Bermuda’s foremost unofficial ambassadors and tourist charmers sang their way into America’s hearts

Ed Sullivan had a keen eye for talent. In 1957, a nervous New York talent agent shepherded six colorfully-dressed Bermudian boys through the doors of Sullivan’s rehearsal theatre on Broadway. Clad in weejuns, dark slacks, brash floral shirts and sporting parti-coloured straw boaters, Bermuda’s Talbot Brothers had come to audition for television. New York had caught the calypso beat. Harry Belafonte had stormed the charts with his lilting voice and his soft “Day-O” message of the gaiety of the sunny Caribbean. But the Talbots seemed different. Unlike Caribbean calypsonians, they had no prominent leader- no Mighty Sparrow or Lord Invader. They did have guitars but the group also featured an unwieldy single string box bass that seemed to be made out of a Swift’s meat packing case. And so they struck up a tune for the great impresario of Broadway.

“These boys are not good–they’re great!” Sullivan told the agent. “I want them for two shows, not one. How much?” The agent cautiously suggested $1,800. Sullivan scrawled something on the bottom of a note pad, ripped it off and handed it to the agent. It read: “2 @ $1,800 ea.” The Talbots had a date with Sunday night prime time television. The next Sunday the Talbots stepped before the cameras and treated viewers to their version of “Bermuda Buggy Ride,” a sentimental 1936 lyric of romance under a tropical moon. Their audience lulled into a reverie about Bermuda’s touristic charms, the Talbots then turned risque. They gave America their famous Freckles song-“She’s got freckles on her but[t] … she is nice.” The Talbots flirted with the prudish sensibilities of 1950s America and left the audience giggling. In 1959, they returned to the Sullivan Show by popular demand. A year later, Bermuda’s Trade Development Board debated the idea of erecting a neon sign on Broadway to extol the virtues of their island to the crowds on Broadway. Too “honky-tonky,” they concluded. Garish neon would attract the wrong kind of visitor to their paradise. Besides, they already had The Talbots, the best billboard the island ever had in America.

Like Belafonte, the Talbots would outlast America’s initial craze for calypso. As Billboard noted, though “the calypso wave of 1957 came and went fairly quickly, the Talbot Brothers of Bermuda will undoubtedly live on as an institution.” They had already acquired “a strong core of fans” who doted on their fall annual tour of the eastern states and who snapped up the LPs the Talbots had begun recording. Indeed, by 1959 their fame carried them to England, where they played the prestigious 94 Palladium Show and did a six week gig at the posh Mayfair Hotel. But America continued to provide their truest following. In 1962, the Boston Herald saluted the Talbots as “Bermuda’s six best ambassadors.” Or as The New Yorker noted with characteristic aplomb some years later, the Talbots “discovered Bermuda and its music three or four hundred years ago.”

The Talbots did not, of course, invent Bermudian music. Music had been at the heart of black Bermudian life since slaves first came ashore in the colony. When the young English visitor Susette Lloyd arrived in Bermuda in 1829, she found it alive with music. The “rude songs” of the Gombey dancers, she would write in a memoir of her stay, bothered her as heathen superstition, but otherwise Bermudian blacks exhibited a “great natural taste, and love for music. “The strains of song, flute and violin wafted from slave cottages. In all this, Bermudian blacks displayed a “talent [for] extemporaneous composition.” Further south, Caribbean blacks in the 19th century found themselves at a similar musical crossroads that led to the creative nexus of African, Latin American and European musical influences. Caribbean musical exuberance culminated in the Mardi Gras carnival that preceded Lent. Slave dancing societies and stick bands became a fixture of black life in the Caribbean dedicated to the celebration of religious and secular events. Every carnival, black bands set up tents as a venue for their musical skills. Then they marched through the streets and allowed the crowd to elect kings and queens of the carnival; the crown going to the best singer. They improvised instruments-goatskin drums and shac-shacs (bamboo cylinders filled with seeds). They improvised lyrics and used them to engage in a kind of verbal jousting or picong, the exchange of caustic insults. By the end of the century, all these traditions began to coalesce in calypso.

