Fame At Last – Speedy Acquaye 1931 – 1993

Neeomi (Sometimes spelt Nii Moi) ‘Speedy’ Acquaye was born in James Town, Accra, Gold Coast (now Ghana) on 7 June 1931. He began playing drums from an early age after his parents bought him a drum as a gift. He began attending Royal School in Accra at the age of 12. Despite encouragement from family and friends and a couple of teenage bands, Speedy showed no interest in a musical career at the time.
After a brief period in the armed forces as a company boy he travelled to England in 1947 at the age of 16. He settled in Leeds in West Yorkshire and undertook a factory job before beginning his career in showbiz. His first taste of show business came when he played the role of Man Friday in a pantomime in Nottingham. He then bought a pair of bongos but didn’t yet take up music full time. Instead, he joined a travelling circus as a dancer, fire-eater, and conga player.
During his time in Leeds, Speedy spent a lot of his time dancing in the local ballrooms. Most pubs in the city would close at 10pm and couldn’t compete with the excitement of the ballrooms. While some pubs had a ‘colour bar’ in place, ballrooms were more welcoming to African and West Indian punters. They were not, however, free from racism. Africans living in Leeds discovered that some of the best places to dance were Leeds Town Hall and Armley Baths, where wooden boards were places over an empty pool to create a dance floor. A highlight was Saturday nights at the Mecca Ballroom in

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David Oluwale, one of Speedy’s friends from Leeds.

the Country Arcade where Jimmy Savile was the general manager and DJ. Savile held no prejudices and African and West Indian men found a warm welcome at the Mecca. The ballroom had two floors. The downstairs room had a ‘strictly ballroom’ pre-war polite atmosphere and Ross McManus’s band would play there. (McManus would father Elvis Costello in 1954.) The upstairs room allowed jiving and became popular with the black community in Leeds and visiting African American GIs. Speedy became known for his dance moves and wild antics. He would delight the girls by pulling up his trousers and setting fire to his legs. Speedy also made a lot of male friends at the ballrooms including Nigerian David Oluwale.

 

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Speedy in Soho.

Speedy left Leeds around 1953 and moved to London to begin a career in music. A regular at Soho clubs, Speedy became friends with African and local Jazz players. He first played with Tubby Hayes Group and made his recording debut with the group on the 1961 album ‘Equation In Rhythm’. Speedy then joined Kenny Graham’s Afro-Cubists who blended British Jazz with African sounds. He later played with Ronnie Scott’s group for a time before meeting Georgie Fame in 1962.
Speedy met Georgie Fame at the Roaring Twenties club in Carnaby Street and the pair became instant friends. Speedy joined Georgie Fame’s group The Blue Flames in May 1962. The group had originally been Billy Fury’s backing band until they were sacked in 1961. The Blue Flames continued on without Billy and Georgie Fame took over on vocals. Speedy played with the Blue Flames at the Flamingo Club during the group’s three-year residency at the club, showcasing a new wave of appreciation for African musicians. Speedy was a pioneer in introducing African instruments into Western Pop music. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones would soon follow suit. Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames’ debut album ‘Rhythm And Blues At The Flamingo’ was released in September 1963 but didn’t feature Speedy on percussion. Speedy had  recently been busted by the police and was in prison on a drug offence during the time of recording. He was briefly replaced by Tommy Thomas. The album and the follow up singles failed to chart. During his time with The Blue Flames, Speedy played alongside drummer Jimmie Nicol for a time before the drummer left to replace Ringo Starr for 13 days during The Beatles’ 1964 Australia tour. The group’s first chart success came in October 1964 with the album ‘Fame At Last’ which went to number 15 in the UK.  ‘Fame At Last’ was Speedy’s recording debut with The Blue Flames. The group had a number one single in January 1965 with their version of ‘Yeh Yeh’ and a couple of notable TV appearances followed including ‘Ready, Steady, Go’ and ‘Top of The Pops’. The Blue Flames even made an appearance on the American TV show ‘Hullabaloo’ in 1965 where they were introduced by Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein.

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Speedy (far left) with Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames.

Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames achieved a large Mod following and helped introduce Ska music to the subculture. Speedy plays on the 1964 EP ‘Rhythm And Blue Beat’ as well as a number of other Ska songs by the group. Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames also recorded a version of Lord Kitchener’s Calypso classic ‘Dr. Kitch’. While Speedy enjoyed some elements of Mod culture (he was known to take Purple Hearts) he refused to give in to Mod fashion and often wore traditional Ghanaian dress on stage and especially when appearing on television. Speedy ensured that he became part of group’s stage act and would sometimes step in front of his instrument to perform African dances. Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames toured across the UK and were part of the popular Tamla-Motown UK Tour of 1965. The tour came to Leeds on 31 March. Georgie Frame and The Blue Flames would return to Leeds the following year, playing at the Odeon on both occasions.

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1965 Leeds poster for the Tamla-Motown tour.

The Blue Flames underwent several line-up changes throughout the group’s time together. In December 1965 Mitch Mitchell became the group’s drummer. Georgie Fame disbanded the Blue Flames in October 1966 to pursue a solo career and Mitch Mitchell joined the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Speedy went on to join Herbie Goins and the Night Timers. He appeared on their 1966 EP ‘The Incredible Miss Brown’ and their 1967 album ‘Number 1 In Your Heart’. Herbie Goins and the Night Timers made an appearance on French TV in 1968 performing ‘The Same Old Song’. During the same period Speedy also recorded with The Small Faces after building up a friendship with Ronnie Lane. Speedy appears on their self-titled 1967 album. Speedy left the Night Timers around 1969 and began working as a session musician, playing with Poet and the One Man Band on their debut self-titled Psychedelic Rock album. Around this time he joined Alexis Korner’s live band, bringing him to the attention of a new generation of musicians including Denny Laine, Rod Stewart and Ginger Baker.

