This is a throwback to an article I did for the Calypso Association 50th anniversary magazine in 2007. In the interest of increasing awareness of the accomplishments of some of our iconic calypsonians and increasing appreciation for the art form, I figured I would share some of that issue with you. This particular article looked at the Anchors of Antiguan calypso – not the superstars covered in Over the Boundary but the reliable contributors known for their consistent play, providing a strong foundation for the growth of the art form. The first of these looked at Franco, the second at Calypso Joe, the third at Calypso Jim, the fourth Scorpion, and the fifth at King Zacari. In this post, I’ll share the section of that article focused on The Mighty Bottle. DO NOT repost without permission or credit.
Few are sitting from his perch, and we’re not referring to the verandah of his Villa home. Percival ‘Bottle’ Watts – as an unrelenting practitioner of the art form, even during his years overseas, from its pre-Carnival days to present – is the very definition of old school Calypso. It was in recognition of his place in Antigua’s Calypso history that the Calypso Association recommended him as the 2007 Carnival Grand Master.
Bottle’s reflections, much like his Calypso, are filled with amusing anecdotes; such as how he came to be called Bottle in the first place. “In my younger days, I used to drink a lot of rum,” the one time Lord Persevere recalled. “I used to work at the Antigua Distillery. When we started having tents at Princess Elizabeth Hall, I used to go with a bottle of Brandy in my hand. This night I decide to go a little bit late, and as I walk into the tent them guys say, ‘here comes the Bottle’.” It stuck; much like Calypso had, thanks to Bottle’s early fascination with artistes like Kess – a St. Kitts import, and the likes of Trinidad’s Melody, Spoiler, Kitchener, and Sparrow.
He remembers, too, that in Calypso’s early days, it was standing room only at Princess Elizabeth Hall. He goes through a checklist of the performers: “myself, Prince Alfonso, Lord Mongay, Obstinate came in to that second part of it which would put Obstinate in the area of 1957, ’56 somewhere around there…Black Shirt was the first undocumented Calypso King of Antigua and that happened at Princess Elizabeth Hall in ’55. There was about nine or ten of us.”
As a songwriter, he likes to play with words. “A lot of people know me from the ‘Fungi’ song that I sing,” he said. It goes something like this:
“She cock sheself by the fence just to tu’n fungi
And the sweet man outside the fence making himself very busy
She throw the cornmeal in the pot
Never see nothing before like that
As she start to tu’n the fungi
She only singing this sweet melody
(And she singing)
‘When me nar do, you say me ah do
An’ now me ah do, you say me nar do’
Well, look ah laugh until ah nearly fall
To see the man tu’ning fungi an’ all”
The remuneration back then, as he recalls, was nothing to sing about. $1.50 a week appearance fee; “and from the time we get the $1.50,” Bottle added, “we go and buy saltfish cake and bread and Cavalier rum, and have a good time together right in South Street.” It seems laughable now, but when he placed first runner up to Styler in 1957, the king earned $125 and Bottle pocketed $75. Still, he recalls those days fondly; “all the guys from the old days, we used to have a good time together.”
He shared some memories of the ‘guys’ who are little more than names to latter day fans. “Tennyson was a competitive guy, very cool, don’t talk much,” he said, “but he was a top contender in those days.
“Lord Brittania is the one who sing the song about Sparrow. Sparrow came here and tried to see if he could short circuit people with his songs and he had a fight down Hawksbill, and Britannia came up with a song: ‘talk what you like, say what you choose, to win a fight in Antigua, you bound to lose. You make songs in Trinidad, tell the people how you bad; but is one thing I’m telling you, we Antiguan ain’t afraid o’ you.’ That’s Brittania.
“We had a Calypsonian who died, who came on board with a song called ‘Knuckle’; his name is Lord Sherry. That ‘knuckle song’ came off of a murder that took place up at Boggy Peak.
“Prince Alfonso, he’s the one that started the tent in ’55.”
Other names pop up here and there, a wealth of Calypso history and critique: Of Tennyson, for instance, he said, “his style (of singing) was something similar to Franco. But Franco outwit him with a better voice.”
Like Franco, though, Bottle has no crowns to his credit, though he was a consistent finalist during the 13 years of competition before he migrated up North. He wistfully admitted, however, that claiming the crown is “a dream of every Calypsonian.”
Away from the Calypso stage, Bottle, who lists extempo among his specialties and largely avoids political Calypso, has racked up hours performing at dances at the Pelican Club and others, and on the hotel scene, guitar in hand. “When you can go over to a table and sing Calypso to tourists and make them laugh, or when you can come up with a humorous Calypso like ‘Dive Dung Low’ or ’10 Bag a Sugar’ (from my latest CD, Yesterday Today and Tomorrow), you get a kick out of what you write,” Bottle said, summing up, perfectly, why Calypso still fascinates him.
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