The precise origin of the word calypso is unknown. Some suggest it derives from the French patois carrousseaux, meaning a drinking party or a festivity, or kaiso, meaning “bravo.” Others allege its roots lie in the Carib word for a joyous song, carieto. Whatever its precise origin, calypso was pure vernacular music, quite literally music from the street which blended religious and secular influences to meet the emotions of the moment. It was also “bottom-up” music, music invented by the black singers for the black masses. Calypso contained three invariable elements. First, it was not just spontaneous, frivolous entertainment. It was a vehicle for social and political commentary for politically unprivileged and often illiterate blacks and thus an earlier example of protest music. When, for example, British colonial administrators in Port-of Spain, Trinidad moved in 1898 to abolish the city council, calypso singers voiced black displeasure at the idea by satirising authority in a ditty entitled Jerningham de Gover-nor. As calypso scholar Keith Warner has observed: “This is social commentary in calypso at its finest informative, sarcastic and very witty.” Not surprisingly, authority often came to regard calypso as a form of lower class, black sedition: drumming at carnival time was, for instance, banned in Trinidad. Calypsonians countered by shielding their message behind code language.

Calypso was also about the relation of the sexes, almost always from the male point of view. It was about the eternal combat between male ego and female guile, always about “leaving a little girl down in Kingston town.” Calypso was full of set gender roles- the unfaithful husband, the avaricious wife. In the exuberance of Carnival, this sexuality might easily turn raw. Such was a verbal dexterity of calypso that singers adeptly disguised this with double entendre so the listener was not only titillated but was also amused by the singer’s phrasing and imagery. And last, calypso was always humorous. The calypso singer never took life too seriously. Human will was ever weak; the human situation often ridiculous. The combination of social commentary, sexual politics and humour ensured that calypso was always lively song full of witty lyrics backed by an infectious beat suitable for marching through Trinidadian streets. It was also infinitely malleable, given to improvisation and constant repartee among the singers. Seldom formally written down, calypso was passed from mouth to mouth, from Carnival to Carnival. This is the way the young Talbot boys first encountered it in turn-of-the-century Bermuda.

Mamie would drill her young brood in the art of sining in harmony, accompanying them on the harmonium

The Talbot Brothers’ story began in a sleepy, rural pocket of Bermuda called Tucker’s Town. In tiny Bermuda, nothing is ever really a backwater. But in early 20th century horse-drawn Bermuda, ‘Tucker’s Town was well off the colony’s beaten track. Stretched along the shore of Castle Harbour and along the rocky spit that jutted out into that harbour, it was a virtue ally all-black farming community. Market gardening, the crafting of boats out of durable Bermuda cedar and fishing dominated the economic life of the community. Here Osmond Charles Talbot and his wife Mamie made their home in a small cottage on the shores of Tucker’s Town Bay. Life was a tough weekly struggle, but on Saturday afternoons there was always time for cricket on the knoll Mamie would above the village. Later, the men of the community habitually gathered by the bay for an evening of chowder. Osmond loved to tap dance. On Sunday, the Wesleyan Methodist church down the road dominated their lives and the provided an outlet for the musical soul of the community. Mother Mamie played the organ. The service pulsated with music, harmonious and hearty. Every year it seemed that there were more young Talbot voices in the congregation. Mamie Talbot would eventually have 11 children- four girls and seven boys, two of whom died young. Back home, Mamie would drill her young brood in the art of singing in harmony, accompanying them on the harmonium while Osmond played a concertina. The first song they mastered was Home Sweet Home. A guitar was purchased. As the New York Herald Tribune later noted, “one by one the boys learned by themselves to fiddle and twang, strum and drum.” And as the Talbots’ publicity literature would later note: “There was also a calypso singer in the neighborhood…and it was only natural for us to learn many old traditional songs.

In the early1920s, life in Tucker’s Town changed abruptly. The English steamship company, Furness Withy, won the blessing of the Bermuda government to develop tranquil Tucker’s Town into a posh enclave for American plutocrats (see “Creating Paradise,” page 70). To succeed, the development had to be exclusive: that meant exclusively white. The Talbots and their neighbours would have to move, expropriated by order of the Assembly. Osmond resisted, signing a protest petition. But Mamie liked the prospect of the land offered by Furness Withy in adjacent Smiths Parish with a small packet of cash. In the end, the Talbots went peaceably and soon had a larger home by Harris Bay in Smiths. With some of their new-found dowry, the Talbots bought a piano. Now Mamie began to tutor the boys in four-part harmony, repeatedly plunking a note to hold them to their pitch. The second oldest boy, guitar-playing Archie (born in 1906), seemed a natural leader. The oldest brother, Austin, and a younger brother, Roy, quickly joined and soon folk in Harris Bay began to talk of the brothers as a group.

