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Apr 08

TYPICALLY TROPICAL – “Barbados”

FT + Popular98 comments • 11,485 views

#375, 9th August 1975

It’s easy to look back on the social mores of previous decades and cringe or laugh. Sometimes it’s also neccessary. There were probably good – and funny and poignant and poptastic – songs to be written about immigrants’ mixed feelings for their new lives and former homes: it doesn’t seem to me like political correctness gone mad to suggest that two white session musicians may not have been the best candidates to write one, especially not when you factor in Max West’s turn as Tobias Wilcock, “Coconut Airways”, “are we cool brother?”, “Mary Jane” and so on.

Of course it was all ‘just a bit of fun’. It’s unfair to suggest Typically Tropical should have written anything more socially conscious: they weren’t aiming to, and judging by the deftness of touch on show here that’s a good thing. But it’s also unfair to suggest anyone now should feel much other than vague embarassment or discomfort when they encounter this. I have an immense soft spot for holiday novelties – the idea of singles as souvenirs is a strong and charming one, and really (as we’ll discover in a future entry) “Barbados” is a rousing bit of nonsense wrapped in a gruesomely ill-judged framing device. You could certainly make a case that Radio 1 should have known better than to promote it. This, though, is from the period when the station had only recently established itself as guardian of the nation’s Summer Fun, and it seems to have taken a strictly majoritarian view of what that Fun consisted of.

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Comments

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  1. 61
    Steve Mannion on 8 Apr 2008 #

    That comment about Lenny Henry is absurd and offensive although I remember his Night In show for Channel 4 some time ago in which he briefly brought one of the black production crew members on camera to make the point that they are now behind it as well as in front of it, but doing the jokey Jamaican accent from his act 20 years prior, and it just felt dated and un-necessary even in the context of his show. Perhaps this is an example of what vinylscot is getting at, I’m not sure.

    Anyway let’s just be “glad” this song was cunningly rewritten over 20 years later for kiddie clubbers in waiting to be an equivocal success and move on.

  2. 62
    Pete Baran on 8 Apr 2008 #

    As someone barely alive at the time, and not really sentient, my views about Barbados are very much bundled up with my perception of what I know of 1970’s racism. Much like Love Thy Neighbour, it doesn’t matter how positive the spin on the black character is, the SITUATION is in itself potentially racist. Love Thy Neighbours sit asks its presumed white audience WHAT WOULD IT DO if a black family moved in next door, to a country which outside very specific urban areas this would still be unlikely.

    Barbados is a blackface record. The disquiet is not so much in its gentle reggae stylings, and only slightly on the accent. But it is clearly a form of blacksploitation and the phrase Coconut Airways makes me feel uncomfortable.

  3. 63
    crag on 8 Apr 2008 #

    Heres a thought- how come we rightly look back at the B&W Minstrels and co. from our current more enlightened vantage point as, at best embarressing, at worst disgusting and yet Al Jolson is still revered and remembered as a pivotal figure in 20th century entertainment? If Typically Tropical can be dismissed after a mere 3 decades as merely an uncomfortable reminder of more ignorant times how come Jolson has not been similarly been shunted into the dustbin of history along w/ Amos & Andy et al? Seems a tad inconsistent. Or am i missing something?

  4. 64
    vinylscot on 8 Apr 2008 #

    Marcello,

    I appreciate being able to post on your site. If you read my post you will note that I did not mention either Manning or Davidson in my piece. Both of them were dinosaurs, and I in no way condone their subject matter which was often racist.

    My point was that in this “PC” age, racism is still allowed, as long as it is the “minorities” practicing it. Lenny Henry is well aware of this and has built a career on it. Omid Djalili does it too. We are allowed to laugh because they are lampooning their own cultures.

    Your response to me doesn’t show the thoughtfulness you usually put into your posts. It looked like a knee-jerk PC comment, which I had thought would have been beneath you. I apologise if I offended you or anyone else, although I believe it is quite clear that no offence was intended.

