The man who crooned the Calypso
You know the song, the one that grabs your ears and immediately makes you think about all things Manchester United, from the Busby Babes to this site’s very own Rant Cast. It’s a remarkable piece of music that has stood the test of time; the song that every member of the Old Trafford faithful must have in his or her repertoire. Known simply as “The Manchester United Calypso.”
Calypso is also a really catchy number. There’s a stylish swagger, yet it never lets go of its vibrancy, fun and charm. If anything the calypso embodies the spirit of the club; the need to be bold, adventurous, imaginative, with an obligation to entertain the masses.
The Calypso was written and sung by Edric Connor, who moved to England from Trinidad in 1944 – and if anyone was born to record the song it was actor and musician. Throughout his career Connor was a trailblazer, helping to popularise calypso music, becoming the first black actor to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company, setting up the Afro-Asian Caribbean Agency to represent Black and minority artists, as well as establishing a theatre workshop.
Indeed, he appeared on the BBC’s Calling the West Indies show just two weeks after moving from Trinidad and despite uprooting to England he was keen to ensure that he represented the best of the land of his birth.
“I would think coming to this country right after the war, as Edric did, and getting into BBC radio, and moving among the people, he did a great deal of good for our own community,” his wife Pearl once revealed.
“Setting standards. He saw himself as a self-appointed ambassador for his country, Trinidad. We were very nationalistic back then. We believed we had a country worth of recognition”.
"Now, football is a pleasent game,
Played in the sun, played in the rain,
And the team that gets me excited,
Is Manchester United.
If ever they’re playing in your town,
You must get to that football ground."
In an era when opportunities for artists of colour were at best scarce, Connor was at the forefront of knocking at the door. Connor opened up avenues of opportunity and expose the wider public to different cultures.
Connor led the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra, which performed in the Festival of Britain in 1951, acted in a number of television shows and productions, and recorded an LP of Jamaican folk music with “The Caribbeans,” including a track called “Day Dah Light” – the inspiration to Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song (Day-O)”
Connor, in his on inimitable style, was on hand to challenge perceptions and break down barriers. That said his experience wasn’t without its frustrations, as opportunities to direct or produce programmes always seemed out of reach.
“He trained with the BBC. This gave him a qualification but, after he completed his training, he wasn’t given the opportunity to direct,” Pearl added. “Not one BBC assignment came his way.” Connor eventually achieved his goal of becoming a filmmaker by directing a number of short films about the Caribbean.
It was in 1955 that Edric Connor first sang the now familiar refrain “Now, football is a pleasant game, played in the sun, played in the rain.” And the team that got him excited? Manchester United. Despite being a pioneer Connor was late to the football calypso game, taking his cue from Edmundo Ros who sang the “Exotic Football Calypso” in 1953. Ros’ song was about settling a pub debate: who was the best team in England. The sides up for the title were Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Portsmouth, Newcastle United and Blackpool.
Connor was unequivocal. His ode to the bouncing Busby Babes perfectly summed up Sir Matt’s youthful side; a joyful rendition of a group of skillful entertainers. Dennis Viollet was a fan and it’s a testament to Calypso’s enduring quality that the song is still a favourite amongst fans over 60 years on.
The hand of sadness touches the song, of course, as the eight of the Babes who were celebrated in the Calypso perished on that fateful day in February 1958. Yet, Connor’s popular tribute to Sir Matt’s young champions also gives fans another way to remember heroes of years gone by.
In the past couple of seasons the Reds haven’t lived up to the spirit of the song, playing at a dull, soporific tempo under Louis van Gaal. Recent performances under José Mourinho’s watch suggest that the club is rediscovering its swagger and mojo.
Connor passed in 1968 from a stroke. Awards have been named in his honour, while his Calypso still encapsulates the magic of the club. If Mourinho’s team keeps up its performance levels and is playing at a stadium near you then, to borrow Connor’s wise words, “get yourself to that football ground.”
At the end of the season if all goes well United fans will be singing “they’re the best, there is no doubt, so raise a cheer and give a shout.” Connor would surely be nodding his head in agreement.