Not surprisingly, the new Marsden Methodist Church the relocated community had built at Harris Bay gave the boys their first stage. One Easter, the three oldest boys- Archie, Austin and Roy- and a cousin, Ernest Stovell, harmonised before the congregation, entrancing churchgoers with their version of Old Time Religion and He is Mine. Then on a whim they piled into Austin’s carriage, the same he carried tourists in by day, and headed into Tucker’s Town where rich Americans were settling into their new homes. Like the calypso Carnival bands, they set off on a march to impress people with their music. Their ride brought them to “The Jungle,” the new home of Ford Johnson. A future senior partner in the New York financial house of Smith, Barney & Company, Johnson was a bon vivant-a Yale graduate who had played on the American national polo team. Already he had surrounded himself with a fast social set in the new Tucker’s Town, people like his neighbour Morgan O’Brien, a former judge of the New York State Supreme Court and now a leading New York divorce lawyer. Johnson and O’Brien loved what they heard. As luck would have it, Johnson had guests that weekend- members of the Whiffenpoofs, the famous singing group from his alma mater, Yale. They taught the Talbot boys the Whiffenpoof song. Here was the first hint of the Talbots’ genius for entertaining: a knack for picking up a tune and charming an audience at the same time.

The Talbot boys did not give up their day jobs. Austin won a reputation serenading tourists in his carriage

But Bermuda in the 1920s was no place to make your living by singing. Tourism was in its infancy. The Talbot boys counted themselves fortunate to have found good day jobs on the edge of the colony’s emerging tourism. Archie worked clearing brush at the new Mid Ocean Golf Course in Tucker’s Town and cutting coral stone in a nearby quarry. Austin conducted tourists around the colony in his carriage and fished when time allowed. Younger Roy ran errands around Tucker’s Town. The white tourists’ appetite for music was being fed by imported hotel orchestras, regimental band concerts and Victrola concerts in Par-la-Ville Park. Black Bermudians turned to jazz. The Colonial Opera House vibrated to the sounds of jazz ensembles the Honey Bunch, the Casino Jazz Orchestra in what was to become Bermudas golden age of band music. Occasionally, an “all-coloured” band show was presented one of the hotels, providing a rollicking backdrop for prohibition-dodging tourists. In 1920, “Maudie” Fox played jazz piano for the visiting Prince of Wales. As lively as it was, the jazz was American. Only the virtuosity of the musicians was Bermudian.

The Talbot boys thus did not quit their day serenading jobs. They continued to sing at church and began to bring their instruments along to social events like the annual Cup Match festivities where they played for the crowd. Austin won a reputation for serenading tourists with his guitar from the driver’s seat of his carriage. Around the Mid-Ocean Club, Archie became known as the groundsman with the beautiful voice. “Visitors in the Twenties,” an article in The Bermudian later noted, “may remember Archie on his bicycle, singing and playing his guitar like some modern Pied Piper, followed by an ever-increasing crowd of happy tourists all the way from Hamilton to the Frascati Hotel.” On one such expedition, Archie wore a paint-spattered straw boater to shade himself from the sun. Bystanders applauded as he peddled by. A Talbot Brother tradition was thus born. Over the years, the Talbots’ parti-coloured boaters would become their trademark. But it was Ford Johnson and his Tucker’s Town cronies who first got the Talbots to actually perform. One night at the club, Johnson asked for the professional orchestra to stop playing and for Archie to go up on the stage to sing. Young Talbot wowed the audience of “about thirty millionaires.”