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Speedy (far left) with Herbie Goins and The Night Timers, 1968.

Speedy joined Ginger Baker’s Airforce in September 1970 and appears on the group’s second and final album ‘Ginger Baker’s Air Force 2’. The group were popular in Germany were they were given their own television special on the series ‘Beat-Club’. Airforce also toured the UK throughout 1970, playing at Leeds Town Hall on 20 November. After the band’s breakup in 1971, Speedy went on to form the group Akido. Akido were managed by Ronnie Lane and performed regularly at Ronnie Scott’s club in London. Going back to his days with the travelling circus, Speedy would perform fire-eating on stage during the band’s gigs. Akido worked the college circuit and in 1972 they released their self-titled album.

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Speedy as a member of Airforce, 1970.

Speedy continued to work as a session musician throughout the 1970s and became the go-to-guy when it came to African drumming. He made recordings with Third World War (1971), Rod Stewart (1972), Faces (1973) and John Martyn (1973). He is also reported to have recorded with The Animals and The Rolling Stones but details are lacking. Speedy’s session work often saw him working alongside friends and in 1979 he began working with Georgie Fame again. He played on Georgie Fame’s albums ‘That’s What Friends Are For’ and ‘Right Now’. He also worked with Denny Laine again who he had previously played with when both men were members of Airforce. Denny Laine went on to join Wings and Speedy features on their 1979 album ‘Back To The Egg’ as a member of the Rockestra. In December 1979 he performed at the Concerts For The People of  Kampuchea as part of the Rockestra and appears on the 1981 album of the concerts.

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A selection of albums Speedy played on during his career.

In the mid-1980s Speedy began working with Adzido. Formed by George Ozikunaj in 1984, Adzido was Europe’s leading traditional African dance company. Speedy later returned to Ghana and worked with the Ghanaian band Dade Krama. Speedy took ill in 1990 during a visit to Ghana and had to return to Britain to seek medical attention but wasn’t diagnosed with liver cancer until shortly before his death. Speedy died in London on 15 September 1993 aged 62. Georgie Fame, who had been working with him shortly before his death, helped pay for his body to be flown back to Accra where he was buried following a wake at the Africa Centre in Covent Garden, London.

Full Album Discography

Equation In Rhythm – Costanzo Plus Tubbs (1961)
Fame At Last – Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames (1964)
Sweet Things – Georgie Fame And The Blue Flames (1966)
Number 1 In Your Heart – Herbie Goins And The Night Timers (1967)
Small Faces – Small Faces (1967)
Poet And The One Man Band – Poet And The One Man Band (1969)
Aireforce 2 – Ginger Baker’s Airforce (1970)
Third World War – Third World War (1971)
Never A Dull Moment – Rod Stewart (1972)
Akido – Akido (1972)
Solid Air – John Martyn (1973)
Ooh La La – Faces (1973)
That’s What Friends Are For – Georgie Fame (1979)
Right Now – Georgie Fame (1979)
Back To The Egg – Wings (1979)
Concerts For The People of Kampuchea – Various artists (1981) (Recorded 1979)
Home From Home – Heads, Hands & Feet (1995) (Recorded in 1968)

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Calypso Goes POP! Part Two

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Since the 1940s, Calypso’s influence has been felt throughout the music world. Artists from various genres have recorded Calypso songs, sampled Calypso tunes or have been influenced by Calypso. From Ska and Reggae to Country and Rock, from Jazz and Pop to Disco and Rap, Calypso has had a continuing impact on music in the 20th and 21st Century. The below list gives 30 examples of how Calypso has shaped the music world over the last five decades.

  1. Dr. Kitch – Judge Dread (1973)
  2. Come Back Liza – Dandy Livingstone (1973)
  3. The Everywhere Calypso – Ramsey Lewis (1974)
  4. Man Smart, Woman Smarter – Robert Palmer (1976)
  5. Zombie Zamboree – Harry Nilsson (1976)
  6. If You Wanna Be Happy – Bill Wyman (1976)
  7. Calypso Breakdown – Ralph MacDonald (1976)
  8. Brown Girl In The Ring – Boney M. (1978)
  9. Man Smart, Woman Smarter – Rosanne Cash (1979)
  10. The Caribbean Disco Show – Lobo (1981)
  11. Fallout Calypso – Mike Harding (1981)
  12. Island In The Sun – Goombay Dance Band (1982)
  13. Right By Your Side – Eurythmics (1983)
  14. Agadoo – Black Lace (1984)
  15. Hot, Hot, Hot – Buster Poindexter (1987)
  16. Calypso Crazy – Billy Ocean (1988)
  17. Duke of Iron – Sonny Rollins (1988)
  18. Find An Ugly Woman – Cash Money & Marvelous (1988)
  19. Under The Sea – Samuel E. Wright (1989)
  20. Benjamin Calypso – Cast of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1991)
  21. Day Oh – Shaggy (1995)
  22. Who Let The Dogs Out – Baha Men (2000)
  23. Brown Girl (Suga Plum) – Jurassic 5 (2006)
  24. Hold Him Joe – Ziggy Marley (2009)
  25. Calypso Blues – Nat King Cole Feat. Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley and Stephen Marley (2009)
  26. Stone Cold Dead In The Market (Ticklah Remix) – Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Jordan, Ticklah (2011)
  27. 6 Foot 7 Foot – Lil Wayne (2011)
  28. Shake Senora – Pitbull Feat. T-Pain and Sean Paul (2011)
  29. Don’t Wanna Go Home – Jason Derulo (2011)
  30. London Is The Place For Me – D Lime Feat. Tabago Crusoe (2014)

Calypso Goes POP!

