust me cause I was living with my parents, didn’t have to pay rent and food and all that stuff, I didn’t care about none of that, it’s just for the passion of playing and the thing about going to Germany in those days was that, you get to play every night, exactly what happened to the Beatles, I mean, exactly, all because we went to Hamburg. That’s where they learned how to play and how to write because they were playing every single night, in England play once a week, maybe twice if you’re lucky but every single night you learn how to play, you learn your craft, how to sing cause you have no choice, you’re doing five hours a night, every night, so you see Germany, especially Germany was great for British music, they gave us a lot of work because their musicians crap, simple as that, their musicians is, they brought up on oompa music, you know what that means, oompa oompa that kind of trombone, brass band kinda music , shit, trust me so the young people there didn’t want to know nothing about that, they wanted Western music, Black music, especially soul, reggae stuff like that and, pop, r’n’b, they loved that, that’s where most British bands learnt to play and to earn a living, Germany, not in France, maybe Italy a little bit, Belgium a little bit but Germany, massive market there.

J: So do you play, do you ever sing? Do you sing as well? Do you sing calypso as well?

TJ: No, the point is I can but I don’t get the opportunity to do that because the gigs I get doesn’t call for calypso not all calypso you can put in a set, you know what I’m saying, you wouldn’t have any calypso gigs per say. There is no such thing as calypso gig, the market is not big enough for that, they haven’t got a market for that, that’s the reason why the tent is sponsored, you cannot do it unless you get financial support, so, as for calypso and soca shows, again you only have that when artists come over from the Caribbean to do a tour or whatever, that’s the only time we do only soca gigs so I don’t get to sing much soca at all although I’m not a soca singer, not specialist in that I’ve seen a few but the real soca singers and calypso singers only do the tent, they don’t have, they can’t get enough work the rest of the year to do that so most of them have to have other jobs. Me as a musician, because I, as I say I professionally do other, other work which is my main source of income.

J: Can you remember what’s the best year been at the tent? Is there one that stands out or?

TJ: Tough question, I would say the earlier days. The tent used be in Paddington a place called the yasanti, Ashanti West centre was where it really started out. They have refurbished it now, they have modernised it, and its lost all that culture, you know what I’m saying, the old ashanti bar was where we, we used to have great fun there, the building was old and it was, it just had a great feel about it and it had all the black icons on the walls and things on the walls, and all the revolutionaries and things like that. But then the tent moved to tabernacle. And it became more, more not to say synthetic, but more sort of . . . less feel, this is more a corporation type of venue, you know what I’m saying, it’s a corporation, look at it. So you don’t get the true sense of, for me personally anyway, the true sense of the Caribbean feel. They have lots of different performances and artists and all that stuff here, the assanti bar was the real. So as for the best, no there is no really no one who stands out, there have been loads of really great nights at the yasanti bar, a few ones good ones here as well but, as a matter a fact there’s one I remember, soca Elvis, a white guy singing Elvis in soca style. Soca Elvis. Great, he was really, so different, you know, he dressed in the Elvis gear singing soca. Soca Elvis. So that for me stands out as really, yeah, really different you know and great fun.But he hasn’t been back, he hasn’t been to the tabernacle for some reason I don’t know why. Cause what happens is, or what used to happen, the tent used to sort of sponsor artists from Trinidad, like maybe one special artist from Trinidad, maybe a calypso king or queen or whatever to do the tent here, yeah people like soca Elvis and people like, yeah lots of different names but again financial restraint prevent that happening, simple as that, everything is about money. Money, money, money. Money governs all. Without the money you can’t have this, this building for example sponsors a lot of art hear as you know, performances, plays, whatever, it’s all got to be sponsored by whoever, Arts Council, this, that. So, it’s all governed by money, you know. Also, what we do, I don’t know if you know, on Powis Square out here every year they would do a stage performance.

J: No, I didn’t know that.

TJ: Okay, most years, it’s sponsored most years but sometimes it’s not, can’t get enough money to do it, so what happens all day, with the Carnival, on the Carnival day, the two days of Carnival, Sunday and Monday we out here playing our set all singers performing live out front to everybody which is a highlight.

J: If it doesn’t get sponsored, it doesn’t happen?

TJ: It don’t happen, the carnival will go ahead but without that stage, that stage has to be sponsored because it’s very expensive, you have to pay all the musicians, I mean we are the musicians we are like the house band so we stable just like we do it inside but the singers, you have about maybe ten or twelve singers or whatever, they have got to be paid, and the stage got to be paid for and the engineers and the sound system and the pay, you name it, it’s expensive, so it’s not sponsored every year.

J: Has it happened often that it’s not been on?

TJ: Yeah, I think it’s been on for the last two years, thankfully, the year before that I don’t think it was on if I remember correctly but when it’s on it’s great fun, great, great fun, yeah. And plus, what you call the International, I mean the World stage because we have artists from all over the Caribbean, Africa. Like last year we had artists from, again, mostly, most of the Caribbean islands and a lot from Africa, South Africa, Zimbabwe bringing their style of music, it’s just awesome to see that, really, and the people love it. Have you ever been to carnival?

J: No, but I want to go this year.

TJ: Ohhh, ohhhh

J: I know.

TJ: I’m not blaming you for not going, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that it’s a great, the thing is most people are scared of carnival, they’ve heard a lot of negative stories about it, you know, but there is nothing to be scared about, but if you are scared of crowds, there, that is a different thing, if you’re frightened of crowds then it’s not the place for you because it’s thousands and hundreds of thousands of people and you can be frightened but as for the culture, the music, it’s just, to me, the two best days of the year, specially when the sun is shining, oh, and the food, oh, and the music, come on, there is nothing to touch that. I mean, nothing. Nothing. That’s when you get the true tastes and sounds of the Caribbean culture, the best time for me, for the carnival is when we coming to set up here, and when there are not many people about, we’re talking about ten in the morning and you see everybody setting up their food stalls and you see all the flowers and smell the food, and you see the music is blasting and the sun is shining. I can’t remember any two better days in my life than those two days, my god, just awesome.

J: Does your whole family go, does everybody go, your whole neighbourhood?

TJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s just great.

J: I was going to ask that a lot of calypso music is, is sort of social commentary, they always have something that they’re commenting on, but you’re a guitarist so you’re focus is on the melody, so I don’t know, do you think there’s something special about the melody as well or do you think that’s the social commentary is what makes it?

TJ: Okay, a good question. For someone like Sparrow right, going back to Sparrow, those two things were crucial, the melody was great, the social commentary was fantastic, so he combined those two things greatly. Great melody, because the melody will hook you to listen to the words exactly like, that’s hat great writers do. Bob Marley, like the Beatles, like Stevie Wonder, you have great melody and then it hooks you to listen to what the words are saying, that’s what Sparrow did. So, you combine the two, if you can combine the two, a lot of singers, less talented singers cannot combine the two, they might have great words but they might not have a great sense of melody, you know what I’m saying, that’s okay, they get over by being funny, and they get, they have these here every year, several people who have great, great words and they get the audience laughing all the way through which is great, so they concentrate more on the subject, you know what I’m saying, the subject matter of what they’re singing about might be a protest song about as you say it’s got to be something topical, even something that happened in this building, something that happened outside the building, something to happen within the organisation of the ABC band, anything at all that brings it and makes it topical and the people, the audience understand it and they relate to it, it’s great, so then the melody is not so important, just listen to the subject matter, they might be really angry about something so the melody will suffer, but the subject matter will get through so you basically take your pick, you have, if you have a great gift for both you do it, you might have a great gift for one, you know, it varies, yeah.

J: Is there any great characters you’ve met while you’ve, your twenty years?