The debut at the Mid Ocean opened the door to Tucker’s Town, where throughout the 1930s the Talbots played on a demand basis at private parties. Around this time the group actually became a group in the official sense. The three eldest Talbot boys all now had the time and talent to play. Two younger brothers, Ross and Bryan (“Dick”), were still too young for gigs but on occasion joined the ensemble. Sister Mearl sometimes came along to play piano. To fill out their ranks, the boys asked cousin Ernest to join them with his banjo. Thus, sometime around 1929, the Talbot Brothers became a group. At first they abandoned their boaters and jaunty clothes to appear in trouba-dour-like customs that mimicked the big bands downtown. But their instinct for informality soon reasserted itself and the boaters and flowery shirts returned. This is how early photos of the boys catch them: performing on makeshift stages made of tables stacked in the corner of some posh living room, surrounded by laughing faces, dancers, liquor bottles and cigarette smoke. Archie and Austin up front with their guitars, cousin Ernest sitting behind them with his banjo and, anchoring both the scene and the back beat, Roy with his massive doghouse bass. Archie and Austin learned to strap harmonicas under their chins thereby extending the group’s range. By the end of the decade, Ernest was gone, replaced by brothers Ross, with another guitar, and Dick, with a ukulele-like steel-stringed tiple. Finally, another cousin, Oliver Cromwell Cradock Tendrills Manders (“Mandy”) with his accordion and sweet voice swelled the group to six.

The Talbots thus entered showbusiness through the back door, performing in intimate surroundings, interacting with their audience while performing and mingling with them as soon as a set was over. They were always with their audience, never in front of it. At the same time, they were becoming a fixture of Bermuda’s music scene. A 1938 photo in The Bermudian captured them in the Cup Match crowd, Roy hunched over his unmistakable doghouse. Two years earlier, the “Talbot Brothers Quartette” had won second prize at a local amateur musical contest; “They did swell,” noted the Bermudian black community newspaper The Recorder, “with good singing and playing their novelty home made instruments.” Everybody commented on their “enthusiasm.” For an island that advertised itself as the “friendly isles,” the Talbots were developing a style of entertainment that perfectly suited the ethos of the place.

War in 1939 made Bermuda distinctly less touristy. The tourists stayed away. The Tucker’s Town parties stopped. But war would offer the Talbots unexpected opportunities. Bermuda’s role as a mid-Atlantic bastion brought thousands of allied servicemen to the colony–khaki tourists. They had their pay and an adolescent urge to party. And they soon found the Talbots. By 1942, the group was finding steady work supporting Allied military morale. The Talbots preferred the officers’ mess to the rowdier enlisted men’s messes. In one of Roy Talbot’s scrapbooks there is a receipt signed by a Major S. Cox acknowledging the payment of five pounds to the Talbots “for entertainment at the Officers’ Club at Prospect on June 2, 1944.” When VIPs passed through Bermuda on the Allied clippers, the Talbots were at the ramp to give them a taste of Bermuda friendliness.

The Allied invasion changed Bermuda indelibly. Down in the Caribbean, calypso singers picked up on the culture shock of the brash American presence in their midst. In Trinidad, Lord Invader’s wartime calypso lyrics reflected local wariness about the newcomers. Songs like Rum and Coca-Cola and Working for the Yankee Dollar became instant hits. The Talbots in Bermuda followed.

One night while they were playing a navy mess, a young naval ensign approached the group and thrust a set of lyrics into Archie’s hand. Sing these, he urged them but don’t tell anyone where they came from. The lyrics were written on American military stationery: Learn the words, then destroy the paper, said the ensign. The Talbots soon understood the ensign’s anxiety. His song was a piece of biting satire about Bermuda’s commercial elite, the same group that had negotiated the terms of the Allied presence in Bermuda.

The song was called Mr. Trimingham and Mr. Tott and it played on the notion that the colony’s merchants were profiting handsomely from the war. Kenneth and Eldon Trimingham ran Bermuda’s oldest retail operation on Front Street. Howard Trott owned hotels, sat in the Assembly and had gone to London to negotiate the base agreement. The Americans thought the whole lot of them were pretty sharp. So too did the ensign whose song caught the two canny Bermudians saying of the Americans:

I don’t really think that we should take all they’ve got
If we strip them to their peel
They’ll have nothing left to steal!

