It’s been a strange year, as if you hadn’t noticed. You know just how strange it is when Carnival Thursday is both the first night of the ACASA London Calypso Tent and the penultimate show.
General uncertainty over what would be happening when and where, coupled with a lack of publicity, meant that empty seats were in the majority at The Tabernacle on 26 August. But, as G-String put it, “We are small in number, but big in spirit”, and not for the first time the tent faithful made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in numbers.
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The sound gremlins from the previous Thursday, at Opera Holland Park, had unfortunately found their way to The Tabernacle and at times the show – for this was a show rather than a competition – felt like an extended sound-check. The busiest man in the building was the sound engineer, who certainly had his work cut out trying to get the levels right. By the end of the evening, the balance was better, but still in need of a few more tweaks.
It all resulted in a somewhat late start, but no one seemed to mind having some time to catch up on two years’ worth of news while the band – now known as the ACASA All Stars – and the super-sparkly Divettes kept us entertained. Both were sorely missed at Holland Park, so it was a treat to hear them in their natural habitat.
The SunDivas – the rebranded Sunshine and Nadiva – drew the short straw by being first on stage and had the worst of the sound problems, which made it hard to hear much of Magnificent. Nevertheless, they got the feelgood vibe going, which is just what we needed. Dansa – who channels some of the energy and eccentricity of the late and much-lamented Peace & Love ‑ didn’t let the small matter of audibility get in the way of his Drunk Dance.
Muffinman’s voice has a charming retro quality to it, like something out of the 1930s, and it suits his resolutely upbeat, optimistic take on life in Nothing Stops the Jamming – “Our hearts are still jumping up in the street”. And Helena B kept the theme going with her soca number Feel It and managed to convey its energy despite the hall’s infuriating echo. Next up was Tent veteran Lord Cloak, who stepped off the stage to sing of Natural Disasters in his time-honoured, and always effective, style. Rounding off the first half was Alexander D Great, who reprised his popular and soulful Haiti.
The return of our compere, Smokey Joe, marked the start of Round Two, which began with Clivus’s lively Windrush Coming Down. Musicman looked rather splendid in a white suit, blue head wrap and stick, and gave a wonderful performance of Sweet Music, enlivened by the occasional ragga-soca growl. The Windrush Generation, with its condemnation of the Windrush Scandal and Brexit, has always been a hit at the Tent, and De Admiral, smart as ever in classic calypso style, garnered the applause. He followed this up with Secrets, an older composition that he’s updated with some contemporary references.
If De Admiral represents ‘old school’, Batch is ‘new gen’, but he knows how to engage with the audience and get them to wave their hands to his soca number Hold on Tight. For those who missed the 2020 livestream, this was a first chance to hear G-String’s typically well-written and presented Miss Corona. Un-PC it may be, but that’s the spirit of calypso! He used the mellow Social Distance – dedicated to his late grandmother, who recently passed away aged 101 ‑ to engage with the band and the audience, while singing “I don’t want anyone to wine on me at all” (we’ll see whether he holds to that next carnival!).
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Concluding the entertainment was the irrepressible Ms Desire, who was clearly intent on getting the audience to jump to its feet with Soca Raised Me. She didn’t succeed, but almost everyone was at least moving in their seat. The exception – a gentleman who likes chutney! Well, maybe a chutney-flavoured calypso or soca number would add some spice to the Tent next year, so why not?
As ACASA chairman Vincent John closed the show, he reminded us: “There is no Carnival, but there is music.” And indeed you have a second chance to hear live calypso and soca music, and the best calypso band in the land, on Friday 27 August. Catch it while you can – it starts at 7.30pm at The Tabernacle, Powis Square, London W11.