Thanks for the memories, Sir Rupert

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He exhorted us to DANCE ANY STYLE and SOCA UP DE PARTY. He adjured us, DON’T STOP DIS PARTY, “even if de rum done; don’t’ stop dis party, just go and get some,” particularly during the WEEK-END SPECIAL. He threatened those who misbehaved with his POW-POW (Road March winner in 1973). To be sure, his lyricism and mastery were not limited to fun and games and bacchanal, never mind that he was one of the very best at it – what with crowd-pleasing hits like SUBWAY JAM, PARTY IN SPACE and SATAN COMING DONG. Nay, his exhortation in MAN TO MAN that we “Help your brother if he falling, help your sister, if she dying / Help your neighbour if he hungry / Give him water if he thirsty / Just remember, a good neighbour is your brother / You may need him some day later / When you feelin some depression . . .,” is an appeal to our better selves to do something, be it ever so small, for a fallen fellowman. It is a classic in its own right, and arguably his magnum opus. He was one of the best at those songs with an emotive message.

Of course, we’re referring to Sir Rupert ‘The Mighty Swallow’ Philo, he of the beautiful and bucolic village of Willikies, who departed this life last Friday evening (September 11th) at the age of 78. We will never forget where we were, or the profound sense of loss when we heard the sad news. Suffice it to say, when King Swallow died, a piece of us died with him. We hoped and prayed, much like Mark Twain once said, “That news of his death had been greatly exaggerated.” Alas! It was not to be. Our King had indeed slipped this mortal ken and soared, like his calypso moniker to the Great Beyond. Sigh!

Upon confirmation that our King was no more, we not only pondered our own mortality, but we searched for meaning and purpose, and some of us found it in the words of the great poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ULYSSES: “Death closes all; but something ere the end, some work of noble note endures . . . Though much is taken, much abides . . .” Folks, much has been snatched from us by the cold hand of death, but the wondrous memories of he who was taken from us abide.

Who can forget how he lambasted the Carnival officials for sending the road March King, the Calypso King and the Mas’ troupe and panorama championships to the Point Area in GOING DOWN POINT, a classic? Who can forget how he bitterly declared, “The Carnival Committee should mek allyou do like me / Compose yuh song to prove yuh ability,” in WRITE YUH OWN SONG, another classic? And yes, he composed his own songs. In a conversation with his brother, Shelly, in New York, this writer heard how Swallow would take his guitar up to Long Bay and sit under his favourite tree, trying out melodies and writing lyrics under the inspiration of nature’s muse. Those sessions of solitude gave us RISE ANTIGUA RISE and DAWN OF A NEW DAY. They also gave us CHILD OF THE UNIVERSE, his beautiful offering for the UN-declared International Year of the Child (1979). For lighter fare in his stellar discography, see SHAKE AND BREAK YUH BAM BAM, HOLD DE WOOD, MR BENWOOD, TONG MASH DONG, TIGHT MAS’, JAM DEM BACK, SOCA DANCE, WINE ON SOMETHING, FIND DE TREASURE SPOT and BRING SOME VASELINE. He was a genius!

Who can forget how he skewered and threatened our political scallywags in BLOW FOR POLITICIANS? In that hard-hitting piece, he laments, “Some ah dem come, and in four years dey own de whole ah St John’s / Who ain’t have bulldozer, dey sure to have truck and bus / And me widout a dollar cyarnt make a fuss . . ./ Money glut, money glut . . . / De first one dat ah ketch, is a bullbud across he back.”  Seems, then as now, politicians are like octopuses; they have their tentacles in every business venture in this fair land. Clearly, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

This writer was fortunate to have seen and conversed with our esteemed Sir Rupert in the last year that he lived at SWALLOW’S NEST in Upper Gambles. He would take exercise walks past our home and stop to ask for Patrick ‘Sheepie’ Evanson. He was always so kind and thoughtful. As are his dear daughters, Shenneth and Derry, and their mother, the lovely Lornette Thomas, also known as Edith. This writer visited with the bereaved family on Saturday, and as you can imagine, they are heartbroken. They will be in NEWSCO’s thoughts and prayers. And of course, we want to thank them for sharing Sir Rupert with us. It must have been an enormous sacrifice.

Our dearest Sir Rupert ‘The Mighty Swallow’ Philo has gone on to ‘strike up de band’ with that great celestial orchestra in the heavenly sphere. He will reunite with our dearly-beloved Tyrone ‘Edimelo’ Thomas who preceded him in death by a few months, and with whom he often collaborated. (See the DON’T STOP DIS PARTY 2006 remix). Swallow was fond of calling Edimelo’s name in his singing. He will call up his dear friend, William Lewis, to blow de horn. William arranged a number of Swallow’s songs, including WEEK-END SPECIAL, a favourite of mine. He will look for our dearly beloved, Mighty Bambi, to join in the bacchanal. Cherubim and Seraphim will fold their wings.

Thanks for the good times and the precious memories, King. Thanks for your wonderful rivalry with King Short Shirt and King Obstinate. It made Carnival oh so exciting! It was one radio station or another pushing his music or your music. We will always remember how calypso lovers (see radio personality, Al Jackson, one of Swallow’s biggest fans), would crowd into the Antigua Recreation Grounds to yell and applaud for their favourite calypsonian.  It was Carnival’s biggest night.  And yes, though you were born in the same month (Swallow, February 14), and the same year (1942), only 14 days apart (Short Shirt, February 28), you were so very different. Which was a good thing. We enjoyed the differences, and the resulting fierce rivalry. The three of you needed it to keep you at your creative best. Well done, Sir! And bon voyage . . .We invite you to visit and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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