In the wake of the scandalous treatment of the Windrush immigrants by the current UK government, let's celebrate the work of a singer who appeared to write an 'optimistic' song from that 1948 first wave - but contained extra irony. When Trinidadian Aldwyn Roberts arrived on the HM Windrush Empire that year, one of the the first 5,000, invited on the back of a big recruitment drive by the British government with a real shortfall in workforce, and these men and women took up jobs on public transport or trained as nurses, their experiences were mixed to say the least. In short, white racists were everywhere. But the event was given a positive spin, and on this Pathé footage, which begins at Heathrow Airport with a terribly awkward interview between Alfred Hitchcock and Ingrid Bergman, we eventually see the calypso star do a quiet rendition of this specially written song. It comes across as a wide-eyed piece of optimism, but is it really? That's because we only hear the first two verses:
So what really was the song saying? Kitch, who managed to gain some acclaim on the live circuit, and appeared on the BBC several times, didn't actually record the song until 1951, but let's consider the entire thing, especially the final verse:
London is the place for me
London this lovely city
You can go to France or America
India, Asia or Australia
But you must come back to London city.
Well believe me I am speaking broadmindedly
I am glad to know my Mother Country
I have been travelling to countries years ago
But this is the place I wanted to know
London that is the place for me.
To live in London you are really comfortable
Because the English people are very much sociable
They take you here and they take you there
And they make you feel like a millionaire
London that's the place for me.
At night when you have nothing to do
You can take a walk down Shaftesbury Avenue
There you will laugh and talk and enjoy the breeze
And admire the beautiful scenery
Of London that's the place for me.
Yes, I cannot complain of the time I have spent
I mean my life in London is really magnificent
I have every comfort and every sport
And my residence is Hampton Court
So London, that's the place for me.
So while this song seemed part of a smiling PR machine to promote the influx of Caribbean immigrants, Kitch, who was a slick lyric writer with a keen sense of humour, seemed to put a whole twist in the song. The final verse suggests that London is the place if you live in Hampton Court and are, who else, but the well-travelled Queen? So history rarely reveals that whole song, beginning with those mock-Big Ben chimes, is ironic, not merely for what really happened to the immigrants concerned, but also in tone. This would entirely be consistent for the artist who also wrote songs such as When You're Brown and If You're Not White, You're Black.
Let's look at another version of this song, taken up in an overblown Latinesque performance by Trinidadian-Venezuelan Edmundo Ros, who picked up and dined out on the song in a big way, but changed the final verse completely when playing at the Royal Variety Show in 1962, the same year that Kitch, who during his time in the UK had left London for Manchester, where he got married, and ran a nightclub, went back to Trinidad. Edmundo Ros, meanwhile, obviously was having a completely non-ironic good time in front of the Queen:
Meanwhile Lord Kitchener, who though part of a trend at the time to adopt titled names, chose one that was ironic through and through - copying a First World War general known for recruiting men to die on the Somme, and who set up concentration camps during the Boer War. This time Britons needed workers to man their trains, buses and hospitals.
So the singer Lord Kitchener who married and stayed in England until 1962, and then returned to Trinidad to remarry and have four children. Clearly London was never really the place for him, and while he had a better time in Manchester for a few years, this other song is a truer reflection of his experience in the UK capital. Again it contains beautifully written, elegant lyrics in that calypso style, displaying an unparalleled charm about experiences that are anything but sweet:
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