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Ever since The Andrews Sisters had a hit with their version of ‘Rum And Coca-Cola’ in 1944, popular artists across the world have been influenced by Calypso music and have recorded Calypso songs. Throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s a variety of artists recorded music with a Calypso flavour. The below list of 50 songs highlights how Calypso had an impact on Pop, Rock, Country, Jazz, Folk and even comedic music.

  1. Rum And Coca-Cola – Andrews Sisters (1944)
  2. Stone Cold Dead In The Market – Ella Fitzgerald (1946)
  3. His Feet Too Big For The Bed – June Christy (1947)
  4. Run Joe – Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five (1948)
  5. Calypso Blues – Nat King Cole (1951)
  6. Somebody Bad Stole De Wedding Bell – Eartha Kitt (1954)
  7. High Society Calypso – Louis Armstrong And His Band (1956)
  8. The Banana Boat Song – The Tarriers (1956)
  9. Put More Wood On The Fire – Eartha Kitt (1956)
  10. St. Thomas – Sonny Rollins (1956)
  11. Let’s Go Calypso – Rusty Draper (1957)
  12. Me Head’s In De Barrel – Edna Savage (1957)
  13. Coffee Bar Calypso – Maxine Daniels (1957)
  14. Come Back, Liza – Nina And Frederick (1957)
  15. Calypso Dance – Ray Anthony And His Orchestra (1957)
  16. Calypso Italiano – Lou Monte (1957)
  17. Calypso Joe – Ray Johnson (1957)
  18. Calypso Rock – Mike Pedicin Quintet (1957)
  19. Marianne – Terry Gilkyson And The Easy Riders (1957)
  20. What Is This Generation Coming To? – Robert Mitchum (1957)
  21. Banana Boat (Day – O) – Stan Freberg (1957)
  22. Technique – Pat Boone (1957)
  23. Calypso Sweetheart – Hank Snow (1957)
  24. When Rock And Roll Come To Trinidad – Nat King Cole (1957)
  25. Last Train To San Fernando – Johnny Duncan And The Blue Grass Boys (1957)
  26. Matilda, Matilda – Robert Mitchum (1957)
  27. When Woman Say No She Mean Yes – Nina And Frederik (1958)
  28. Zombie Jamboree – Kingston Trio (1959)
  29. Tic Tic Tic – Kingston Trio (1959)
  30. The Naughty Little Flea – Miriam Makeba (1960)
  31. Limbo Part 1 & Part 2 – Little Anthony & The Imperials (1960)
  32. Yellow Bird – The Brothers Four (1960)
  33. Limbo – Nina & Frederik (1961)
  34. My Zelda – Allan Sherman (1962)
  35. Gossip Calypso – Bernard Cribbins (1962)
  36. Don’t Stop The Carnival – Sonny Rollins (1962)
  37. Limbo Rock – Chubby Checker (1962)
  38. Twist, Twist Senora – Gary US Bonds (1962)
  39. Can’t Cross Over – Miriam Makeba (1962)
  40. Coconut Woman – Gary US Bonds (1962)
  41. Brown Skin Girl – Sonny Rollins (1962)
  42. If You Wanna Be Happy – Jimmy Soul (1963)
  43. Mama Look A BooBoo – Chubby Chekker (1963)
  44. Twistin’ Matilda – Jimmy Soul (1963)
  45. Barbados Carnival – Dizzy Gillespie (1964)
  46. Poor Joe – Dizzy Gillespie (1964)
  47. Don’t Try And Keep Up With The Joneses – Dizzy Gillespie (1964)
  48. Hold ‘Em Joe – Sonny Rollins (1965)
  49. Shame And Scandal In The Family – Lance Percival (1965)
  50. Don’t Stop The Carnival – Alan Price Set (1968)

Don’t Stop The Carnival: Calypso In The Sixties and The Birth of Soca

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Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba.

With his 1956 album ‘Calypso’, Harry Belafonte had achieved for Calypso what Elvis Presley had achieved for Rhythm and Blues. Harry Belafonte had brought Calypso music, in somewhat of a watered down form, to a mass audience. While Harry Belafonte continued to have Calypso hits in the early 1960s, by 1962 the Calypso Craze in America and Britain had all but died out. The rise of new music genres such as Rock and Ska had left Calypso nothing more than a novelty on the British charts, as demonstrated by Bernard Cribbins’ 1962 hit song ‘Gossip Calypso’ and Lance Percival’s 1965 hit single ‘Shame And Scandal In The Family’. To survive, Calypso had to evolve and fusing Calypso with other genres seemed like the way forward. Beginning at the end of the 1950s, artists on both sides tried merging Calypso with other music until a winning formula was discovered at the beginning of the 1970s and a new genre, Soca, was born.

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Nina & Frederik.

