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Bishop returns to Chocolate City
Before CDs, You Tube and I-Pods there were vinyl records, Rennie Bishop and 730 Radio Trinidad, a member of the TBS network. Bishop ruled the airwaves and parties back in the 70s and was a big drawing card wherever he played. Then, there were just two major radio stations and every Saturday evening listeners nationwide would religiously tune in to 730 Radio to hear Bishop, known as “the Pleasurable Piscean” and “The Iceman,” as he played the hottest music tracks of the era. He also hosted the extremely popular Projection 3, from 1 to 4 pm, Monday to Friday.
It was Bishop who christened Port-of-Spain Chocolate City, a monicker some still use when referring to the nation’s capital. I have very fond memories of being around Bishop and being his friend. I remember, while being manager of one of the city’s most popular discotheques (Rolls Royce International) we would hire Bishop to play. His parties were always blue riband affairs, attracting a large clientele. People would stand outside the venue on Abercromby Street and would remain outside until they saw Bishop’s vehicle arrive. Among other popular stomping grounds for Bishop were LM’s Disco in Arima and Perseverance Hall, Tunapuna.
Bishop’s arrival at most venues took on the appearance of a superstar making an entrance, the disc jockey sometimes mobbed by adoring fans. Like most superstars he walked with an entourage and assistants to whom he entrusted his precious collection of vinyl records. If memory serves me right, Bishop’s prefered “beverage” was Johnny Walker Black, even before that liquor became popular amongst local drinkers.
Radio listeners were pitched in two opposing camps as far as Bishop was concerned. You either hated him or loved him. On one side, detractors chided Bishop for not playing enough local music. It was the time of the advent of soca music by the likes of the late Ras Shorty I and Maestro, and Shadow, Ed Watson and Pelham Goddard. Some people thought that Bishop played too much “yankee music,” keeping the local fare in the cupboard. Bishop defended his preference of selections by saying that he played only “quality albums,” discs which were produced to mere perfection, a standard which the then local studios seemed not to master.
‘Rennie baddest man on the planet’
Love him or hate him, Bishop was an icon of the local disc jockey fraternity, his radio peers at the time being DJs like Phill “The Thrill” Simmons and Gerald Agostini, two DJs who championed local recordings at the time, especially soca and pan; Billy Reece, Jim Sutherland, Ian “D’Goose” Eligon and Glen “Thunder” Antoine. Outside radio land in the parties there were DJ Gabby, Big Man City, Mad Man Maddy, Nutcracker, Howie T, Nose the Tight Man, Dr Hyde and Papa Rocky.
Bishop left a dynasty of young men who rose to fame as competent disc jockeys, including Starchild, Teddy Mohammed, Ishmael D Demolition Man, Brian Regis and Mario Russell. Regis, current owner of the Light Recording in Newtown, said: “Rennie Bishop was the beginning. If it wasn’t for Rennie none of us would be here. He is the baddest man on the planet. His attitude, his work ethic, his professionalism; everything was on point with him. He is a perfectionist and we all learned from him. Back then, everybody wanted to be Rennie. I don’t think radio would be what it is today if it wasn’t for Rennie Bishop. I was a teenager when he played but I was technically into the science of mixing and he was a big influence on me.”
Russell, founder of Downtown Outlaws, said: “Rennie B created an impact back in the day and I used to assist him with his music. I am yet to see any other DJ do likewise. Up to this day we don’t see that kind of impact on people by a disc jockey. He created a stardom as a disc jockey and that was unique. He created much excitement by staging the Mastermix competition around 1983. The results of the Mastermix competition allowed DJs like Teddy Mohammed, Brian Regis and myself to be recognised island-wide and at Atlantis Disco in West Mall, and to flourish. This competition opened the doors for many of us DJs.”
Now a top remixer/producer, Lyndon “Razorship” Livingstone, another beneficiary of Bishop’s legacy, has some fond memories of Bishop as well: “I used to run home for Rennie B’s countdown,” recalled Livingstone. “Rennie B was the man who made me infected with music. At the time I worked at Rhyner’s on Prince Street.
Looking at Rennie’s chart you would have early access to the best music. Back then we were doing master mixes. Rennie had the pulse of the youth at the time as the generation back then was not really on soca music. There were few soca songs that we liked but we were into funk, soul and later hip hop.”
Having migrated to the United States during the ‘80s, Bishop continued to make an impact in New York’s radio land and soared to the top as the programme director of WWRL Radio. The station had a long rich relationship with the progressive black, and Caribbean communities, especially in New York, but in January switched its format to embark on an “all-Spanish” format.
Bishop is currently the Operations Manager and IT director of Access 1 Communications which own 14 radio stations in the US, inclusive of WWRL. Because of the format change he has assumed the role of Jack of all trades, dealing with the different stations. Beside making his mark as the foremost progenitor of Caribbean music and culture in New York Bishop spent the better part of four years with ATT doing IT and a long time doing talk radio.
‘Movement of people’
Conversing by phone this week, Bishop said: “I feel very fortunate to be returning home after four years. Every time I come to Trinidad one thing comes to my mind; I never did any thing on my own. There are so many people responsible for making me, me. Back then most people of colour didn’t have a face. They may have had a voice and needed to be thrust into the forefront. So, it wasn’t about Rennie Bishop as it was more a movement of people. It was a whole youth movement at the time. I am coming home for a collective, pomp, circumstance celebration. The more I live it’s the more that I have felt it is not about me.”
Bishop declined to make a comparison or judgment on the music and artistes of yesteryear and today. Instead he said: “Every generation has a revolution which the generation before them thinks is not a right revolution. No one has a right to opine on art. You can make an observation. You cannot say which is better or worse.
“When you make a judgment you cannot take the time to truly understand the man. I cannot make a judgment on the any direction of art. It is difficult to make a judgment of where art has evolved. There is nothing under the sun that is new.”
Bishop’s return is long overdue as fans continue to clamour for him to play on T&T soil, no doubt still savouring his more recent appearances at Sunday’s Cool. Bishop’s return to these shores will be celebrated tomorrow night at Prisons’ Sports Complex, Arouca, when Sounds of Kabuki and Prerogative host Generation of Soul.
Bishop will be joined by some the best “retro” disc jockeys in the land, including John Gill, Chris Boynes, Kabuki, Howie T, Brian Regis, Sensational Sammy, Signal 2 Noise and Dr Ross.
Bishop is scheduled to leave T&T on Sunday.
Rennie B Promotion Itinerary
Friday, July 18
6 am: interview with Paul Richards at CNMG, followed by interviews at 91.9 FM, 104.7FM CT Vibe 105.1FM; followed by street parade in Arima; and, Interview on Synergy Live TV.
Saturday, July 19
Interview at 91.9FM. Venue sound check at Prisons’ Sports Complex, Arouca. Two-hour performance at Generation of Soul party, inclusive of on stage gifts from Dufry.