Comment - No 17
Prior to publication, however, we would like to feel that we had covered as many potential sources as possible. To that end, Bill Dean-Myatt has constructed a website which gives details of those issues for which we lack data. I urge you, if you have any Beltona discs, catalogues, or relevant unpublished data please to make contact. Of course, we will acknowledge all contributors in any published work.
Keith Chandler - 12.3.00
In the meantime this website is being used to show more than 20 photographs of this year's event.
Aldwyn Roberts, the calypsonian Lord Kitchener, had a profound effect on the development and popularity of Trinidad's national music. Son of a blacksmith he began singing at an early age - a life-long speech impediment did not affect his vocalising. His career commenced in Arima, his hometown, but it was not until the early years of the Second World War that he changed his sobriquet 'Arima Champion', after moving to the island's capital Port-of-Spain. From this point his rise was meteoric.
By the Carnival of 1946 Kitch's Jump In The Line, Chinese Memorial, Steel Band and Tie-Tongue Mopsy were four of the most popular calypsos of the season. Teaming with Lord Beginner (Egbert Moore, an older singer), they entertained Harry Truman, when the US President visited Trinidad in 1947. The two left for a Caribbean tour and were performing in cabaret in Jamaica when the Empire Windrush sailed for England in 1948. They took the boat.
On arrival, Kitch joined fellow musicians and sang in south London pubs, cutting his first known records for Humming Bird, in late 1948. It was Nora, an archetypal migrant lament, and Underground Train - recorded for EMI-Parlophone in 1950 - which made his name in Britain. By then he was featured in London clubs, mixing saucy and sentimental calypsos, with topical themes. At the West Indian cricket victory at Lords in 1950, he led a band of followers on to the pitch and from St John's Wood to the Eros at Piccadilly. His vitality contributed greatly to the self-esteem of West Indian migrants to Britain in this period.
Domiciled in Manchester after his marriage to Elsie Lines in 1953, Kitchener continued to record: singing of sporting heroes - black boxers, cricketers, the Manchester United football team (pre Munich) - as well as West Indian topics and affairs of the heart. His international appeal included West Africa, alongside Britain, the United States and the Caribbean: indeed, his Nigerian Registration (1955) and Birth of Ghana (1956) were made expressly for Africa.
A visit to the United States in 1957 was unsuccessful and it was not until Kitchener returned for the Carnival of 1962 that his Trinidad fortunes revived. Sung by parading bands, his road march for 1963, The Road To Walk On Carnival Day, swept the board, and signals his rivalry with the Mighty Sparrow (Slinger Francisco), who had risen to prominence in Kitch's absence. The competition between them animated the newly independent island, with Kitchener becoming 'road march king' on ten occasions until 1976 (Flag Woman). They then ceased competing, but Sparrow did not sustain such consistency as 'calypso monarch'.
Kitch's affinity for the steel band remains a key to his music, Sweet Pan (1984), Pan In A Minor (1987), Iron Man (1990) and The Bees Melody (1992) are major recent contributions. He was composing new calypsos and singing until the end of his life. By this, and a creativity linked with earlier traditions Kitchener's role in popularising and sustaining the calypso is unsurpassed.
He separated from Elsie Lines in 1968 and married twice more in Trinidad.
Lord Kitchener, a legendary Caribbean calypso artist who carried the music of his native Trinidad and Tobago to international acclaim, died on Friday at age 77. A hospital official at the Eric Williams Medical Complex said Kitchener, whose real name was Aldwyn Roberts, succumbed to a severe infection brought on by a blood disorder, and organ failure.
The son of a blacksmith in the eastern Trinidad town of Arima, Kitchener became an international star of calypso, Trinidad's native musical style. Calypso, which is related to reggae, often has satirical or political lyrics. In Arima, Kitchener was first hired to sing calypso for 12 cents but he went on to performances in England after World War II with calypso artists Lion, Atilla and Growling Tiger.
Nicknamed 'Stringbean' for his lanky physique, Kitchener was a prolific writer and singer whose greatest hits included: Green Fig Man, Chinee Never Had a VJ Day, The Beat of the Steelband, Tribute to Spree Simon, Pan in Harmony ...
A few years ago fans demanded that Kitchener be honored with the highest award of his homeland, the Trinity Cross, for his contribution to culture. Angry that he was given a lesser award, some fans raised money for a stone statue by artist Pat Chu Foon. The work, featuring the legendary calypso artist in his trademark jacket, tie and fedora, stands in the western township outside the Trinidad and Tobago capital, Port of Spain. "I hope we will now consider a Trinity Cross for him'' said Finance Minister Brian Kuei Tung, a Kitchener fan. "It's a pity he has not achieved the Bob Marley-type acclaim internationally. He is a true son of the soil.''
Gordon tells a lot of his life story in the Interview elsewhere on this site, so I do not propose to go over that again here. Rather, I would like to give some impressions of this very special person.
The twentieth century revealed a sizeable number of traditional singers in Sussex. Gordon did not fit easily into the mould of many of the others. When collectors sought singers, especially in the upsurge of interest in the 1950s, they would seek out those who had a local reputation in the various rural singing pubs. Gordon very rarely sang in pubs until the days when he became a regular face in Sussex folk clubs. Not that he didn't know of this pub-singing scene; "I've sat through many a pub sing-song but I haven't contributed." How could a man like Gordon with so many fine songs manage to keep quiet in those circumstances? In many evenings in singing company with Gordon, it became obvious that he was fascinated by the songs and the singers and genuinely moved by what he considered good performances. He was often content just to listen. Perhaps he was also influenced by his mother, Mab's opinion - he deferred to her in so many ways - that his singing voice sounded like 'a pig chewing cinders'. Gordon did most of his singing at the parties that involved his extended family where there were a large number of singers in a number of different styles.