Calypso had remained popular among folk artists.  Dutch duo Nina & Frederik had hits with Calypso songs across Europe. One half of the duo, Frederick van Pallandt, had been born in Copenhagen in 1934 and had lived in Trinidad with his parents in the 1950s were he had formed a Calypso band. He began performing with Nina Møller in 1957 and the couple married in 1960. They began recording in 1957, recording an EP of Calypso songs for the Dutch market. Their first UK release came in 1959 with another EP of Calypso numbers titled ‘Volume 1’. The EP reached number thirteen on the UK EP charts. They became popular with fans of Folk music and had a top thirty hit in the UK in 1959 with their version of ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ (First released in Denmark in 1957). Their debut album ‘Nina & Frederik’ was released in 1960 and reached number nine on the UK Album Chart. In 1961 they were given their own series on British Television called ‘Nina And Frederik At Home’. In America the folk group The Kingston Trio included a number of Calypso songs in their repertoire including ‘Zombie Jamboree’.  They had originally formed in the early 1950s and had called themselves Dave Guard And The Calypsonians. As Calypso music became wrongly associated with Jamaica in the late-1950s, the group changed their name to The Kingston Trio, after the city of Kingston in Jamaica. South African folk singer Miriam Makeba recorded some Calypso numbers during the 1960s including ‘The Naughty Little Flea’ (1960) and ‘Can’t Cross Over’ (1962).

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Sonny Rollins.

While the late 1950s had seen popular singers like Nat King Cole and Earth Kitt attempt to record Calypso music, the early 1960s saw Calypso music cross over into other genres.  American Rhythm and Blues singer Gary U.S. Bonds recorded the album ‘Twist Up Calypso’ in 1962, mixing Calypso with Rhythm and Blues and the latest dance craze, The Twist.  He had a hit in America with his single ‘Twist Twist Senora’ – A twist song inspired by ‘Jump In The Line’. In 1963 American Doo-woop artist Jimmy Soul recorded a version of Roaring Lion’s 1934 song ‘Ugly Woman’. His version was titled ‘If You Wanna Be Happy’ and went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Rock ‘n’ Roller Chubby Checker tried his hand at recording Calypso music during the Limbo Craze of the early sixties. Among his offerings were ‘Man Smart, Woman Smarter’ (1962) and ‘Mama Look A Boo Boo’ (1963).  Calypso also crossed paths with Jazz. British jazz clarinetist Acker Bilk recorded his take on ‘Jump In The Line’ in 1958. American Jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins had been using Calypso rhythms in his music since 1956. His 1962 album ‘What’s New?’  included versions of ‘Brown Skin Girl’ and ‘Don’t Stop the Carnival’ and in 1965 he recorded ‘Hold ‘Em Joe’.  In 1964, Jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie recorded the album ‘ Jambo Caribe’ which mixed Jazz with Calypso and other music from the Caribbean.  The Alan Price Set had a top twenty hit in the UK with their version of ‘Don’t Stop The Carnival’ in 1968.

Calypsoians had been using electric guitars in their recordings since the 1940s. An early example being The Roaring Lion’s 1946 song ‘Mary Ann’ which featured a guitar solo by Trinidadian Fitzroy Coleman. The electric guitar grew in popularity among Calypso performers during the 1950s thanks to the popularity of Rhythm and Blues and Rock and Roll music from America. Artists like Lord Kitchener and The Mighty Sparrow used electric guitar regularly in their recordings throughout the 1950s and 1960s. It was during this era that Calypsoians began to fuse Calypso with Rock music. The Bermudan band The Talbot Brothers were among the first to fuse the two music styles. They had success in 1957 with their cover of ‘Mary Ann’. The Talbot Brothers’ recording career ending in 1962 and Ross Talbot had a short-lived solo career. His 1964 album ‘Bermuda Is Paradise’ mixed Calypso with Twist music and Rock music. His 1964 single ‘Short Skirts And Polly Pants’ was marketed as ‘Calypso Twist’. It contained a lengthy guitar solo. Antiguan Calypsoian Lord Short Shirt used riffs from Beatles songs in his 1965 single ‘Beatles and The MBE’.

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The Talbot Brothers.

Formed in Barbados in 1962, The Merrymen’s line-up was similar to the Rock bands forming in Britain at the same time. Their line-up included three guitars, a bass guitar and drums. They played upbeat versions of Calypso songs including ‘Island In The Sun’, ‘Jamaica Farewell’, and ‘Mary’s Boy Child’. Their biggest success came in 1966 with their single ‘Big Bamboo’. They had further success in 1967 with their version of ‘Archie (Break Them Up)’. Lord Creator recorded the song the same year. Born in Trinidad, he moved to Jamaica in 1959 and in 1962 he recorded ‘Independent Jamaica’ which became the official song for Jamaica’s independence. Lord Creator recorded the album ‘Jamaica Time’ in 1964. The album included a Calypso version of Bob Dylan’s song ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’.

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Sparrow Meets The Dragon.

Byron Lee and The Dragonaires were one of the best loved Ska bands of the 1960s. Byron Lee took the band in a different direction in the mid-1960s by adding Calypso to their repertoire. In 1966 they backed The Mighty Sparrow on his single ‘Only A Fool (Breaks His Own Heart)’ which was followed by the 1969 album ‘Sparrow Meets The Dragon’. The album included covers of ‘Born Free’, ‘Walk Away’, and ‘Try A Little Tenderness’. These recordings saw The Mighty Sparrow performing in a Crooner style. By 1968 he had returned to Calypso music with the upbeat singles like ‘Mr. Walker’ (1968) and ‘Sell The Pussy’ (1969).

Calypso music remained popular in the Caribbean and while the recordings were still popular among Caribbean communities in the UK, British Calypsoians struggled to make a living from making music. Artists such as Young Tiger and Mighty Terror began performing Jazz music at the end of the 1950s. Young Tiger later began an acting career and Edric Connor took a similar route. In Liverpool, Lord Woodbine began co-managing the Rock group The Beatles in 1960. Lord Kitchener returned to Trinidad in 1962. He was followed by Mighty Terror in 1965.