TJ: Yes of course, many. There’s a guy called Peace and Love, unfortunately he died now, he died about four, maybe five six years ago. He was a character and a half, in the sense that, he was what you call eccentric. I mean eccentric in the, in the true sense of the word, I mean he was out there and his music reflected that. His performance is a sight to behold, he was in his seventies and he performed like someone in their twenties and he always wore unusual costumes, oh my he was, yeah very, very unusual, very into the music, into the, what was special about him was that he had very very special horn arrangements. His horn arrangements was the most difficult I’ve ever heard, for any of the horn men to play, they were very frantic, loads and loads of notes, loads of phrases, I mean he was incredible, so he hummed it to the, to whoever the arranger was, writing the stuff down, and he would have to write it as he hummed it and he, yeah, he was very eccentric, so he stands out as one of the more unusual performers that we’ve had here, but he was very nice, he didn’t cause any, well to me anyway of course you can’t please everyone, some people didn’t like him for whatever reason but I thought he was very, very entertaining. Simple as that. So, yeah.

J: what do you see for the future of soca and calypso, and the tent? Where do you, what do you think?

TJ: Good question. The future, again it’s down to if it’s supported, it’s got to be well supported, at the moment, right, in the yasanti centre in Paddington they still have a youth section were like the young calypsonians, you know, I don’t see that, I don’t see that any more, to me that was the future, you know, you have a group apart from the adults, you establish it, you have a group from five to ten young calypso singers writing calypso songs and the adults would literally help them with the writing which was great, you know, they were being mentored by the adults. I don’t see that any more so that answers your question, how do I see the future, unless you have that, you don’t have a future, calypso or soca don’t have a future, you must have young people following and keeping up the tradition, they have got to be taught, they have to be taught about Caribbean tradition, Caribbean culture, where that stuff comes from, what that stuff means, you know, they were born here, unless their parents get them involved in the culture of where they’re from then the music has no chance of survival, it’s just, it’s not rocket science to figure that out, it’s simple. You must have young people to keep the tradition going, like blues for example, all the old guys, all the inventors of the music, the creators of the music, they all gone, people like Howlin’ Wolf, BB King, Albert King, John Lee Hooker and I can go on and on and on, they’re all gone, so unless you have young people following that tradition and keeping that up the blues will be dead, the blues will be gone. As a matter a fact, the only people who I see carrying on the blues tradition is young white people, both here and in America, the black people are following a different path, have taken a different path, like hip hop or maybe r’n’b and the tragedy for me is that what I’ve always been told about blues without diverting too much is that when a black person listens to blues it makes them sad but that has never happened to me, ever. Blues makes me feel great cause I’m so proud of that tradition, of where it’s from, what it comes from, blues is from suffering and the reality of life, all those guys did was take that in the songs and the performances, you know what I’m saying. So as a, up to the sixties, I think up to mid-sixties, the blues audience was all black, in America, all black and the chitterling circuit, have you heard of the chitterling circuit? The chitterling circuit is where, chitterling is basically a kind of food for poor people, it basically comes from the insides of pigs or something like that and they call it chitterling and they do it in a way, basically it’s shit food for poor people, simple as that. So they had a circuit that the blues artists and black artists went around performing. So they called it the chitterling circuit, so that’s where the blues artists used to perform because of racial barriers they couldn’t perform in the white areas. For BB King, have you heard of BB King? Right, BB King only started performing to white audiences in about 1969, before that, exactly, before that it was an all black chitterling circuit so his earnings and his reputation and his fame was limited, until he got a thing called a white manager and the guy started to book him in white venues, when he, when he entered that venue for the first time and he saw white audiences he said to the guy “I’m in the wrong place” and the guy say “nah nah nah, this is your place”, he thought he was when he saw a young white audience he thought “I’ve never played to white people before, what am I doing here?”. He said this is where going to get you to a white audience, you know what I’m saying to you, have you heard of anything like that before?

J: Similar yeah.

TJ: Okay, so basically that’s when BB King started to get white exposure in the wider world, simple as that, as I said, before that he was all playing the black audience, so from then on the black audiences dropped blues, like a hot brick, simple as that because as far as they were concerned blues is too real, it remind them to much of the heart shapes and the racism and the this that and the whatever so they dropped blues and the whites took it over, the white audiences took it over in the sense that buying the music, going to the concerts and blah blah blah. For example, the Rolling Stones and Muddy Waters have a great relationship, you know anything about that?

J: Yeah, I’ve heard of Muddy Waters yeah.

TJ: Okay, Muddy Waters, they got the name from one of Muddy Waters songs, the rolling stone, okay, because I’ve read a few books on The Rolling Stones, Keith Richard especially, I’ve got two books by him and when the Rolling Stones started they just wanted to be black. I mean, Keith Richards said plainly they just wanted to be black cause they heard the music and they think well that’s the best thing the world can ever produce, that kind of music, they just wanted to be one of those guys. I mean they really felt it, like they wanted an injection of blackness in their veins to make them sound like those legends. And Keith Richards said the Rolling Stones lived, long story short, they all lived in one house in Chelsea. Blue records were on twenty-four hours a day so they wanted that injection of blackness into their veins, to sound like Muddy Waters and the other legends, you know what I’m saying. So, basically what I’m saying people like the Rolling Stones took the tradition of blues and they were one of the few people who loved the music and the people. The music and the people, a lot of them loved the music but the people hmmmmm, and I mean that’s a fact. But the Rolling Stones loved the people and the music, they embraced both cause they think well if they don’t love the people, how can they love the music, then you’re a hypocrite. You must be a hypocrite to love the music but hate the people. If you hate the people then leave their music alone. Don’t you agree?

J: Yeah, I agree.

TJ: Leave their music alone if you hate the people, you know what I’m saying.

J: That makes sense.

TJ: Of course, but the Rolling Stones they loved the people.

J: Do you think stuff like the Notting Hill Carnival helps in terms of-

TJ: Race relations?

J: well yeah that and also passing on cultural traditons?

TJ: Without a doubt. Without a doubt, because without Caribbean people coming here for the first time you wouldn’t have any carnival. The people here wouldn’t know what carnival, what that means. What’s a carnival? Why you going in the street dressed up and all that nonsense, it’s uncivilised, come on, we are civilised people here, we don’t do that shit, that’s an English mentality, I know that, I been here a long time but bit by bit, and bit by bit, they got into it. And they realised this is a great tradition because you have the music, you have the costume, you have the food, you have the steel pans, you have the, as a matter a fact the day before I came here I was listening to a clip, I was watching on the Youtube a clip from the fifties about Caribbean carnival, the carnival in Trinidad, it started with air hostesses in England. I didn’t know where that was leading and they talked about how hard air hostesses worked blah blah blah and talking about the fifties I’m talking about, but they say but it’s not all bad because when they go to the Caribbean they have two days, they have the beautiful climate and they have the food and they have the two days of celebration of the carnival, can you believe that? And they showed the air hostesses changing into costume to take part in the Trinidad carnival.

J: That’s amazing.

TJ: Isn’t that incredible?

J: Yeah, that really is.

TJ: That is incredible, so they, what I’m saying, they work hard, but they have great times when they go to the Caribbean by showing these, they showed them, they had their own band in the Trinidad Carnival marching and waving and jumping about and we just happen to be talking about this thing today. Great coincidence.

J: It is. Do you think, hmm what to ask next, do you think you’ll continue to play always for the ABC and you’ll keep going on?

TJ: For the ABC? Unless they get rid of me, yeah, unless they say TJ we’ve had enough of you, you’re crap, we’re going to get someone else, we’re going to get someone younger, you’re ugly, you’re, we’ve done with you, go, unless they say that. The thing is, it’s a good question, the guy who started the ABC, Tiger

J: Yes, Mighty Tiger?

TJ: Mighty Tiger, relating to your question, about twenty years ago when I started, Tiger said to me, no one else knows this, he said this to me personally, he said TJ you are the only guitarist I want in this band and this is your gig as long as you want it. Tiger said that to me. He never said it to anyone, I haven’t mentioned it to anyone else, just you. Tiger said, this is your gig forever if you want it, you’re the only one we want on guitar, this is your gig. Tiger said that to me and I’ll let the world know that.

J: Well, if he said that to you.

TJ: What?

J: I said, if he said that to you

TJ: Then that answers your question

J: Yep.