  5. 65
    Erithian on 8 Apr 2008 #

    “asks its presumed white audience WHAT WOULD IT DO if a black family moved in next door…”

    To which the answer would presumably be, I hope I wouldn’t make myself look such a prick as Eddie Booth does week after week, and I’d be happy to get to know Bill and Barbie. Yes, the situation was potentially racist, and the language certainly was, but it reflected something that was happening. Just maybe “Love Thy Muslim Neighbour” set in Oldham or Bradford might even enhance cultural understanding…

    Lenny Henry was the victim of one of the most unpleasant experiences ever to have become a comedy routine, when he and Dawn French had excrement smeared on their front door as a response to their interracial marriage. He made a gag out of the fact that words had been written in the shit, wondering if the racists had used one of their number like a tube of icing sugar. The audience – black and white – howled, and the racists were ridiculed and defused. You wouldn’t get that kind of unifying effect from a Manning routine, which singled out minorities to be laughed at rather than with.

  6. 66
    Pete Baran on 8 Apr 2008 #

    I think Jolson’s legacy isn’t completely untarnished, but blackface is of its time and of course is tied in with the historical significance of one particular film. It also has to be said that The Jazz Singer as a movie is extremely complex racially (bear in mind that Jolson was a Jewish immigrant performer – and indeed plays that in The Jazz Singer). The Jazz Singer is not really held up as a great film, rather a technological milestone in the history of film.

    Jolson’s legacy as a singer is equally important with regards to the crossover of black music with the music trade and particularly for his performance style. But minstrelsy and blackface is what he is predominantly known for, and so the current historical view of blackface performing naturally clouds any way we can judge him now.

  7. 67
    Marcello Carlin on 8 Apr 2008 #

    Interesting that both Rod Stewart and Noddy Holder speak of Jolson’s formative influence on them as a stage performer, though I think that’s more to do with his technique and skills as an entertainer rather than what he was actually doing.

    I’m not sure how much, if at all, Jolson is spoken of these days; his films don’t exactly get rerun on TV (though I remember the big kerfuffle about Bill Heine putting that Jolson semi-effigy atop the Oxford Picture Palace Cinema when he owned it) but I think there’s a qualitative get out clause here in that he is recognised as a pivotal figure in several respects and a blind eye turned otherwise; it might be a case of Larkin’s Law here.

  8. 68
    crag on 8 Apr 2008 #

    re#67-Forgive my ignorance- Larkins Law?

  9. 69
    mike on 8 Apr 2008 #

    Larkin’s Law, Mike’s Interpretation Thereof: if an artist who holds manifestly unpleasant opinions produces Great Art (provided that these opinions are wholly unrepresented therein), then it’s still permissible to enjoy said Great Art without need of further qualification. Did I get that right?

  10. 70
    Marcello Carlin on 8 Apr 2008 #

    That’s more or less the size of it.

  11. 71
    mike on 8 Apr 2008 #

    Which in turn raises two problems:

    1. What about those who produce Mediocre Art, or indeed Bad Art? Should the Greatness of the Art be a significant moral factor, and if so then what’s your objective standard for Greatness?

    2. Can this be applied to Jolson, whose Art (Great or otherwise) involved the mass perpetuation of crass and damaging racial stereotypes?

  12. 72
    crag on 8 Apr 2008 #

    Thanks for the explanation- figured it was something like that but cheers for the confirmation.
    Re:#71- surely if the Art in question is good, bad or indifferent is irrelevant to whether the creator’s opinions should be judged “good” or “bad, in the same way that a great work of art’s merits do not diminish regardless of the validity or otherwise of it’s creators opinions.
    I.e Carravagio and Leadbelly( to pluck two names at random) were by all accounts unpleasant, violent characters but this should in no way diminsh their art and, similarly, Robson and Jerome could be cannonised and it wouldnt make their music any less poor.

  13. 73
    Tom on 8 Apr 2008 #

    Most people will ignore a creator’s flaws or unpleasantnesses when it suits them and highlight them when it suits them too.

