In times before R&B, reggae, or even ska, the soundtrack of black Britain was calypso. Far from being imported from the Caribbean into newly-arrived immigrant communities, this music became a genuine hybrid of the experiences of and influences on people who hailed from Trinidad and London in equal measure.
Some of the Caribbean’s greatest entertainers of the time were busy composing songs about travelling on the tube, the Queen’s coronation (Young Tiger – he was there, don’t you know) and, needless to say, the British weather.
Calypso offered a varied but always exciting and frequently hilarious commentary on 1950s London life, spiced up with political asides about the relationship between the immigrants and the indigenous population of the capital. It is music that couldn’t have been made anywhere else.
Honest Jon’s, for their second release, have dug up recordings by immigrants with imperial-sounding names like Lord Kitchener, Lord Beginner and The Lion and put them together on what amounts to a sample of album of times gone by. And if your only experience of this easy-going, sunkissed music is plodding along behind a float at the Notting Hill Carnival, this is a record that suggests you’ve been missing out.
What we find here – and it is a real find – is an album that is at once an historical documentary and an idiosyncratic prelude to summer. You’ll find out as much about life in the mother country in those days in this record as you could from any textbook. But of course it is far more fun to listen to Kitchener and co’s laid back beats than to read about such things. Let’s hope this is only the beginning of a new appreciation for this music.