February 29, 2016
Lovey’s Original Trinidad String Band first made history in 1912. Not only were they the first band from Trinidad to record the island’s local music on 78 rpm records, but they were also, according to historian and writer John Cowley, “the first English-speaking band predominantly composed of musicians of colour to make phonograph records.” They were considered a “mixed” group, with both Creole and non-Creole members.
Lovey was a metalworker and a violin player named George Baillie, born ca. 1880. At the time of their extant recordings, his group was considered one of the best string bands in Trinidad. For those unfamiliar, the early music from Trinidad was filled with waltzes and paseos, finely orchestrated dance tunes for the cultured classes and performed especially around Carnival – yet, firmly grounded in the music of the Caribbean and nearby Venezuela. To me it has an elegant, maybe a slightly narcotic feel. You can hear nascent echoes of what was to appear in calypso music of the future, as well as hints of the wild Martiniquan biguine music later recorded in France. Music from Trinidad would change dramatically over the next two decades, rendering these recordings isolated mementos.
Lovey’s Band records are very rare. Copies of some, I believe, have not yet been found. Much of the published information on Lovey’s Band, and admittedly much of what I’ve paraphrased here, comes from the scrupulously researched CD on the Bear Family label from 2012, Calypso Dawn: 1912, which was produced by calypso experts John Cowley, Steve Shapiro, and Dick Spottswood, with a top-shelf restoration and mastering job by Christian Zwarg. In that release, Cowley describes Lovey’s group from the ship manifest of their trip to New York. At that time, it contained 12 players: two violinists, a clarinetist, a flautist, a tiple player, a pianist, a double bassist, two guitar players, two cuatro players, and one braga/machete player (a ukulele-like instrument).
That release features most of the recordings made that same year in New York City for Victor and for Columbia. However, Lovey and his group, likely with a different line-up, returned to the studio in late July-early August 1914 to record another 40 tracks for Columbia. It’s unknown if those were recorded in Trinidad or New York. Cowley contends that since the 1914 recordings are missing W. Edwards, their clarinetist from 1912, Lovey’s 1914 paseos have a different feel. I would have to agree. That said, this tune, never before issued, still has a latter-third that marvels, with the band breaking loose in fine form. Composer credit is given to Lovey, and while there were several other early tunes titled “Oh, Mr Brown” performed by the likes of Arthur Collins and others, this appears to indeed be Lovey’s original. I am curious if the melody ended up being adapted or covered by later performers, as so often occurred with Lovey’s tunes.
Lovey is documented as actively performing with his band throughout the 1920s. He died in 1937.
Issue Number: L54
Matrix Number: 59316-1