TJ: Definitely, I just love, I love, because he knows I love the music, I feel the music, it’s my background, it’s where my parents are from, we grew up on that, I grew up, it’s in my blood, I don’t have to learn it, I just play and that’s what he saw and that’s what he heard, that’s why he said this is your gig.

J: That’s really something.

TJ: Yeah.

J: Is there anything else you’d like to say? I mean I think I’ve asked you pretty much everything.

TJ: yeah, basically, yeah I’ll just, I’m just very grateful for the opportunity of playing in this band and helping to carry on the tradition of calypso and soca because, for me, it’s the greatest tradition coming from the Caribbean. Playing in the Carnival, the whole bit, the music, the costume, the attitude, the subject matter, all of it. I’ve been a part of it for a long time and as I said before, I’ve played with most of the legends which is a, you can’t take that away from me, I love that music, I love the people that performs it, that writes it, that, it’s just great being a part of it and I just want to see it carry on so to see it carry on we’ve got to have, we’re talking about young people to carry it on, we need more young people, young singers, potential legends, writers, performers, to carry the tradition on, without that the tradition will die. It will die, you know you’ve got to have young blood to carry it on, you know, and as I said, at the asanti bar we had young people being mentored by older ones, I don’t see that any more. Again, I’m sure it’s down to financial restraint, everything, as I say, is down to that, the support from whoever, whatever, maybe it’s not there anymore, Alex will tell you more about that than I can, he’d know more about that sort of thing. I just want to see this tradition carry on because it’s just great for Ladbroke Grove, tell you about Ladbroke Grove, when I first came to England my parents were living in Ealing, right, Ealing Broadway. Very middle class, very proper, especially in those days, sixties, very proper, very snobbish, very everything you can think of. And, when we got up in the mornings, we had to put on a shirt and tie. Can you believe that? We had to wear a bloody tie, we were that proper, we were being brought up like real middle-class kids and we hated it, okay. Within six months we moved to Ladbroke Grove and that was the beginning of my life. That was it.

J: What was so different about it?

TJ: Ladbroke Grove opened everything for me, that’s what started me playing music seriously, Ladbroke Grove. That’s where I met some of my best friends.

J: Why was it so different?

TJ: Because there are more black people here. And the culture was carried on, and it was loose, it was free, it was, it was, it was, my god. There was clubs, there were parties, there are house parties, there are girls, there were this, my god Ladbroke Grove, and from that moment up to this day Ladbroke Grove for me is the best borough to now in the whole of England, Ladbroke Grove, right here. I used to live at the top of Portobello Road, Rendal Street, 7 Rendel Street, it’s gone now, they replaced that street with, and the whole area replaced with flats and all that stuff. By doing that, you lose a lot of the culture. The neighbourhood culture, building flats, although those flats are not too high, but still whatever, in those days we had streets and everybody played in the streets, we all knew each other, I mean my god, best days of my life, Ladbroke Grove, Ladbroke Grove in the sixties, seventies and eighties. Culture now is eradicated, now Ladbroke Grove is turning into a very, oh, what is the word for it, I want to find a nice word for it, there is and isn’t a nice word for it but it’s turned into a very cosmopolitan area where people don’t care about people anymore, people now, what it is, what will happen, I have to blame the government for that, what you call gentrification, ruined Ladbroke Grove. Tell them I said that. Tell anyone that I said that. Gentrification has ruined Ladbroke Grove for me. It’s taken away the real people and bring in people with money and people with maybe the right background or the right jobs, working in the city you can afford this, and afford that, and jack the rents up to, to, come on. Poor people have to take a back seat and go by the, go wherever they can go, places that they don’t want to be because they can’t afford to be in Ladbroke Grove which is what, what they love, I’m talking about personally. If I lived in Ladbroke Grove still they’d have done that to me because I know I couldn’t afford to live here anymore. So, gentrification has ruined Ladbroke Grove for me personally, yeah, and I’ve seen all the changes, I’ve seen all the difference, I’m old enough to know the difference, I’ve seen how it used to be and how it is now. Young people like yourself look at it now, they’re saying oh lovely, oh lovely place to live, no. No, forget it, right now it is just too controlled, it is too proper, it is too rich, too much money, too much this, too much that for me, you see where I’m coming from.

J: Yeah, of course.

TJ: It’s not, I mean no, no, the market, the market, Portobello market is the heart of Ladbroke Grove, okay, still. Even though it’s lost a lot of the culture, tradition, I still come here most Saturdays when I’m not playing, if I’m not busy I’ll come here and walk the Portobello Road end to end, I always find old friends, meet old friends and talk about the old days like an old man, you know what I’m saying. You cannot touch that, trust me, you cannot touch that, especially in the summer time, sun is shining, my god, up and down, the market, friends, talking, whatever, Ladbroke Grove is the place for me in the whole of England, the best place I’ve ever been in, ever lived in. And I’ve travelled all over England, as a musician you get to travel everywhere but Ladbroke Grove is where my heart is still. I’m done.

J: That’s good. Thankyou.



Wil and Jean’s interview


Wil and Jean’s interview


Sophie: Erm so would you just like to maybe, yeah introduce yourselves and just, erm, give a bit of a background?


Wil Joseph: My name is Wil, my full name is Wilhelmina Joseph Lowenthal, and i live in the Ladbroke Grove area, and i’ve been going to the Calypso tent for about thirty years, on and off probably.


Jean Joseph: Yes my name is Jean Joseph, I’m Wil’s sister, well I’ve been going to the Calypso tent, well originally at YAA Centre, for i’m not sure as long as thirty years, but i think it was since the – was it 80’s? I’m not sure when i first started to go. It was when you all introduced me first, isn’t it? You know.


WJ: It was when Alex started going.


JJ: Yeah, yes


WJ: When Alex became involved.


JJ: Yes that’s probably it, around that time. Yeah, so i was a regular at YAA Centre already anyway because of the, um, other events that took place there in the arts, theatre mostly, and, um, other music, but i wasn’t as familiar with, um,  the Calypso Tent. Calypso of course which is the JAA in the Caribbean, we grew up with that. So I knew the greats, just like Olel Hotel so…. Wil Wilson, and like Sparrow, and Lord Kitchener, and a few others, and um she will also relate to the fact that we used to sing Calypso, a lot of the Radda Bordie Calypso that um we grew up, innocently, completely unaware of what the meanings were. So it’s only when you grow up we might know something, was it like Jean and Diners, was that Lord Kitchener’s?


WJ: mm-mm (shakes head)


JJ: Spiros.That’s right, yes. Being Jean, i used to sing that song all the time, but i didn’t really know there was a naughty side, to the song, because of the double entendres (laughs) of Calypso. So i grew up singing that for quite a long time, you know, i was into adulthood before i realised, oh i didn’t realise the song was was a bit rude! (laughs)


S: So what, what kind of things were they singing about?


JJ: It was during the time in Trinidad, in those days, when there were a lot of Americans around, you know, probably roughly around the same time of the Americans in Cuba, Americans were around the Caribbean, especially in Trinidad, which was a very industrialised country.


WJ: Servicemen.


JJ: Servicemen there, servicemen needed to meet ladies, (laughs), casually, say no more!


WJ: (laughs)


JJ: Jean and Diner, was…


WJ: They were working girls! (laughs)


JJ: (laughs) So, so the song, told you about them, but, um, as a child, it’s, Calypso is a way of shielding children from the truth behind some of the rude songs. (laughs) so we didn’t know what it was about.


S: (laughs)


JJ: (laughs) so that sort of thing, and um, i found the tent, esp – YAA at the time, you know, needed a lot of refurbishment and so on – the building had a certain buzz to it because a lot of the community used to go there for all of the activities. I found the tent really buzzing, it was lively atmosphere, a lot of expectation, it was you know, just like being in the Caribbean.


S: Really?


JJ: It was just like being in the Caribbean, wasn’t it?


