Lord Kitchener sings on the boat, 1948

While visiting Ben "Bad Science" Goldacre's flat in London recently, he played me some fantastic cuts off a compilation LP titled "London Is The Place For Me: Trinidadian Calypso In London, 1950-1956." This incredible music hit the global scene during the massive Caribbean migration to the UK starting around 1948. I know next-to-nothing about Calypso, but one signer I was somewhat familiar with is the famous Aldwyn Roberts, aka Lord Kitchener. (Indeed, the record Ben played me was named for Kitchener's best-known song.) Kitchener emigrated to London from Trinidad, via Jamaica. Amazingly, just as Kitchener's boat, the Empire Windrush, pulled into the British harbor on June 22, 1948, a journalist interviewed him about his fledgling career as a singer. As Ben said when he sent me this clip, "It's such a great and improbable thing to have on film. Some guy, getting off a boat, who is shortly to become massively famous, singing into your BBC microphone."


  1. I LOVE Lord Kitchener, ‘If you’re not white you’re black is brilliant too. Used to get played it when I was growing up and now that I’m older it is such a wonderful representation (as a white man) of just how wonderful multiculturalism is. Screw the haters!.

  2. Kitchener has such great rhythms and melodies. In his songs I can almost hear an alternate universe where calypso overtook rock to become the dominant form of pop music, and dancing became a lot more fun the world over. My favorites of his are “Hold On To Your Man,” “Symptoms of Carnival,” “The Bee’s Melody” and of course “Pan in A Minor.”

  3. So, how did he go from being a WWI Field Marshall to a calypso singer? Quite a career change, that.

      1. The real Kitchener has a decent sized city named after him in Ontario, so he’s not all *that* obscure. I still don’t get why a singer from Trinidad decided to take his stage name from him though — sounds like it could be an interesting story, although the singer’s Wikipedia page doesn’t explain it.

        1. The ‘Lord’ names (see also Lord Beginner, Lord Invader…) are powerful stage names. Dukes, Sirs and Lords were a dime a dozen in the British colonies, as landed gentry with hereditary titles are particularly suited to plantation administration.

          The choosing of powerful stage names is a tradition that carried on through reggae (African imperialism/lion iconography), and (arguably) hip hop (Scarface, Noreaga, Shaw Brothers film aficionados).

          My hot calypso pick is Nora the War is Over, by Lord Beginner. Beginner was like a one man musical CNN, with calypsos on test cricket scores, general elections, hurricanes and the exchange rate of the UK pound. Nora, and a other tracks can be found in an archive of public domain roots music at juneberry78s.com.

          1. My all-time favorite on that juneberry78s page is the first one, the War between all the calypsonians.

            Anyway thanks for the video… pretty great. But from the looks of it, and the narrator saying “I am told that you’re really the kind of Calypso singers” makes me think it’s not necessarily happenstance that the reporter is there with the microphone when Kitch steps off the boat.

            Calypso, it’s the place for me…
            Calypso, this lovely citee…

  4. That ain’t no BBC microphone, it’s a British Pathé one. Presumably this was shown in cinemas as part of a Pathé Newsreel.

  5. The Jamaican jazz trumpeter Dizzy Reece was also on that ship. I wonder how many other accomplished musicians were on board?

  6. Ooh yes – I’ve got all 4 compilations in this series, they’re put out by Honest Jons and I heartily recommend them all, though at a push number 2 is the one closest to my heart. It’s not just Calypso either – there’s a fair smattering of jazz from Ghana and Kenya, as musicians from those ex-colonies were also frequenting the same Soho clubs as the Trinidadians.

    1. Through sheer coincidence – serendipity perhaps? – I happened to be playing said Vol. 2, which I bought only yesterday, when I read this. I’m struck by the optimism of the new arrivals and the affection for Britain they display. My favourite track from Vol. 1 is “At the Coronation” by Young Tiger, describing the cortège from the perspective of a delighted bystander: “I took up my position at Marble Arch / From the night before, just to see the march / The night wind was blowing, freezing and cold / But I held my ground like a young Creole.” Very smartly, it was recorded prior to the actual ceremony and released the day after!

  7. This clip is shown in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. If you haven’t been, you should check it out.

    Admittedly, seeing a clip of Lord Kitchener in a museum was the highlight for me, but it’s still worth a day trip!

  8. The clip says these immigrants arrived because other West Indians serving in the Army and Air Force had written to them telling them there were jobs in Britain. However it is important to remember that many of these workers were invited to the UK but government agencies. The National Health Service and London Transport both recruited in the West Indies during the post war period.

  9. The first notes of the song are most familiar to me as a common doorbell tone (in America). Does anyone know if it originated from this song, or if it predates it and was included to reference another? Also, any idea why it would have chosen for that use?

    1. Well, of course that would be Big Ben. You know, the great bell of the clock at the north end of Westminster Palace in London?

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