THE celebrations commemorating the 175th anniversary of Queen’s College (QC) has finally come to an end. I attended the QC Quiz Night and I was also privileged to be offered a backstage view of the ‘Thank You, QC!’ concert that was held at the National Cultural Centre (NCC) on Friday, 1st November. The concert was important to me because I was in charge of bringing the whole thing together, but it was more important because of what it represented. On that night, some of the best Guyanese musicians and singers who attended Queen’s College at some point in their lives returned to celebrate the school that impacted their lives in some way. Furthermore, there was an assortment of skits and readings conducted by current students of Queen’s College, and so the past and present of the school were united in this singular event. I can only speak for myself – and from my vantage point, the event was truly inspiring and beautiful. Backstage there were tears and laughter and dancing and lots of wide-eyed students who were seeing what lay behind the NCC curtains for the very first time.
Something that stood out to me was the strength with which the musical performers, most of them quite up there in age, put into their numbers, injecting energy and vibrancy that I seem to lack on even my best days. Courtney Noel, the infamous singer of the popular ‘Arrowhead,’ for example, decided that he would begin his performance by being lowered from the ceiling via the swing that NCC keeps for this very same purpose. It was a brave, if risky, move, but one that nevertheless opened a performance that kept pretty much everyone enthralled. Even when the sound went out from his microphone (I thought NCC recently upgraded their sound system?), Mr. Noel kept going on like a pro. Thankfully, the backstage staff managed to replace his microphone and he was able to finish the performance.
Mr. Hilton Hemerding is quite old now, but his voice is as smooth and as pure as ever. On the night of the show when he began to sing to opening lines to his famous song, ‘Beautiful Guyana,’ and he crooned to the audience: “There’s a land / Just off the Atlantic / Land of Jungles / Waterfalls / And Sweet Scenery…” I was taken back to my childhood when it seemed that songs with patriotic value were played and appreciated more than they are now. I listened to the song again on YouTube, several days after the performance, and I have come to the conclusion that ‘Beautiful Guyana’ is one of the best songs ever written about the country. It puts the listener in such a calm, lilting mood – one that cannot really be explained through my words that fail to impart the beauty of the music.
Andy Ninvalle turned it out with his spoken word, break-dancing, and beatboxing skills – elements that when combined in a single set definitely managed to help this particular artiste stand out. His sense of humour and ability to connect with almost everyone he interacted with were also factors that made him one of the most endearing performers of the evening.
Martin James also performed several songs. My memories of him backstage involve the immense likability he conveyed in his interactions, particularly through the interest and obvious love that he had for the other musicians. Nevertheless, he held his ground and turned in an excellent overall performance that ensured he was not overshadowed by any of the others.
For me, the most impressive was the UK-based, David McAlmont. Truthfully, I cannot recall what the names of his original songs were – though I do know that he covered Shirley Bassey’s “Diamonds are Forever” – but I do remember the emotions I felt. I remember looking around the backstage space at NCC and seeing people dancing and having a great time as he was performing. I remember when I almost cried during one of his slower songs because of how emotional the music was and because of how excellent of a singer he is. I also recall him saying that he had a songwriting credit on one of the James Bond films and that it was important for people to remember that although Queen’s College is heading in the science areas, the school has its roots in the arts and creativity. McAlmont made a tremendous impression on me. It was the kind of performance where you witnessed it, thought about it for the next few days, and then going online to begin figuring out how you can find more of the artiste’s music.
Backstage at ‘Thank You, QC!’ was great fun. It was a wonderful reminder that not all of us QC alumni went into the doctor/lawyer routes and that the legacy of QC people in the arts, at least the musical arts, is very much well-preserved in the oeuvres of these musicians.