From the moment the ABC Band struck up, there was that familiar sense of pleasurable anticipation that comes each year with the start of the London calypso season. Thanks to a sickly aircon inside and 30-degree heat outside, expectation was mingled with a certain steamy discomfort. Flyers were pressed into use as fans, fluttering coquettishly across the hall. Heat in de place…
After Association of Calypsonians UK chair Vincent John had dealt with the introductions, we were into the first number, Alexander D Great’s homage to Britain’s first black flying ace, Robbie Clarke, which he wrote specially for the centenary of the Royal Air Force.
The Tent’s own connection with military aviation was restored this year with the return to competition of calypsonian and MoD aircraft engineer Sheldon Skeete. The Road to Brexit is a carefully crafted work that shows the ‘London Lyrics Man’ is determined to be back in the driving seat of British calypso. But will it be enough to get him to the chequered flag? Get yourself to the Tent and find out!
The strength of the competition means it won’t be an easy ride for any of the calypsonians. G-String can always be relied upon to put across in his persuasive way some hard-hitting, passionately felt social commentary. This year he’s targeted the Mediterranean migrant crisis with the cleverly titled The Green, Green Grass of Rome. It’s a calypso that repays careful attention.
Others may have a more restrained stage presence yet still convey a strong and uncompromising message. De Admiral, in suit and hat, carrying two old-fashioned suitcases, looked as though he’d stepped right out of a black and white newsreel of the Empire Windrush. The delivery was gentle, but his lyrics sharply skewered the injustices suffered by Caribbean migrants in The Windrush Generation to shouts of “Kaiso!” from the audience.
It’s been a turbulent year for Notting Hill Carnival, so surely one of the calypsonians would rise to the challenge of turning it into calypso, and Muffinman didn’t disappoint with Reclaim Our Carnival. He rallied the audience with a beneficent smile, pointing out that anyone can play their part in the mas or pan. After all, he sang self-deprecatingly, “Look at me, I’m a fat, middle-aged, bald man” – a case of the calypsonian turning the satire on themselves!
‘The Grandfather of UK Calypso’ was an apt description for Lord Cloak. Rest in Peace is dedicated to the memory of his wife, who passed away recently (Soca News sends our condolences). In other hands the resulting calypso might have been either depressing or mawkishly sentimental, but Cloak presented it with style and a twinkle in his eye. His clear diction, timing and engagement with the audience should be studied by anyone aspiring to be a calypsonian.
There was even more calypso and uptempo groovy soca to enjoy from Clivus, Dave B, DeeVine, Master Link, Music Man, Rev B, Soca Kidd and Sunshine & Nadiva – too much, in fact, to squeeze into one review. However, we must mention the ageless Tobago Crusoe and De Alberto. The latter was standing in for booked T&T guest artiste Olatunji Yearwood and was on top form with Ram Goat and Harry for King. There was appreciation, too, for the members of the amazing ABC All Stars Band, who seemed to be enjoying themselves greatly, and to the (temporarily rearranged) Soca Divettes.
This show was just the start, so expect even better things at the Tent in the coming weeks.
The London Calypso Tent takes place at The Tabernacle, Powis Square, London W11 2AY, on Fridays 10, 17 (Groovy Soca competition) and 24; Monarch Finals Thursday 23 August. Doors open 7pm, showtime 7.45pm. Tickets £12 advance, £10 concs, £5 u16, available via eventbrite.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org