Gene Lawrence is a music phenomenon. Not simply because he can play several instrument indigenous to the Caribbean like the cuatro and steel pan, but he is a walking history book when it comes to Calypso and steelband and making the connection with the songs to social issues at that time. And so I knew that sitting down with Gene Lawrence at his Bonne Terre home to interview him about an upcoming event would find the conversation leading down some interesting paths.
He has been described as one of the finest Caribbean musicians/entertainers and is well-respected in many of the islands where he has at some point or another called home including Trinidad, Guyana, St. Vincent and now Saint Lucia.
“On my tenth birthday I was presented with a guitar that my father had left for me around 1940. That was shortly after I was born,” Gene recalls. He learnt to tune and play the guitar and has not looked back since. “I used to use glasses and bottles to create sounds and I always found such joy in this,” he says.
Lawrence was also instrumental in building the confidence of a nervous Paul Keens Douglas when he first hit the stage and for years toured with the comedian and social commentator. His own one-man shows give audiences a unique perspective of the origins of calypso. He also has a number of his own calypso recordings, some ballads and Latin influenced sounds too.
Described as a finger style acoustic guitarist, composer & arranger, Gene played steelpan in the early days of Silver Stars & Troubadors in Trinidad as well as in London. He has also worked with Derek Walcott in the very early days of the ‘Little Carib Theatre’ in Trinidad. He also worked on the music for Walcott’s ‘Steel,’ and ‘Odyssey’ and more recently “O Starry, Starry Night.”
On Friday March 28, Gene Lawrence will be performing at Tapas on the Bay in Rodney Bay, an event which both himself and owner Rosie Joinville are equally excited about. It is called “An Evening with Gene Lawrence and Friends” and will feature the virtuoso on guitar and vocals.
“The event will cater to persons who want to come in and have dinner where we will be serving some T&T inspired Tapas as well as those who may want to come in sit at the bar and have some drinks,” Rosie says.
She is encouraging persons who want to have dinner to call Tapas on the Bay to make their reservations.
For his performance on the night, this is what Gene told us: “I thought during dinner I would start the performance with some classical music, just me and the guitar. At the end I want to introduce and showcase some of our indigenous music and regional music and instruments starting with the cuarto.” Gene says that later he will have three musicians joining him: Emerson Nurse on piano, Albert Eugene on Guitar and Ricky Francois on drums. “They are on my new album and I will be doing some pieces from that as well as some Calypso Jazz and regular Caribbean Jazz too,” he says.
The entertainer also intends on interacting with the audience with a few Calypso history lessons and how some of the songs coincided with newspaper reports in the past. This is an area he told the STAR he would like to do more extensive research.
“But all in all I expect the night to be fun maybe take a few requests as well and just entertain what we anticipate will be a really nice audience,” Gene says.
And by the way that “conversation” we had this week look out for a more detailed account of what Gene Lawrence has been up to, in the STAR Newspaper soon.