Sparrow as he entertained at Queens Hall
More, Sparrow, More
AMONG calypso's greats, few have spent as much time on stage as The Mighty Sparrow certainly, even fewer have stomped the Queen's Hall space with similar frequency.
Given a slow-to-heal ankle injury, which visibly curtailed his ability to apply the level of theatre to which we had become accustomed, Thursday night's performance by the Mighty Sparrow was somewhat subdued but to the majority, what he did offer seemed quite enough.
In what was the first of four successive nights of celebrating his 70th birthday (which occurred yesterday), Sparrow was joined on the tastefully decorated Queen's Hall stage by national junior calypso monarch Shalleika Hazel, reigning road march king Shurwayne Winchester and the resilient Lord Nelson, in what Spektakula Promotions originally plugged as four generations of calypso to mark the occasion.
Eventually, only three generations appeared, David Rudder having been replaced by Nelson who, it is safe to say, does not belong to an age group sufficiently distinguishable from Sparrow's league. No reason was supplied for the switch but Nelson successfully erased any suggestion of a value variation with a memorable performance, for which he received an encore. Nor did we hear any comment on the absence of Prime Minister Patrick Manning, under whose patronage the show was being staged.
In offering birthday greetings to Sparrow, Culture Minister Joan Yuille-Williams, whose office was one of the nights sponsors, told of an experience at the UN, when Secretary General Kofi Annan hurried from official duties to hear Sparrow who was singing there that day as part of a cast of a Tsunami relief concert, in outlining the calypsonian's global reach.
Also in the house were Trade Minister Ken Valley and Junior Culture Minister Eddie Hart, Port of Spain Minister Murchinson Brown, Police Commissioner Trevor Paul, former Finance Minister Selby Wilson, Queen's Hall chairman Astra da Costa, Director of Culture Finbar Ryan, Atlantic LNG chairman John Andrews, Powergen CEO Garth Chatoor, NCC deputy chairman Ainsworth Mohammed, former Pan Trinbago vice president Keith Byer, and former president Owen Serrette, comedian Glen Davis, rapso artiste Brother Resistance and Sparrow's long time confidant Mackie Scott.
Before an audience that never crossed the five hundred mark, the show began some 12 minutes after the advertised 8pm start time, with Nadia Batson doing the national anthem before MC Tommy Joseph opened the musical programme. Sparrow was first up, wearing a cream suit with widely spaced pinstripes over a red polo-shirt advertising Florida. He opened with "Lend a Hand", a unity song deliberately positioned to set the tone for the evening.
Hazell, the third member of her family to win the national junior monarch title, that night dressed in floor length white lace gown, rendered Sparrow's "A Mother's Love" before doing her 2005 winning song, "Barking Beef", in which she repeated the second verse unduly, apparently without recognizing the error.
Joseph's joke about the World Trade Center, which followed would probably have gotten more laughs were it delivered on a day other that one which hundreds of people were injured and killed by terrorist activity in London, England. He would later return to the sensitive topic when an electronic accident sounded like a gunshot. asking: we in London or what?"
Winchester was up next, rendering Sparrow's "Rose", only using keyboards, bass, guitar and rhythm as accompaniment. He then did "Baby Love" in the same style and closed with the full might of Wayne Bruno's Rapid Response Orchestra for his prize winning festival song "Dead or Alive", putting in a spirited performance but one that didn't quite engage the audience in the way it would at Carnival time.
Sparrow was back now with "Good Citizens", "Neurosis of the Rich", "Education", "Dan is the Man in the Van", "Children's Stories", "May May", "Saltfish", "Congo Man" and a road march medley rooted in "Jean and Dinah" but which included the like of "Sa Sa Ay" and "Drunk and Disorderly" and from outside that rank, "Benwood Dick"; to take us to break at 10:15PM.
Nelson, in tan jumpsuit with matching Steve Harvey coat and newsboy cap, opened the second segment doing the sing-along "La La", then moving swiftly into "Disco Daddy", "King Liar" (for which the entire audience volunteered to assist chorus singers Batson and Marilyn Williams); closing with the still irresistible "Mih Lover", a signal to remove his coat and cap and toss in an inventive wine, the combination of circumstances eliciting an encore.
In what would be the final set, Sparrow returned, explaining his coming of age using song-titles that, in his youth, painted a picture of the "Village Ram" who often put "Too Much Wood in The Fire" and hung out with "May May" et al, a persona that mellowed with maturity and other developments, the most sobering of which was characterized by the lyrics of "Willie Dead," which tells the story of a man stricken with impotence.
Now clearly favoring his injured foot, he evidently yearned to add some zest to the performance of songs that detailed his philosophy, "My Way" and "Age is Just Number" but didn't quite transmit from mind to body the requirement to add a confirmatory jig and jerk to justify the defiant lyrics off the latter song.
He slowed the pace deliberately to do one of his timeless hits "Slave", its chorus based on the lilting dirge "Song of the Volga Boatman", clearly pushing him to a less-than-robust toe tapping, that number followed by "Phillip My Dear", the laugh a minute account of a security lapse at Buckingham Palace, closing the evening shortly before midnight with the raunchy "Lying Excuses".
While the show had its shortcomings, it certainly pointed a way forward for Sparrow, who was concomitantly marking his 50th Year on stage. As evidenced by comments from members of the audience as they left the Hall, Thursday night's presentation was of the type they would like to see more and in the same vein, hear more of Sparrow's vast repertoire and less - perhaps a medley - of his more tested material.
The Sparrow birthday celebration was scheduled to hit Guaracara Park Friday and the Jean Pierre Complex last night and closes with a 6:30PM matinee today at Tobago's Shaw Park.