    The truth is that there’s an awful lot of good art in the world, more than anyone could possibly get through: some filter is required and I can’t think of a filter that isn’t essentially arbitrary. Creator’s opinions seem as good a choice as any, though they’re not usually what I use.

  14. 74
    Marcello Carlin on 8 Apr 2008 #

    Which reminds me – wasn’t one of Jolson’s most famous songs “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love Baby”?

  15. 75
    Tom on 8 Apr 2008 #

    First the Spoiler Bunny and now the Reminder Rabbit :(

  16. 76
    Steve Mannion on 8 Apr 2008 #

    Boiler (of) Bunnies moar lkie

  17. 77
    Erithian on 8 Apr 2008 #

    Cracking link MC!

  18. 78
    rosie on 8 Apr 2008 #

    I don’t want to have another spat with anybody, but I do think that Marcello was out of order at #59. Constructive debate is fine with me. Debunking from the hip like that isn’t.

    Richard Wagner was one of the most thoroughly unpleasant human beings who ever walked the earth. He wrote some absolutely sublime music and I get a big kick out of listening to it without guilt. Giacomo Puccini was pretty robust in his anti-Jewish sentiments too. It’s only by a narrow margin that we won’t be dealing with a particularly sublime fragment of his, which is a shame because I’m very curious as to what score Tom would give to it. Or whether a score for it would be meaningful (I feel a bit this way about Voodoo Chile actually. The Quaker in me suggests that it’s entirely appropriate to value the something wonderful produced by such a person.

    I don’t think I ever watched Love Thy Neighbour. I remember thinking it looked ghastly even at the time, I don’t think I was alone by any means, and to hold it up as representing the mores of the time is less than accurate. In 1975, after all, Till Death Us Do Part had been – for nearly ten years – and gone, but it seems to me that we hear a lot less about how ground-breaking that was than we hear hand-wringing about LTN.

  19. 79
    Steve Mannion on 8 Apr 2008 #

    I don’t think I’d ever even heard of LTN until a few years back which gives some indication of it’s regard generally. But what little I have seen of it actually seems fairly tame in comparison to Garnett’s continued unabashed racism ten years later in In Sickness And In Health. Being only 7 when that started this went somewhat over my head but I laughed at the show a lot despite the similar premise (laughing at Garnett, having some vague sense that he was unpleasant, and with, but probably also to some extent AT, Eamonn Walker’s Winston for his sheer OTT-ness).

    Casual enjoyment of Davidson also began around this time and continued for a few years after. Oh well, at least the wealth of highly appealing black pop in the charts at that time provided a crucial (to ‘quote’ L Henry as Delbert Wilkins) counter-weight.

  20. 80
    Steve Mannion on 8 Apr 2008 #

    Also re comment 50, tho Lister predates him too (by a year), Norman Beeton’s Desmond Ambrose deserves a mention.

  21. 81
    crag on 9 Apr 2008 #

    Re #67-“a big kerfuffle about Bill Heine putting that Jolson semi-effigy atop the Oxford Picture Palace Cinema when he owned it”
    I don’t know anything about this- whats the background story, MC?

  22. 82
    Marcello Carlin on 9 Apr 2008 #

    Re. #78:

    I make no apologies for my comments though would observe the eagerness of those of a certain demographic to rush to defend racists and attack anyone who calls them out, as I was right and justified in doing and as I will continue to do in any context as I see fit. After all, there are plenty of ill-disciplined message boards elsewhere where such people can ply their lamentable views.

    Re. #80:

    I also thought of Desmond but then blackness was pretty intrinsic to that show.

    Re. #81:

    In fact, although the fibreglass Jolson hands atop the Ultimate Picture Palace were mildly controversial, the real controversy was over Heine’s other Oxford cinema of the period, the Moulin Rouge, upon he built a pair of can-can legs coming out of a petticoat which resembled the hands of Jolson more than somewhat. Oxford City Council sought their removal, claiming that they represented “advertising,” but Heine argued that they were “art” and promptly changed the cinema’s name to NOT The Moulin Rouge, since now the legs were clearly and legally not “advertising” the place. The council threw its hands up and retreated.

