Thu | Dec 13, 2018

Story of the Song | Ringroad jam from UWI experience

Published:Sunday | January 14, 2018 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Alvin Campbell
Alvin Campbell
Grub Cooper.

While Fab Five's hit soca song, Ringroad Jam, was literally centred on the road march centerpiece of carnival annually at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, it took a confluence of circumstances - and lots of time - to have it eventually recorded.

Alvin Campbell, who wrote the lyrics, told The Sunday Gleaner, that he was a UWI Carnival regular between 1971 and 1974, having gone directly from Kingston College to university.

"It was written pretty early, but was not recorded until much later with some revision," Campbell said. That revision was at the request of Grub Cooper, the multi-instrumentalist and composer at the heart of Fab Five Band.

In 1985, when Ringroad Jam was being recorded, Cooper asked that Campbell add a verse and include the word 'policeman'.

So Cooper did, painting the word picture of a cop on duty at the event flinging duty to the wind in the heat of the revelry, handing over the tools of his trade to a superior and saying "Sir, I will see you in the morning. Alvin Campbell says Cooper was already looking ahead to the music video, in which actor Glen Campbell played the exuberant policeman.

The first verse set the stage of carnival being celebrated in Trinidad, but those in Jamaica who could not attend, revelling on the Mona campus, for "I aint going there, I got no plane fare/So I'll do the next best thing for me/...tonight I'll be jumping here on ringroad."

Frankie Campbell of Fab Five, told The Sunday Gleaner, that the band had been active for 15 years before recording soca, deciding at the time to put a Jamaican stamp on the music of the eastern Caribbean at a time before there was a Jamaica Carnival, much less the number of current formalised celebrations in Jamaica.

Yu Safe, came first and was eventually a hit, despite some initial puzzlement on the part of the distributors about just how to handle it. Then it was full speed ahead to "an all-Jamaican soca album." It worked wonderfully, Campbell saying the album, Yu Safe, not only containing the hits, Yu Safe, Ringroad Jam and Feeling Horny, but also nabbing Album of the Year titles in Jamaica and at the Reggae Soca Awards in the USA.

The video for Ringroad Jam, was done at the perfect location, on the road at UWI in the climax of the season, the band set up on a truck. Alvin Campbell said it was played up to five times a day on television, at a time when there was only one free to air station in the country and access to overseas channels was limited to those who had satellite dishes. One of the outcomes was a massive increase in the number of persons attending UWI Carnival to jam on the ringroad and other places.

And then, in the early 1990s, came Jamaica Carnival.