Typically Tropical

Recalling the year 1975, with the wonderful British summer weather and Radio 1 being the best bet for listening to music, you can't help but remember the song, "Barbados" by Typically Tropical. At a time when David Essex and the Bay City Rollers dominated the charts, a reggae-influenced summer-themed song flew into the Number One spot at the first attempt. Many books describe them both as "experienced studio musicians" but as you'll read on and see, it was all quite new to themů

Typically Tropical was made up of two unknown band members, Jeff Calvert and Hughes Geraint Wyn, although the latter using the pseudonym Max West. Many times you will hear of a band touring endlessly to get a record deal and a hard long climb to the topů In this case, it didn't, as the idea had been built around the single, "Barbados".

Max (we'll use his rock'n'roll name instead of the real one) had met Jeff Calvert while he was rehearsing with his band Quasar. Jeff lived across the road from the lead singer of Quasar and used to pop over to listen to them rehearse. Having known that Jeff's dad worked at Morgan studios, a prestigious recording facility in London, Max asked Jeff to try and write some material with him and see if they could record some songs, whenever they got a chance, at Morgan studios.

At this point in their lives, in 1971, when they had just met, Jeff was a trainee engineer at the studio and Max was studying music, but they managed to sneak into the studios late at night and record some tracks with what instruments were left lying around. Although Typically Tropical didn't really exist yet, as it was just the two members trying out songs, Max's band Quasar was trying to get signed, which was his day project too, but they had given up by 1974.

At some point in '74, Jeff had been doing some reggae session work at the studios and then gone on holiday to Barbados with his father and came back raving about the country and the whole atmosphere. This had set the mood and voila - "Barbados" was born in about 2 hours of writing.

David Howell at Gull records got to hear the demo, which was recorded in the Spring of 1974, and wanted to hear a few more tracks before they signed them. Instead, Jeff and Max asked for 1500 pounds to finish off the track and then they cut a B-side and finished off another song they had worked on, "Ghost Song". When Gull agreed, they went and used Britain's best studio musicians of the time which included Chris Spedding and many others.

When Gull Records agreed to sign them, they gave them a deal of three single releases with an option-out clause for Gull if the records wouldn't become hits and also no monetary advance. From memory, Gull wasn't a well-known label, so they weren't in a position to throw cash around. They finished the recording of Barbados around November/December 1974, and Gull held onto it 'til May 1975 to release it in time for summer.

Neither of the guys can remember who chose the name "Typically Tropical" but they do remember it came about while having lunch in a tacky burger bar in London on South Moulton Street called Widow Applebaum.

With summer approaching and Britain in the midst of a heatwave, Radio 1 started playing the song endlessly, and before you knew it, the song was in the charts. Max remembers receiving a telegram from Jeff about it being in the Top 30, as he was on holiday at the time in Portugal.

When the song hit Number 2, they got their chance to perform on "Top Of The Pops" - somewhat nervously, as they'd never had this kind of attention thus far.

With the single taking the duo by surprise, they started to write songs for the album in the same vein as none had been written, save only for the B-side, "Sandy". The follow-up single, "Rocket Now", came out in October '75 but had no effect around the same time the album came out, which sold 8,000 units. It seemed the original theme of the single had gone by, and back in those days there were no promotional TV vehicles, except for the "Top Of The Pops" show, and only if you were a charting act. And if you weren't one, you weren't on TV, and, therefore, would get no promotion. Either way, it was luck more than anything else.

Also as Typically Tropical were only two guys, gigs weren't really possible, and they didn't have the experience of playing live anyhow, so it never got around to that - they were more of a studio band.

In early '76, a new single came out, entitled, "Ghost Song", with "Eternity Island" as the B-side, although at the time, the single went under their own names, Calvert & West. Sadly, this didn't help their climb back into the charts.

Following their next release, Gull put out an album by a much heavier outfit, Judas Priest, and it was suggested that Typically Tropical produce their next album in 1976. Gull released a new Typically Tropical single in May '76 hoping to get the summer theme going like the previous year with "Everybody Plays The Fool", but alas no one bothered to play the single on the radio.

After this one, more releases came out under the new name of Rollercoaster with the song "Bridlington" on the Gull label, but didn't change their fortunes. With the contract up with Gull, the option was not renewed, and so they moved on to sign a deal with Pye records. "Jubilee" was the only single, and Max labels this one as a "dreadful record". Pye signed them for one single with options in case if the record charted. Sadly, it didn't, although it was released during yet another summer and, therefore, a nice idea, as it was also the Queen's Jubilee that year. Where were the marketing and promotion guys at the record company? Nowhere to be found.

It wasn't until 1979 that Typically Tropical released their next single, and although they had been writing, it wasn't in the same vein, as they were setting their sights on being a Chinn/Chapman type writers. The new single was on the Hobo label, which was owned by the guy who used to be the head of Morgan studios, where Jeff and Max got their start in recording. The single was again released in the summer and entitled, "Rubber Ball". The song was written by someone else and had been passed along as possibly a Typically Tropical-type song. But sadly, no luck was found with this single as the label was more known for jazz and lounge singers.

In the interim, Max and Jeff had written the song, "I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper" in 1978, which was recorded by Sarah Brightman for the Hansa label.

After this, Typically Tropical released one more single on the Whisper label in 1980, which was Jeff and Max's own label (to release more Sarah Brightman singles). The single was called, "Lady D" b/w "Cool, Cool Music".

And that was the last of Typically Topical until a rehashed version of "Barbados" was released as "I'm Going To Ibiza" by Vengas Boys, and hit Number One. Jeff nowadays has his own studio and Max works in the TV music field.

Although there are some unreleased Typically Tropical tracks from the original days somewhere, Max never discounts another chance they may do another single together if it came along at the right time.


Year A-side B-side Cat #
May-75 Barbados Sandy GULS 14
Oct-75 Rocket Now Hole in the Sky GULS 19
Early 76 Ghost Song ******** Eternity Island GULS 24
May-76 Everybody Plays the fool Sylvans Barbados GULS 38
Sep-76 Bridlington ######## Eternity Isle GULS 41
Jun-77 Jubilee Pretty Baby Pye 7N46001
May-79 My Rubber Ball The Joker HOBO H0S001
1980 Lady D Cool cool music Whisper
1975 Barbados Sky Barbados, Israelites, Hot Summer girl, Everybody Plays the fool, Hole in the sky, Sandy, Rocket now, The pied piper, In the stew, Slyvans, Barbados, Do the yam GULP104
####  means released as Rollercoaster
******means released as Calvert and West
78 Sarah Brightman Lost my heart to a starship trooper Hansa
80 Sarah Brightman My boyfriends back whisper 102
81 Sarah Brightman Not having that whisper 104
Future Shock Santa Left Us Microchips For Christmas/Night Attack whisper 101
? Sound of music medly whisper

Big thanks to Max West for giving me a lot of information and the loan of his pics for the site!

For more information, contact Jason Humphries

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