Calypso fans flocked to The Tabernacle in west London on Friday for the first night of the Association of British Calypsonians’ (ABC) London Calypso Tent. The high standard in recent years meant expectations were high – and they weren’t disappointed. This was one of the best first nights your reviewer has attended.
Inevitably, the 2017 season is going to be a mix of celebration and commemoration in London. ABC is trumpeting its Silver Jubilee but also mourning the loss in January of Mighty Tiger (Ashton Moore), the association’s guiding light for so many years, while Carnival generally is still coming to terms with the Grenfell Tower fire.
The Tent marked both, of course: as well as the usual minute’s silence (respectfully observed), Alexander D Great started proceedings with his gentle calypso tribute to the Grenfell community and De Admiral sang a reworked version of Tiger’s tear-jerker, Little Birdy, in memory of the late ABC president.
MC for the night was the effervescent Coco P, but this fast-paced show didn’t leave him much time for his usual drolleries. Like an advert for a closing down sale, this was a case of “Everything must go – ends at 10.30pm sharp!” And it did, cramming 19 songs into a couple of hours.
Starting us off, Masterlink had a pop at judges (a classic target of calypsonians) in No Grudges, while Clivus gave us his thoughts on Pirates. De Admiral is one of only two founder members of ABC still on the bill (the other is Cloak), and he has a good song this year with Our Fathers Dey, emphasising the importance of fathers in the life of their children.
In one of those complete changes of pace and style that make a trip to the Tent such a pleasure, Music Man brought us rollicking rapso style for Music Maker, while Helena B got the crowd going with her party song Fetin Can’t Done. And the soca vibe was strong when newcomer Soca Kidd emerged from under the sheets, put on his trousers and hit us with Call the Name. His energy certainly wasn’t lost on an appreciative crowd.
While Soca Kidd seemed reluctant to leave the spotlight, Dansa – hitting out at politicians with They Fool Us – kept it short and sweet. And then there was the inimitable Lord Cloak, the consummate calypsonian (or, as Coco put it, the Godfather of the Tent), singing about the trials of the early Caribbean migrants to Britain in Where Were You? Things have changed since those days, but there’s still scope for improvement believes Brown Sugar, putting her heart and soul into Equal Opportunities. Her soaring, soulful tones worked beautifully with those of the Divettes, whose inspired voices bring such class to the Tent.
Finishing off the first part of the evening’s entertainment were Sunshine and Nadiva, who kept spirits high with Take It – be sure to listen out for this track on the road on Bank Holiday Monday.
But before the unstoppable sisters came the revelation of the night. The season’s second newcomer, Muffinman, looked an unlikely calypsonian, but within moments his engaging personality and well-written calypso had won over the crowd, who thoroughly approved of his call for Soca Resistance. At a time when media reports are full of negativity about our carnival, his message is go out there and enjoy yourself, because “We’re taking the city back with our beats”.
Soca News caught up with Muffinman (André Rostant) after the show and learned that he is of mixed Irish and Trinidadian ancestry, has been writing calypsos for years and plays steelpan with Nostalgia. On the strength of his debut performance, André will be one to watch.
The first night has sometimes been a rather low-key affair, but this year you felt the competition had started already – particularly when Santiago brought on a pram, gave children’s books to the Divettes and subverted nursery rhymes in wickedly entertaining fashion. It’s the semi-finals next Friday, so let’s see what develops then…
And again the pace and style changed, as Alexander D Great took us back to the 1960s and related the story of how calypsonian Lord Woodbine (Harold Phillips) from Laventille mentored some young lads from Liverpool, who rose to fame and fortune as the Beatles.
There was a pleasant 80s-style rhythm to Saturday Night Soca Party from Dave B, followed by Rev B (no relation!), who was dressed to kill in dark suit and red waistcoat as he sang Stop the Killing. The Rev takes his calypso seriously, crafting lyrics with the same skill he surely employs for his sermons and employing his fine voice to good effect.
Violence was troubling G-String too, singing of “War and the rumours of war; What people fighting for?”. This “terroritis” was giving him High Blood Pressure, he explained. The String is the current UK Calypso Monarch, and his great strength as a calypsonian is combining a serious message with humour and putting it across in an engaging way.
To round off the evening (all too soon) we were treated to the warm and sensuous tones of Cleopatra’s Sexy Gone Crazy. Cleo was a popular member of the Tent but unaccountably forsook the delights of south London for St Vincent, so her return as a guest artiste this year is especially welcome.
But what of the competition? Will it be “G-String again”? Well, on the basis of the first night, your reviewer is putting his money on… But, no, Soca News is not giving tips! Visit the Tent and make up your own mind.
- Calypso semi-finals Fri 11 Aug, Groovy Soca Fri 18 Aug, Calypso finals Thur 24 Aug, People’s Choice Fri 25 Aug. Venue: The Tabernacle, Powis Square W11 2AY. Doors open 7pm, showtime 8pm prompt; tickets £12, concs £10, u16 £5; tel: 07794 510908.