The Talbots studied the song, and then went back on stage and sang the lyrics by the light of a flashlight to the tune of the popular American song Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Sheen. The audience loved it. Then out of the audience emerged a half-irate, half-amused Howard Trott. “Did you write that ?” Roy Talbot remembers feeling a “coolness around my neck.” “No, sir,” he calmly answered. Mr. Trimingham and Mr. Trott made the Talbots island celebrities. After the war, Time magazine even used the cheeky lyrics to convey a sense of Bermuda’s wily pragmatism to its readers.

War thus turned the Talbots into seasoned performers. By 1948, The Royal Gazette saluted their music as “Bermuda’s own calypso.” By then, the Talbots were again on the Bermuda party circuit. They had also begun a once-a-week show at the Elbow Beach Hotel, the success of which soon brought engagements at other hotels like the newly-opened Reefs. On Mondays, the group could be found serenading the Queen of Bermuda as she docked with her weekly load of tourists. The New York Herald Tribune caught them on one of these Monday musical salutes: “That was a gay day for the Talbots; they used to bicycle no hands into Hamilton playing harmonicas and guitars with dozens of persons tailing them.” As Kindley Field began to draw commercial aviation, airlines-PanAm, BOAC, Trans Canada and Colonial called on the Talbots to greet their passengers. And when radio came to Bermuda in 1947, the Talbots were soon the centrepiece of a weekly live-to-air show from the Casino Club in St. George’s.

The Talbots welcome 1950s tourists. Douglas Stern, Duncan McDowall’s godfather, is centre with coat

Eager to broaden the base of its post-war tourism, Bermuda cultivated the springtime rite of College Week. Thousands of boisterous American students crammed into local beach hotels for a week of sunny high jinks. And the Talbots played for them. Life magazine featured the bash in a 1948 article which focussed on the “calypso music by the Talbot Brothers, whose presence is practically a must at any big Bermuda party.” The students “sang college songs half heartedly but joined lustily in the chorus of a risque ditty called The Freckles Song.”

And then one night in 1950, a New York talent agent, William Talbot, saw the group in action at the Coral Beach Club. Cousin Mandy taught tennis at the club and Hank Quinn, the tennis pro, was a calypso aficionado. Talbot liked what Quinn showed him. It is perhaps the greatest irony of the Talbots’ long career that their breakthrough into the North American market was made possible by a man with the same name but no other relation to them. The Talbots had made earlier sorties to the States -a private party, for instance, for a Ford executive in Detroit. But the US agent promised to arrange a full tour for them. He also promised to crack the protectionism of the American musicians’ union. The Talbots were, as ever, game for the challenge.

In the winter of 1950, the group played a six-week stint at Club Norman in Toronto. The next fall, their new agent in New York launched them on what was to become an annual three-month tour of the core states. He armed them with membership in the American Guild of Variety Artists and a tightly-packed schedule of engagements- night clubs, hotels, golf and country clubs, punctuated by yet more private parties. Like clockwork late every August, the Talbots left Bermuda and plunged into a three month frenzy of hotel living, bus trips, short airplane hops and performances almost every evening. By the time their feet again touched the Rock in early December, they would have played as many as 100 engagements to audiences that averaged 450.

There was nothing provincial about the Talbots’ annual tour. In New York, they became regulars at the St.Moritz, the Strollers’Club, the Tiventy-One Club, the Plaza, the New York Athletic Club and the Waldorf-Astoria. Over in New Jersey, they played Frank Dailey’s famous Meadowlands Club, where Artie Shaw, the Glenn Miller Band and Tommy Dorsey also played. The Talbots sought out intimate venues and shunned set piece stage performances. On the road in New England, they played the country club circuit, often appearing before the same well-heeled people they saw in Bermuda as tourists later in the year. “The turquoise sea surrounding Bermuda was transported to the Essex Country Club in Manchester last evening,” the Boston Herald blurbed in 1962.

And the Talbots sewed up the other end of the College Week market by appearing on eastern campuses- Vassar, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley. Everywhere they went, they were Bermuda in America-boaters, sunny lyrics and memories of holiday time. The only place the Talbots would not tour was the American South; its deep racial segregation frightened them. Back home in Bermuda, the local papers tracked the progress of the “brethren,” reporting their latest reviews and their predictions for the next year’s tourist traffic to Bermuda. The word “ambassadors” was invariably used to describe their role.