WJ: Yeah,


JJ: You know


WJ: And the thing about it, before the tent, before the show started, and during the interval, and at the end of the show, um, people would hang around, outside in the yard, which is traditionally called Liming. Trinidadians call it Liming; and liming just means hanging out with your mates really, and chatting nonsense, all the good things really, just hanging out and chatting, and um,  especially when it was warm in the evenings it was wonderful – as Jean says, it was like being in the Caribbean, and there would be a lot of Trinidadians there, obviously, but many different people from different islands, and from different backgrounds, and –


WJ: And the local people


JJ: Yeah, and you, know, Black, White, English, Asian (laughs), Chinese, (laughs), all the different people, made out the Caribbean, and in London, and surrounding area as well.


WJ: Yeah


JJ: And all the usual, the Notting Hill people, it’s just everybody, you know, it’s a lovely atmosphere, it’s such a build up, to see the space filling up, people came in and, you know, all the banter, and all the various Calypsonians, you see them they’ve got their – their really elaborate costumes on, because the idea is to be really elaborate, isn’t it? The names are elaborate, and the costumes are elaborate. You know, here’s so and so, here’s so and so, and the MCs were very funny, like…


WJ: Coco P


JJ: Coco P and all the funny… oh they really really know how to engage their audience and there’d be a lot of um, heckling things – it was very, very funny


WJ: My favourite, my favourite part, my favourite element, of the tent, um, is, um actually, because the tent is, only once a year, um you get to meet and greet people, you haven’t seen for a while


JJ: Yes


WJ: That’s my favourite element – you never know who you’re going to see,


JJ: Yeah


WJ: And from across the room – you can see somebody across the room – oh, there’s so and so! Oh my gosh, there’s so and so – and you rush across the room, and you greet them with a big hug and a kiss, so it’s not just, not just, not just  an entertainment


JJ: No, it’s –


WJ: The social element is really…


JJ: It’s social


WJ…important too


JJ: It’s like a funeral which i went to yesterday, and people meet up, you know, weddings, funerals, calypso tents (laughs), meeting up with people, and meeting new people as well, you know, and getting to meet the musicians, and people behind it, and you know and all the regulars, and, and um the regulars would include, um, actors like, um Rudolph Walker who was a real devotee, he used to come every time, didn’t he?


WJ: Yeah, yeah


JJ: He was always there…


WJ: Yeah


JJ:  Corinne Skin Carter was there,


WJ: She still comes, she’s one of the interviewees


JJ: Yes, the actors,


WJ: Yeah


JJ: Yes so they, they, used to come regularly, we used to spot them,


WJ: And also Colin Salmon is a regular, with his wife, ???? Hawthorne he comes quite regularly as well


JJ: Yeah, but not – i didn’t remember him from the YAA Centre…


WJ: Not the YAA, but from the Tabernacle


JJ…but from the Tabernacle days, from here. Tabernacle days, yeah. It was very good. Um, i used to, used to be amazed by some of the, the older Calypsonians, you know like, um, Peace and Love


WJ: Peace and Love


JJ…and people like that. And his, his performance, he has to jump continuously – like how did he find his energy, you know?! He used to wear this woolly knitted hat, like a Scandinavian, one of those Scandinavian  woolly hats


WJ: Yeah like a balaclava, yeah


JJ: And he wore that, very colourful, and he would jump the entire time during his performance, and i said how did he keep that up?! (laughs)


WJ: Yeah…and, and the thing about the Calypsonians, was, was back in the days of the YAA Centre before the women started, um, there were mostly, if probably, elderly men, um so until the women, the women began, that’s what the tent was actually made of. And there was one, i think the oldest man i remember, um back in the days when they first started, was of a gentleman called the Golden Cockerel, and um he was so old, i mean he must have been about ninety! And um he came one year, wearing a gold lame bodysuit (laughs)


WJ, JJ & S: (laughs)


WJ: And i nearly cried, and i mean people just fell about laughing, and i thought, i mean, i’m still laughing now, and that was twenty years ago! And um, so you never knew what they were going to do because they, they tried to outdo each other, in terms of their costumes. So people would actually go along, just to see what the Calypsonians were going to be wearing, and because each Calypsonian actually sings two songs, um, for each song they changed into a different costume. So they’d wear, not so much now, but back in those days, that was the standard thing, you bought two costumes, and you bought them in, in the, in the suitcase, but not, not in the suitcase you carry, but one of those folding things, that you put your suit in, so you, so the other Calypsonians couldn’t see what they were going to wear, until it was unveiled, when they put it on


JJ: (laughs)


WJ: So that, so, so the competition wasn’t just in the, in the performance, it was in the costume, as well, albeit it was informal but it was so much that went into that costume. And sometimes they would have their costumes specially made, especially the Calypsonians who came from Trinidad or from other places, um, i remember one year Mighty Duke came, and he must have been about seven feet tall, and he came in coat and tails, you know but not the traditional coat and tails; they were multi coloured coat and tails, you know – vivid pink, and bright orange (laughs) you know, so they just went absolutely out of the way to make their costumes as really powerful as possible. The costumes were actually as much of a statement as their songs.


JJ:What about the ladies outfits?


WJ: Oh god!


JJ: The ladies outfits! Wooh! Oh my goodness


WJ: Yeah


S: Were they, what were the ladies outfits like compared to the mens?


WJ: Well the ladies went into competition with the men,


JJ: (laughs)


WJ: If the men were being as, as extravagant as possible, then the ladies, there was one year, where literally,i think it was the year where, um Brown Sugar joined, um so we had Brown Sugar, um, Wendy


JJ: What about Cleopatra?


WJ: Total Little Liba(?), um Cleopatra joined the year after…


JJ: Ok


WJ: …and Singing Sandra…




WJ: I think that year, they all came out in Afriko (?) as we call, we say it, all in the traditional African costumes with the big headdresses, and the embroidery,  so they all came out as African Queens, that year, you know? (laughs) So they all tried to outdo each other!


JJ: And the other, and the reverse as well, where they were wearing skimpier outfits as possible, and the men used to be gawping…like this


WJ,JJ, S: (laughs)


JJ:…didn’t know where to look! Then men in the audience – you’d have ladies, you know, that close to them,  and their eyes were popping like this! (laughs)


WJ: Sometimes the ladies would come, the, the bolder ladies would come off the stage, and into the audience, and select a poor gentleman to sit on his lap or something (laughs) or to sing to, or to make him get up and dance with her on the stage, you know, so there was always a secondary show going on as well you know…


JJ: Yes, yes


WJ: …so you never know what to expect. And the last few years, we’ve had a lady called

Sherlayne Hendrickson…


JJ: Oh my


WJ:.. um, with a very very very, um, famous performing family, in Trinidad, and she’s been coming as a guest from Trinidad for the last two or three years i think. And the last two years, anyway she’s brought her sister, and her father, who are also Calypsonians, her father’s a very very well known, elderly statesman  Calypsonian. And Sherlayne does this act with her, what’s it called again Jean? A cassava!


JJ: Oh yes, yes, yes


WJ: A cassava is a large root vegetable, a bit like a yam, and it’s very very suggestive


WJ, JJ: (laughs)


WJ: And no-one knows where to put their face!


JJ: And she goes out into the audience..


WJ: She goes, and she climbs over people!


JJ:…and the poor men! The poor men


WJ: (laughs)


JJ: She just grab a man, that’s it! You know, you’ve got to perform, and she, they would be so embarrassed, it was, it was a bit like, it’s a bit like one of the, stag, stag outings, you know, the men, and they’ve suddenly the poor, you know, bridegroom to be didn’t know WHAT was coming, you know? And before you know it, there was this lady there, you know, and she’s wearing a skimpy outfit, and, it was very funny, because i remember i went to that tent where she was, she came last time…


WJ: Was it, the – she’s been…


JJ: Was it last year’s one?


WJ: Last year was the third year, that she came.


JJ: Yes, yes, yeah i was at that performance, and um, my son and his wife and their little daughter were in the audience he was covering her eyes! (laughs)


WJ: (laughs)


JJ: He was covering her eyes! (laughs)


WJ: (laughs) I didn’t – but she, but how old was she then? Five?


