After years of domination by Machel Montano, soca’s hottest couple, Bunji Garlin and Fay Ann Lyons, ushered in a new era in the history of PoisonUK’s Carnival Friday fetes when they headlined the event on August 28th 2009.
The event titled “Energy – The Carnival Concert” accorded Garlin (Ian Alvarez) and his wife Lyons, backed by the Asylum band, an accolade that had hitherto eluded them.
They used the platform to brilliant effect, bringing a militant brand of blazing soca to the Troxy, east London, which on the whole was eagerly consumed by the large audience. Comparisons with Montano are inevitable. And it was apparent, from the empty space in the venue’s ground floor that the performers did not have as much pulling power as their predecessor.
Garlin, celebrating his 10th year in the soca business, addressed this during one of his many chats with the audience during the set, stating that not everyone would like what he had to say or sing and that did not faze him.
Reigning Trinidad and Tobago International Power Soca, Groovy Soca and Road March Monarch Lyons, was given the honour of opening the band’s set with Heavy T Bumper, the catchy groovy soca tune which won her the title of the same name. That song as well as her other crown-winning hit Meet Superblue saw Lyons going back to the root of soca, fusing simple lyrics with beautiful guitar, brass and drum riffs.
Lyons’ intro set up a tag-team display with her husband in which one song smoothly segued into another, punctuated by guest appearances from Benjai (Rodney Le Blanc) and chutney star Hunter (Lalchan Babwah).
In the nearly two hours they were on stage, they took patrons through almost their entire repertoire of hits. The Heavy T Bumper rolled into Garlin’s Banana and Plenty Gyal. Then Lyons regained the spotlight with Focus on Me.
Other crowd-pleasers included Fireman, Snake Oil, Licks, Bomb Song and Fete from Garlin, while Lyons worked her magic with Break Away, Get On, her 2008 Road March hit and Get On Bad in which she took the role of the late singer Onika Bostic to duet with Garlin.
Showing the breadth of their musical knowledge, the couple also performed some of their favourite songs. Lyons led the way, paying tribute to the late Michael Jackson with a triple treat: Thriller, Bad and Billie Jean.
Garlin, in stark contrast, kept things strictly Caribbean. He chose Gabby’s Boots, Ah Want It All D Time by Johnny King and Soca Baptist, by his father-in-law, Superblue.
When he did join the couple on stage, Benjai’s solo set was disappointingly brief. He performed the classic By De Bar and Drunk Again, his popular 2009 offering. He later returned briefly for Clear De Way before rejoining the chorus line.
Hunter handled his London debut with ease and brought humour to the set performing his 2008 and 2009 hits Bring It and Jep Sting Naina.
In a dizzying climax to the show, the likes of which the Art Deco Troxy had probably never witnessed before, Lyons had patrons running from left to right, back and forth on the dancefloor between banks of wary onlookers as she sang her 2009 Road March and Power Soca Monarch smash Meet Superblue.
The energy with which the show ended, belied its lacklustre beginning.
Barbadian sensation Peter Ram got things started with his soulful soca track Woman By My Side. But things went rapidly downhill thereafter as he chose to let the audience sing his songs, eliciting a poor response.
London boy Scrappy, representing Montserrat, was more successful and kept his performance short and sweet with one song.
The atmosphere seemed to be heating up with the appearance of New York-based Grenadian singer Berbice. The crowd reveled in singing his 2008 hit Traffic. However, Berbice then proceeded to race through his tracks, calling to the sound engineers to “run de track fast”. His tactic ruined the atmosphere.
It was left to veteran soca bard Iwer George to get the party properly started. Only when he bounced onto the stage did the tempo and temperature of the event begin to soar.
Although he belted out hit after hit, George did not need to. His set took care of itself with the audience enthusiastically backing him on each track: Carnival Come Back Again; Trinidad; Fete After Fete; and Ready. George sent the crowd wild when, performing Water, he liberally sprayed patrons with bottles of the liquid.
Later, he repeated the act when he invited Kerryn ‘Super Trini’ Seale on stage to see whether he could “mash up” the crowd while performing with the bard. Sporting a red Mohican haircut and wearing red overalls, Seale matched George with his command of the crowd and won 50 pounds from the singer.
Speaking after his performance, George said: “I was last in London eight years ago and after all that time I still come back and mash up the place – Now that’s a story.”
The entertainment value of the show went up a notch further with the arrival of Lil Rick. In a sometimes hilarious performance, the Barbadian executed a number of eye-popping gyrations which should have merited parental advisory warnings.
Ric’s vocal delivery did not falter either as he opened his set with Cyar Wait and steadily flowed into hits such as Hard Wine remixed with a Kassav rhythm, Two for Two and Girls Gone Wild.
Together, Iwer George and Lil Rick created a fitting preamble to the night’s main act and eclipsed the unexplained absence of St Lucian Soca Monarch Ricky T, who for the second year running was a no-show.