In Trinidad and Tobago, Lord Kitchener remained popular throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.  He won the Carnival Road March a total of eight times between 1963 and 1973. Female Calypsoian Calypso Rose (Real name Linda Sandy Lewis) also became popular in this period.  She was born in Tobago in 1940 and had begun performing in 1955. She originally used the name Crusoe Kid and was later given the name Calypso Rose by the Calypsonians Mighty Spoiler. She began recording in 1963 and travelled the Caribbean. She became the first female to win the Calypso King contest and the Roadmarch in St. Thomas in 1963. She became best known for her songs ‘Fire In Me Wire’ (1967) and ‘No Madame’ (1969). The latter criticised the treatment of domestic servants.

Trinidadian Calypsoian Lord Shorty (Real name Garfield Blackman) had a hit with ‘Cloak And Dagger’ in 1963. He was born in Trinidad in 1941 and began recording in 1962. During the 1960s and early 1970s he experimented with fusing Calypso with other music genres and especially the Indo-Trinidadian music, Chutney. The first example of this was his 1962 song ‘Long Mango’ which had strong East Indian influences. His 1966 song ‘Indian Singers’ is also a good example of Chutney-Calypso fusion.

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Lord Shorty and Indian Musicians, 1973.

With the decline of Calypso’s popularity in the second half of the 1960s, Lord Shorty attempted to modernise the music. Taking Soul, Funk and Chutney influences, Lord Shorty’s experiments lead him to develop a new genre of music that he defined as ‘The Soul Of Calypso’ or ‘Soca’ for short. His 1973 single ‘Indrani’ was the first to be defined as Soca and his 1974 album ‘Endless Vibrations’ helped the music take off in Trinidad and Tobago. Lord Shorty also had success with the early Soca songs ‘Soul Calypso Music’ (1973), ‘Endless Vibrations’ (1974) and ‘Sweet Music’ (1976).

Carnival Back Home – Best Calypso And Mento Songs, Part Two: 1958 – 1967

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Before the founding of Leeds West Indian Carnival, Britain’s first West Indian Carnival, in 1967 the closest most British West Indians could come to experiencing carnival like the ones back home was through music. Calypso and Mento music acted as a link between the Caribbean and West Indians living abroad. The playlist below highlights 90 of the best Calypso and Mento songs from the years 1958 to 1967.

  1. Marjorie’s Flirtation – Lord Kitchener (1958)
  2. Little Jeannie – Mighty Terror & His Calypsonians (1958)
  3. No More Rocking And Rolling – Mighty Sparrow (1958)
  4. Food From Chicago – Lord Christo (1958)
  5. TV Calypso – Mighty Terror (1958)
  6. Nosey Mother-In-Law – Lord Kitchener (1958)
  7. Shakespearean Quotations – Lord Christo (1958)
  8. Short Little Shorts – Mighty Sparrow (1958)
  9. Africa, Here I Come – Lord Ivanhoe & His Caribbean Knights (1958)
  10. Jamaica Girl – Mighty Terror (1958)
  11. Woman’s Figure – Lord Kitchener (1958)
  12. Old Lady You Mash Me Toe – Hubert Porter (1958)
  13. Breadfruit Season – Count Lasher’s Seven (1958)
  14. Limbo – The Wrigglers (1958)
  15. My Wife’s Nightie – Lord Kitchener (1958)
  16. Heading North – Mighty Terror & His Calypsonians (1958)
  17. Mary Ann – The Wrigglers (1959)
  18. Talking Parrot – Count Lasher (1959)
  19. Maria – Mighty Sparrow (1959)
  20. Black Pudding – Lord Kitchener (1959)
  21. Calypso War – Mighty Terror (1959)
  22. Bed Bug Song – Brownie ( 1959)
  23. Biggest Maracas – The Wrigglers (1959)
  24. The Water Gobbler – Lord Ivanhoe & His Caribbean Knights (1959)
  25. West Indians In England – Azie Lawrence (1959)
  26. My Experience On The Reeperbahn – Lord Invader (1959)
  27. Dorothy – Mighty Sparrow (1959)
  28. Teddy Boy Calypso (Bring Back the Cat-O-Nine) – Lord Invader (1959)
  29. Mango Vert – Mighty Sparrow (1959)
  30. Penny Reel – Calypso Quintet (1960)
  31. Jamaica Is The Place To Go – Charlie Binger & His Quartet (1960)
  32. Neighbor Jacqueline – Wrangler (1960)
  33. Zombie Jamboree – The Eloise Trio (1960)
  34. Belmont Jackass – Lord Melody (1960)
  35. Teresa – Mighty Sparrow (1960)
  36. Country Gal – Charlie Binger And His Orchestra (1960)
  37. Cocoanut Woman – The Eloise Trio (1960)
  38. Limbo – Calimbo Steel Band (1961)
  39. Kingston Market – Harry Belafonte (1961)
  40. Exchange No Robbery – Mighty Dougla (1961)
  41. Romeo – Lord Kitchener (1961)
  42. Jump In The Line – Harry Belafonte (1961)
  43. Tomorrow Man – King Prince & The Islanders (1961)
  44. Gloria – Harry Belafonte (1961)
  45. Island In The Sun – Calimbo Steel Band (1961)
  46. Kitch Take It Easy – Lord Kitchener (1962)
  47. Sparrow Come Back Home – Mighty Sparrow (1962)
  48. Calabash – Count Lasher (1962)
  49. Independent Jamaica Calypso – Lord Creator (1962)
  50. Love In The Cemetery – Lord Kitchener (1962)
  51. Bongo Man – Wrangler (1962)
  52. Wau, Wau – Lord Melody (1962)
  53. Zombie Jamboree – Harry Belafonte (1962)
  54. Dog Better Than Man – Viper (1962)
  55. Blackbird – Lord Melody (1962)
  56. Jamaican Woman – Lord Kitchener (1962)
  57. Georgie Porgie – Lord Melody (1962)
  58. Tongue Tie Baby – Harry Belafonte (1962)
  59. Dan is The Man – Mighty Sparrow (1962)
  60. Don’t Stop The Carnival – Sonny Rollins (1962)
  61. Dr Kitch – Lord Kitchener (1963)
  62. I Got The Itch – Lord Nelson (1963)
  63. Kitchie, You So Sweet – Lord Kitchener (1963)
  64. Bull Pistle Gang – Mighty Sparrow (1963)
  65. The Road – Lord Kitchener (1963)
  66. Stupid Married Man – Mighty Sparrow (1963)
  67. Muriel And The Bug – Lord Kitchener (1963)
  68. People Will Talk – King Fighter (1964)
  69. Yellow Bird – Keith Stewart (1964)
  70. Meh No Is 69 – Mighty Sparrow (1964)
  71. Pussy Galore – Young Growler (1964)
  72. A Death Of Kennedy – Mighty Sparrow (1964)
  73. My Pussin’ – Lord Kitchener (1965)
  74. Beatles And The M.B.E – King Short Shirt (1965)
  75. Warning To Men – Lord Kitchener (1965)
  76. Piccadilly Folk – Lord Kitchener (1965)
  77. The Weed – Count Lasher (1966)
  78. Obeah Wedding – Mighty Sparrow (1966)
  79. Mas In San Fernando – Lord Kitchener (1966)
  80. Bam Bam – Count Lasher (1966)
  81. Take You’ Meat Out Me Rice – Lord Kitchener (1966)
  82. Indian Singers – Lord Shorty (1966)
  83. Hooligans – Count Lasher (1966)
  84. Mufridite – Count Lasher (1966)
  85. Archie Buck Them Up – Lord Creator (1967)
  86. Tobago Lollipop – Lord Kitchener (1967)
  87. Fire In Me Wire – Calypso Rose (1967)
  88. The Sausage – Baldhead Growler (1967)
  89. 67 – Lord Kitchener (1967)
  90. The Priest Could Play – Mighty Cypher (1967)