JJ: No, she was seven.


WJ: She was seven already?


JJ: Yeah she was seven in 2017, yes


WJ: Oh really? Oh my god


JJ: Yes, yes, she was taking part in everything!


WJ: She was enjoying it so much!


JJ: She was enjoying everything, the seven year old, oh she was doing the dancing and everything, and you know, she was so excited, she loved it.


WJ: And that’s the other thing about it, there were always – not so much these days, but back in the days of the YAA Centre there were hundreds of children!


JJ: Yes


WJ: Children were not excluded. You just bought your child along, you didn’t pay for children, obviously, so the children there were very very young, and of course, it was, it was good grounding for future Calypsonians so we had many of our future juniors start off as, um children, um, of the offspring, of their parents, who were also Calypsonians. And also of people – members of the audience too. I remember my own son, Felix, his first, um exposure, to the Calypso tent, he was five days old, (laughs)


S: Oh wow, wow


WJ: He’s been every year, up until two years ago, where um his, this is his seventeenth year now, so, um


JJ: Teens have kicked in


WJ: Yeah, he’s stopped coming, yeah he prefers grime (laughs) yeah, you know


JJ: But the thing is, they come back to it, because then the young ones, there are quite a few young  – we’ve had a few young Calypsonians, now aren’t they, very popular –


WJ: Yeah we had  a long season, of um of junior, Calypso Monarchs, um, and um, that lasted about ten years, i think, where we would have um workshops with young people. And yeah it was from about seven or eight years old and upwards. Um, we’d have, and we would enable them, facilitate them in writing their own music, their own Calypsos, and then they would have Junior Competitions, and then there would be a Junior Monarch for the year, um very much based on the adult competition, you know, um, and even for several years, right up to the beginning of when they moved to the Tabernacle, um we bought brought a Junior Monarch from Trinidad, um, to perform in the tent here. Um, that hasn’t happened for many years now, since the funding was cut they haven’t

been able to, to do that. But it was great because  the Trinidadian Junior Monarchs were massive role models to the children here, because they, the class and the poise of these young musicians from Trinidad was absolutely astonishing. I mean we had to um, one young girl, um Corrinne Ashay who came when she was, i think she was sixteen – and um i couldn’t believe her voice, um she was an absolute diva (laughs) at sixteen! She had the poise, and the performance, everything, down to an absolute tee.Um but only when you go to Trinidad, and you look around you, and you see how many young people actually have that poise-


JJ: Yes


WJ:…when they’re performing, there are hundreds of them –


JJ: Yeah they’re the full package, aren’t they?


WJ: Yeah


JJ: Yeah, they have the presence, they have the voice, the way that they deliver the lyrics, the way they perform, they’re so confident! They’re so mature (laughs)


WJ: The only, the only thing, the only difference, i think between the Juniors here and the Juniors in Trinidad, is that mainly um the Juniors in Trinidad don’t write their own material, somebody else writes it for them. Um and whereas the Juniors in the UK mostly write their own material and maybe it’s arranged by somebody else, the music is arranged, but generally they write their own. Yeah, that’s the difference.


JJ: Which was the, you know, which was the most remarkable year you think?


WJ: I never remember years (laughs) i don’t know a year from a year – I can’t tell one from the other


JJ: I don’t remember years either but it was very, it was very good when, which, which um song was it um that Alex won the first Monarch for?


WJ: It was Haiti wasn’t it? Haiti?


JJ: Yes Haiti and then the next year it was, with Debbie wasn’t it?


WJ: Debbie, yes, about a woman on trial, it was 2010, 2011, yeah. Yeah, it was 2010. 2011.


JJ: Yeah that was very popular, it was very popular, because we tried to come as family to support as well, as well as for the enjoyment, but there are certain things i still miss about the old building (laughs) which, you know –


S: What was the old building like?


JJ: It was run down (laughs)


WJ: It was actually an old factory that made taxometers, and um for black cabs. And um, and during the second world war, they used it as a mortuary, yeah


JJ: So it’s had lots of, various lives, you know, it was called a factory first, cos of that, then it was YAA Centre, now it’s YAA Centre it was YAA Centre, there was so much going on there, so much theatre as well, because it’s all the theatre, the performance you know, the Carnival, building, creating carnival costumes for the next carnival, because it’s a whole year thing, it’s an entire village, for, for Carnival, you know, so all these things happen.


WJ: Then there were the guys upstairs, that formed themselves into an Association, they call themselves The West Indian something association, but they were just young men, young Caribbean men, it was a social club, basically, and they got themselves together into a football team, and they used to thrash everybody else (laughs) ???? Sunday team, Sunday league, yeah, um and then there were people coming into do all kinds of things you know,  martial arts, and drumming, i used to do, um, my steel band was based there as well, so i used to go there for steel pan. And there was always something going on, there were dancers going in there, um all different things


S: It sounds like a great place, is it still open now, or is it..?


JJ: Yes, it is but not in the same, not in the same guise, because, um, you know, i think, most of those, you know know more about that than me, and how that is structured


WJ: It’s just the building to the Tabernacle, its the other half of Carnival village –


JJ: Yeah, It’s structured differently


WJ: – yeah so they practically ripped out the building, and when they refurbished it, they tore the heart out of it, as well and um it doesn’t have half the traffic going on in there at all, so it’s very sad and, and i actually avoid it as much as possible, because um, because it actually breaks my heart, when i go in there now. Just to go round and yeah –


JJ: It’s almost like it’s been, it’s had some sort of lobotomy (laughs) there’s clinicalness around it, you know


S:  It’s heart and soul has been –


JJ: Yeah, that’s what it is as well, you know i go to events there but i miss the tent not being there as well,  but this is a beautiful space for the tent absolutely, it’s gorgeous for the tent but it had a certain rawness to it –


WJ: Yeah


JJ: -like being back in Trinidad (laughs) you get on the streets, you know, it had that feel to it as well, you know


WJ: And um, it’s,- we had to gradually get used to the Tabernacle, people, when we first moved in people complained and moaned and there was a certain drop off as well, um the regulars, um, we lost some of our regulars that used to come to the tent at the YAA Centre, we lost some of the regulars, probably lost about 20% of those regulars, um because they just couldn’t get used to this building, but most people, um were loyal and continued to come, and the people that continued to come gradually brought more people with them, and people come and were really impressed with the building, the setting and the visitors we have from overseas are  really impressed with the building, you know, and i just think, wow


JJ: It’s a gorgeous building!


WJ: Beautiful building


JJ: It’s a stunning building


WJ: You know, and the performance space is a really wonderful space, as well


JJ: Yeah


WJ: So um, yeah


JJ: And it’s, what i think is amazing for the, for the tent, is one) The performances, the amount of works that goes into the lyrics, the lyrics are so cleverly constructed, whether it’s political, or it’s something social, or something naughty, but it’s all really well done, really clever and the backing musicians and erm the backing singers are so professional, they are so good and you think wow, to be listening to live music in this space is not something you get often, you know and everything is so, um artificial now, you get live musicians, you get amazing performances, you get great acoustics, you’ve got some amazing Soca ???? – Wil loves them


WJ: Yeah absolutely, i’m their number one fan


JJ: They are so, you know you think, this is too small for them, they need to be global, they are so good –


WJ: They do , they do, outside of the tent


JJ: They are so good – I know they do a lot of things, but you think to be able to enjoy them in a setting like this, you know, this is a you know, still a kind of almost um, local, at the same time, although people are coming in from everywhere, and you’ll still be able to come and enjoy this kind of quality of music, you know, the sound is good, because you know, you hear people talking, if they complain if the sound isn’t quite right, or the acoustics because, i’m not a music person, i’m a visual arts person, but to be able to get that perfect and just right, oh the PS system, and they’re sorting this out, and they’re getting the technology right, and it just sounds absolutely brilliant, you know, so it’s really fascinating, wow,  to be able to you know, hear this, you know, the auditorium is perfect for it, and you know everyone puts in so much effort to do that, you know, so i’m always really happy to come once i’m here. And i think, this is so amazing.


