Rudder shares lyrics to an upcoming song about Windrush as West Indies head across the Atlantic to bail out English cricket

The arrival of West Indies for the Test series in England is not the first time bright young people from the Caribbean have travelled across the Atlantic to bail out the country during an hour of need.

It may be for the financial benefit of English cricket, , but there is a parallel to be drawn with Jason Holder’s tourists and those aboard the Empire Windrush in 1948 – as well as a stirring anthem that connects the generations.

Rally ’Round the West Indies was released in 1987 – before being officially adopted as the team’s “national” anthem 12 years later – and its composer, David Rudder, was an apprentice to one of the ship’s more famous passengers in Aldwyn Roberts or, to give his stage name, Lord Kitchener.

Already a famed performer when he disembarked at Tilbury Dock and gave the Pathé news reporter a rendition of London is the Place for Me, Kitchener spent the next 14 years chronicling the life and times of the new West Indian immigrants (as well as plenty of cricket) through his music.

He even led the celebrations at Lord’s in 1950 when West Indies first won on British soil – the inspiration for Victory Calypso by Lord Beginner, another to arrive on the Windrush – and after returning to Trinidad in 1962 established a calypso tent that for three decades turned out some of the all-time greats.

Rudder sits among them, having risen from teenage backing singer to global star. And a few weeks ago, I made contact with the 67‑year‑old to ask how Rally, which deals with the end of West Indies’ all-conquering era, came about.

“Caribbean people have a tendency to complain,” Rudder told me from his home in Toronto, Canada. “Maybe that’s human nature. But we were winning for years – total domination – then suddenly the team began to get a bit older and we looked like we might start to lose a bit.

“People who had become far too accustomed to winning all the time began grumbling. I was listening to all the things being said, their mouths running off, and thought: ‘That’s enough! I’m going to write a song to answer all that.’ And I just wrote what I felt inside.

“I was also trying to capture a certain point in time, to tell a story about the moment. But at the same time I wanted to recognise that there is tomorrow. So the song reflects the mood of the day but also calls on people to rally and protect the future.”

This snapshot in time was in keeping with one of the tenets of calypso (or kaiso), which stems from the African slaves on the sugar plantations in the 17th century. It is a form of storytelling that holds power to account, sometimes in amusing fashion, and Rally is no different when you get to its pointed final verse:

Now they’re making restrictions and laws to spoil our beauty. But in the end, we shall prevail. This is not just cricket, this thing goes beyond the boundary. It’s up to you and me to make sure that they fail.

“Kitchener always told me every song should be an editorial,” Rudder explained. “That verse was about the world being afraid of our fast bowlers and bringing in rules about the number of bouncers per over. It was a deliberate attempt to humble the West Indies and struck a note with Caribbean people; we saw that change for what it was.”

It may not have reversed the legislation but Rally was the third big hit in a year that supercharged Rudder’s career, having already been crowned Calypso King – the best on show at Trinidad’s famous annual carnival – 12 months earlier.

First came Haiti, an apology for the world turning its back on an impoverished country born out of slave rebellion 200 years earlier; then Panama, which took a cheeky swipe at corrupt Trinidadian politicians who had fled to Central America and foreshadowed Manuel Noriega’s removal as Panamanian president.

But Rally hit the sweet spot in a different way, its rousing lyrics and tropical melody becoming such a favourite at Test venues across the Caribbean over the decade following its release that when the West Indies board searched for an anthem before a series against Australia in 1999, there was only ever one winner.

“The board told me they had adopted it but needed it as a ‘real’ anthem, so I rewrote some of the lyrics and rejigged the arrangement,” Rudder recalled. “It originally began with ‘No noble thoughts, brought us here to these islands’ only for Guyana to point out they are no island, so that quickly became ‘this region’. These are the kind of little things that make the Caribbean such a fascinating place. I think when people hear the song’s opening in a ground, they go crazy. It still resonates across the generations and makes me so proud. It’s like that sax riff in Baker Street, once you hear it …”

Whether Rally is played this summer remains to be seen, given the Test series is being played in empty grounds. It certainly blared out when Holder’s side romped to a 2-1 series win against England last year, but you are more likely to hear the faster rhythms of soca when visiting the Caribbean these days.

Rudder is no curmudgeon here, pointing to a talented young set still keeping kaiso’s traditions alive and noting the genre is moving with the times; female chantwells are in the ascendancy, including Terri Lyons, daughter of the legendary Superblue, who is the reigning (and since renamed) Calypso Monarch. But he does see a parallel with both calypso and cricket.

“Kaiso travels down the same road [as Test cricket]. The youngsters like party soca but at the end of the carnival season it’s still the songs that tell the stories of the day that stand the test of time. You can always put your hands in the air and dance to a beat but people want substance with it too.

“I always tell people here in North America who say Test cricket is boring that they should look at it this way: you can have a regular soldier in the army – a GI – but then you have special forces. And that is what Test cricketers are. It’s not just basic training, it’s sending guys out to survive for days.”

Before we wrapped up our transatlantic chat I asked what topic is currently in his sights. My ears pricked up when he revealed an upcoming song called The Windrushers, the final mix of which has been held up by Covid-19.

This link back to Tilbury Dock, Lord Kitchener et al, stayed with me and in a follow-up email Rudder kindly shared the lyrics, which can be enjoyed below and, fingers crossed, heard in the not too distant future.

As you would expect from a green beret calypsonian, he does not miss his target. Here’s hoping the latest Caribbean people to answer England’s distress call – Holder’s newly-arrived team – are not so shamefully forgotten.