‘I can just picture them as I saw them in Bermuda. Oh those voices, so deep, so rich, so mellow, really get me’

Throughout the 1950s the Talbots broadened their American base. When Edmund Cooper, another Front Street retailer, recorded the group on an early tape recorder at a Bermuda party, the Talbots saw a new opportunity. They headed for the recording studio and began issuing LPs on the Audio Fidelity, ABC Paramount and Polyphonic labels. The records kept the Talbots alive in their fans’ memory. “I’m always happy when they sing,” a Maine woman wrote of her collection. “I can just picture them as I saw them at the Carlton Beach Hotel in Bermuda. Oh, those voices, so deep, so rich, so mellow, really get me.”

There was advertising. The Talbots appeared with South Pacific’s Mary Martin in PanAm ads for Bermuda holidays. When Abercrombie and Fitch had a Bermuda Week in 1965, the Talbots “the one and onlies” and treasure-hunter Teddy Tucker were the main attractions. In Boston, they helped to kick off the United Fund campaign. They did coming-out parties, clam bakes and corporate receptions, always against a Bermuda motif. As the Wellseley College student newspaper declared: “The Talbot Brothers have become as much a part of their native Bermuda as the famous horse and buggy ride they sing about.”

Back in Bermuda from January to August, the Talbots kept up the pace. Their evenings went to hotel performances. By day, they took up their old vocations–Austin in the carriage trade, Archie working at the American base, Mandy on the tennis court. Back home they also found themselves part of the local music scene. Other Bermudians were picking up the calypso beat–the Sidney Bean Trio, the Four Deuces and Hubert Smith and his Coral Islanders all rose to prominence. Up on the North Shore, the Clay House Inn throbbed with music and dance every evening. Often in the wee hours, the Talbots arrived at the Clay House with a clutch of tourists in tow after finishing their regular hotel show. Drinks, laughter and musical improvisation took care of the rest of the night. The Talbots were seen as Bermuda’s “success story,” recalled veteran PLP politician, the late Lois Browne-Evans, whose father owned the Clay House. The Talbots were the first to export Bermuda music. Often when they departed on their fall tour, other Bermuda groups came to the airport to provide a musical send-off.

The Talbots did their last North American tour in 1970. Their place was partly filled by the Talbot Nephews, four next generation Talbot relatives with musical talent. But when Archie died of cancer in 1972, the old Talbots turned to the new Talbots for replenishment. Nephews Rodney and Ryan (“Chips”) Tucker became Talbot Brothers. Rodney’s accordion and Chips’ congas enlivened the group’s beat. Reinvigorated, the group continued to play the hotels through the 1970s. In 1979, the colony honoured the Talbots’ musical contribution to its heritage. Talbot Week culminated with Premier David Gibbons presenting the Talbots with a citation on the steps of City Hall. Sadly, Dick also died in 1979. Nonetheless, you could still catch the Talbots at the Reefs or the Princess in the 1980s. But the loss of Austin and Mandy reduced the group to four. After a half century of singing, the Talbots gracefully eased into retirement.

The Talbots toured the East Coast every autumn

‘Bermudavarius’ Bass Was Never In The Doghouse

A good deal of the Talbots’ charm lay in their improvisation. Like all calypsonians, they improvised their lyrics. They also improvised their instruments. Sometime in the 1920s, Archie built a crude bass out of some wooden scraps. Brother Roy soon improved on the idea. He took a Swifts meat packing case, attached a stalwart neck to it, strung a single stout piece of fishing line across the resultant sound box and called it a doghouse. Musically and visually it anchored the group. It provided what the New York Herald Tribune called “that low-down, boom-boom and thump-thump” behind the Talbots’ music. Roy affectionately called it his “Bermudavarius.”