WJ: Yeah, and the thing that for me, has really raised the quality of the tent, from something that was really quite, i don’t know,  at the very beginning, people might have taken it as something quite comical, really, to something that is really absolutely world class, and i can say that it’s actually world class now.


JJ: It is world class.


WJ: It’s the band, for me, how you can tell that there is a huge improvement in the quality of the music is the fact that, back in the old days, the members of the band, if they were offered a gig on the Tent night they would put a Dep in, a Deputy in to do their slot at the tent and go off and do their other gig. Whereas now, it’s usually the other way around (laughs) people actually want to do this


JJ: Yeah


WJ: You know, and they, the musicians now are fighting each other, so we most of the time have regular musicians that come in year after year after year and those are our Tent musicians, you know. The drummer, and the keyboardist Shaun, and Shaun does most of the arrangements for most of the Calypsonians in fact. Alex [de Great] does his, and he writes for Helen The Bee. So he does those arrangements. But Shaun does most of the arrangements, and you would think he’s doing the arrangements for ten, twelve, fifteen people, that it would be really quick and shoddy -no not at  You know they are smashing!. And they don’t sound alike at all because once you’re doing one after the other, you’d think that they would sound alike, but not at all. So everyone is absolutely top class, you know, and that’s the difference, here between people back in the old days, saying ‘Oh i’m not going to the Tent because it’s rubbish’, you know so now people are fighting, and on competition nights the place is packed with people! I mean people are standing up, all over the place, you know so –


JJ: I think they have more respect for the genre because of the professionalism, when you show professionalism people are going to be able to appreciate it aren’t they, you know, so you get that as  well so like the, not saying everything is perfect, but you know, you invited me to the birthday party for Cyril, who’s just turned 86, who participates, doesn’t he? You know, he’s a long term Calypsonian. It’s just a respect they have for their elders you know and the appreciation for the elders for their craft and i think that is just so good. It doesn’t matter how elderly they get, they are still respected, even if they have never play again! They have so much respect for them you know. And they’re lourded, you treat them with respect, the  younger ones look up to them. I think that’s amazing.


WJ: Do you remember that show that we came to see of Sparrow about two, three years ago?


JJ: Yes


WJ: It was here, at the Tabernacle! And when we came, practically all the Calypso tent audience were in the show for Sparrow as well. And it was

actually even more packed, the Sparrow show –


JJ: Because it’s legendary!


WJ: He’s a legend, you see, i mean he’s a very old man, you know –


JJ: He still – he still kicks a punch! He can really get the audience and, you know the engagement is just the same, you know, i was shocked actually.

i thought he’d be a doddery old man –


WJ: He came onto the stage to trick people, he came on to the stage doddering with a stick, trembling, and literally threw the stick away, stood up

straight and started belting out songs! (laughs) But yeah there is an element of deep respect for Calypsonians, and when they’re out and about on the street

and stuff, and people stop and talk to them, and greet them –


JJ: I did that just yesterday, because i was at Paddington Arts for that reception,  and i saw Lord Cloak, in his normal street clothes, and i’m thinking,

is that Lord Cloak or not? Sometimes out of their costume, you think is that Lord Cloak, or it’s not? Yes, it is Lord Cloak! I say ‘Hello!’ ,

‘Hello Mr Cloak!’, i say (laughs) it’s really funny!


WJ: Yeah and Jean reminds me of something else, I’m aware of time too. Backstage, most backstages you go to in any , backstage is actually out of bounds,

you can’t go backstage. Here, because the auditorium is built on a circle, in order to get to the toilets, literally you have to walk past the dressing rooms,

to go to the toilet. So you can knock on the door and drop in and just say hi to people, and hold onto their clothes while they’re dressing, literally.

So everyone is very accessible. There’s no element of fussiness or they’re somehow better, or higher up or whatever –


JJ: No, there’s none of that


WJ: Although we revere age, and experience, there’s no ‘them’ and ‘us’. When they come off the stage and back into their ordinary clothes again,

they actually come back into the audience and watch the show. So that’s the difference.


JJ: They go back into their normal lives. (laughs)


WJ: They just come off the stage, Brown Sugar particularly, she’s a real belter, she’ll belt out a song, sort of a voice like, she’s a real diva on

stage and she’s got poise and everything, but when she comes off the stage she’s so shy, (laughs) and she’ll sit next to you in the audience and watch the

show, you know. So that’s the really great thing about the Calypso Tent. it’s just different to anything else.


S: You feel part – you feel everyone is part of everything, you’re all sort of equal? Sounds amazing.


JJ: Yeah it’s a great atmosphere. It’s why i like to go, you know. Really, i try to go as often as i can, yeah at least to one or two each year – how many weeks is

it, built up to?


WJ: It used to be five weeks, but it’s four weeks, four weeks now. Actually it used to be the last week of July and four weeks in August. Ending in

Carnival Week. But now it’s just four weeks in August, because the funding was cut so they can’t afford to run it. Then after, then during Carnival,


the Sunday and the Monday of Carnival, they actually take the whole of the Calypso show, well not all of it, as many performers as possible,

out across the road into Powys Square, into the gardens and have the World Music Tent. So the ACUK are hosts for the World Music Stage at the

LOndon Notting Hill Carnival. So they actually run the show, and they put on a show, a mini Calypso Tent, for as many performers that want to

do it. Sometimes they get paid if there’s funding and other times they don’t get paid, but they still do it. Yeah, so it’s fun. And the days it

doesn’t rain is brilliant! Last year 2017 it didn’t rain so it was a gorgeous show (31:10)


JJ: It was a good audience


WJ: Yeah fantastic,


J; Wasn’t it? It was a good audience? Some real great international guests, performers you know, it was good. It was nice, it was a really lovely nice mixed audience

and a lot of them it’s their first introduction to Calypso or even to Carnival. So they want to really enjoy it, because it’s a little microcosm there because

everything is going on around them but being on the microcosm there is like being one of the separate festivals within the festival.


WJ: Because Carnival is going on around you and you’re in this little mini festival just in the square across the road, it’s exactly – it’s a very festival

like atmosphere. And that’s when the Calypsonians tend to put on the more dancy sort of performances, rather than looking for the deep social commentary in their

songs, they tend to go for lighter hearted songs and more dancy arrangements. So they can get the crowd up and dancing. But i like the social commentary,

you know, there’s some fantastic social commentary in the tent depending on who you’re looking at, theres Sheldon Skeet, Sheldon writes amazing Calypsos

and it’s not any wonder, i think he won four years in a row, i think he probably would have continued to win, if he hadn’t had to pull out

because he was in the RAF, and then we have G String and his name sounds comical but he has the most amazing lyrics, stunning social commentary

and of course there’s Alexander D Great, and other ones as well. But those are the ones that tend to sort of focus on really really serious issues.

From war in Afghanistan, Sheldon Skeet, to the earthquake in Haiti, to the kidnapping of those girls in Nigeria, was G String, so they talk about all kinds

of things.


S: We’ve just come up to half an hour, i’m bearing in mind that Alex doesn’t want it to be too long, is there anything else, anything else specifically

you wanted to talk about before i stop the recording?


WJ: Let me just think about this, i can’t think of anything else,  is there anything particular Jean? We talked about young people, we talked about the two different buildings, the vibe, we talked about the band, costumes, that change in, loss of -JJ: The food and drink


WJ: The only problem with this building is that the costs are quite high so you’re paying almost west end prices here, that’s the only problem. People have had to dig deep to keep coming, you know


JJ: Yeah it’s good that they do still try to come, and you get a good audience, and i thought the food was an important part of it because you’ve got, it’s mostly Trinny food, isn’t it you know? You can’t have Calypso tent without Roti, which is a traditional snack – is it a snack? Would you refer to it as a snack?


WJ: No it’s huge! It’s not a snack, it’s a meal! It’s two meals!


