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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Sunday, May 04, 2003
    Buster and Stab Up - Ska freedom
    Hush up.
    Now the court is in session, will you please stand.
    First allow me to reintroduce myself.
    My name is Judge Dread, otherwise called Judge Four-Hundred Years.
    I am the very same judge who put down those sentences on you,
    Five hundred years and five hundred lashes,
    But have lately
    Been getting letters, phonecalls,
    And the Probation Officer has recommended
    That I be a little more lenient with you
    Because you are showing signs of reform.
    Well, I have seen to be in agreement
    And have brought for you today
    To celebrate your freedom
    Your Probation Officer.
    And your Probation Officer is none other
    Than Mister Jools Holland .....

    Absolute genius on Later last night, from Ska pioneer Prince Buster, performing Barrister Pardon, one of his Judge Dread songs, vignettes of Jamaican social relations over a chorus of upbeat horns playing a slowed New Orleans-style shuffle. With Jools on keyboards, when Buster as Õthe judgeÕ pronounced freedom, insisting, ÒI want to see you danceÓ, the resultant rhythm set the whole studio swinging in celebration. Glorious.

    And timely. Because it melded so well with my impressions of another courtroom scene, wonderfully described by Darcus Howe in this weekÕs New Statesman, from his last visit to Trinidad. ItÕs so good and full of grace IÕm just going to reproduce it here, unaltered.
      So much of the news in Trinidad is about crime and punishment. Everybody screams for blood and incarceration, even of children, but sometimes mercy intervenes unexpectedly. The last time I was there, a couple of months ago, I visited a magistrates' court with a friend. His youngest son, "Boy Boy", had relieved a woman of a gold chain and was charged with robbery.

      Waiting for the case to be called, we saw a young man in the dock charged with possession of an offensive weapon - a meat cleaver. The prosecutor said that his alias was "Stab Up". At the magistrate's request, Stab Up, who said he carried the meat cleaver in self-defence, demonstrated how he concealed it at his waist. He constantly shuffled around and adjusted his trousers. This discomfort had attracted the suspicion of the police.

      "Stab Up," said the magistrate, "tell me why I should not send you to prison forthwith."

      "Sir," came the reply, "I could sing. I could sing real good. I go make it big as a singer if yuh give me a chance."

      "You could sing?"

      "Yes, sir. I have some demo tapes and I take them to a record producer who tell me I good, I real good. I could make the big time. Gimme a chance nuh, sir. Is only one chance I want."

      "You say you could sing? Then sing for me."

      Stab Up rolled his shoulders, lifted his head to the ceiling, closed his eyes as the entire courtroom hung in suspense. And Stab Up sang.

      A mellifluous voice filled the air. His diction and his phrasing were perfect. Soon the corridor close to the courtroom was packed and Stab Up rendered the song a cappella, his hand close to his mouth as though he were holding a microphone. When he reached for the high note, he bent his right knee and hit a magnificent pitch. He took his final bow.

      The magistrate's face was wreathed in smiles. He clapped and a thunderous ovation exploded about the courtroom. Stab Up's eyes were darting all around. The magistrate told the defendant that normally he would have sent him to prison for 18 months. He knew, he said, that he would be pilloried in the press for setting Stab Up free, but he was prepared to take the chance.

      Stab Up got two years' probation. I doubt he could reach those heights ever again. He saw bars as he sang - and they weren't musical ones.