  23. 83
    Pete on 9 Apr 2008 #

    Surely the council threw its hands up and sang Mammy. Oxford City Council often got a flap into things poking out of houses in the name of art. Just look at the Headington Shark (which turns out to be ANOTHER Bill Heine commission – they must have loved him).
    http://www.headington.org.uk/shark/

    I think the key difference in my understanding of Alf Garnett vs LTN, is that Til Death Us Do Part was actually really well written by Johnny Speight. Certainly my memory of the, one assumes somewhat spent force of Garnett in the 80’s revival Til Death Us Do Part saw him as a monster, but a very human one. The programme dared us to identify with him, and his scattershit opinions often started with a genuine grievance and then spiralled into madness. In particular showing the working class Tory was a masterstroke, trying to see what the exact view of Britain was that Garnett was hopelessly trying to hold on to. Til Death was overtly political (left and right wings were personified – and both ridiculed) as opposed to the crude stereotypes of LTN (including the crude stereotype of the perfect assimilationist black couple). Warren Mitchell made the character lurch from bile to patheiticness whilst being human (though my Mum has always contended the show was ALL ABOUT Dandy Nicholls). Certainly the re-runs seem to hold out for Garnett being a much more sophisticated creation.

  24. 84
    Steve Mannion on 9 Apr 2008 #

    Sure the premises of TDDUP and ISAIH were more sophisticated than LTN, but at the same time the racism seems cruder and more blatant (this also at a time when OFAH’s Uncle Albert used the abbreviation of Pakistani in one or two episodes in reference to the corner shop owner, presumably with very little eyelid batting from viewers given it’s ever-rising popularity). Were there actual racist terms (which when uttered by Garnett would get big shock value laughs on their own) used by characters in LTN or was it all just based on the irrational fears and misunderstandings of the lead character?

  25. 85
    Mark G on 9 Apr 2008 #

    Jolson popularised black culture. He did this in blackface briefly and early in his career , then dropped it. He carried on being successful because he was good.

    The Black&White minstrels were always in blackface. They dropped it as an experiment, but this was a failure because it was actually awful. Without the make-up, transparently so.

  26. 86
    Mark G on 9 Apr 2008 #

    The B&WMS were popular with very old viewers, which is why there’s not a great clamour for reviving/repeating. Also, why DVDs would not sell well.

    The only downside is, is that the idea of making programmes that appeal to very old people died with them.(The B&WMs, not the old people themselves obv)

  27. 87
    Erithian on 9 Apr 2008 #

    Steve – “actual racist terms” were more than prevalent in LTN. To a degree where at times Eddie and Bill’s exchanges were reminiscent of a near-future Number 1 performer’s routine about Glasgow drunks having a wee swearie – to make things convenient they drop all the other words and just swear at each other for a while.

    The particular problem with TDDUP is perhaps encapsulated in Warren Mitchell’s story about meeting people who praised for show “for sticking it to the n—–s”, to which he would reply “no, it’s sticking it to ignorant racists like you”. Thing is, Alf’s character was so well written that he could all too easily be identified with by the kind of people Johnny Speight was lampooning. (Speight was on Wogan once talking about racist chanting at football matches, and appeared to condone it by saying “if you’re a true supporter you’ll do anything to put the opposition off”. Excuse me?)

  28. 88
    crag on 9 Apr 2008 #

    Re: Lenny Henry- I feel Vinylscot had a semi-valid point- Henry does derive much of his humour from lampooning black cultures, much as Connolly does with the Scots and Carson does with the Irish. More-to-the point, does anyone actually think Henry has said anything even vaguely funny in the last, say, 20 years? Everyone i know, including black people, consider him a deeply unamusing example of Beeb tokenism.
    Vinylscot’s comment that Henry has “kept racism alive” is, IMO, off the mark but it is HIS OPINION and he is entitled to make it. To call his points ‘stupid’ and ‘racist’ is unnecessary aggressive, i feel. I dont believe they were either and after all he did apologise for any offence accidently caused. We should remember what is actually under discussion here, people- Barbados by Typically Tropical!- a silly piece of throwaway pop music from 3 decades ago! To quote a comedian who, IMO, HAS been funny in the last 2 decades- “its just a bit of fun”!

