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SIR GALBA- GRENADIAN CALYPSONIAN OF THE FORTIES AND FIFTIES

Caldwell Taylor

Trinidad's 1957 Carnival season opened and a Grenadian calypsonian by the name of "Bomber" (Clifton Ryan) was looking for work in a calypso tent. With some help from his contacts Bomber, who had arrived in Trinidad in June of 1956, soon got signed to the "B-List" of a tent whose MC was none other than Sir Galba (1919-1957) , a Grenadian -born calypsonian.

Sir Galba was very well- known in the calypso world. Indeed Galba (George McSween), Small Island Pride (Theophilius
Woods) and Zebra (Charles Harris) made up a formidable Grenadian trinity in the Trinidad's " calypso fraternity."  As a matter of fact, it is by no means extravagant to say that the three bards inspired, as well as paved the way for the Sparrow who arrived on the scene in 1954.

Talking about Sparrow's debut, there is a story about how the singer got his calypso moniker. According to that story, the
"Lil Fella"- that is what some of the old timers called him then - was on stage belting out a song when Lord Blaikie walked up
to Sir Galba and said: "Galba, that little Sparrow singing dey is ah Grenadian like you, you know".

And so, according to this yarn, the fledging calypsonian became "Little Sparrow". The "little" will be dropped as "Laddie"-
another nickname- grew bigger and bigger on stage.

What about George McSween? How did he get his sobriquet?

Frankly, we don't really know. He could well have named himself- or was named- for Servius Sulpicius Galba (3BC -AD 69),
who had a brief reign as Roman emperor. This is not beyond the realm of possibility, especially as there used to be quite a
preoccuption with Roman history in Grenada, in Trinidad, and in the rest of what was once called the British West Indies . In
Grenada, for instance, the History Mas character was fond of reciting Roman history on Carnival day.

History Mas "teacher": "Julius Caesar was a great Roman emperor"

History "student": "Encore"

History Mas teacher: "Caesar usit to baffle and confound his his cowardly enemies with his resplendent oratory".

Student: "Words".

Like Trinidad's "Midnight Robber", the History Mas speechified in polysyllabic words , irrespective of their dictionary
meanings.


Of course Sir Galba could have been named for the galba tree (Calophyllum Antillanum), which is known for its hardness and
durabilty. In George's time galba would have been the favourite wood for making spinning tops.

And back then spinning top games were quite popular; the key object of the game was for one player to use his spinning top to split or "buss " his opponent's.

Galba could also have been named for his skill with women: Ah fella who could "pitch galba" is skilled in delivering sexual pleasure to women.

If Galba's name is a problem, his Knighthood is certainly not, for we know for sure that the honour had not been conferred by
a British monarch: Galba presided over his own investiture, drawing the knightly sword upon his own back. Well, he was a
self-made man!

Sir Galba was doing his thing one night at the Ritz cinema at San Juan (Seh Wah), when news came to him that one of his "A-Listed" calypsonians was headed to the hospital in the wake of a vehicular accident.

The quick-thinking Galba left his backstage perch and hurried over to where the young Bomber was seated. Bomber noticed Sir Galba's maniacal strides and his belly started to boil.

Sir Galba drew himself right up to the Bomber:

"Boy", he said , "you could sing?"
"Well, Ah does try", was the Bomber's modest answer.

"You does try?" said Galba, as he sucked his teeth into an articulated stroooops.

"Well, padners", Galba continued, "Ah putin' you on stage just now and if you ent come good, doh ever come back here- You hear what Ah say?"Bomber squeezed out an affirmative grunt.

That "performance" was vintage Sir Galba.He was direct; he was known for putting business and pleasure into watertight
compartments, never letting one flow into the each other.

Galba, who hailed from the village of Birchgrove, did a number of shows in Grenada, in 1945: in St George's, Grenville
( at the Eastern Theatre), Birchgrove, and in Paradise at the Spencer Gordon Hall.

Sir Galba's 1945 shows featured Small Island Pride, Zebra, Pretender , Kitchener and Lord Ziegfield (Percy Simon).  Ziegfield (1920- ), who comes from Mayo village - once a Congo settlement - in Trinidad, fell in love in Grenada, with Thelma #, a beautiful young lady from La Digue.Soon thereafter, Thelma joined Ziggy in Trinidad and the couple tied the knot just
before migrating to the United States in 1966. In 1999 , Thelma and Ziggy returned to Grenada, putting up house in St Paul's.
Thelma has since passed on, but the old Ziggy soldiers on; he is truly the "last survivor."

Ziggy, old troubadour, gets pretty misty-eyed whenever he gets to talk about his old buddy Sir Galba and the good old days of calypso. He has described Galba as a "good singer and a good composer"

Sir Galba's compositions include the following numbers: "Irene", "Hooligans Hide Yourself", "Too Many Fires", and
"Put the Knife on the Shelf". The latter title has the feel of a premonitory note from the singer to himself: In 1957, Sir
Galba stabbed his girlfriend before taking his own life.  Sir Galba is remembered with much fondness by many calypso
fans, who say the bard's tragic end will never vitiate his calypso virtuosity.


IRENE- Composed and sung Sir Galba *

Christmas day Sir Galba was in plenty trouble A team invade me and they so unreasonable Drink up all me liquor , they didn't care a darn eat up all me cake and junk up all me ham Marry Xmas , Happy New Year they wishing me And the bold face people start up with this melody

CHORUS
Irene goodnight , Irene goodnight
And you should know when they finish sing that refrain
They leave to go and clean up another house again


The rebels march in me house very bright and early
Stamping and romping and getting on so unruly
Cocking up they foot all on top me furniture
Me dressing room was like the battlefield in Korea
Rapidly I noticed all the drinks disappearing
And the scamps is showing no signs of leaving
But what really break Sir Galba heart
When all my liquor finish then the moppers start
with goodnight Irene

CHORUS


Ah never see people so advantageous
Like they thought that every day was Xmas
They every carry way me empty bottles, too
They take me ham bone , they say to put in calaloo
When I see me ice water an' all pass in the brew
Ah say if Ah ent careful they clean me up too
And when they see nothing to come again
Then the criminals start with the sweet refrain

Ah fella snack me ham bone, Ah size up the louse
Ah say see how trouble does meet you in you own house
Like they take salts and Brooklax in preparation
Ah never bounce up such an invasion
Say what you like that day history was made
It was worse than the charge of the light brigade
And although I prayed they should not come back again
Ah can't help remembering that sweet refrain
Irene, goodnight Irene
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I will see you in my dreams.



* Note: Sir Galba sang "Irene" in the Young Brigade Tent during the 1951 Calypso campaigns. His peers in the 1951 edition of the Young Brigade included: Viking, Killer, Terror , Melody, Zebra, and Spoiler. That year The Spoiler had tent audiences in stitches with his "Ugly Girls with Lovely Names", and "Women Police in Trinidad.   "Irene" appears in a 1951 lyric booklet compiled by Elias Moses.

Galba's "Irene" was very clearly influenced by the American folk standard named "Goodbye Irene". A  Weavers version of the song made it to the Billboard Best Sellers chart in 1950, eventually climbing to the top. In the American Irene, the lyricist contemplates suicide. And it seems as if suicide was on Galba's mind way back in 1950. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.

# Thelma was the mother of the late Richard OP Holder.
 
Photo: Small Island Pride on the left,
Sparow in the middle, Galba on the right.
The message: "We are Grenadians".

June 22, 2008

             

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