This track (Garrot Bounce) captures Trinidadian Calypso at the peak of its powers. Calypso, the music of carnival and social commentary, sweet, assertive and knowing, rarely holds it all together. Antique dance music seems leisurely to modern ears and many songs are no more than vehicles for foxy lyrics. By the 1960s, the pace had picked up but a growing “party, party” mentality excused the lazy and mediocre, before the genre dissolved into Soca in the 70s.
First recorded in 1962, the year of Trinidad’s independence, Garrot Bounce was the A side on Robert Nelson’s inaugural 45, and remained the Calypsonian’s calling-card throughout the decade. It was reissued several times, and then extended over two sides on a 1967 release. The version I have, which is the extended take, is from a 1973 LP of Calypso hits by various artists.
Garrot Bounce gets almost everything right. The pace is snappy, and Nelson jumps in with gusto, playing with a line long after other singers would have quit. With Soca looming but still unimagined, the studio is crowded with musicians. The horn section is crisp and numerous, the drums sweating and tight, never mind guitars, piano, bass, congas. Odes to “real” music and “real” musicians can be overdone, but it’s hard to figure how a synthesizer could have done anything but slow things down. Making full use of its six-plus minutes, the track has multiple parts- cracking repeated horn break, reduction down to a piano line, and a gloriously drawn-out sax and brass battle that is endlessly inventive.
The title appears to refer to the “Garrot” as the maligned small islander who bursts onto the scene with his “bounce” that wins over the big-timers in Trinidad. “Garrot” is a pejorative term for people from the small islands in the East Caribbean chain. Nelson was born in Tobago, Trinidad’s little sister island, so the title may reference the novelty of a small island Calypsonian. “You come from the island, and that is no disgrace“.
Nelson, who celebrated his 80th birthday in 2010, was never crowned Calypso Monarch and never won the Road March. He spent time in the United States after high school, including a stint in the army. His Calypso career started late, giving him precious little time in the genre’s heyday, before Soca took over and made him seem old-fashioned and forced to play by someone else’s rules. Nelson’s material from the 70s onwards seems to pale in comparison to Garrot Bounce, but I haven’t heard his sole album and other singles from the 1960s.
Before Garrot Bounce, much Calypso seems quaint and dated; and afterwards collapsed into indistinct Soca and the reign of the DJ with speakers bigger than a man. After another overhyped Carnival or make-do party, I imagine Garrot Bounce blowing everything sky high.
Thanks to the Calypso Archives for discographical information. There appears to be no contemporary reissue of Garrot Bounce.