JJ:I have to take half home if I have one of those


WJ: Quite often you can’t eat the whole thing, you have to take half of it home; what’s been happening over the last few years is, we can’t say it loud because the chef is there, is because one of the Calypsonians, i won’t mention who, has a family who makes Roti and they usually bring it and park outside the gate at the interval and everyone rushes out to get their Roti from this particular Calypsonians family. And it’s so popular, that  you actually have to reserve your Roti before the show starts, by the time you go down at the interval it’s just run out!

JJ: It’s gone!


WJ: (laughs)


JJ: Are they still doing it?


WJ: Yes! Every year, They tried to stop it one year but people objected, because the Roti that they were selling here were nothing like it at all.


JJ: Not authentic (35.55)


WJ: Not authentic yeah (laughs), So yeah, that’s the food. You have to cater for everything, and people need to know that if they’re going to go to a Caribbean thing, they need to have Caribbean amenities around them. Food and drink, and –


JJ: The trappings of the tent


WJ: The trappings that go with them – yeah.


JJ: Yeah, goes with the food, drink, joviality, and a performance, it’s all part of the whole thing, isn’t it? There’s no point giving them cold up sandwiches, that certainly won’t do! You have to have proper Roti and other little snacks,

as a friend of ours, Curtis, calls them Caribbean De-Lights! (laughs). Caribbean Delights!


WJ: And the venue has proven that it’s really important, where the venue is; i can’t see the Calypso tent being transferred to somewhere like, i don’t know, the Royal Festival Hall, or somewhere like that –


JJ: No. It wouldn’t work


WJ: Wouldn’t work.


JJ: Yeah, Yeah, it’s a bit like transferring Carnival, it wouldn’t work, it’s embedded itself well here. This is a

historical place, for it, yes. So it works.


WJ: Yeah, indeed, that’s it


JJ: I can’t think of anything else


S: OK, no that’s great, thank you very much, i’ll stop the recording now.



David Bitelli Interview



David Bitelli Interview



Hi, my name is David Bitelli, I’m a Londoner and let me give you a little background there. I’m a professional musician. And I’ve always been interested and moved by music; what you might call back music, music that has its roots in the African continent. And I was lucky, when I left music college and came back to London, I was lucky to… with a friend of mine –I was lucky enough to go down to ta pub called Cole Han (Coal? Coal mine?) on Northcote road, I think it was the Coal Han and this was like a gay – it was a gay pub, it had a theater if I remember but anyway there was a lunchtime session featuring jazz but musicians from Trinidad (I think they were from Trinidad) and the pianist was the great Russell Henderson and Russell Henderson is a fantastic person who did so much for cultural life in Britain and we were just young guys and they were so… it sort of moves me to think about it now to be honest, they were so generous with the music– they’d let us play, you know, and if you couldn’t do it, you’d have to get down and if you could, they’d encourage you, it’s a very beautiful thing. There were percussionists there, Daryl the Q I think was still around, the drummer – I’m sorry I can’t remember, a great big guy, looked a bit like Charlie Parker actually, fantastic – and there were just this whole thing, like I suppose Monty Alexander where they’re taking jazz but also that very Caribbean thing which is a fantastic combination. I knew a lot of tunes and also, there was a vibe, this is the thing, there was a vibe, it talked to the people and yes, we got to learn something of the music. And I suppose this was…uh… there was also great, the Bayley brothers and (Anni Shidad?) Ishidad – they were fantastic, there were younger generations of musician from Trinidad, like you have today, you have Ruiz, Felix and Curtis Ruiz, you have fantastic musicians and a certain feel that they have. And of course I’m living here in Harlesden and I’m just up the road from the Carnival and my wife’s a Ladbroke grove sort of born and bred and yeah, so.. and then luckily, I was, through the professional circuit, I was called to back some SOCA artists, some visiting Soca artists, which is again, it was fantastic to play with like Calypso Rose (laughs) and uhm,, Sparrow, Baron, I played a lot with Baron and people like…sorry I just can’t remember I’m terrible like this… There was a scene in South hall at the…uhm, the Rose… uhm I can’t remember the place but anyways there was a club in South Hall, they’ll know it, and various other venues. There was also that scene in Hackney, I think it was Dougie’s so we got to play with the visiting artists and they’d come with their charts, it was fantastic and then of recent times, I’ve been involved with the Calypso tent coming down to help out there and so I suppose I had that experience and knowledge of music and I suppose I must talk about Trinidad because…

As a child you heard this sort of funny this calypso on the radio and you… uh… So yes so you see he was called Lars Percival or something like that – terrific – so yeah, people had heard the calypso and you’d get this watered down version of it you know. In the states you went to New York and you had Lou Jordan playing his sort of version of what he thought Calypso was and you know, you always get this in popular culture and there’s a whole big issue there, I guess you call it cultural appropriation now, anyways , in the end you sort of get to the real thing and again I must thank Alex. I actually got to know him though his sister in fact, and she was working in a jazz club in London and we got to be friendly and she said “oh my brother, my mother’s record collection, you know they’ve got…” and I said, “Ok lend me the records” so she lent me the records and I made cassettes of them, you know, which I’ve still got, you know I still got there was “Kitchen O” and Sparrow and some Kaiso and all sorts of stuff like that and this is just a fantastic collection and, so again that goes into your musical DNA and by the time I suppose I got to playing with the tent, I knew something of the music and had a feeling for it, and so that I could be sympathetic and you know, it’s a fantastic thing to be involved with… uhmm, uh, where you see this sort of form of art that is for the every person and I suppose this is in some way, if you think about European art, where you put an artist, which is great you know and I love like Chelsea Covitz and all the rest and the opera, I’m passionate about classical music and there is a whole thing of amateur classical music and working class classical music in Britain and used to be quite strong and I suppose it still is in some ways but you know, not so much working class now but for the middle classes there is a whole thing of amateur music making..uhmm, the beautiful thing about the Calypso art is as it should be, it’s for every person and people that have got jobs, that work for the police , that work for, whatever they do, they may be a civil servant or they may work, you know, as a receptionist, they’ve got something to say, they’ve got a song to sing and then you know, helped by professional musicians to help them put it together in a format, they can do this. This is a fantastic thing. So it’s a great privilege to do this and this is something that has enriched our country. People forget this but when I think about Russell Henderson and his contemporaries, you know, you go to a school, and you know, you see kids playing steel drums, at the funeral, there were so many people and you go to carnival, you go to the panorama, and young people playing this music with such passion, it’s almost like a seed is planted by 1, 2, 3 people and by chance and they pass this on with such generosity and it’s, what can I say, it gives us so much. That’s all I have to say.

Here’s the generosity of spirit that’s coming out of its history, its naissance, its genesis was a terrible event in human history, you know, slave trade, it’s the most, what’s the word, exploitation with barbaric cruelty for material gain, you know and it’s not the only instance of such in human civilization but you know, it’s in recent parts you might say and it’s still with us today and you know, places like Brazil, USA, they all have different history and legacy and somehow they all have this generosity of spirit, somehow survives through all that. I would say that the European culture is lucky to have been given this gift and I hope Europeans can understand how lucky we are to have been given and to appreciate it. It’s not we have to be it, I’m not from Trinidad and we live in a different climate and… so yes, then we come to I suppose, what is Notting Hill Carnival, I suppose then people understand, they think it’s like a free night club in the open air and in some ways, because carnival changes in different parts of the world and I’ve got to say my experience of carnival is only in London and I’ve never been to the Caribbean, I know quite a lot about Brazilian music because again, I have a lot of friends, I’ve worked in Brazilian music, fantastic but my experience of carnival is in London and I suppose the people, they don’t understand what carnival is and what it could be and what it, perhaps, should be, and the idea that you stand in front of a loud speaker, with very loud music and get a bit drunk, you know and that’s part of it, and that release is important but the idea that it’s a creative art and I suppose the bigger London gets, the harder to involve people and I suppose they do it in Brazil, it becomes quite formal in Rio and I suppose people don’t understand what it really is and we are in Europe and that’s interesting to think about and we should be grateful for it, I think. And the organization. Yes, this is what I’d like to do. I’d like to pay tribute to the musical directors, that would be with the tent and the drummers that come and have that feel, musicality, which they play, I’m not going to name any names because I think that would be unfair but all of them, just amazing and then to the organization you know, just incredible, yeah, let’s get together and do something, you know, do something amazing you know. It’s fantastic to be part of that, it’s a great privilege, a great honor.










