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King Panther

By Sasha Harrinanan Saturday, February 9 2013

click on pic to zoom in

Thirty years after he began singing calypso under the sobriquet “The Pink Panther”, Eric Taylor has finally boarded the “Monarch-ship” - singing his way to the 2013 Calypso Monarch crown during the final on “Terrific Thursday” at Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain.

His winning songs, “Travel Woes” and “Crying in the Cemetery”, were both composed by eight- time monarch Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool, who finished in ninth in this year’s competition.

Second place went to Kurt Allen, “The Last Badjohn of Calypso”, for his popular songs “Political Sin Phony” and “Black Stalin Say”.

Although he pulled out all the stops during his performances, including wearing an all-white conductor’s uniform, accompanied by two small choirs on either side of the stage, whose faces were painted white, and a mini classical orchestra during round one, Allen was not able to wrest victory from the equally popular Taylor.

This was the second consecutive year in which Allen placed second at the Calypso Monarch competition.

Meanwhile, only one of seven women who made it to the final, where they competed against four men, was able to make the “winners’ podium” in 2013. That distinction went to Heather “Heather” Mac Intosh-Simon for her rendition of “The Old Man’s Lament” and “Invisible”. The latter song earned much applause for her commentary on the apparently “invisible” police force.

Last year’s monarch Duane O’Connor tumbled to seventh position, with “Building a Wall” and “Seeking Sparrow’s Advice”.

Not even arriving on stage with Sparrow (Slinger Francisco” in a white stretch Hummer limousine, could have helped O’Connor to hold on to his crown, as Taylor out performed all with his clever word play.

Taylor’s political commentary about the People’s Partnership (PP) Government in “Travel Woes”, elicited applause and laughter from the audience seated in the Grand Stand, as he described his inability to find a “leader-ship” to take him overseas.

“Ah find the channa ship/ Right next to the aloo ship/ On tow from the Partnership/ But ah kyah find the leadership. First time ah see so much hardship/ But ah kyah find the leadership...Ah see Gypsy (Winston Peters) on the sinking ship/ But ah kyah find the leadership/ Ah see Jack Warner on a pirate ship/ But ah kyah find the leadership,” Taylor sang.

“Ah see they throw (Herbert) Volney clean off the Partnership/ But ah kyah find the leadership/ Now he cannot even board the Iwer George ship/ Ah see Ashworth Jack on the pumpkin ship/ But ah kyah find the leadership,” the bard continued.

The audience, many of whom were of a mature age, laughed, clapped and even whistled their approval of his witty references to several controversial incidents involving members of Government. They included the Prime Minister’s dismissal of former Justice Minister, Herbert Volney, for his mishandling of the controversial proclamation of Section 34 of the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) Act on August 31, 2012.

TOP political leader Ashworth Jack’s reported declaration that he financed the building of his million-dollar home in Tobago with money earned from planting cucumbers and pumpkins, also did not escape Taylor.

Indeed, many finalists sang on Section 34 and Jack’s pumpkins, but none matched Taylor’s tongue-in-cheek delivery on the political hot topics.His “Gypsy” lyric was a reference to calypsonian turned politician, Winston “Gypsy” Peters’ 1986 song, “The Sinking Ship”, which talked about the fall from favour of the People’s National Movement (PNM) when George Chambers became political leader after the death of party founder, Dr Eric Williams in 1981. (Peters is Community Development Minister in the PP administration.)

Now, one of Peters’ most famous songs was being used by Taylor to refer to what some in the country have called the PP’s own sinking ship, a mere two and a half years into its first term in office.

The audience cheered in approval at 8.56 pm when Taylor’s name was announced as contestant number four in round one of “Terrific Thursday”.

He wore a grey suit, complete with his trademark pink shirt and shoes, and a black bowler hat, which was reminiscent of the style worn by one of his main mentors, Aldwyn “Lord Kitchener” Roberts. It also reflected the soon-to-be 53-year-old’s many years he has spent performing in the Calypso Revue Tent.

Things took on a more nostalgic tone in round two, when Taylor walked onto “The Big Stage” in a black suit and black bowler hat at 11.54 pm to perform “Crying in the Chapel”.

His ode to calypsonians and other Carnival personalities who’ve all died during the Carnival period, including the recent passing of Seadley “Penguin” Joseph and Sonny “Mighty Power” Francois, drew applause from audience members and the nodding of heads among members of the media who knew the late calypsonians.

Unlike many of the other finalists, Taylor chose to let his lyrics and delivery “speak for him” rather than relying on elaborate backdrops and skits to help bring across his message.

“Calypso is calypso. The props will help you yes, but the props is not it. Is what the song says...This one (victory) is for the Calypso Revue and for the Grandmaster, Lord Kitchener,” Taylor said after his victory.

However “The Pink Panther” did employ a hearse and a coffin, complete with a large wreath on top, during his performance of “Crying in the Chapel”.

When asked if he had expected to win this year, the veteran calypsonian told reporters, “I know I performed well but I didn’t know I would have won.”

During an interview with Newsday yesterday afternoon, Taylor’s songwriter and mentor, Hollis “Chalkdust” Liverpool, congratulated him on “a masterful job”.

“He got the songs very, very late. In fact, ‘Crying in the Chapel’ was only completed Wednesday night. Pink Panther’s years of experience served him well, because he was able to learn that song in a matter of hours. (He) was also very smart to sing the verses of “Travel Woes” which earned the highest audience approval during his performances at the (Calypso) Revue Tent,” Liverpool revealed.

Among those sending Taylor congratulations yesterday, was the People’s National Movement (PNM), of which he is a party member.

Taylor, himself, was once was the PNM candidate for the constituency of Toco/Sangre Grande during the May 2010 general election. In order to contest the seat, Taylor had to resign from his post as supervisor of the Ministry of Community Development’s St Andrew/St David regional office, a job which he had held for 31 years.

Ultimately, Taylor lost the election to PP candidate, and member of the United National Congress, Dr Rupert Griffith, who was first appointed Tourism Minister but who now holds the portfolio of Science and Technology Minister.

Taylor’s first win was in 1992, when he was crowned Young King, while he has made it to the Calypso Monarch finals three previous times - 1998, 1999 and 2000, all of which were part of Dimanche Gras at the Queen’s Park Savannah on Carnival Sunday.

This year, however, the National Carnival Commission (NCC) chose to make Dimanche Gras a showcase of champions, rather than the night on which the Calypso Monarch and the King and Queen of Carnival are crowned.

Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO) president Lutalo “Brother Resistance” Masimba felt pleased by the production although the competition still ran for almost six hours.

Such long hours had become a complaint about the Dimanche Gras in recent years prompting the removal of its competitive elements this year.

Masimba is hopeful TUCO can improve on its time management next year.

“I think that once we continue with this show on a Thursday night, we could lift it above and beyond what Dimanche Gras has claimed. If it doesn’t work, we could always say ‘Alright. Let’s go back to Carnival Sunday night’,” he said. “Nothing is cast in stone but I think that calypsonians must feel good about themselves, that they have National Calypso Monarch final as a stand-alone event. That is the important thing.”

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