Over the years, the doghouse became an icon of the Talbots’s success. Celebrities ranging from Winston Churchill to Babe Ruth put their signatures on its flanks. In 1956, the US Steel Corporation presented Roy with a stainless steel replica of the doghouse. But the wooden version seemed indestructible. Once while heading to a gig along the New Jersey Turnpike, it broke loose from a limousine roof and bounced along the asphalt. Roy scrambled back down the highway, retrieved his beloved instrument and was playing it again within hours. When he flew, PanAm always gave the doghouse a seat of its own beside its master. In 1967, the original doghouse was stolen-probably for its celebrity autographs- at New York’s JFK Airport. Roy built another and played on. To this day, whenever the Talbots are mentioned you can be sure that the discussion will turn “that funny instrument.”

What Made The Talbots So Successful For So Long?

The world has always been full of young men who believe that a guitar and a few chords of music can bring fortune and fame. Most fail because they never understand what performing actually entails. The Talbots certainly could strum and sing, but they were above all else brilliant performers. “They studied human nature,” the Bermuda News Pictorial once noted. From their youth, the Talbot boys instinctively understood that music was a bonding agent, a way of bringing people together. At church. In the Cup Match crowd. On the beach during College Weeks. Or after dinner at the Reefs. Good music for the Talbots was not about inflated egos, big money or false values. Roy Talbot said they always thought of themselves as a “luxury not a necessity” to their audiences. A trip to Bermuda or an evening at a club were matters of discretion. The Talbots made the choice special and made you want to come back. “Their undeniable asset is personality,” one Bermuda paper observed, “when they all smile while singing some corny old numbers, you’ve got to like it.”

The Talbots remembered names and faces. They could read an audience’s mood perfectly then tailor their performances to that mood; some got what Roy Talbot called “naughty lyrics”; honeymooners got soft ballads like “Ebb Tide.” Between sets, they mingled with the audience, embodying Bermuda conviviality. Wherever they performed, a bottle of good scotch and six glasses were always reserved for the Talbots. A drink shared with the Talbots often later yielded surprising results. A startled bride might find her name worked into The Freckles Song. The radio salesmen from Pittsburgh might find themselves on that Buggy ride.

Like Frank Sinatra, the Talbots did it their way (Roy Talbot’s home in Smiths was in fact called “My Way.” Roy died in 2009.) They shunned direct government assistance. They liked having the government’s “blessing” for their work, but only occasionally did they appear on the Trade Development Board’s annual tourism briefing tour in North America. They liked being their own bosses.

Moreover, the Talbots never forsook Bermuda. They were determined, Roy recalled, to keep “one foot on this little rock–always. “They never ceased being local boys; they saw the big cities and the bright lights, but they always came home early every December. The music they sang was a kind of muted calypso that was as different from Caribbean calypso as Bermuda itself was from the Caribbean. It was a softer, gentler calypso, full of warmth, romance and never shy of humour. It appealed to the listener’s sense of lyricism and romance. Archie said that their music was a “a story set to rhythm…calypso is not a waltz, it is a tribal expression; to dance calypso one has to feel the rhythm inside and let it work out from there.” Whether it was Razor, Razor, a song of jealousy in love, or Mandy singing Yellow Bird, the Talbots either made you laugh or entered your soul.

There is no longer much home-grown music left in Bermuda. The hotels have come to rely on imported talent and cable television pumps in an homogenised pop culture of rap, hip-hop and whatever sounds much the same in Bermuda as it does in Berlin. The thumping bass of passing cars on Bermuda roads betrays the pervasiveness of this boombox imperialism.

Down in Smiths, the Talbot legacy has finally struck its last chord after almost a century. In 2000 Ross “Blackie” Talbot, an avid golfer, died, his name memorialised in a tremendously lucrative charity tournament. The last Talbot brother, Roy, lived on at the end of Talbot Lane. Most afternoons he could be found puttering in his workshop or in a chair spinning tall tales of rockfish lurking beneath his point on the South Shore. In May 2009, he too was gone. Now his famous “Bermudavarius” Doghouse sits unplucked. And then sadly early in 2012, Rodney Tucker, a nephew who had joined the group towards the end of its long success, died. Rodney, once a music student at Berkeley Institute, had played the church organ at Marsden Methodist Church for an astonishing 68 years. Sad departures, all of them. But their music lives on, whether on newly-pressed CDs or in the fond memories of the thousands of audiences they once entertained. “Take a ride, a Bermuda buggy ride, an old-fash-ioned buggy ride, while the moon is bright outside…