Red Rose for Gregory…

Brief coverage of the funeral service for Gregory Isaacs, the Cool Ruler…

Photos: Annie Paul

This week was a brutal one. It started on Monday with the memorial service for Professor Barry Chevannes, whose sudden passing earlier this month took Jamaica by surprise. It ended today with the funeral service for the late Gregory Isaacs, the beloved Jamaican singer whose death a few weeks ago caused his name to trend on Twitter (worldwide) for an entire day. Considering how big Gregory was abroad it was surprising to see how small the crowd that came to send him off in Kingston was. The service was no less a treat for those who took the trouble to attend, myself included.

The star-packed programme ran smoothly and swiftly, with singer after singer performing to a rapturous audience in a rousing prelude to the actual service itself. The National Indoor Sports Centre was by no means filled to capacity but Gregory’s fans and friends sang and danced to his memory in a touching and heartfelt tribute to the cool ruler. It was a mature crowd, very few young folk around; I don’t recall seeing any of the big names in Dancehall there and no LA Lewis wasn’t in attendance…

Gospel singer, Barbara Jones

Ken Boothe, The Tamlins, Shaggy, Freddy McGregor, Judy Mowatt, George Nooks, A. J. Brown, Etana, Ernie Smith and the Nexus Choir were among those who performed while Tommy Cowan emceed the service. An enthusiastic bunch of women commandeered the video light by dancing and singing in the aisles when Nooks and Shaggy performed (see videos below).

Shaggy

Gregory was born in Fletcher’s Land, Kingston.His father was a Garveyite. His aunt, Mrs. Myrtle Shepherd, talked of how Gregory’s mother would dress him in sailor suits as a toddler. Numerous anecdotes were told of Gregory’s wit and good humour. Fond stories were related such as “Gregory used to say Neva bruk a man foot coz u might have to pass him on yr way back so just sprain ‘im ankle…” On another occasion when his room was invaded by enthusiastic fans in an African country where he had performed, he took refuge in someone else’s room after hiding the large sum of money he had earned under the ice machine at the hotel. According to him it was better that it got slightly wet than stolen.

Mikie Bennett once told me that Gregory was a very unassuming man, not given to delusions of grandeur despite his celebrity. When he performed at shows in Jamaica he would arrive early and ask to be allowed to perform soon so that people wouldn’t have to stay till the wee hours of the morning just to hear him. This is why i missed hearing him, when i arrived fashionably late at a Heineken Startime where he was performing, thus blowing my one chance of seeing Gregory Isaacs perform live.

Red roses, flags and Trilby hats were some of the memorabilia on sale outside the venue. On my way out i stopped to buy a Trilby and ended up taking the photo below of a fellow customer who couldn’t decide if he should take a white one or not. The picture convinced him to part with his money much to the vendor’s delight.

I leave you with some YouTube videos of the footage i took of the utterly heartwarming dancing and singing at the Cool Ruler’s funeral today. Have a look. Already in less than two days one of them has been viewed 634 times and the other one 723. We underestimate the interest of the Jamaican diaspora in what is happening back home. The following comments were left on the videos:

missmarjel Give thanks for posting this. It’s really important for those of us that could not be there in person. blessed.

and

MegaSoundkilla Do u have the clip when he Beried under the ground

Unfortunately i don’t have any footage of the burial not having gone to Dovecot for the interment. Incidentally quite a few people are angry that Gregory Isaacs was not given a hero’s funeral at Heroes’ Park and are circulating a petition to remedy this. On the matter of the low attendance at the service a music producer friend thought it might have been due to its being the third event in his honour in the space of a week. Last Thursday there was a huge free concert in his honour which was extremely well attended. I’m glad i went to the funeral service though. There’s nothing to beat the spirits and vibes at a Jamaican funeral anyway, but when its someone popular like Gregory or Bogle, it’s always extraordinary.

I apologize in advance for the abrupt way the videos end. was worried about batteries. Till soon.

A Patient by the Name of Gregory…

Gregory Isaacs. Legendary Jamaican singer dies. a memorial.

Gregory Isaacs, from the Gleaner archives

Gregory was drifting across the stage, in an orange three-piece suit, his skinny back swayed like a sea-horse, his voice a rippling whinny.

–Colin Channer, Waiting in Vain

It’s for lines like this that I rate Colin Channer; with 25 cannily chosen words he curates a transcendental image of  the inimitable Gregory Isaacs, the much beloved Jamaican singer who surrendered to the big C in London today. Popular well beyond the shores of this small island the words Gregory and Isaacs have been trending worldwide on Twitter today. To understand what a feat this is, know that during the peak of Buju Banton’s recent troubles in New York, he trended for half a day in the New York region only. With Gregory every ten minutes 112 new tweets are pouring in from all over the world. Not all of them are in English (see sample below) showing that the Cool Ruler’s reach transcended geographic and linguistic boundaries in a virtual enactment of his song The Border. It’s hard to choose any one GI song as No. 1 but for me this one comes close.

