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The History of Steelband in Trinidad and Tobago

Just call him Mr. St James

June 24, 1996
By Kim Johnson

Norman Darway
Norman Darway as a young budybuilder (left)
and as he is today

As he threw his mind back over the decades, Norman Darway stared into the empty space just in front his feet. Then, after a few motionless seconds, he began speaking almost like a man hypnotized, describing the St James rumshops of his childhood in the Forties: Correia's rumshop, another one where is now Smokey and Bunty's, one at the site of KFC, Moriah rumshop, Kaydoo rumshop on Luckput Street, another one where Kyle's now is-Green Lantern.

This is where my search for a story on St James had brought me, to this sixty-something-year-old, bald, walnut-brown man who mentally strolled around the village of his childhood to point out its watering holes for me.

Then, continuing his promenade, he lists the gambling clubs, the two zoos--how many people know that St James had two zoos?--the many Barbadians who settled in Angelina Street where we sat. He introduced me to Tall Joseph, a sexton at St Mary's Church who godfathered many Hindus who were baptized so they could attend the Catholic school. This explained the many Indians in the most Indian of towns with Christian names like Joseph, Jeffers, Bowen, Lewis.

Norman Jeffers changed the name of the All India cricket club in 1957 to Dreadnought to include African players like Reynold "Mop" Cumberbatch. Desmond Bowen was a tuner in Crossroad steelband; he learned under Winston "Wolf" King. The Lewis brothers organised a big windball competition.

Darway sits on the stoop bare-backed, wearing bedraggled shorts and old track shoes.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Darway," says a slim young woman in an office uniform who climbs the steps, enters the kitchen and disappears into another room. She soon emerges in track pants and T-shirt and goes behind the garage where a few young men and women grind their teeth as they lift, pull or push enormous metal weights.

Darway interrupts his reminiscences to call out instructions to them.

"If she don't drop down dead, make her lift it, hold it for ten seconds and put it down," he calls to one man assisting a woman with a few hundred pounds on her shoulders.

Speaking in his slow way, he tells of how he came to run a free private gym for the young people in St James since October 1955 - 40 years ago.

"Crossroad was going to play Yucumbi Warriors the coming Carnival and the youngsters were playing bareback," he explains. "From then on some stayed and others joined until Ivan King came and won Mr Trinidad in 1964. Then Albert Marshall won the Short Man International and Teddy Herbert, the wrestler, won the Mr Trinidad title."

Over those years equipment was donated by, among others, Crossroad's captain "Wolf", by Casablanca's captain Raymond "One Man" Mark and by Lennox Kilgour, who won an Olympic bronze in weightlifting.

He gazes from under his heavy eyelids and chuckles: "I was Mr Junior Trinidad back then. At 185 pounds I curled 200 pounds."

He was also, briefly, a goalkeeper with Wolves and once he ran with Mannie Dookie's team from Kandahar.

But as with weight training, Darway's real contribution was to facilitate other people, first by managing the St James Football League since 1957, then by organising the first island-wide windball cricket league in 1962, and finally by maintaining and managing the St James Infirmary Sports Ground, which was named the Norman Darway Grounds.

Ironically, it all stemmed at least in part, from what made him a "miserable" schoolboy, his tendency to get into fights.

"A Cocorite side was playing St James proper, and some fellas from the St James Youth Movement got tapped-up," he recalls. "The Cocorite manager called out to me and said what was going on, so I spoke to them and they listened to me. They asked me to referee the game and the following day two other teams also asked me to referee, so I began to manage the League."

He looks up out of his reverie and laughs to say, "I wasn't easy in my day, you know."

As a child he was sent from school to school because of his combativity, and when he got older, he still moved from place to place, this time because he was respected by all and sundry. Throughout, he kept his eyes and ears open, so that today his knowledge of his favourite topic, the steelband movement in "the west", is detailed and intimate and encyclopedic.

Inevitably the conversation drifts to the St James bands--Harlem Nightingales, Nob Hill, Sun Valley, Grow More Food, Tripoli, North Stars, Five Graves to Cairo, Crossfire, Crossroads, Pioneers and on and on. His achievement here is his knowledge and his phenomenal memory of the men who formed these bands.

He met them all as he moved from Tripoli to Crossroad to Invaders, not as a player but as a friend and supporter, observing everyone and everything, having an ace reporter's instinct to be at the right place in the right time, as well as a storyteller's gift for narrative:

"I was there when Jack killed the man - it was Independence Day or some kind of celebration. The man was speaking to me, complaining that Jack hit him and promising he wasn't going to take that. 'Darway, I not going to take it cause I haven't done Jack anything.' Then Jack say, 'Well I go give you something to take.'

"And Jack went inside Invaders kitchen and come out with a knife, holding it in his left hand, in his palm, and when the boy see him coming he just go to run and in that split second his right foot slip and Jack come down with the knife and when he pull it back the boy shirt make a balloon and he hold his chest and spin to say, 'Darway, you see what he do me? I eh taking this, I eh taking this.' And he fall."

The story I must write, I see, isn't about St James but about Mr. St James, no other than Norman Darway.

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