Carnival Back Home – Best Calypso And Mento Songs, Part One: 1950 – 1957

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Prior to 1967, the British public had never witnessed a West Indian Carnival on British streets. Very few West Indians living in Britain during the 1950s could afford the privilege of returning to the Caribbean for the annual carnivals. Calypso and Mento music was one of the few links British West Indians had to their mother islands. Whether recorded in England, Trinidad, Jamaica or even America, these records were the closest most West Indians in Britain came to West Indian Carnival during the 1950s. The playlist below highlights 90 of the best Calypso and Mento songs from the years 1950 to 1957.

 

  1. Big Bamboo – The Duke Of Iron (1950)
  2. Victory Test Match – Lord Beginner (1950)
  3. The Underground Train – Lord Kitchener (1950)
  4. Housewives – Lord Beginner (1950)
  5. Linstead Market – Louise Bennett (1950)
  6. Tie Tongue Mopsie – Lord Kitchener (1950)
  7. Tick Tick (The Story of the Lost Watch) – Lord Lion (1951)
  8. London Is The Place For Me – Lord Kitchener (1951)
  9. Some Girl Something – The Lion (1951)
  10. Kitch’s Bebop Calypso – Lord Kitchener (1951)
  11. Festival of Britain – Lord Kitchener (1951)
  12. Take Her To Jamaica – Lord Messam & His Calypsonians (1951)
  13. Kitch! (Small Comb, Scratch Me Head) – Lord Kitchener (1951)
  14. Food From The West Indies – Lord Kitchener (1951)
  15. Last Train – Duke Of Iron (1952)
  16. My Landlady – Lord Kitchener (1952)
  17. Not Me (Man Smart – Woman Smarter) – Hubert Porter (1952)
  18. Day Dah Light – Edric Connor & The Caribbeans (1952)
  19. Brown Skin Girl – Ben Bowers & The Baba Motta Orchestra (1952)
  20. Island Gal Sally – Count Lasher (1952)
  21. Banana – Cecil Knott & His Joybell Orchestra (1952)
  22. Ugly Woman – Sir Lancelot (1952)
  23. Calypso Cha Cha – Count Lasher (1952)
  24. Parakeets – Duke Of Iron (1952)
  25. Cold In De Winter – Lloyd Thomas (1953)
  26. Matilda – Harry Belafonte (1953)
  27. Red Head – Lord Kitchener (1953)
  28. Tomato – Marie Bryant (1953)
  29. Hol’ Em Joe (My Donkey Wants Water) – The Sparrow (1953)
  30. Iron Bar/Mas Charley Bell – Hubert Porter (1953)
  31. Saxophone No 2 – Lord Kitchener (1953)
  32. Don’t Stop The Carnival – Duke Of Iron (1953)
  33. If You’re Not White You’re Black – Lord Kitchener (1953)
  34. Mango Time – Count Lasher’s Seven (1954)
  35. Hill And Gully Ride/Mandeville Road – Lord Composer (1954)
  36. Trouble – Lord Kitchener (1954)
  37. Is She Is, Or Is She Ain’t – The Charmer (1954)
  38. Wife And Mother – Lord Kitchener (1954)
  39. Calypso Be-Bop – Young Tiger (1955)
  40. Kitch In The Jungle – Lord Kitchener (1955)
  41. Female Boxer – The Charmer (1955)
  42. Can Can – Lord Melody (1955)
  43. Mambo Jambo – Brute Force Steel Band of Antigua (1955)
  44. Trinidad The Land Of Calypso – The Roaring Lion (1955)
  45. No Carnival In Britain – Mighty Terror (1955)
  46. Wash Your Hands – The Roaring Lion (1955)
  47. Mama Look A Boo Boo – Lord Melody (1955)
  48. Give Her The Number One – Eric Hayden (1956)
  49. Rock ‘n’ Roll Calypso – Lord Melody (1956)
  50. Patricia Gone With Millicent – Mighty Terror (1956)
  51. Banana Boat (Day-O) – Harry Belafonte (1956)
  52. Bulldog Don’t Bite Me – Timothy (1956)
  53. Women Police In England – Mighty Terror (1956)
  54. Taxi – Al Harris & His Calypso Band (1956)
  55. Jean And Dinah – Mighty Sparrow (1956)
  56. Calypso Twist – Reuben McCoy & The Hamiltonians (1956)
  57. Kalenda March – The Roaring Lion (1956)
  58. Come Back Liza – Harry Belafonte (1956)
  59. She Like It, He Like It – Young Tiger (1956)
  60. Chinese Children – Mighty Terror & His Calypsonians (1956)
  61. Jamaica Farewell – Harry Belafonte (1956)
  62. Frozen Chicken – Lord Christo (1956)
  63. Mahalia, I Want Back My Dollar – Lord Invader (1956)
  64. Birth of Ghana – Lord Kitchener (1956)
  65. Cocoanut Woman – Harry Belafonte (1957)
  66. The Naughty Little Flea – Lord Flea & His Calypsonians (1957)
