An Intriguing Soundtrack

Still from "Calypso"

Still from Tait’s Calypso (1955)

Margaret Tait was a Scottish experimental filmmaker and poet who made 32 short and one full-length films between the early 50s and the late 90s. In 1955 she completed a short called Calypso, a four-minute animation painted directly onto the celluloid. To short snippets of calypsos, mentos and steelband songs, frolicking stick figures and abstract patterns take and change shape. The film nicely captures the joyful tone of the music. Apart from its artistic qualities, what is in interesting is the soundtrack, or, to be specific, where Tait found it. All the featured recordings seem to have been sourced from live performances, or unique, alternative takes which cannot be found in the catalogues of the labels outputting West Indian music in the early fifties (e.g. Melodisc, Monogram, Sagomes). As far as educated guessing goes, the following snippets can be identified:

Fitzroy Coleman Band – “Uncle Joe”
Lord Beginner – “Cricket, Lovely Cricket”
unknown steelband – “Animal Concert in the Cemetery”
Hubert Porter – “Linstead Market”
Small Island Pride – “Trouble with Me Wife”
unknown group – “Sergeant Brown (Lè rèzon mé)”
Hubert Porter – “Mango Walk”

So where do these recordings come from? And, most importantly, where can they be found today? Of special interest is Small Island Pride’s number, the lyrics of which were published in a 1949 booklet of calypso songs. Listen and be intrigued!



This news clipping from May 1951 seems to hold the answer to the mystery. Apparently, the British Crown Film Unit visited the Caribbean islands around 1949-50, which resulted in a 25 mins long documentary released in 1951. Denis Preston of Melodisc was its musical director, which makes sense. According to the clipping, two of the “stars” (Reuter’s scare quotes, not mine) in the film are Small Island Pride and Lord Beginner. If they are indeed in the movie graphically as well as musically, it is somewhat of a sensation. It would be remarkably early footage of two of the major, local calypso stars. Whosoever gets hold of the Columbia Noir #2 Blu-ray box just released by Powerhouse Films Ltd. will find out—the film is part of the bonus material.

But for now, it seems fair to surmise that this is where Margaret got her soundtrack from.

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