  29. 89
    Mark G on 9 Apr 2008 #

    .. so let’s be cool.

  30. 90
    Marcello Carlin on 9 Apr 2008 #

    Ah, my gliberal friend, that one size fits all excuse for every atrocity ever committed by and to humanity, “it was just a bit of fun,” accompanied by its natural ally, “everyone I know, including black people” (i.e. “some of my best friends are…”)…

    MY VIEW since you are interested in PEOPLE’S OPINIONS is that the idiocy of LTN, “Barbados” etc. is far more deadly aggressive, even or especially in its “wot-chu-can’t-take-a-joke-go-‘ome-then.” And in such circumstances whenever the other side chooses to respond, in any way other than a grinning minstrel, they get shot down by well-meaning daylight pseudo-theorists. THAT is what I am getting at. Such things are never just about “fun.” And as far as I’m concerned Lenny Henry and anyone else have absolute carte blanche to respond as they see fit, and putting the blame on them confirms a residual hatred.

  31. 91
    crag on 9 Apr 2008 #

    My jokey use of “its just a bit of fun” was in reference to Popular itself rather than Barbados specifically. We should remember we are talking about Pop Music here- perhaps the most wonderous, frustrating, fascinating and awe-inspiring artform known to man, yes, but at the end of the day it is Just Pop Music.

    Obviously the racially dubious nature of a track like Barbados should be taken into account when discussing it but there is no need for such heated responses.

    I visit Popular to have an enjoyable discussion w/ music fans about pop, to hear about tracks i wasnt previously aware of, to share the occassional joke or amusing anecdote and also basically to chill out.

    I dont visit to have(or to read) prolonged arguements with people, especially not to have what i feel were perfectly valid points slagged off and attacked.This should be (that dreaded word again)FUN. If it stops being so i won’t be visiting with such relish or regularity.As Mark G says “let’s be cool”.

  32. 92
    Tom on 9 Apr 2008 #

    The ability to get into sharkier waters is what makes the Popular comment threads better than just a more in-depth version of “I Love The 70s”.

    One of the things that’s always fascinated me about pop music is how, for something that is apparently so trivial, it manages to spark such argument and passion and how often those arguments manage to touch on much bigger issues.

    That all said, internet debates have a habit of becoming circular, and it’s not as if we won’t have a LOT of opportunity to return to some of these issues in different contexts. Posters on both sides have made their points, there’s not a lot to be gained by repeating them, so I’m declaring this particular bit of discussion ‘closed’. Thanks!

  33. 93
    Waldo on 9 Apr 2008 #

    Tom. May I just add one final thought?

    I’m rather hoping now that when we get to 1978, we don’t have all this over again, along with ludicrous accusations of “racism” being levelled at people who are merely expressing an opinion with which others disagree.

    I rather fancy my hoping will be in vain. But what you gonna do?

  34. 94
    Tom on 9 Apr 2008 #

    Let’s wait and see.

  35. 95
    Tom on 5 Oct 2009 #

    Unlocked once again. Not that I’m encouraging additional comment but I think Billy S had a few “-watch” posts in mind.

  36. 96
    Billy Smart on 5 Oct 2009 #

    Pan’s People’s Christmas TOTP interpretation!;

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FjWmUsp73Y

  37. 97
    Chelovek na lune on 11 Sep 2010 #

    The fourth number one of my life, and I don’t think I’d heard it before today. …and my goodness. Would have been much better had I not seen the TOTP video, for all of the reasons discussed at length already. But if the discussion is closed…it’s closed. The more recent variant version (while no more sophisticated than this musically) is I suppose less troubling.

  38. 98
    inveteert on 5 Mar 2016 #

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