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Monday, December 09, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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God (who is a Trini) gave rock ‘n’ roll to you
“Rock ‘n’ roll in your --------!!” shouts Gary Hector, lead singer of Jointpop, to an empty dancefloor. Not half empty. Empty. Save for a few regulars propping up the bar and a few obese people eating chicken wings in a booth.
We’re at Carnival City in Gulf City mall, San Fernando. A modern casino complex. Digital advertising screens rotate ads for the upcoming Ladies Night.
It’s not the kind of venue veteran rock groups play. It’s the kind of venue rammed every Friday with teenagers downing Jägerbombs, puking on their own shoes at 3 am.
A 40-something chubby woman walks past in a sequined top reflecting the disco lights. She doesn’t even look at the stage. She’s seeks the sanctuary of the bathrooms, where the hand dryers will drown out the noise.
A kid walks past trousers jacked high, wearing a tie. He looks Tobagonian. Surely he cannot be a fan. The only place I can imagine being less keen on rock ‘n’ roll than Trinidad is Tobago.
“Rock and roll in your ---------?” I repeat to my friend. “Yeah, that’s something he used to say on stage with his old band, Oddfellows Local. He still says it occasionally.”
“Why? Is he doing a Johnny Rotten thing?”
“Maybe. I couldn’t say.”
We turn back to the stage. Guitarist Damon Homer, wearing what can only be described as a tea cosy on his head, is shredding a solo. (“Shredding,” for non rock’n’roll enthusiasts, is the equivalent of saying “bussing out”, “killin’ it”...) I wonder if he changed his name to sound more “heavy metal.”
With a name like that he could be a session guitarist for Black Sabbath or a satan worshipping band of the 1970s.
“I don’t think so, I went to school with him, and that was his name then,” says my friend.
“Oh,” I say, disappointed. “What school was that?”
“Fatima,” he says.
“Phil Hill, on keyboards. That’s made up, surely?”
“You would think so! But no…”
The band kicks into Let’s Pray (For Rock N Roll), a homage to Kiss’s God Gave Rock’N’Roll To You, but with scathing lyrics.
“Let’s pray Kid Rock never plays another song,” sings Hector. I can’t resist an involuntary whoop. People turn to look at me. Why are they looking at me, I think, when my friend has been jumping about like a kid at his first gig, singing every word?
He’s their No 1 fan. No 1 of about nine, judging by the following they’ve brought. Their fan base is mostly Indian. Indians, it seems, are more into Trini rock than Africans.
My friend owns all of their records and never misses a gig. Sad? Not really. If I was from Trinidad I’d be a big fan of this band. I’m steeped in rock history. After hearing the Beatles as a child followed by The Smiths and Nirvana I was hooked for life.
But where do Jointpop sit in the pantheon of Trini rock? By the sounds of it they plough a lonely furrow.
In the 90s rock music experienced something of a renaissance, now there are few rockers left. Jointpop play an annual Christmas show in Port-of-Spain that attracts bigger crowds.
Every year my friend hopes they will cover The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York but it never happens.
“They need a female vocalist to do Kirsty MacColl’s parts,” I say. “Maybe they could get Destra?” I’m half-joking but my friend thinks it’s possible. Phil Hill used to play in her band. Apparently Destra once told Gary, “Rock man, I want to do a song with you.”
During the opening track I say, “Jointpop are Trinidad’s answer to The Levellers.” (The band, not Oliver Cromwell’s parliamentarian army...)
But there are other influences, including reggae and kaiso. Hector’s lyrical references are as obscure to Trini ears as kaiso lyrics are to my British ears.
Jointpop are a talented band. Hector, nearly 50, puts a lot of thought into his words and music. They’re never going to sell out the Royal Albert Hall but in another era in another country they would have made a killing playing weddings and bar mitzvahs.
The set comes to and end. It’s been a surreal Spinal Tap type experience.
But they have won over the locals who cheer them off stage. And here was I thinking they would clear the room with their opening chords.
Time for an encore? Nope. The DJ is already in the booth. Soca comes on. Dry ice fills the dancefloor.
One of the obese women tears herself away from the chicken wings and waddles on to the dance floor clapping her hands.
The locals are back in their comfort zone. Briefly and somewhat inadvertently they were handed the gift of rock. Amen to that.
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