Caribbean Beat Magazine

Good and bad

Garry Steckles finds reason to celebrate in St Kitts, reason to mourn in the London High Court

  • The first international cricket match ever played in St Kitts at the new Warner Park ground, 24 May, 2006. Photo by Michael Head

I knew it was going to be a special day from the moment I heard the strains of “Rally Round the West Indies”.

I was on my way to play a bit part — as a spectator — in one of the most momentous days in the history of the island I call home, St Kitts. The occasion was a one day international cricket match between the West Indies and India. With the series between the teams in the balance at 1-1 after two dramatic games in Jamaica, it would have been a critical match no matter where it was played. But that wasn’t what had prompted the biggest single gathering of people in the history of this tiny Eastern Caribbean island, converging on Warner Park, located only a block or two from the heart of the capital city of Basseterre. The event itself was the magnet.

For one thing, it was the first international match ever in a cricket-crazy country with a population of fewer than forty thousand. For another, it was the first match in the island’s spanking new Warner Park cricket stadium. And, to sweeten the pot, it was the ground’s first tryout for next year’s ICC Cricket World Cup, when St Kitts will host two of the game’s superpowers, Australia and South Africa, as well as the Netherlands and Scotland, in the opening series of matches. (Which, as an aside, will be the first time World Cup games have been played in a country without a single traffic light. Just thought I’d mention it.)

As I headed for the ground around eight in the morning, the atmosphere was already festive. This was a special day, and everyone knew it, from excited youngsters who couldn’t wait for the first boundary to be scored so they could wave their “4” and “6” cards, to veteran fans who’d been waiting for this moment for a long time and were already celebrating its arrival with their first cold ones of the day.

In the West Indies, a special sporting occasion has to be accompanied by special music — in this part of the world, they don’t wait until the game’s over before they start to party; they start to party before it begins. So on my way to the ground, my fingers were firmly crossed that not only would the West Indies players get it right, but so would whoever had been chosen to play the music over the stadium’s sound system.

And, as David Rudder greeted me and thousands of other fans with his soca rallying call for West Indies cricket, I knew we had nothing to worry about on that score.

Inside the quite stunning ground — pause for a tip of the Steckles editorial hat to everyone from the architects to the contractors to the guys who laid the bricks and poured the cement — the news continued to be good on the cultural front: non-stop Rudder, with the Trini lyrics-man keeping the crowd’s joyous mood going with positive soca vibrations right up to the opening delivery. We even had a reprise of “Rally Round the West Indies” — written as an act of faith by Rudder when the first cracks started to appear in the then-world-champions’ armour in the late 1980s — from the local brass and big-drum band that circled the ground between innings.

It was a storybook occasion, and there had to be a storybook ending. It came when the West Indies won a cliff-hanger with a four from the second-to-last delivery of the game to take a 2-1 lead in the series, which they went on to clinch in Trinidad.

The spectators exploded as only a Caribbean cricket crowd can. It was the perfect end to a perfect day, and almost eight thousand overjoyed people left Warner Park knowing that not only had the West Indies team proved something, but so had they, and so had their island: St Kitts, its cricket stadium, and its cricket fans belong in the big leagues.

From a joyous event to a sad one.

Like millions of reggae fans around the world, I was distressed by an English High Court judge’s decision which could effectively ruin the life of the greatest bass player in the history of reggae music, Aston “Family Man” Barrett.

Barrett, whose incomparable bottom line played a huge role in defining the sound of Bob Marley and the Wailers throughout the 1970s, had been seeking sixty million pounds in what he claimed were unpaid royalties. His claim was against both Island/Universal Records, and, sadly, the Marley Estate, which effectively meant a costly, no-holds-barred court battle between him and the widow and family of the man who had been his best friend.

Not only did Barrett lose the case, but Mr Justice Kim Lewison flatly denied his claim, imposed an order barring him from taking any further action without the permission of the English High Court (not such bad news for me — I hadn’t realised we Brits still rule the world), and ordered Family Man to pay the Marley family a million pounds in damages (this on top of his own legal costs, estimated at nearly US$4 million). All of which means Barrett will almost certainly have to turn over his home and land in Jamaica to Rita Marley, Bob’s widow, with whom he toured the world for most of the 70s and who stood up in the London court room and described him as just another session man.

Her assessment might have been enough to tip the scales firmly in the great bass-man’s favour, but it was a safe bet that the average England High Court judge doesn’t spend his off-sentencing hours skanking to “Trench Town Rock”.

Rita’s argument was echoed by Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, who worked closely with Barrett on many of the Wailers’ seminal albums for Island. Blackwell also told the court that Family Man, unquestionably second only to Marley in the hierarchy of the Wailers when they were the hottest group on the planet, was just a sideman. He also testified that there were many other drum and bass combinations in Jamaica just as good as Family Man and his late brother Carlton, the other half of the Wailers’ fabled rhythm section.

I followed the case blow by blow, and I read the testimony and the ruling that followed it with a combination of horror and disbelief. I couldn’t help thinking of the words of a song by a talented young Kittitian reggae artist, Masud Sadiki: “I wonder how they sleep at night?”

Come to think of it, a troubled conscience seems unlikely to disturb their slumber.