  67. Trinidad – Young Tiger (1957)
  68. Me One Alone – Lord Invader (1957)
  69. Don’t Blame It On Elvis – The Fabulous McClevertys (1957)
  70. Green Faced Man – Brute Force Steel Band of Antigua (1957)
  71. Coconut Water, Rum and Gin – George Symonette (1957)
  72. Boys Days – Enid Mosier & Her Trinidad Steel Band (1957)
  73. Creature From The Black Lagoon – Lord Melody (1957)
  74. De Peas And De Rice – Calypso Mama (1957)
  75. Shake, Shake Senora – Lord Flea & His Calypsonians (1957)
  76. Labor Day Carnival – Lord Invader(1957)
  77. No, Doctor, No – Mighty Sparrow (1957)
  78. Stone Cold Dead In The Market – Vincent Martin & The Bahamians (1957)
  79. Donkey Bray – Lord Flea (1957)
  80. Nebuchadnezzar – Laurel Aitken (1957)
  81. I’m Going Back To Africa – Lord Invader (1957)
  82. Short Skirts – Lord Kitchener (1957)
  83. Island In The Sun – Harry Belafonte (1957)
  84. Gee Bongo Lay – John ‘Buddy’ Williams Band (1957)
  85. Out De Fire – Lord Flea & His Calypsonians (1957)
  86. Fire Down Below –The Brute Force Steel Band (1957)
  87. Life In London – The Mighty Terror (1957)
  88. There’s A Brown Girl In The Ring – Louise Bennett (1957)
  89. You Don’t Need Glasses To See – Lord Invader (1957)
  90. Monkey – Lord Flea (1957)

Life In London – Calypso In Britain, 1956 – 1959

West Indians In England

The popularity of Calypso music in Britain increased during the years 1956 and 1957. While Calypso artists such as Lord Kitchener, Young Tiger and The Mighty Terror continued to record and release singles in the UK, none of them made the charts. Despite being popular among the West Indian communities and university students, Calypso music received very little radio play in Britain prior to 1956. Jamaican sound systems in London occasionally played Calypso music but with very few British sound systems existing at the time, Calypso rarely got a public outing. Calypso recordings were available on various record labels with the most popular of these being Melodisc. Both Lord Beginner and Lord Kitchener were signed to the label. Melodisc records recorded in London were sold across the country and exported around to world to America, Africa and the Caribbean. The majority of Calypso fans in Britain preferred their music live and Calypso music could be heard up and down the country in clubs in London, Manchester and Liverpool to name but a few.

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Lord Kitchener in London, 1957.

Lord Kitchener was one of Britain’s most popular Calypsoian and continued to release topical records including 1956’s ‘Birth of Ghana’ celebrating the country’s independence. He lived in Manchester where he owned his own club and worked closely with Lord Woodbine and steel pannist Winston ‘Spree’ Simon. Lord Kitchener’s biggest rival was The Mighty Terror. Following the success of Lord Kitchener, Mighty Terror arrived in London from Trinidad in 1953 and signed to Melodisc the following year. Recording songs with a British theme in a unique style saw Mighty Terror quickly become popular in Britain, almost overshadowing Lord Kitchener’s popularity. There were no hurt feelings between the two Trinidadians who admired each other’s talents. In 1956 Mighty Terror released the single ‘Kitch Cavalcade’, a tribute to Lord Kitchener, in which he stated “Kitchener in Great Britain causing such a sensation”.
The Mighty Terror was the latest in a line of Calypsoians writing songs about life in Britain. Among his most popular tunes were the comical ‘Woman Police In England’ (1956) and ‘TV Calypso’ (1958). Mighty Terror pushed boundaries with his lyrics, a prime example being the 1956 song ‘Patricia Gone With Millicent’ which told the tale of the singer’s wife leaving him for a violent lesbian relationship. Mighty Terror had further success in 1957 with ‘Life In London’ and ‘I’ll Walk A Million Miles’. Other Calypsoians writing about life in Britain included Azie Lawrence (West Indians In England (1959)) and Lord Invader (Teddy Boy Calypso (Bring Back the Cat-O-Nine) (1959)).

