(1954) Edric Connor & The Caribbeans – Songs from Jamaica
Argo issue numbers: RG 33, deleted November 1969
Collected and arranged by: Tom Murray, with the help of Louise Bennett
Sleeve notes: Hugh Paget
Album cover art: Olga Lehmann
Availability: through Amazon’s CreateSpace as CD and mp3 downloads
Edric Connor – vocals
The Caribbeans – Vernon Nesbeth, Frank Mannah, Allan and Harry Wilmot – backing vocals
Earl Inkman – piano
(click on one of the Bands and the tracks will play in a new window)
Band 1:Day Dah Light/Ada/Las Kean Fine/Hill an’ Gully
Band 2: Call Dinah/Wata Come a Me Y’eye/Ribber Ben Come Dung/Ball Gwan Roun’
Band 3:Mada Cantinny/Linstead Market/Sammy Dead Oh/Chi-Chi Bud Oh
Band 4: Cudelia Brown/Hol’ Yuh Han’/Ratta Madan-Law
Band 1: Rookoombine/Nobody’s Business/House an’ Lan’/Monkey Draw Bow
Band 2: Missa Ramgoat/Judy Drownded/Teacher Lick de Gal/Docta Bud/De Ribber Ben Come Dung
Band 3:Matty Walla-Lef’/Fan Me Solja Man/Dallas Gawn
Band 4: Hosanna/Fyah Bun/One Solja Man
I read somewhere that this album, recorded in just one day, planted the first seed of the subsequent boom in Jamaican music in Great Britain. Impossible to establish, but if there was an earlier LP of Jamaican folk music released in the UK, I’d like to hear about it.
(There were singles, though. Those pioneers of American bop, British jazz and calypso, Melodisc, brought out a 78 of Louise Bennett (of whom more below) singing Linstead Market and Bongo Man in late 1950. “She sings in a strange Jamaican patois,” said The Gramophone in its review.)
Better known for his acting career, Connor was the first black actor cast at the Shakespeare Memorial theatre in Stratford (1958) and appeared loads on film and TV (Moby Dick, Fire Down Below, West of Zanzibar, Danger Man, Destiny Rides Again, King of Kings).
(Right – Connor signs autographs for fans in 1955 while filming Moby Dick in Playa de las Canteras, Gran Canaria, holiday outpost of Franco’s Spain)
A regular contributor to BBC radio and television programmes from the year he arrived from Trinidad (1944), Connor was starring in the London musical Calypso when the Windrush arrived in 1948 with Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner aboard.
Historic steel band visit
In 1951 it was Connor who arranged for the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra (TASPO) to sail over from Trinidad and appear at the Festival of Britain. Made up of the top steel pan players of the time (among them Ellie Mannette, Sterling Betancourt and Philmore ‘Boots’ Davidson), TASPO was the first steel band to appear in Britain.
The historic visit, which included performances at Mecca ballrooms in Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow and Newcastle, has been described as “the most important event in the history of the Steel Pan”.
“It gave the entire country (Trinidad) immense pride, led to the Steel Pan instrument being accepted as a national treasure, and gave a new respect and dignity to the Steel Pan development,” says an article on the Commonwealth Arts website.
For a full account of the tour – during which the band seem to have had Connor’s flat at their disposal – see this article on the Pan-Jumbie website.
Led to popularity of Calypso
By the time this album was issued Connor’s voice must have been one of the most familiar Caribbean voices in Britain (he’d appeared regularly in such BBC radio programmes as Traveler’s Tales, Calling the West Indies and Serenade in Sepia).
“It was he who first made us aware of the distinctive qualities of Caribbean negro music as opposed to American, which eventually led to the popularity of calypso,” wrote Pat Shaw in an obituary of Connor published in the English Folk Dance and Song Society’s Folk Song Journal in 1969.
Connor was a member of the EFDSS for a short time, was always interested in its work and sympathetic to its aims and objectives, Shaw noted.
“He will be remembered by many people for different things,” wrote Shaw, “by most of us in the EFDSS for his performances of Trinidadian folk songs, the sincerity of The Lord’s Prayer or Ogoun Belele, the pathos of the cante-fable Lim, the humour of many of his calypsos – it is these that will linger on in the memory.”
(thanks to the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library for sending me a copy of the obituary).
Here’s Connor caught by Pathé in 1947 (around the time he was co-presenting the BBC’s Serenade in Sepia with contralto Evelyn Dove) singing the American prison song Water Boy.
In the wake of the Nottingham and Notting Hill race riots of 1958, it was Connor to whom Claudia Jones turned to help organise a Trinidad-style carnival “to wash the taste out of our mouths”.
Held at St Pancras Town Hall on 30th January 1959, the packed event was the precursor to the Notting Hill Carnival. Connor arranged for the BBC to broadcast a live half-hour glimpse of the carnival, which featured the crowning of the Carnival Queen and the cabaret portion of the evening.
In the line-up were Connor, The Southlanders, The Sepia Serenaders, David Berahzer’s Malimba Dancers, The Mighty Terror, the Trinidad Hummingbirds steelband, Cleo Laine, Boscoe Holder and guitarist Fitzroy Coleman.
This album has been described as a virtual road-map for Harry Belafonte’s massively succesful LPs “Calypso ” and “Songs of the Caribbean”. Not just because the track Day Dah Light reappeared as The Banana Boat Song in 1957 and was a hit for Belafonte, Shirley Bassey and The Tarriers.
If the album was a road map for Belafonte, then that may be down to the directions given by Louise Bennett (Miss Lou), who helped Connor with this LP (and Belafonte with his) as a sort of folk-lore consultant. She brought out her own album of Jamaican Folk Songs on Folkways in 1954 (including five of the same songs) and much later was a source of inspiration for the ‘Jamaican dialect verse’ of Linton Kwesi Johnson.
Lost in time and space
Together with his wife Pearl, Connor fought hard to promote African Caribbean arts in the UK.
“Edric was looked upon as a father figure in Britain’s black community,” Pearl Connor-Mogotsi recalled. “He moved into this country and took every opportunity he had to make a lasting mark so that those who came after him would know that it was possible…In Britain there is no record of the contribution we have made. Edric did good work, but it is lost in time and space…”
“I was a student of Edric Connor when he asked me to form a vocal backing quartet for an album he was scheduled to record,” recalls Vernon Nesbeth of the Caribbeans.
“I got the fellows, did the recording backing Edric successfully, and we called ourselves The Caribbeans. The success of that album inspired a second album, Songs from Trinidad, by which time we had changed our name to The Southlanders. The two albums were recorded in a day each.
“We were informed that the Queen, our Queen Elizabeth, has copies of both albums in her collection, which made us very pleased.”
A fuller version of the story behind the Caribbeans/Southlanders vocal harmony group in a later post, but, as a footnote here, one of them, Harry Wilmot, later had a son called Gary…
Many thanks to Vernon Nesbeth for his memories and the photo of the Caribbeans/Southlanders above – their first promo pic.
“The great talents in the lower strata”
Before he left Trinidad for the UK (some say he was encouraged to leave), Connor was a folk song collector and public speaker on West Indian folk music, who was determined to show high society “the great talents to be found in the lower strata of the island.” A volume of songs he collected in Trinidad was published by the Oxford University Press.
Tom Murray, who helped compile and arrange these songs, had two volumes of Jamaican folk songs published by the Oxford University Press – the first, with a foreword by Hugh Paget, in 1952, Folk Songs of Jamaica.
As part of Argo’s deal with the US label Westminster, the album was released in the USA in 1956. Thanks to the brilliant mentomusic site for the info and the cover scan.