Angela Marcellin was given a list of areas we wanted to cover and asked to speak about them. The topics were:

  • personal details (name, place of birth, family background);
  • schooling;
  • how she first got interested in music in general and calypso in particular;
  • her experiences of attending the London calypso tent including any artists she particularly remembered or admired;
  • her thoughts on the role of calypso / the calypsonian; and
  • whether she had found the London tent a welcoming environment for women.

David Gleave was the interviewer.

ANGELA: My name is Angela Marcellin. I was born in Fulham to Guyanese parentage, both my parents were Guyanese. I guess that’s where my love of calypso and carnival started.

My first recollection would be at the age of round about 8 to 9 when my mum got both myself and my sister, I’m a twin, into playing Mas at Carnival, Notting Hill Carnival that would be. We would dress up, there would be a kids’ day, we’d be dressed up and I’ve been a Queen a couple of times, in the Mas camps and getting involved with making the costumes and such like. I suppose that was probably the first love and first recollection I have of really being part of that sort of culture and what it was about. I did that for about five, six, probably longer actually, probably about eight or nine years, really playing the carnivals.

Obviously at home as well, the culture was very much ingrained in us in terms of that music, listening to it on the radio, well not the radio, records in those days and really the parties that my mum and dad would throw, really just having a good time and really having a sense of togetherness and everybody being there together as a unit to enjoy themselves, enjoy the food and all that good stuff.

And I suppose then that came and developed into my network of friends who also were of a West Indian background, Trinidad, Grenada, Bajan and those sort of places. What I would find myself doing is going over to Trinidad and also partaking in their carnivals and seeing it on another level and obviously I suppose that was one of my pinnacles of how carnival was really best enjoyed and, that said, I still took part up to a certain age dressing up in the Notting Hill Carnival. I suppose as I got older I then took a step back in terms of just doing the T-shirts and the lower key stuff and still having a real passion for that.

In that time I went to St Lucia on a holiday and that’s where I met my husband who was a musician out there and again the sort of music he was involved in playing was very much the old type and Parang. Parang would be particularly around Christmas time it’s kind of a type of music you would hear and you’d go round to different people’s homes. You’d have something to eat and then from there you’d go to another person’s home and they’d have that sort of music playing in the background. Again, it’s a sense of unity, everybody enjoying themselves.

I suppose then it just developed from there. I met him over there, we got married and came here and that’s how it continued. He got very much involved with a couple of individuals who introduced him into playing because he’s a keyboard player. So Dexter Khan, he is one of the main guys for Cocyea. Cocyea was I guess another, had a big impact in terms of still enjoying the culture. They used to have a lot of functions that they used to have in Kentish Town, they used to have it in Scala and they had it in a number of other places where you’d find yourself going to events where they used to bring over a lot of the artists from Trinidad like Machel Montano and, goodness, the names have gone at the moment but I’ll come back to them.

From there we would, those were the UK based, my husband would, he got involved with Dexter basically was introducing him to the calypso tent and that’s where I suppose I saw another side, live musicians, dance and how that played another big part in terms of the foundation of the calypso and the music over here.

In the calypso tent one of the key things was that it was live music, young people coming over from different parts of the world sometimes and actually performing on the stage. Again, getting a sense of unity where people would come, sit down, enjoy live music. Then sometimes competitions they would be judged on and you’d normally have a winner at the end of it. The main part of it I guess for myself would be that they tried to get a different genre of individuals I suppose, so from old, young, family, very family orientated, to enjoy the music.


DAVID: Do you want to say a little bit about your time at school?

ANGELA: I went to Peterborough school, which was in Fulham. While I was there, another key influence in terms of our heritage was to bring that into the school, they were very supportive of that. Both my sister and a good friend of ours, we used to live on the same road, her dad, being a Trinidadian, and he used to play pan. He actually started teaching us how to play the pan in their home, in the kitchen. We each had a pan that we would play. There was one occasion when he went into the school and said ‘you know, I’d like to show you what we do’ and on one of the school plays actually would like for my daughter and her friends to actually play at one of the concerts. We had a teacher there, called Mr Camplin. Mr Camplin was very, very much interested in the culture. For that reason he encouraged us to come and play and for the next five years thereafter we would actually then, for every school concert at the end of year, we’d actually be playing on the steel pan. One of the main songs I do remember us playing was ‘Yellowbird up high on banana tree’. It was really cool. A key time for it as well.

DAVID: When did you start going to the tent itself in London?

ANGELA: It would have been round about 2003, was one of my first recollections of that. We went probably year after year, that was in the Yaa Centre. We went a few years, probably about four, five years and then I had a little bit of a break. The then next time I did go back it was in Notting Hill at the Tabernacle. That’s the next time I remember going back and it was a new shape, new genre but the same sort of essence in terms of having the new individuals who wanted to sing calypso but couldn’t and different types of calypso so you had groovy and you’d have calypso, the older type calypso, but they’d try to incorporate the newer dance and that made it more interesting to encourage again, as much as they could do, the younger generation.

DAVID: What about any memories of stand-out people that you saw performing, people that really stuck in your mind or made a big impression?

ANGELA: One person was back in the days at the Yaa and that would have been Olatunji. He was very very new and he lives in Trinidad and he was new on the scene he must have been around about 13, 14? He was one of these new kids on the block, that they brought over, wanted to give him a kind of a platform for his experience of international culture and that exposure. He did definitely stand out from the crowd on that day. Then, subsequently, made a number of, in the soca fraternity shall we say, he’s well known, he’s one of the main ones and he’s done very well.

DAVID: In terms of, not necessarily in the tent, but more generally, musicians or music that you admire or particularly like?

ANGELA: So many. The newer stuff that I mentioned already, Machel Montano, you’ve also got Fay-Ann Lyons, you’ve also got Patrice Roberts, they’re the ones, you’ve also got Destra, they’re very high tempo and generally stuff that I enjoy listening to. Then you’ve got the older type stuff…

DAVID: Have you got any thoughts about the role of the calypsonian or of calypso in general?

ANGELA: I suppose for me the first thing is that they have been quite instrumental in the story telling. Their music is always based around real stories, history, and I think if we take that to another level that is something that’s key to the foundation of us being able to really enjoy what the history is about, where we are now and what we can do to make it even more powerful moving forward. If you look at the real calypsonians, they have played a really fundamental part in creating the environment, especially in the West Indies,and laying the foundations for the new era of soca and that being accepted in the world that we live in now. That’s how I see it.

DAVID: I know I’m not supposed to speak, but it’s kind of an oral history isn’t it? For instance, I know that Alexander did one about Grenfell Tower for instance, so it’s up to the minute oral history.

ANGELA: Absolutely.

DAVID: Anyway, the other thing I was going to ask you was how you think women are perceived in this environment, is it a welcoming environment for women or can it be a bit hostile? Is it very macho, male dominated, how do you find it?

ANGELA: My experience is that it’s been very much welcoming, even from way back. It’s probably one of the environments where I haven’t seen that type. I won’t say it hasn’t gone on because I don’t know enough to really comment specifically about that. From what I’ve experienced it’s definitely been embracing of both male and female and that’s one of the key things when you’ve gone out to what we call soca sets, it’s all embracing. Everybody out there having a good time, a bit alcohol usually goes down well but it’s about everybody enjoying music they’re listening to and, as I said, that’s got a good mix of both male and female singing or their music being played as well.

DAVID: I think we’ve covered the things we wanted to talk about so thank you very much for your time. If you think of anything else you want to add later just let me know but I think we’ve covered the stuff we wanted to cover. Thank you.

ANGELA: Thank you.