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Like Dr Gordon Rohlehr and Louis Regis, Rudy Ottley has dedicated his skills to writing books on Trinidad and Tobago culture, particularly on calypso. The Revue at 50 is Ottley’s sixth publication and is a “must have” book. The 76-page book comprehensively documents the birth and life span of the Calypso Revue tent, from its genesis in 1963 to current time.
The Revue at 50 is a thing of beauty—from its first photographs (Revue manager Carl “Jazzy” Pantin and Lord Kitchener) to its final 13 pages (compilation of newspaper clippings, dating back to the ’70s).
The book’s opening pages comprise glowing testimonials by a number of luminaries, inclusive of Minister of Housing, Land and Marine Affairs Roodal Moonilal, Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (Tuco) president Lutalo Masimba (Bro Resistance) and current Revue manager Michael Osuna (Sugar Aloes), and a preface by Dr Hollis Liverpool (Mighty Chalkdust), professor of Calypso Arts, at the Academy of Arts, Letters, Culture and Public Affairs at the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT).
Trinidad Publishing Company is featured predominantly in the book, with its defunct Evening News publication being a prime source of archival information for the author. Chapter one deals with the birth of the Revue in 1963 as was documented by the March 8, 1963 edition of the Evening News. It cites Leslie Samaroo’s announcement of his intention to open a new calypso tent (Calypso Review) for the Carnival of 1964.
The newspaper report named Lord Melody, Nap Hepburn, Lord Blakie, King Fighter, Lord Superior, Mighty Bomber and Lord Shortie (sic) amongst the tent’s first singers.
Circa 1964-1969 of the tent’s history is titled “The Initial Challenges and Issues” (of the Revue). Spread over ten pages, it includes some significant moments of the Review like Samaroo asking the Carnival Development Committee (CDC) for compensation for the tent for the non-availability of Review singers—Lord Kitchener, Lord Blakie, Mighty Bomber and Nap Hepburn—chosen for the Dimanche Gras Calypso King final.
The Guardian newspaper of February 5, 1964 reported that CDC head Senator (Ronnie) Williams refused to “buy out” the Review and Samaroo retorted that the Review would hold its own Calypso King contest on Carnival Sunday night, with the winner receiving a motor car. Kitchener openly defied the proposed Samaroo boycott and is quoted in the Evening News as saying, “we are taking part in the competition no matter what happens.”
Samaroo subsequently withdrew his request of ‘his’ calypsonians and the records will show that the Review’s Mighty Bomber was crowned the 1964 Calypso King.
‘Kitchener declared soca is calypso’
It was only in 1969, six years after its inception, that the calypso tent changed its name from Review to The Calypso REVUE Tent. The first icon to be honoured at this tent was pan innovator/icon Anthony Williams, leader of Pan Am North Stars, National Panorama champion of 1963 and 1964.
“The Pulsating Seventies...Calypso versus Soca” is the title for the 1970-1979 decade. Located at the NUGFW Hall at 150 Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain. In 1971, the top priced ticket for admission—to hear the likes of Lord Kitchener, Mighty Stalin, Lord Relator, Bro Valentino, Brigo, Maestro, Explainer, All Rounder, Poser and others—was four dollars.
Seven years later, 1978, the tent was pitched at the Princess Building Grounds and its programme was in memory of Maestro, tragically killed in a vehicular accident the preceding Independence Day. The stars that year included Lord Kitchener, Duke, Scrunter, Short Pants, Poser, Merchant, Mighty Terror, Calypso Princess, Organiser and Antigua’s Swallow.
In 1978, with the furore over the new soca genre of calypso reaching boiling point, Lord Kitchener created what many considered to be ‘the hottest soca song of the season,’ the immortal Sugar Bum Bum. On Wednesday, January 4, 1978, on the front page of the Evening News, Lord Kitchener, in an interview with Peter Harper, declared: “Soca is calypso.”
The period 1980-1989 is headlined “The Re-engineering Eighties.” It is a short but comprehensive four-page stewardship of the Revue under the astute leadership of Lord Kitchener. With the Princess Building destroyed by fire the preceding year, for Carnival 1980 the Revue went house-hunting once more, settling in at Teachers’ Training College.
Its cast that year included Duke, Melody, Poser, Singing Sandra, Scrunter, Creole, Mudada, Saga, Prince, Princess and many others. With Count Robin as the tent’s emcee, musical accompaniment was by the much revered Clive Bradley and his Calypso Band Makers.
The following year, the Revue moved again, this time to the Port Services Club on Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain.
Revue goes to Arima
The season opened in bacchanal after a falling out with Calypso Spektakula bosses, the Martineau brothers. Not only did Kitchener withdraw his singers from the much looked forward to clash of the tents, but decided to open the tent’s calypso season in Arima.
The dozen pages that tell of 1990-2000, headed “The Grand Master’s Last Stand,” are perhaps one of the most poignant chapters of the book. Thirteen pages in length, it opens with the 1990 National Calypso Monarch final results which demoted Sugar Aloes from third place to fifth.
This chapter also tells of Lord Kitchener making appearances at many of the “soca fetes” in 1994, not in his traditional formal suits but in ‘soca clothing,’ a wardrobe adjustment which “disgusted” veteran scribe Lennox Grant who penned on Sunday, Janaury 30, 1994, “Grandmaster as pappyshow.”
The Calypso Revue celebrated its 30th anniversary in 1998 in style, with a smidgen of controversy. Lord Kitchener vehemently protested the list of semifinalists chosen for that year’s national Calypso Monarch competition because of the omission of Cro Cro and Pink Panther. He also asked for the return of the control of the competition to the National Carnival Commission (NCC), instead of under Tuco’s management.
A main critic to Kitchener’s wishes that year was calypsonian Gypsy. Cro Cro, finally included among the semifinalists, is quoted in the newspaper of February 16, 1998, as saying: “Thank God twice and thank Kitchener once.”
The 1990-2000 chapter ends on a sad note as in 1999 Lord Kitchener fell ill, to the point of not being able to attend the tent’s auditions. The tent was plunged into abject gloom and sadness when, on Friday, February 11, 2000, at 10.45 am Lord Kitchener died at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, at the age of 78.
“The Revue in the 21st Century,” covering 2001-2011, marks the climax of Ottley’s Revue saga. The book’s final two chapters pay tribute to the tent’s management, its musicians and chorus singers.
Who is ottley?
Rudolph Ottley is the manager and events co-ordinator of the Divas Calypso Cabaret International, an organisation he started in 2004 and which is home to the only all-female calypso tent in the land. Ottley was the marketing manager of Tuco from 1998-2002, and assistant manager of Kaiso House calypso tent.
Whilst at Tuco, he produced and co-ordinated many events, including Tuco’s Top 50 Calypsonians of the 20th Century Awards Ceremony, held at Hilton Trinidad in January 2000, and the calypso competition—“Youth and Aids”—in the Caribbean, the first calypso competition of its kind whereby the calypso art form was used as a change agent utilising calypso music as the vehicle to inform the youths of the region about the scourge of Aids.