This meant that Gordon discovered the collectors and the folk scene, not the other way around. The first time that I heard him stands out in my memory. It was at the Chichester folk club in the days when it met at The Railway. I had noticed the huge man who had stood at the back talking to nobody, but taking a great interest in what was going on, when the compere called on him to offer a song. No reply, yes or no, just a long gap as Gordon seemed to hunch himself up, lean against the wall, screw his eyes closed and then launch into General Wolfe. Listening to him that first time was not an easy experience. It was like being hit by an emotional sledgehammer, such was the power and poignancy of his performance.
His importance was very soon realised. Gordon was invited to attend and appear as guest singer at events all over the area and at festival events nationally. This brought him a great deal of respect that at times bordered on adulation that didn't sit easily with this essentially rather shy man. He seemed quite diffident about starting conversations with people he had not spoken to before, but once that ice was broken, there was no stopping him. Conversations outside on the pavement at the end of a singing evening could regularly go on for an hour or so. Then Gordon might suggest an all-night café where the subject might develop. Occasionally, he would divulge the reasons for these discursive marathons; he would rather happily talk the night away than sit in insomniac gloom in an armchair at home.
The diffidence (I'm not sure that this is the right word, but I simply cannot think of one that fits better) extended to making arrangements. When you phoned Gordon to ask him to appear somewhere, the answer you wanted but never got was "Yes". Instead, there would be a variety of "Well, you know what I'm like with arrangements, we'll have to talk about it nearer the time", "That sounds all right, but, I never keep a diary, Vic, so we'll just have to see", or "You don't want an old bugger like me, you've got plenty of fine young singers at your club". And so on. It became my practice and advice to others to make a tentative understanding with Gordon and then make sure that Jim Ward knew the details and then he would pop round a few days before and make travelling arrangements. Thank you, Jim!
Once he was in sitú in a singing venue, he was a mesmeric delight. He gave many gripping performances, but the one that I saw that I shall remember for the rest of my days, was at Bob Copper's 80th birthday party. A week or so before, Gordon had secretly gone to see John Copper to entice out of him snippets, details, family anecdotes, etc. about Bob that had not appeared in any of Bob's books. John willingly supplied these and Gordon went to work to create an epic poem/song, which he duly brought to the celebration. When Gordon was called on to sing, he came to the front with a clipboard with a wad of papers attached. Poor old Bob! He had to sit there at the front whilst all the embarrassing moments of his life came back to him - the fishing trip to Ireland; Bob relieving himself over the side of the boat and a gust of wind bringing his offerings back to him. Laughter mounted on laughter as Gordon warmed to his task. About twenty minutes into the enduring piece, Gordon caused the greatest laugh of all by flipping over a whole sheaf of papers, "I think we might have to skip a bit of this". In the end, however, Gordon had turned his piece into a magnificent tribute.
The long conversations with Gordon would not go very far without mention of his mother, Mabs. He never spoke about her in any other way but in utter admiration. She had been the source of many of his songs; Gordon claimed that there were many that he had not got around to learning. She approached life full of vigour even in her advancing years. It seemed to me that he was never the same man after she died. Certainly, he did not go out so much. It was thought that he might take some time to grieve then we would start to see his face regularly again, but this was not to be the case.
How much of this was to do with the onset of his terminal disease, we may not know. Gordon was quite tight-lipped about it. When he was in hospital, he did have a few visitors, but let it be known that there wasn't anybody he really wanted to see. He thought that the sight of his much-reduced figure would upset his friends and admirers, existing on a respirator. Eventually, it became clear that he was dying and he was asked what funeral arrangements he would like. Gordon maintained his irreverent humour up to the last. He replied that he thought the best thing would be to poke a mighty rocket up his arse and let it off.
As it transpired, Gordon was buried at Slaugham church. There was a large turnout of family, friends and a good representation of the people he had met in his public singing years. Bob Copper was able to repay the compliments Gordon had bestowed on him by contributing The Bonny Bunch of Roses to the funeral service.
Readers of these pages are always going to be grieved by the loss of an important traditional singer, but Gordon's importance went way beyond that. It was not just that he had a huge repertoire of very full versions of fine traditional songs and ballads which he delivered in a style that was full of power and zest. He was very knowledgeable about the songs and ballads and would discuss different versions, different ideas of their origins. The wonderful repertoire was available to him through his family, but this very musical family had access to a variety of musical styles and traditions from musical hall to opera. It was clearly the tradition that had the most importance for him. Unlike many English traditional singers who sing what they have immediately received, Gordon was able to contextualise the importance of his songs against other traditions. He was familiar with a whole range of song traditions and an expert on several. He was fascinating on the subject of Fado, for example. But more than this, he was one of those seminal figures that enable the tradition to develop. One trait that Gordon shared with the great Scots traveller singer, Davy Stewart was that song versions were never fixed in his singing. New verses would appear, old ones would change, two songs or ballads might find themselves combined. Gordon's approach to singing has left a legacy that it will take even the committed musicologist years to fully understand and explain.
Bob Copper received an honorary degree of Master of Arts at a graduation ceremony at the University of Sussex on Thursday 27th January, 2000. Bob, 85, received the award from Lord Attenborough, Chancellor of the University, for 'services to country life, including the collection and singing of old songs handed down from father to son through the centuries', together with his authorship of several books. The Copper family can trace their roots back to 1593 with over four centuries in and around Rottingdean, Sussex.
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