Do not go gentle
By B.C. Pires
The Longest Kiss Goodnight, jointpop
jointpop: Gary Hector, Damon Homer, Jerome Girdharrie, Dion Camacho, and Phil Hill. Photograph by Jane Decle, courtesy jointpop
In 1977, as a sixth form student in Bedford, England, I was spending every weekend I could in London, and may well have seen the Police, before they were called the Police.
I’d been walking around Chelsea aimlessly, pining for my girlfriend and the Trinidad she represented, and walked into a pub that was as good as any other for buying a pack of cigarettes. In the corner, making a very loud noise, were three young men: bass; guitar; drums; all blond; all energy; the drummer’s back bent like a staple, he was that tall. They half-registered on my mind, the penny dropping a year and a half later when, driving through the same neighbourhood late one night, at the height of the success of “Roxanne”, I saw a piece of graffiti on a wall: “The Police: a Chelsea band.”
Rock music has meant so much to me, personally — Bob Dylan spoke to me before Bob Marley, the Rolling Stones before David Rudder, the Beatles before the Mighty Sparrow, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, and Carlos Santana before Andre Tanker — that, since that night in Chelsea, I’ve hoped it was the Police I saw in that pub. They became so big, I wanted to have known them before they were the Police, to have had a real, concrete connection to them before they were stars — even if that supposedly intimate moment consisted of turning my back on them to buy twenty Camels.
If and when jointpop make it big, and they deserve to be bigger than the Police, I shall have had very many real moments with them. Every time I’ve seen them has been like the first time — and I’ve seen them for fifteen years and through almost as many lineups (built around the core of lead singer/songwriter Gary Hector and lead guitarist Damon Homer). This is a band that remains as urgent, after fifteen years of a lack of commercial success, as they were when they started out. Their songs today are every bit as good as the first ones they made; the Police should have been that unlucky. jointpop played at my own book launch and at the launch of Cré Olé, the restaurant guide magazine I edit, with Andre Tanker blowing the blues harp with them at what may have been his last gig. They hold a special place in my heart, not because they’re my pardners, but because of the quality of work they do and have always done.
Listen, now, to their first album, the amazing Lost in Space (Port of Spain Style), the title track of which I used as the theme for my short-lived radio show. You’ll hear a calypso/soca strum and the same rhythm that you’ll hear in a steel band on J’Ouvert morning — but, on top of that familiar foundation, you’ll find real rock songs. I wrote, happily, when I first heard their calypso-rock ballad “After ½ Past Nine”, that it was no exaggeration to say I had been waiting all my life for this music.
Of course, you won’t hear exactly that on their latest album, The Longest Kiss Goodnight. By now, with the addition (since the album before this one) of Phil Hill on keys, Jerome Girdharrie on bass, and drummer Dion Camacho, jointpop has levelled off as a rock and roll band that happens to come from Trinidad, rather than a Trinidadian rock and roll band.
jointpop makes no attempt to deny its Trini roots — but it makes even less of an attempt to deny the songs “God sends” (as Hector frankly expressed it in Walt Lovelace’s film Desperate Houseflies, which documents the recording of their previous album, The January Transfer Window). And what God sent this time ’round are (mainly) hard rocking, riff-driven rock and roll songs.
The perennial jointpop-ian concern of not fitting in (at least to the Trinidadian radio stations’ view of what is playable on air) is reflected in what may be jointpop’s most audacious song ever, “Souls For Sale”. As they did on Exile Baby’s “New Fast Food”, the band uses the eff-word to great effect in defending its territory. And that territory now is rock and roll, plain and simple — including the best versions of the power ballad since, well, since jointpop’s last album. Chief songwriter Hector’s own affection for the Rolling Stones informs (what are for me) the album’s two strongest songs after “Souls For Sale”. “Planes, Trains, and Pain” could have come off the Stones’ Black & Blue or Tattoo You; and a contender for Hector’s best vocal, and the band’s best-produced single, “We Can’t Work It Out”, is as much rhythm-and-blues as it is rock and roll, just like the best of the Stones, just like the bess of jointpop.
In “Please Don’t Tell My In-Laws (I’m An Outlaw)”, the album does contain the band’s weakest song since Port of Spain Style’s “Urgent”, but the repetitive lyric only suffers by comparison with the kind of lyrical and melodic extravagance that made, say, three songs out of one in “Let’s Pray for Rock and Roll”.
What The Longest Kiss Goodnight reveals is the same thing any jointpop song, album, or gig reveals plainly: this is a hugely talented band that is now polished to a startling shine. You want to beat anyone who doesn’t recognise their greatness over the head — but, more than that, you want to do anything you can to persuade them to continue playing. If ever there was proof that the work was its own reward, it comes from jointpop. Better, by far, that they remain “unlucky” and write such great music than they make it big and don’t. But they’ll tell you themselves now: fuck that, it’s time to sell their souls; and their souls are going cheap.
Video footage from the recording sessions for The Longest Kiss Goodnight:
B.C. Pires began writing the newspaper column “Thank God It’s Friday” in the Trinidad Express in 1988. It currently appears in the Trinidad Guardian and online at www.BCRaw.com, along with his weekly Barbados Nation column, “BC’s B’dos”, and other features. Thank God It’s Friday: A Collection of Some of the Best Columns was published in 2005. He lives in Barbados, but just barely.