Sunday, February 05, 2006

12 songshine

12 the band performing at Trevor's Edge, St. Augustine

As we start to get near to St. John's Road, we join a parade of traffic. It's Panorama judging night at Exodus panyard, and the crowd spills out onto the Main Road, and, lordy, where will we park? We find a lucky spot round the corner. Are we the only ones not here to hear pan?

Trevor's Edge, the little dive just above Eastern Main Road, used to be called Tony's Tavern (sign outside: "Since 1984 and still escalating"). In my UWI days I used to come here sometimes for a whisky and soda--those were my whisky-drinking days--or a roast beef sandwich--those were also my carnivorous days.

I don't know who Trevor is, or why he's on edge, but apart from moving the bar to the northern side of the room and crowning it with an aquarium of alarmed-looking goldfish, he's pretty much preserved Tony's aesthetic: dark, smoky, the low ceiling painted black. On the eastern side of the room there's a small stage--well, a platform a few inches high, a black-curtain backdrop decorated with gilt-paper stars, and a couple of simple spotlights.

The place is packed, though it doesn't take too many to pack it. I fight to get noticed at the bar. Some friends who got here early have a table right in the middle of things, and I manoeuvre into a chair.

A--- the photographer has never heard 12 perform; she's talking to R--- the designer. "What kind of music?" "I call it alternative calypso."

The programme starts with an open-mike session: a couple of fresh-faced poets; twin sisters who do a kind of operatic rap number; a rapso artist who calls himself Big Bamboo.

Then the lights go down and come back up, and there's Sheldon Holder in his trademark red track jacket with the white arm-stripes, and there's the band, and they look relaxed and excited at once.

There's a BBC producer in the house tonight, recording material for a radio documentary, pointing a big fuzzy mike.

And as they start to play, the sound for a moment seems shockingly big for such a small room, and I wonder how we'll all fit--all these bodies packed in plus the music--and then I stop wondering and just listen.

The last time I heard them play was the end of December, a festive gig where everyone was sexy and glittering and somehow impossibly distant. But there's something cosy about tonight--no one's more than twenty feet from the stage, and everyone's coddled in the warmth of the bodies of strangers.

And as the room pulses and hums to the now-familiar songs, I think how much I enjoy seeing Sheldon on stage--his big, serious eyes, his side-to-side bob, the little wine he sometimes breaks into behind his guitar. And Johnny Hussain on lead guitar is never not brilliant, but tonight he's tossing off miracles without breaking a sweat. And my favourite moment comes when Sheldon looks back at Johnny's fingers on the fret, and he can't suppress a wide-eyed grin.

And a hundred feet away in the dewy night, Exodus prepares to open the gates of the divine: the keys are steel and flesh and nerves.

And in here I'm clutching A---'s camera bag in my lap, and someone I don't know is jamming my chair, and later my clothes will stink of tobacco, and Sheldon's big, boldfaced voice pleads and cajoles us into smiles.

"I trying myself not to let it blow my mind / my good Trinidad mind."

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