of the week

A recent round in one of my quizzes sparked this week’s suggestion. I did a round of reggae-influenced songs that were not reggae nor by black artists, but Paul Simon’s Mother and Child Reunion, Led Zeppelin’s Dy’er Mak’er, 10cc’s Dreadlock Holiday and most songs by the Police are all good examples. UB40 are not! One of the most interesting, but not good, I hasten to add is Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer by Neil Diamond. Why did a nice Jewish boy sing a typical Christmas song? But typical is the key word for this week’s suggestion which is Barbados by Typically Tropical, who are the perfect example of a true one hit wonder.

In this day and age, you would probably not get away with making a song like this even though it is completely innocent. I mean, a white man imitating a West Indian accent, really! Even as long ago as 1999 when the Vengaboys based their chart topper, We’re Going To Ibiza, around it, no one batted an eyelid.

In the Vengaboys version, it’s Captain Kim making the welcoming announcement followed by, ‘After take-off we’ll pump up the sound system’. The second verse begins with, ‘Don’t want to be a bus driver all my life’ which is reference to the original which  says, ‘I don’t wanna be a bus driver all my life I’ve seen too much of Brixton town in the night’ an announcement made by, Captain Tobias Willcock (aka Max West) who was, ‘Welcoming you aboard Coconut Airways Flight three-seven-two to Bridgetown’. So, in a nutshell, this story is about a London bus driver who has had enough of his mundane job and wants to get away from it all to somewhere warm and tropical. More importantly, he went to see his girlfriend called Mary Jane, who many at the time believed it to be a reference to marijuana.

Typically Tropical were Max West and Jeff Calvert, Max was part of the band Quasar and he met Jeff Calvert who knew the lead singer and would watch them rehearse. Jeff worked with his father at Morgan Studios and they thought they would write some songs and record them when nobody else was around. Jeff went on holiday to Barbados and he liked it so much that they soon had the idea for a song. They recorded the first version at Morgan using instruments that were lying around from other band’s sessions and various backing tracks they found.

The Studio’s owner, David Howell, launched his own Gull records and their first signing was Judas Priest and their debut album, Rocka Rolla, was the label’s first release. It sold poorly and it was decided that a different producer would help and so Max and Jeff were assigned which they weren’t too happy about, but it worked out well for them and the band invited them to produce their next album, Sad Wings Of Destiny, two years later.

West and Calvert took their first attempt of Barbados to the label who liked it but wanted to hear more of their repertoire before offering them a contract. They were given £1,500 to finish Barbados, which they did with proper musicians that included Chris Spedding on guitar, Blue Mink’s Roger Coulam on keyboards and Clem Cattini on drums. They also cut the B-side, Sandy and recorded a new version of a track called Ghost Song which they previously recorded at Mickie Most’s RAK studio. Barbados was ready in November 1974, but the label thought it best to wait until summer before they released it. The cod reggae record was an instant hit and the duo, to their surprise, were invited on Top Of The Pops, but they felt that even with backing musicians, they could not tour.

Barbados spent a week at number one in the summer of 1975 but further releases eluded them. They attempted to released Ghost Song for the Christmas market, but that, and the follow-up singles, Rocket Now and Barbados Sky, failed to chart. Possibly the change of name to Calvert & West didn’t help. They tried for a summer hit in 1976 with Everybody Plays the Fool and then Jubilee for The Queen’s Silver anniversary in 1977 but to no avail. According to one of the engineers on the session who can be heard singing the ‘whoas’, those were sampled in the Vengaboys cover meaning we can be heard on two UK number one hits.

In 1978, Jeff Calvert and Max West, under his real name, Geraint Hughes penned another top 10 hit, which became the debut hit for Sarah Brightman when I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper reached number six.

In more recent time, West continued producing and writing library music whilst Jeff ran his own recorded studio and also became an experienced pilot, but not with Coconut Airways.