We continue a series that takes a look back at the contributions to our Carnival art form of the famous large band bandleaders from around 1955, the first year of the official Band of the Year competition. For the purpose of this series, we take a look at that era following World War II when designers were able to and began to more widely use their creativity and artistry to portray mainly tangible and non-abstract costumes that transformed our streets into a thematic visual spectacle of colour and living theatre.
GEORGE BAILEY (1935-1970)
The Mighty Sparrow in his calypso Memories recalls: “George Bailey, I’ll always remember, jumping when ah big band pass, playing big mas... George Bailey, wherever you are bredder, just for you, we go gih dem real thunder this year.” (www.youtube.com) Carnival 2010 saw a return of the spirit of the genius of the late Woodbrook-born and bred George “Sir George” Bailey, via the Stephen Derek and Associates produced band Call That George, a 15-section presentation, each named and designed after bands produced by Bailey from 1956 until his death in 1970 (it should be noted that it was his brother Albert who was the bandleader in 1956 although George himself did the designs).
Also involved in no small way in the C2K10 production were brother Albert, niece Lee Ann and grand niece Leandra, herself now a budding young designer and avid mas player. His other brother Alvin, well-known mas designer and costume producer, sadly passed away just before Carnival 2010. Their father Aldwyn “Sonny” was also a bandleader in his day. “Sir George,” so nicknamed due to his personality and the high standard of his art, along with Harold Saldenah, between 1955 and 1969, each captured six Band of the Year titles.
One can only imagine the number of titles he would have added to his tally had he not passed away at such a relatively young age in 1970. A prodigy at the age of 20, the eldest of seven children to his parents, he co-produced with brother Albert, their first independent band in 1956 entitled Timu and the Leopard Kingdom a pre-cursor to 1957, and the African-history themed band Back to Africa, which captured the first of his titles. This presentation largely credits Bailey for changing perceptions of Africa, history, and Carnival itself depicting instead a regal heritage, portraying magnificent, meticulously researched African costumes instead of a past largely portrayed in mas before that by the use of rags, paint and spears.
A number of his bands were portrayals of periods of African history and before Bailey, people could not conceive of African mas matching the grandeur of Roman, Greek or any other European themes. George thoroughly researched his portrayals and came as close to the original thing as was possible. During his 15 years involved as a Carnival bandleader, George Bailey’s presentations won the coveted Band of the Year Award six times (1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1969) and the People’s Choice Award ten times (1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970). He was the first to capture a beaver-trick of Band of the Year titles.
From a young age, Bailey developed a love for drawing, painting, and sculpting under the guidance of MP Alladin, the renowned local artist. He was also an outstanding athlete, in track and field, playing basketball with the Woodbrook Limers and the T&T national team. He began his Carnival career by designing for Invaders Steelband in 1954 and 1955, then formed his own band with brother Albert and a few others associates.
In 1962, when T&T gained Independence, he was a member of the committee that designed the emblems for the new nation. In 1969 he was awarded the Trinidad & Tobago Humming Bird Medal Gold for his contribution to Carnival development. On a number of occasions it is recorded that there were huge disparities between the non-George Bailey Band of Year winners and the actual winners with Bailey’s band gaining a much larger number of votes. In 1970, returning to Trinidad from an overseas trip to Bermuda, he fell ill. When the aircraft landed at Seawell airport in Barbados, he asked for fresh air. He was led to the ramp, where he collapsed and died of an apparent heart failure.
1956-Timu and the Leopard Kingdom; 1957-Back to Africa; 1958-Of Pagan History; 1959-Relics of Egypt; 1960-Ye Saga of Merrie England; 1961-Byzantine Glory; 1962-Somewhere in New Guinea; 1963-Realm of Fancy Bats and Clowns; 1964-Age of Gods and Heroes; 1965- Indian Lore; 1966-Kings Go Forth; 1967-Deities Spectacular; 1968-Fantasia; 1969-Bright Africa; 1970-Tears of the Indies.”
Descriptives of a few of George Bailey’s bands:
Relics of Egypt (1959): The historical detail of Egyptian dynasties was described as magical and realistic and was the first occasion that the prize called The Band of the People’s Choice was awarded, which it won overwhelmingly. Byzantine
Glory (1961): Depicting the Byzantine Empire from 337 AD to 1454 AD, presented in a blaze of colour and religious zeal, the grandeur, the ecstasies and the agonies, under Emperor Constantine of the Holy Roman Empire. Somewhere in New Guinea (1962): Spectacular again, especially the leading characters, dazzling to the eye and mind, featuring a broad spectrum of life amongst the natives of New Guinea.
Remembering “Sir George”
According to his brother Albert: “George was the one to start the first ‘Drag Brothers’ right there on Buller Street in Woodbrook. He also worked at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital where he was in charge of the clerical department of the Casualty Ward. But with George’s creative ability, he was transferred to the Culture Ministry in St Ann’s.”
As a mascot to George Bailey’s King of the Band Mac Ward (of De Nu Pub/Mas Camp Pub), Carnival supplier Steve Samaroo of Samaroo’s Ltd recalls proudly his George Bailey mas-playing days as a young man from 1966 to 1970: “Those were truly the days of masquerading when you put on a costume and you felt transformed to another era in history.”
Band of the Year Titles
• 1957 Back to Africa
• 1959 Relics of Egypt
• 1960 Ye Saga of Merrie England
• 1961 Byzantine Glory
• 1962 Somewhere in New Guinea
• 1969 Bright Africa