Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fun In The Sun, Caribbean Style

A decade before the Australian band Models hit #1 in their home country with a laid back song called ‘Barbados’, a British duo did likewise in the U.K. Jeff Calvert was a trainee engineer at Morgan Studios and knew Geraint Hughes (AKA Max West - his professional name) through Hughes’ involvement with a rock band called Quasar. When time allowed they used the studio facilities to record their own compositions. The first such song to be released on record (via Mickie Most’s RAK label) was ‘The Ghost Song’, a Christmas themed novelty tune aimed at the 1974 festive market. Unfortunately the song was released a tad too late to cash in on its intended audience and missed the charts completely.

Unperturbed the lads set their sights on the lucrative summer market with another tune designed to capture the feel of a Caribbean island paradise (an appealing notion for those who were confined to an English version of summer). Calvert had in fact just returned from a holiday to Barbados and his experiences provided the base inspiration for the song. Reputedly the pair penned the song in about two hours (some - not me - would later argue the quality reflects that). With best simulated reggae personas, Calvert and Hughes dubbed themselves Typically Tropical and recorded a laid back reggae style song called appropriately enough ‘Barbados’. It was a feel good song that managed to achieve what it set out to do in evoking images of laying back on a sun drenched beach enjoying the good life. The most memorable aspect of the song though was a spoken word intro/middle segment by the fictional pilot Captain Tobias Wilcock (AKA Max West AKA Geraint Hughes) of Coconut Airways, with the part of the Bridgetown air traffic controller performed by Jeff Calvert.

‘Barbados’ had originally been slated for a release via the legendary reggae label Trojan Records, but David Howell of the Gull Records label sensed a hit record when he heard the demo, and stepped in at the last moment with a better distribution offer for Typically Tropical (offering them £1500 to finish recording the track and a guaranteed three single releases if ‘Barbados’ proved to indeed be a hit). The song debuted on the British charts in early July ‘75 (this time they’d got the release date right), and flew up the charts to #2, where it had to set up a holding pattern for two weeks whilst the Bay City Rollers taxied along runway #1 with ‘Give A Little Love’. Finally, the record buying public gave Typically Tropical clearance to land at #1 during August 1975. However, passengers were quickly ushered into the terminal, and Coconut Airways Flight #372 was removed from the tarmac to allow Stylistic Airlines to land with ‘Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love)’. In Australia, Typically Tropical were forced to divert to a regional airstrip, but still managed a respectable #20 on the charts. All in all the Coconut Airways experience would be enjoyed by over 500,000 satisfied customers.

Aside from writers/producers Jeff Calvert and Geraint Hughes, who shared vocal duties, Typically Tropical was made up of various and sundry session musicians, including guitarist Chris Spedding (‘Motorbikin’), Clem Cattini (drummer for the Tornados), keyboardist Roger Coulam, percussionist Frank Ricotti and guitarist Vic Flick. Following the runway….er runaway (and perhaps unexpected) success of ‘Barbados’, Typically Tropical put together an album titled ‘Barbados Sky’ (which sold a meagre 8000 copies). Two more singles were released, ‘Rocket Now’ in October ‘75, and ‘Everybody Play The Fool’ in May ‘76, but neither got off the ground. A plan to re-release ‘The Ghost Song’ for Christmas ‘75, was mistimed again with the single hitting the stores in early ‘76 (released under the name Calvert & West). A handful of stand alone singles were released over the next few years under the Typically Tropical (and on one occasion Rollercoaster) moniker, including ‘Jubilee’ in 1977 and ‘Lady D’ (1980), but Typically Tropical had enjoyed their moment in the sun, and soon departed for destination unknown. Geraint Hughes and Jeff Calvert continued to work together, writing and producing for artists as divergent as Sarah Brightman and Judas Priest. These days Geraint Hughes apparently composes production library music, while Jeff Calvert runs his own recording studio and reportedly became a pilot, though not with Coconut Airways.

In 1999 Eurodance pop group Vengaboys reworked the tune for ‘Barbados’ into their international hit ‘We’re Going To Ibiza’, achieving the rare feat of returning a former U.K. #1 to the top spot again, albeit under a radically different guise.

Personally I love the song ‘Barbados’ and feel it absolutely achieves what Jeff Calvert and Geraint Hughes set out to do - write a cruisy, breezy pop-reggae song designed for just one purpose - enjoyment.

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