Neil Macey – Sailor Mas From Trinidad to Notting Hill Carnival
Sailor Mas From Trinidad to Notting Hill Carnival
I was born in 1938 in East Dry river on ‘the hill’ (Clifton Hill). I was the eldest of 6 children. My father was Ivan Macey from Jackson Lane, St Pauls street and my motherwas Sylvia Slater. I grew up in my grandparents house. My maternal grandfather, Pa William Slater had immigrated to Trinidad from St Vincent and had built the house himself on land owned by an absentee Scottish landowner. In the local neighbourhood where I grew up in East Dry River (Port of Spain, Trinidad) the local steel band used to bring out a Sailor Mas. That band was called City Symphony. That was my uncle’s band who played tenor pan in it (Uncle John Slater who in 1986 wrote his account of growing up with steelband-published in 1995 as The Advent of Steelband and my life and times with it.) My brother also used to play pan in it. I had been forbidden to join the steelband by my mother who thought it would bring me into bad company! John was born in 1931 and more like an older brother to me than an uncle. That band was in St Pauls Street. John was at school with Roderick ‘Tench’ Waldron, Wilfred ‘Speaker’ Harrison, Neville Jules, Arthur ‘Art’ de Couteau and Albert Jones- all of whom went on to be significant names in the world of pan. John himself was the arranger for City Sypmphony. He had been selected to go to England with T.A.S.P.O in 1951 but became ill and could not travel.
All the youth in the neighbourhood used to play mas with that band so it was like one big family. In my neighbourhood there were lots of steel bands. We had Tokyo, Fascinators, Hill 60, and City Symphony. They were all in competition and you had Fascinators playing ‘Fancy Sailor’, not an ordinary sailor with just a cap on. They always had fantastic headpieces. It was very flamboyant. I think Tokyo also used to have fantastic headpieces. And I know that on the next hill to us, Desperadoes steel band also played sailor mas. All the steel bands behind the bridge brought out a Sailor Mas. It was the cheapest costume mas. Lots of the men living in the neighbourhood worked in the docks. My grandfather and my uncle worked in the docks.
Women as well as men used to play Sailor Mas in the band, everyone was included. I didn’t play in a band when I was a child and I only joined as a late teenager. It was me and my brother and all my uncles who used to play. Uncle Sonny didn’t get very far with the band because before we’d even left from behind bridge he would be lying drunk in the drain! One of my uncles used to come up from San Fernando for carnival and he used to play Juju Warrior mas. That was very different and is a mas that you don’t see any more because it’s quite reactionary. They would be all blackened up and in little tight shorts and covered in beads with all kinds of skeletons and bones decorating their body. It was really harking back, trying to depict something from Africa. A racial stereotype really. It was quite scary and children used to be afraid of mas. They used to hide behind their parents.
My father and sister Joyce used to play sailor Mas with All Stars, but I wasn’t connected with All Stars at all. She was daddy’s girl. Not all people from Behind the Bridge played with bands from Behind the Bridge. Some went out and played with bands in Belmont and Woodbrook. They brought out bands with some big themes like The Fall of Rome.
I left Trinidad in 1962 at age 24. I had trained as an electrician and was working on The Hilton hotel and other big projects and had no desire to leave. I was having a great time but in my youth I was a bit of a tearaway. I went everywhere and I did all kind of things and mixed with some pretty dodgy people who unfortunately got into some serious trouble with the police. I was involved and had to get away so my mother bought me a one way ticket and sent me to my aunt in England. At first I hated it but I soon found friends and we used to frequent The Colherne pub in Earls court and other clubs in the West End like the Q club in Carnaby street and a club in Paddington. My cousin Len took me to my first ‘Blues’ club in Hackney (I was living in Tottenham) and we used to go to The Four Aces club and other spots, where I got to love Jamaican music and still do. Most of the regulars at the Blues thought I was Jamaican. I bought records every week at Tims record store in Ridley road market and started doing DJ–ing for events like weddings and parties and nurses dance etc. I like to play all kinds of black music including Latin, African and jazz as well as soca and reggae. Later on in early 2000s I did DJ for Yaa band on the road and for ABC in Powis square. Celia (my wife) and I used to throw fabulous all night parties with the music blasting down the place! None of our neighbours called the police because the neighbours were at the party!!!
In 1962 I was working in Fergusons electronics factory in Enfield making televisions on the line. This was low level and boring work so I asked to be moved. They didn’t really believe I was so experienced and gave me a test. I passed it easily and was moved to the trouble shooting section to work on solving problems. My white workmates on the line never spoke to me after. That is where I met Sam, a Guyanese, who became my best buddy and we used to go to Blues together every weekend. He was like a brother to me. Sadly Sam died of Coronavirus last month.
In this country I always used to attend Notting Hill Carnival and lime on Trinidad hill with friends, Rupert Edinborough and Thomas Ferguson, drink lots of rum and watch the girls wining, but I never joined a mas band till 2000. I got to play Sailor with Yaa Asantewaa band through my connection with The Mighty Tiger (Ashton Moore founder of ABC, Association of British calypsonians) which shared the same community space as Yaa band mas camp. I was a judge in the calypso tent for a number of years but I don’t like to be in the limelight really. I played several times with Yaa and always different kinds of Sailor. I got to join Sunshine International Arts band through Celia and her friend Karen. I like to play Sailor because the costume is not expensive. It’s easy to wear and there is no fuss. It’s the easiest way to take part in carnival if you like winding and music and jumping up. I like taking part in carnival at all levels. It’s a nice fun day.
A note from Celia (Neil’s Wife), who recorded this for Neil: “Talking about the past without a nice drink of rum or whisky in his hand was not so easy! We don’t have any in the house as we’re too embarrassed to ask our kind white neighbour who is doing our shopping every week to buy rum! Also we know English people would not know to choose a nice Trini or nice Bajan or Jamaican rum and would probably come back with Captain Morgan which is only fit for cake!! So for more lively stories come back when the room is full of a few old timers of the Windrush generation!”