If i could reach the border
Then I would step across
So please take me to the border
No matter what’s the cost
Cause I’m leaving here
I’m leaving out of Babylon…

This place could never be my home…
we waan we waan go home…
where the milk and honey flow
That’s where we want to go…
we waan we waan go home…
Africa we want to go…

So please take me to the border
and i will pay the cost
coz i’m leaving here…

The metaphor of Babylon has multiple meanings in Jamaica but the most potent is that of the biblical Babylon, the proverbial den of iniquity, reeking of corruption and venality…a place we know well…guarded by the world’s most brutal soldiers, themselves known as Babylon. The Jamaican Police.

When i moved to Jamaica in 1988 Gregory’s Rumours ruled the airwaves and the balmy, steamy nights just before Hurricane Gilbert. The dramatic opening chords and riddim bars hint at that heady mixture of menace and romance that typifies the Jamaican landscape. Another favourite…I still think of it as Rumours of War…which is what i thought i was hearing but it was actually Rumours a gwaan…

A pure rumours a gwaan, (rumours a gwaan)

Please mr. officer, leggo me hand
You don’t know me and you don’t understan’
You see me flashin’ a criss rental
So you claim that me a criminal

Rumours dem spreadin’…



Then who couldn’t love the perfectly fork-tongued Night Nurse, on the one hand a straightforward song of playful passion that so many couples can relate to, on the other a veiled paean to Gregory’s one time muse–the other big C–

Tell her it’s a case of emergency
There’s a patient by the name of Gregory

Night nurse
Only you alone can quench this Jah thirst
My night nurse, oh gosh
Oh the pain it’s getting worse

I don’t wanna see no doc
I need attendence from my nurse around the clock
‘Cause there’s no prescription for me
She’s the one, the only remedy

There have been 553 new tweets since i started writing this an hour ago. (PS: One is not making exaggerated claims for number of tweets as any indicator of real quality mind you, for alas, today, the day after i posted this, Gregory has been replaced by Paul the Octopus as a top trender. Apparently poor Paul was found dead in the water this morning. “Anyway Paul always had four feet in the grave…” quipped @Sidin. No doubt because his mortality had intimated itself to him !)

But back to Gregory…i present an excerpt from a conversation on Facebook between me and Olu Oguibe, a Nigerian artist and critic.


Olu Oguibe Declaring 24 hours of nothing but The Cool Ruler

Annie Paul Times like this you realize not just the breadth but the depth of Jamaican music...

Olu Oguibe Still remember and cherish my first Gregory Isaacs cassette tape: Gregory Isaacs Live at the Brixton Academy, 1984. Wasn’t till I moved to Britain 5 years later that I realized Brixton Academy isn’t a real academy, but a night club, lol!

I was once even wooed with Gregory’s words by someone who thought he was the paradigmatic expression of Jamaican male angst (‘Though she isn’t in my top ten, still she is on my chart…”). Gregory forever holds a place in my heart on that count.

Here’s a selection of tweets on Gregory from local tweeters. i challenge you to guess which singer @bigblackbarry is referring to:

bigblackbarry [to] @oblessa He isnt in the category I was referring to but your dad would prolly be the biggest trender currently god forbid if he died.

oblessa [to] @bigblackbarry yeah he would be in that catagory God forbid.

@bigblackbarry [to] @oblessa prolly the biggest i believe.

@bigblackbarry [to] @oblessa but he aint “current” so he doesnt count.

wadablood R.i.P gregory issacs real legend. What a year this has been oniel, sugar now gregory

@cucumberjuice Amen»RT @MsTrendsettas: Dear Lord, please don’t take Beres Hammond! Many thanks!

Below a few random tweets from the twitterverse at large…people expressing their appreciation of Gregory in many languages. Keep ruling Cool Ruler…

roots

@csr_0922 roots
また偉大なアーティストが逝ってしまった。R.I.P Gregory Isaacs http://bit.ly/9l6v5l

João Júnior

@joaojunior_pi João Júnior
Rra relembrar a lenda GREGORY ISAACS NO RONDA DO POVÃO – TV MEIO NORTE http://t.co/aXUq1Go via @youtube

brandy@whothefackcares brandy

I DO care about Gregory Isaacs…R.I.P

Rafa Melo

@RafaellaMelog Rafa Melo
R.I.P. Gregory Isaacs, uma lenda do reggae.

황승식

@cyberdoc73 황승식
얼마전 타계한 Gregory Isaacs을 추모하며, 그가 부른 Night Nurse란 곡( http://youtu.be/K6oYyG0KcvQ )을 듣습니다. 멋모르고 처음 쓴 논문이 교대 근무 간호사에서 수면 장애에 관한 내용인지라 달리 들립니다.