Talbot Brothers’ Enduring Musical Legacy

March 10, 2013

talbot brothers bermuda 2The death of legendary Bermuda calypsonian Roy Talbot at the age of 94 in 2009 marked the end of a musical era.

The last surviving member of the hugely popular and groundbreaking calypso group The Talbot Brothers, Mr. Talbot and his siblings made an indelible mark on popular music both locally and internationally.

“Mr. Talbot lent his voice to the Talbots’ distinctive blended harmonies and cut a striking figure onstage with his homemade bass,” said a “New York Times” obituary. “Called the doghouse or the Bermudavarius, it was fashioned from a Swift meatpacking crate and had a single string made from fishing line.

“As the Talbot Brothers toured the world, fans would sign the instrument, among them Babe Ruth, Bing Crosby and Tommy Dorsey. In their heyday, the late 1940s and ’50s, the Talbot Brothers were a major attraction at Bermuda’s hotels and clubs and at the private homes of wealthy Americans who were discovering the island.

“Their popularity is often credited with playing an important role in putting Bermuda on the tourist map. Songs like ‘Bermuda Buggy Ride’ and ‘Bermuda’s Still Paradise’, with their smooth harmonies and easy, swinging beat, helped establish the islands’ image as a carefree, no-worries leisure destination.”

Bermuda’s Talbot Brothers in their heydey

talbot brothers bermuda banner

A reminiscence about Mr. Talbot and his group written by American musical scholar and WFDU radio host Bill Hahn recounts how the brothers — though a cousin was also in the band group — grew up in Tucker’s Town.

They moved to another section of Bermuda in the late 1920s to allow for the development of the area into a posh residential enclave.

” … Their roots started in Church music and led them to such great heights,” said Mr. Hahn, who has featured shows dedicated to the Talbot Brothers’ music and their enduring cultural influence on “Traditions”, his long-running New Jersey radio programme . ”They appeared in worldwide venues including TV in the US including appearances on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’.”

Mr. Hahn said he and his wife had the delight of first coming across the group while visiting Bermuda in the late 1950s.

“They along with artists like Erskine Zuill were exciting discoveries to us,” said Mr. Hahn. “We found The Talbot Brothers, as I said. Found them with such wonderful pieces as ‘Yellow Bird’, ‘Oh Mr. Trimingham, Oh Mr. Trott’, ‘Back To Back, Belly to Belly ‘and many more including ‘Jane Jane Jane’ …

The Talbot Brothers performing “Yellow Bird”

“One had to reserve quite some time in advance to get into their performances—as one did for people like Zuill and Hubert Smith. The music was rhythmic and topical in that it covered political situations in Bermuda and the US …”

The Talbot Brothers consisted of Roy, Archie, Austin, Bryan, Ross, and cousin Cromwell Mandres.

Mr. Hahn said the Bermuda group’s unique, lilting sound owed to the fact they used a different instrument line-up than the more typical Trinidadian calypso instrumentation.

“Fast forward now to the 1970s,” he said. “The Talbot Brothers had achieved world wide fame appearing on major TV shows in New York and touring the world. Being, not only, the toast of Bermuda but, given the segregation there in the earlier years much demanded at private parties at the [homes of the] very wealthy.

“My wife and I once again went to Bermuda [in the '70s] and hoped to see the Talbots. It seemed sad—an Irish troupe of performers which included dancers, singers, and an alleged comic were headlining and the Talbot Brothers were relegated to being an opening act and playing dance music afterwards.

“Man Smart — Woman Smarter” by Bermuda’s Talbot Brothers

“At one point, my wife asked if they might be able to perform ‘Jane Jane Jane’ and they said that the brother who was the lead on that had died—but if she knew the words to please join them on the stage for it. She did. A memorable and nostalgic [now] moment.

“Fame may well be fleeting but sincerity and loyalty are not. On the way back to the airport I overheard one of the passengers on the bus say to his wife or fiancee, ‘Hey, was this not great — just like NY’. Sad! You were supposed to open yourself to the great local talent and not hope you were home with the touring Irish Troupe of performers doing what was homogenised entertainment.”

Talbot Brothers photos by Ed Kelly

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Comments (3)

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  1. street wise says:

    Those were the days when Bermuda was THE place to vacation… so sad to see those days gone forever.

  2. Ed Kelly says:

    I noticed two of my photos lead your article (although no credit given).
    The ‘Brothers were a great group and ambassadors for the Island for many years.

    • Bernews says:

      Hi Mr. Kelly. Great photos! More than happy to credit you for your sterling work. Would have done so earlier but as you know such Bermuda promotional photos from the ’50s and ’60s rarely carried the individual photographer’s names.