Don’t Blame It On Elvis
Kick-started by the success of Harry Belafonte’s 1956 ‘Calypso’ album, Britain and America experienced ‘The Calypso Craze’ in 1956 and 1957. Beginning in the summer of 1956, the latest music craze saw popular artists such as Eartha Kitt and Shirley Bassey cashing in on the popularity of Calypso music. Artists of all kinds tried their hand at Calypso music and during the Calypso Craze the UK charts were awash with Cod-Calypso. At the height of the Calypso Craze in March 1957, the UK singles charts saw three versions of ‘The Banana Boat Song’ make the top twenty. Harry Belafonte took the song to number 6 on 22 March while Shirley Bassey wasn’t far behind with her version at number 9. American folk group The Tarriers were at number 18 with their take on the same tune. This was the first time in over ten years that Calypso music had been in the UK charts.

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Three versions of The Banana Boat Songs from 1957.

While Pop music was being influenced by Calypso, Calypso music was being influenced by Rock ‘n’ Roll. In 1956, Lord Melody and Lord Kitchener both recorded songs called ‘Rock N Roll Calypso’ and the Calypso group The Fabulous McClevertys released the track ‘Don’t Blame It On Elvis’ on their 1957 album ‘Calypso’. The same year saw Nat King Cole record ‘When Rock And Roll Came To Trinidad’ – A Calypso-flavoured song about Rock ‘n’ Roll sung by a Pop singer. Calypso also had an influence on Rock ‘n’ Roll. In 1956 The Deeps recorded ‘Calypso Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and The Mike Pedicin Quintet recorded ‘Calypso Rock’ the following year. Don Cornell released the song ‘Rockalypso’ on his 1957 album ‘For Teenagers Only!’ Calypso’s influence also reached Skiffle music. Maxine Daniels recorded ‘Coffee Bar Calypso’ in 1957, a time when coffee bars were associated with Skiffle music in Britain. The two genres biggest crossover came in July 1957 when Johnny Duncan And The Blue Grass Boys released their take on the Mighty Dictator’s 1950 song ‘Last Train To San Fernando’.

Calypso War

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Travel poster for Jamaica, 1950s.

The influence of Calypso spread far and wide. In American Jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins’ 1956 album ‘Saxophone Colossus’ included the Calypso-influenced track ‘St.Thomas’. In Jamaica, Mento performers began performing Calypso as a way of appeasing tourists. Mento was re-branded as Calypso and Jamaican ‘Calypso’ had an influence on a new form of music emerging on the island called Ska. By 1957 Mento had become widely conflated with Calypso and Calypso was now associated with Jamaica, not Trinidad. Jamaican artists such as Lord Flea, Lord Fly and Count Lasher rose to fame in the second-half of the 1950s resulting in the Mighty Terror declaring ‘war’ on the ‘mock Calypsoians’. In his 1959 song ‘Calypso War’ he sang “if you’re not a Trinidadian, you’re not a Calypsoian here in Great Britain”.
Authentic Calypsoians received little attention outside the West Indian communities in Britain during the Calypso Craze. The Calypso Craze had come to an end by the end of 1957 and apart from a few novelty records, Calypso was all but forgotten by the general public. Lord Kitchener and the Mighty Terror continued to record and release singles in the UK and in 1958 the pair toured the country together. In January 1959, The Mighty Terror was one of the acts to perform at The West Indian Gazette Carnival organised by Claudia Jones at St Pancras Town Hall in London. He performed a specially written Calypso called ‘Carnival at St Pancras’ and was hailed ‘Calypso King of Great Britain’.

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Lord Flea’s ‘Swingin’ Calypsos’ album from 1957.

Trinidadian Calypsoians such as Lord Kitchener, Mighty Terror, Lord Invader and Mighty Sparrow were popular in Britain during the second half of the 1950s, especially with the West Indian communities. By the end of the decade however Britain’s West Indian communities had developed new musical tastes and now turned their ears towards Jamaica. Melodisc had been releasing Jamaican Mento music in Britain since 1950. Jamaican folk singer Louis Bennett was one of the label’s first stars. She had lived in England since 1945 and had hosted two radio programmes for the BBC. She made her recording debut in 1950 with the single ‘Linstead Market’. Record labels in Britain continued to release Jamaican Mento throughout the 1950s but artists such as Lord Flea, Count Lasher, Lord Fly, and Hubert Porter were marketed as Calypso. The Kalypso label was founded in 1954 and specialised in releasing Jamaican Mento and Calypso in the UK. The labels debut was E.Bedasse’s 1954 single ‘Honey Bee’. The Kalypso label was responsible for releasing the first Jamaican popular music in the UK. In 1958 they released Laurel Aitken’s UK debut single ‘Boogie In My Bones’. The single was produced by Chris Blackwell and was a prime example of Jamaican R&B. Laurel Aitken quickly became the label’s biggest success. After the success of his 1960 single ‘Lonesome Lover’ on the Melodisc label, the label founded a sub-label, Blue Beat, in August 1960, dedicated to releasing popular music from Jamaican. The Mighty Terror had declared ‘war’ on Jamaican musicians in 1959 but by 1960 it was the Jamaicans who were victorious as the voice of West Indians living in Britain.